What are the Classes of 14ers? 5 Easy Descriptions

One of the best things about Colorado’s 14ers is the range of difficulty they present. But what are the classes of 14ers? You’ll find peaks where you can summit with a hike, scramble, or full technical climb, depending on the route you take. The class system, based on the Yosemite Decimal System, helps classify mountaineering routes. It’s based on the rock climbing difficulty of the route without factoring in snow conditions. During summer months they’re a good way to judge the approximate difficulty of any given peak. So what are the classes of 14ers?

What are the classes of 14ers?

Routes up 14ers range in difficulty from class 1, a simple hike, to class 5, roped technical climbing. Beyond 5 it begins using decimal points to rate technical climbs. For example, a 5.4 is a very easy climb, while a 5.14 route is very difficult. All the fourteeners can be climbed using Class 1, 2, 3 or 4 routes without any technical roped climbing.  

The class rating tells you a lot about the route.

The class rating tells you a lot about the climbing difficulty you will face. However it’s important to remember that it doesn’t tell you about the quality of rock, weather forecast or snow conditions, so it’s still important to do your research. Here’s what are the classes of 14ers:

Class 1 – Hiking

Class 1 peaks such as Quandary Peak and Mt Elbert have a firm trail that you can hike all the way to the summit. These routes are the easiest class, with no scrambling or climbing – you won’t ever have to use your hands. Note that some class 1 hikes can still be difficult due to their length and inaccessibility.

Class 2 – Scrambling

Class 2 peaks make up the majority of the Colorado 14ers. These routes include mostly hiking, with shorter sections where hands must be used to navigate up and over scree, rocks and boulders. Class 2 routes have very limited exposure where falls aren’t likely to be serious or deadly, but they still take longer than a class 1 hike.

Class 3 – Advanced scrambling

There is a significant increase in risk levels between class 2 and class 3 peaks. These peaks like Longs Peak and Crestone Needle feature more exposed scrambling where a fall may be fatal. The climbing skill required is limited, but a mistake could result in serious injuries or death. Be ready for these peaks before you attempt them. 

Class 4 – Simple Climbing

The line between class 4 and 5 peaks is hazy, and it differs from person to person. Generally, class 4 peaks like Maroon Peak and Little Bear Peak include steep, exposed climbing where ropes aren’t used. This means class 4 routes are actually more dangerous than roped class 5 climbing. Only expert peak baggers should attempt these ascents.

Class 5 – Technical Climbing

While none of the 14ers require Class 5 technical climbing to ascend, there are many great technical climbs on these peaks. The Diamond on Longs Peak and Ellingwood Arete on Crestone Needle are among the most well known.

what are the classes of 14ers

Be wary of the increasing risk with each class.

While class ratings are helpful for understanding the general difficulty level of a 14er, they can be deceptive. Specifically, the difficulty and risk level increase exponentially with each rating. A class 2 route is only marginally more dangerous than a class 1 peak. However a class 3 route is significantly more dangerous than a class 2 alternative. Bring a buddy the first time you climb a class 3 or 4 peak and research the route well.

Starting Out New? Start with a class 1 or 2.

If you’re new to 14ers, the easiest way to stay safe is to stick to a class 1 or 2 route. This still means more than 30 different fourteeners are open to you! With time and experience scrambling you can move on to more difficult peaks, but with less danger of an accident occurring out of inexperience.

What are the classes of 14ers?

To summarize: What are the classes of 14ers?

  • Class 1 peaks are a hike to the summit
  • Class 2 peaks include sections of easy scrambling
  • Class 3 peaks include dangerous sections of scrambling
  • Class 4 peaks include dangerous sections of simple climbing
  • Class 5 peaks include sections of technical roped climbing.

Now that you can answer the question “What are the classes of 14ers,” get out there and start bagging those peaks!

RELATED READ: 14ERS RANKED BY DIFFICULTY

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MtBelford

About the Author: Alex Derr

Alex Derr is a mountaineer and blogger based in Denver Colorado. He is working to climb Colorado’s highest 100 peaks, and the 20 tallest peaks in California. He created The Next Summit to share advice, stories, history & reflections from the Colorado Rockies & Sierra Nevada. When not climbing, he is managing the Communications strategy at Visible Network Labs.