Winter 14ers for Beginners | 3 Great Starter Peaks
If you’ve hiked and climbed Colorado’s 14ers in summer, you have probably wondered about continuing your exploration during the colder, winter months. It turns out that there are a several good winter 14ers for beginners that let you get a feel for the experience without too great a risk, if you know where to look. Before we get to them, let’s take a moment to ensure you know what to expect, as even the winter 14ers for beginners aren’t easy ascents.
Climbing 14ers in Winter Is Not Easy - Be Prepared
Frigid temperatures with below zero wind chill, sudden snowstorms that come out of nowhere, waist-deep post-holing mile after mild… these are the twisted joys of climbing winter 14ers. It’s an exhausting work that requires extra knowledge of avalanche conditions, weather, and survival. If you do want to climb, wait until you’ve done several 14ers in summer conditions, bring a partner, and make conservative decisions along your trip. Starting with a fourteener in winter for the first time is a bad idea.
Remember the Ten Essentials for Winter
There’s a lot of special gear you need in snowy, icy conditions, even on winter 14ers for beginners. You should ensure you have traction like microspikes or crampons, along with flotation to avoid postholing (snowshoes), warm layers, and extra survival gear like food, a stove for water and some kind of emergency shelter. I go over winter gear for 14ers in detail in the blog article below. Take the time to read it – that gear may save your life. Now on to the best winter 14ers for beginners.
The Three Best Winter 14ers for Beginners
I selected these peaks based on several criteria important to consider for winter 14ers. First, these peaks are all very accessible in the winter, with short approaches and overall routes. A long slog with snowshoes isn’t good for beginners. Second, they have very limited avalanche risk (though even these peaks, in the right conditions, can slide). Third, they’re very busy in the winter so there will probably be a path in the snow so you don’t have to break trail, and others are around should anything go wrong. Finally, these routes have very limited technical terrain and can be summited with mircospikes and trekking poles.
Given all of those considerations, here are the three best winter 14ers for beginners that meet all these factors.
Mt Bierstadt is a good 14er for beginners in winter or summer, but there’s a lot more solitude in the colder months. The main trailhead at Guanella Pass closes after November and until June, so expect to add on an extra mile and a half to the normal summer route while you snowshoe up to the pass. The route can get difficult to follow in the Willow thickets during the first two miles, so bring a GPS unit and map to help with navigation and take your time.
Click here for my winter Mt Bierstadt route guide.
Quandary Peak is one of several great winter 14ers for beginners. The winter trailhead is only a few hundred feet below the summer start, so it’s essentially the same difference. It’s also normal for the ridge to be quite snow-scoured so it’s easy to ascend. Be wary of the winter cutoff along the route to avoid some major avalanche risk areas along the way – other than that, it’s a generally safe route up to the top.
Click here for my winter Quandary Peak route guide.
Mount Sherman is riddled with the remains of Colorado’s silver boom, with mining structures and the remains of a large tram system throughout the upper basin. The main summer route has a lot of avalanche risk, so it’s better to take the south slopes route during the winter. While you can do the climb in the right conditions with microspikes and trekking poles. However if you have crampons and an ice axe, it’s a good idea to bring them. Check out the full winter route guide and advice below for the last of the winter 14ers for beginners.
Click Here for my winter Mount Sherman route guide.
Give a Winter 14er A Try If You're Up to It!
Climbing a fourteener in winter isn’t something to be taken lightly – a storm or injury is all it takes for the situation to become dire. However, with the right skills, gear and preparation it’s definitely possible to summit these peaks safely in the winter. Pick one of these winter 14ers for beginners and give it a try. With my tips and advice you’re one step closer to a successful winter ascent! Still looking for more information I recommend this blog by my friend Jeff Golden, as well as this post that originally got me interested in winter 14ers for beginners. Safe travels on the trail!
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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.
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