With 15 mountains whose summits reach above 14,000 feet, also known as fourteeners, a trip to the Sawatch Range can quickly become a high altitude adventure for anyone who wants to make the climb.
The mountain range includes a variety of 14ers, such as Mount Elbert, the highest point in Colorado and the second highest peak in the contiguous 48 states.
To climb, or “bag” 14ers is an activity that has grown in popularity over the years. According to Jon MacManus, a Salida resident who has climbed all of Colorado's 14ers, a person can come across another 20 people at a peak.
If someone has never climbed a 14er and wants to start, they should start with a simple, less technical climb. Bag an easy summit first and ‘give yourself an idea if you even want to do another 14er,” MacManus says. “Mount Shavano is a great one to try.” It has clearly marked trails and climbing it offers the chance to see the valley from a whole new perspective.
He also said that the Upper Arkansas Valley is a great place to start bagging 14ers or continue adding to a climber’s collections. From the top of a mountain over 14,000 feet “you can see the curvature of the earth,” and that more than just climbing the mountain for sights and bragging rights, some people will climb 14ers just so they can sign the peak register.
“A peak register is usually placed in a jar, PVC tube or even a metal ammo can and can often be found under a pile of rocks marking the highest point of a peak. It's a place where one may sign in, marking the date and sometimes a brief comment on the peak. If there is any gratification to attaining the summit of a peak, signing the register for me is definitely part of it.”
MacManus cautions that when preparing to climb a 14er, be sure to set aside a good chunk of time. Depending on both the mountain and the hiker, the trip up and down can take anywhere from 8 to 10 hours. When planning the trip, try to leave early in the morning, for both the cooler temperatures and for avoiding afternoon lightning storms.
“If you see a storm heading your way, get down,” he warns. Always keep one eye to the sky to look for adverse weather and storms headed in the direction of your climbing trip. Once the storm gets to a hiker, “it’s already too late” to outrun it.
Climbers should prepare for weather aside from lighting storms, too. MacManus stresses that you should have water, a little food, good hiking boots and bring a wind-resistant jacket and pants.
For experienced climbers who want more of a challenge, MacManus recommends looking into climbing mountains over 13,000 feet, or 13ers, as they often have less established trails and a higher level of technical difficulty.
He also recommends checking out local outdoor stores for maps and other information on nearby peaks and their different routes.