Spencer McKee nears the 14,064-foot summit of Humboldt Peak in Colorado's Sangre de Cristo range.

Spencer McKee nears the 14,064-foot summit of Humboldt Peak in Colorado's Sangre de Cristo range. Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak can be seen in the backdrop. Photo Credit: Spencer McKee.

Climbing Colorado's fourteeners seems to be all the rage these days, but it's actually not that great.

Here are a few reasons why it's an awful idea to climb a fourteener in Colorado:

1. The uphill never seems to stop

Most fourteener trails in Colorado tend to be all uphill and then all downhill. Not only does this mean your thighs must endure an unrelenting climb, it means your tired knees get no break on the return trip.

2. The mountains are so tall, the height alone can kill you

Coloradans are well aware of a condition called 'altitude sickness.' It's basically the body's adverse reaction to elevation gain and, if severe enough, it can be deadly. Most sources indicate that symptoms like dizziness and nausea can become apparent at about 8,000 feet of elevation, getting more severe with vertical gain. With Colorado's fourteeners climbing above 14,000 feet, it's easy to see how this can be a cause for concern for some.

If you're climbing mountains in Colorado, be aware of the signs of altitude sickness and return to lower elevations immediately if they are felt. Learn more about altitude sickness here.

3. Dangerous animals are lurking

Many of Colorado's fourteener trails are quite remote, making wildlife sightings common. That sounds fun, until you remember all the bears, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes that might be lurking. Even animals thought to be docile, such as moose, elk, and mountain goats, can kill under the right circumstances. Plus, if an animal isn't trying to actively hurt you, there's still a chance that one can cause dangerous rock falls in deadly terrain. While exploring Colorado's natural spaces, do your best to enjoy the state's wildlife from a distance.

4. The trails aren't always easy to follow

While some fourteener trails are quite apparent, others require trail finding experience with errors carrying potentially fatal consequences. Don't expect following a trail up a mountain to be a walk in the park. Prepare to use landmarks and other mountain features to navigate terrain like your life depends on it. Always do thorough research on a trail prior to leaving the trailhead behind.

5. The weather won't help

Whether it's wind, rain, snow, or unrelenting sunshine, the weather often takes its toll on Colorado's mountain hikers. Above treeline, there's no cover and on a long trail, retreat might not be a quick process. Sure, sunny days without wind exist above treeline, but the days in between are the ones that will catch you off-guard. Not only does this mean fourteener climbers must be ready to encounter a range of weather conditions during a single climb, it also means they must carry all of that gear on their back throughout the entire route on the off chance of a surprise. It gets heavy after thousands of steps.

6. The trails can get pretty crowded

Don't go hiking Colorado's fourteeners if you're looking for solitude. Some of the busiest fourteener trails can see more than 35,000 people in a year and more than 1,000 people on peak days.

Among the most popular hikes in the state, the only fourteener routes that don't see big crowds are the climbs that are either extremely long or extremely dangerous. Even then, it's rare to be the only person on the mountain if it's a half-decent day.

7. Parking is also a pain

Along with crowded trails, expect crowded and limited parking at trailheads for Colorado's fourteener routes. This can sometimes mean having to park far from the trailhead, potentially adding miles to a hike. It might also mean changing plans altogether. Plus, don't expect the drive to the trailhead to be easy. While some of Colorado's mountains are very accessible, others require travel on some of the state's most rugged roads.

8. Expect an early wake-up call

If you're going to beat the weather and beat the crowds on the trail and at the parking lot, expect to wake up early. Trailhead parking lots can start to fill before 6 AM and some routes are so long that a 3 AM start may be necessary. If you're planning to drive to the trailhead in the morning, make sure your alarm clock goes off early and goes off loud.

9. Relaxation shouldn't be expected

While some head to nature to relax, expect a fourteener hike to be all but that. A strenuous endeavor where a number of factors require trailgoers to constantly be on their toes, hiking a fourteener is not what most seek for their 'relaxing' day in nature.

10. You risk forming an expensive new hobby

Climbing fourteeners in Colorado can become addictive thanks to the sense of accomplishment it delivers and the beautiful views that come along the way. Hiking one fourteener will likely mean hiking more, and after that, big mountains outside of the state. It gets expensive and it gets time-consuming. Proceed with caution.

Director of Content and Operations

Spencer McKee is OutThere Colorado's Director of Content and Operations. In his spare time, Spencer loves to hike, rock climb, and trail run.


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(3) comments


Lmao, you should be in florida with that crappy attitude that's what mountain climbing is all about!


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All right you convinced me I'll stick to driving up them.

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