Every hiking and climbing route has a difficulty rating associated with it. It’s crucial to understand what these ratings mean in order to be safe on the trail and plan accordingly for your adventure. In this article, the key focus will apply to Colorado’s fourteeners, though the information in this piece holds true for most trails.
Each route to the top of a peak falls into a specific class and each class will require a different level of expertise. Note that the ‘class’ of a route is not the only thing to factor into difficulty. While the trail to the summit of Pikes Peak is a ‘Class 1’ route, which is the easiest of 5 classes, the trail is also a whooping 26 miles round trip. Know what you’re getting into before embarking on a trip and be familiar with your own ability level.
Here’s a breakdown of the different classes:
Class One is considered easy hiking. It might be a long trail and it might be a steep trail, but there will typically be a easy recognizable and easy-to-follow trail with this class.
Class One 14ers: Grays, Quandary, Elbert, Pikes Peak, San Luis Peak, Handies Peak
Class Two hiking is when the trail starts to blur. Expect a trail during portions of the route, but it might grow faint in certain sections. During Class Two routes, especially those at high-altitude, expect to encounter some scrambling between rocks. The risk for injury goes up with Class Two, particularly with how uneven terrain can impact your knees and ankles. Be ready to use your hands from time to time on more difficult Class Two routes.
Class Two 14ers: Sherman, Bross, Cameron, Lincoln, Bierstadt, Democrat, Torreys, Huron, Culebra, Princeton, Evans, Redcloud, Belford, Uncompahgre, Shavano, Humboldt, Columbia, Yale, La Plata, Sunshine, Missouri, Massive, Oxford, Tabeguache, Antero, Harvard, Holy Cross
Difficult Class Two 14ers: Conundrum, Castle, Challenger, Windom, Ellingwood, Blanca
Class Three is when things start to get intense. During this class, you’ll often encounter a combination of difficult terrain and steep sections. The use of a helmet is often recommended for Class Three climbs, as terrain of this grade can result in loose rocks. Expect to use your hands on a regular basis while navigating a Class Three climb.
‘Easy’ Class Three 14ers: Sneffels, Lindsey, Kit Carson
Class Three 14ers: Wetterhorn, Longs, Wilson, North Eolus, Eolus, El Diente, Crestone, Maroon Peak, Crestone Needle, Snowmass
With Class Four routes, you’ll be climbing – and many falls can be fatal. A lot of hikers and climbers prefer to use ropes and other safety measure while they’re tackling a Class Four route. You’ll be relying on both handholds and footholds for progress on the route and you’ll need to be able to determine which handholds and footholds are safe to use. Always wear a helmet when on a Class Four route.
Class Four 14ers: North Maroon Peak, Pyramid, Wilson, Sunlight, Little Bear, Capitol
This is technical climbing. Unless you’re Alex Honnold, you’ll want to be utilizing rock climbing equipment on these routs. If you’ve been climbing before, you’re probably familiar with the rating scale as seen as 5.7, 5.9, 5.12, etc. This is where that 5 comes from. If you’re planning on embarking on a route with a Class Five climb, use a harness system and a helmet for safety.
Class Five 14ers: No standard routes
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