Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Top 8 Busiest Colorado Peaks

What are the busiest 14ers in Colorado?
Morning light on Mt. Elbert
The mountains of Colorado have become crowded. Hell, Colorado as a state has become crowded. Everyone who's tried to climb a mountain here (especially the really popular ones like Longs or Elbert) has seen just how busy they can be. Trains of humanoids zig-zagging up the mountainsides by the hundreds have become a common sight. On a busy weekend, these peaks more resemble an amusement park than a wilderness adventure. 

But just which peaks are the busiest of all? While there are no stats that tell us 100% accurately how many people attempt these peaks in a given year, we have used data from several popular websites to make our best guess.

Methodology
To create this list, we used the ticklist or summit log data from three popular mountaineering websites: listsofjohn.com, 14ers.com and Summitpost.org to create a score for each mountain based on the number of people reporting ascents of each of Colorado's 14ers. We then averaged the scores together (weighing all three websites equally) to come up with an aggregate rating which we hope indicates which peaks are the busiest.

Possibilities for Error
There are several ways in which error could be introduced with this method. For example, all three of these websites are more likely to attract mountaineering enthusiasts (people so heavily engaged in the sport they are willing to not only register for such a site but actually log their ascents), thus eliminating "casual" climbers who might be drawn to certain types of mountains, like Mount Elbert (since it is the highest point in Colorado) and Longs Peak (since it is close to Denver and located in Rocky Mountain National Park). This could potentially skew the data.

Another possible error could lie in the relative "power" of each peak. In other words, people might be more likely to report and ascent of Mount Elbert, since it is the state high point, than they are of Quandary Peak, which does not carry the same clout, resulting in under-reporting of mountains that are viewed as less interesting. Repeat ascents are also not likely to be accurately accounted for since, while all three of these websites (I believe) allow you to report repeats, most likely people are far less willing to do so.

Anyway, without further ado, here is our list of the eight busiest peaks in the state of Colorado.

Quandary Peak in the snow
Near the summit of Quandary in the snow
It is not really a surprise that Grays Peak tops this list. With its convenient I-70 access, it relative proximity to the large Front Range cities, and its "easy" standard route, Grays Peak is about as user friendly of a 14er as there is.

Since Elbert is the highest peak in the state, and its standard route requires little more than a sturdy pair of legs to climb, it makes sense that it would land near the top. However, I suspect the data is skewed in Elbert's favor due to its stature and the fact that people would be more likely to report ascents of Elbert as compared to other, less famous peaks.

These two Front Range peaks came out tied in overall aggregate score. Both peaks are conveniently accessible to the Front Range big cities, and both have somewhat abbreviated routes on well-beaten trails to their summits. It is no wonder that they both two of Colorado's busiest mountains.

As the companion summit of Grays Peak, the inclusion of Torreys is no surprise. Since many climb these two peaks together, the difference between them is likely a result of the standard route on Grays Peak being just that much easier than Torreys, leading to a number of people making the summit of Grays but electing to turn around and not complete the route to the top of its neighbor.

As the first peak reached in the standard DeCaliBron (Democrat/Cameron/Lincoln/Bross) loop, Mt. Democrat is an obvious addition to this list. As with Grays, that it places higher than Lincoln, Cameron or Bross is indicative of the fact that it is usually the first of the 4-mountain loop to be climbed and not everyone is successful in completing the tour.

Since we did not count Cameron (it is not a "ranked" peak) Mount Lincoln is the second peak of the Decalibron and it makes sense that it would score just a hair lower than Democrat on the aggregate rank. 

8. Longs Peak
The north face of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park
The North Face of Longs Peak from the Boulderfield
I was surprised not to see Longs higher on this list. The immense popularity of the Keyhole Route always seemed a cut above the others. However, it is a more difficult mountain, and more dangerous than any of the others on the list. In addition, one has to wonder how many of the people who climb this mountain fall into the aforementioned "casual" hiker group and were drawn to this peak due to its position within Rocky Mountain National Park but were not likely to register for one of the three websites used for our raw data.

Honorable Mentions
The following peaks nearly made the list: Evans, Pikes, Sherman, Bross and Massive.

So which peak was the least popular? While a "Top 8 Least Popular 14ers" may make an interesting topic for another post, it appears that (we didn't run the bottom peaks through the same number crunch) the least busy 14er in Colorado is the only one you have to pay an exorbitant fee to climb: Culebra.  

Popular or not, these mountains represent some of the most beautiful high peaks in the state and are all worthy to climb despite the crowds. Hike them, enjoy them, take care of them. Just don't go up there expecting privacy....

RELATED POSTS
-The Ranked 14ers
-10 Mountains You Probably Haven't Climbed But Should
-14ers the Hard Way
-10 Class 3 Colorado Mountaineering Classics
-10 Class 5 Colorado Mountaineering Classics

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Four Sacred Peaks of the Navajo

The Four Sacred Mountains of the Navajo once formed the four boundaries of the Navajo People. One peak was accorded to each direction. This former region, known as the "Dinétah" was far larger than the reservation they have been given jurisdiction over today. Also attached to these peaks were other religious and social connotations. Two of these peaks are located in Colorado, including the famous fourteener we now called Blanca Peak.

Here is a description of each of the Four Sacred Peaks, a brief look at their history and symbology from the perspective of the Navajo as well as their place in the modern mountaineering canon.

Hesperus MountainNORTH
Hesperus Mountain (13,232')
The Sacred Peak of the North is Hesperus Mountain, or Dibé Nitsaa in the traditional language which means "Big Mountain Sheep." Dibé Nitsaa was said to have been assembled from Black Jet, a gemstone and precursor to coal, and fastened down with a rainbow beam for peace and harmony. It is said to represent the coming of darkness and to protect the people from danger and evil.

Today, Hesperus is Colorado's 451st tallest ranked peak. Though not a common mountaineering challenge, it is a worthy endeavor with 2,852 feet of topographical prominence (23rd in the state). It's easiest route is a moderate but significant route with around 3,000' of elevation gain and is rated a modest class 2 with short bits of nearly class 3 scrambling.

EAST
Blanca Peak, 14er and sacred peak of the east
Blanca Peak (14,345')
The Sacred Peak of the East is Blanca Peak, or Sisnaajini, which translates to Black Belted Mountain. Since it is in the east, the direction of the sunrise, the mountain was thought to determine the orientation of a person's mind each morning. Traditionally, the doors of Navajo hogans also faced east.

Blanca Peak is the highest and probably most famous of the Four Sacred Peaks. It is Colorado's fourth-highest mountain, and one of the 53 ranked peaks above 14,000 feet. The standard route on Blanca Peak is a long climb, but only rated class 2. Reasonably athletic people should have no difficult climbing it.

SOUTH
Mount Taylor (11,301')
Mount Taylor
The Sacred Peak of the South is Mount Taylor near Grants, New Mexico. Mount Taylor is the lowest of the four peaks and probably the least well known. In the native tongue, it was known as Tsoodzil, or Turquoise Mountain. The mountain was said to be made of a turquoise blanket, and female imagery and the color blue are woven into many aspects of its mythology. It was decorated with female rain.

Mount Taylor is an extinct volcano, and from a mountaineering perspective perhaps the least interesting of the sacred mountains. The hike to the summit is a short, 4-mile trek that should take no more than a few hours. It is class 1.

WEST
Humphreys Peak (12,633')
Humphreys Peak
The Sacred Peak of the West is Mount Humphreys, the tallest of the so-called San Francisco Peaks. The Navajo name for the peak is Doko’o’osliid, or Abalone Shell Mountain. Legend tells that it was made from an abalone blanket to create an understanding of life and social unity. It was anchored with sunbeams and covered with a blanket of yellow cloud. It was decorated with male rain.

Humphreys Peak is the eroded remains of an ancient stratovolcano. It is the highest peak in the state of Arizona and thus one of the 50 state high points. It is a massive and ultra-prominent peak, the 26th most prominent mountain in the Lower 48 with 6,039' of topographical prominence. The standard route is mostly class 1 with a few short sections of class 2 but is a significant journey requiring most of a day to complete.

SOURCES
Navajopeople.org- Brief descriptions of each peak and short lessons in their symbology and definitions.

Summitpost.org- Descriptions of the routes of each of the mountains.

Wikipedia.org- General info about geology as well as public domain images


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Monday, January 23, 2017

Peak of the Week: Blanca Peak

INTRO
Blanca Peak and Little Bear
Blanca Peak, Colorado's 4th tallest mountain, on the left
Blanca Peak is special for a number of reasons. At 14,345' it is the fourth tallest mountain in the state of Colorado and the tallest outside of the Sawatch Range. It is also considered "ultra-prominent" and with 5,326 feet of topographical prominence is the third most prominent peak in the state (behind Elbert and Pikes). To make it even more interesting, Blanca is known as Sisnaajini, the "Sacred Mountain of the East" to the Navajo people. According to their beliefs it's orientation in the east, the direction of the sunrise and thus the beginning of the day, means that Blanca "determines the orientation of a person’s mind and physical presence on earth."

By many measures it is a worthy and interesting peak and is a mountain that should make Coloradoans proud. As the anchor and gem of the Sangre De Cristo Range, it is important for many reasons.

DIRECTIONS
As with Little Bear, an ascent of Blanca Peak starts at the Lake Como trailhead. Turn onto Hwy 150 about 26 miles east of Alamosa heading towards the Great Sand Dunes National Monument. Just over 3 miles later, follow a sign towards Lake Como. Go as far as your vehicle will allow you, as much as 7 miles all the way to Lake Como (for a burly off-roader).

ROUTES
Northwest Ridge (class 2)
This is the standard route on Blanca Peak and the easiest way to climb the peak. It is very long, however, and without a stout 4WD vehicle you will be forced to gain over 6,000' of elevation, making it one of the more serious undertakings in terms of stamina in the 14er world. Though there are some tricky ledges and steep terrain past the lake and above 13,000' the difficulty should never stretch into the class 3 realm.

Blanca-Little Bear Traverse (class 4)
This ultra-exposed traverse is listed in Gerry Roach's classic guidebook as one of the four classics 14er traverse in the state. He also considers it to be the most difficult. It is famous for exposure and commitment. Remember that you will have to climb Little Bear's famous "Hourglass" just to get started (most people do the traverse from Little Bear to Blanca.)

SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS
Blanca is a massive peak and takes a bit more grunt effort than many 14ers. It is also one of the four sacred peaks of the Navajo so treat it with respect!

LINKS

Sisnaajini- A discussion of Blanca Peak by the Navajo Nation including many thoughts about what it means to them historically and symbolically.

14ers.com- A detailed look at the standard route of Blanca Peak

Summitpost.org- a detailed page of Blanca Peak including photos, route descriptions and more

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Copyright notice: This website and all its contents are the intellectual property of www.coloradomountaineering.com and its authors. None of the content can be used or reproduced without the approval of www.coloradomountaineering.com.

Climbing and mountaineering are dangerous!! Please see the DISCLAIMER page
For information about how to contact us, visit this link