Monday, January 16, 2017

Sixty Highest Peaks in the Elk Range

Cathedral Peak in the Elk Range of Colorado
Cathedral Peak, the highest 13er in the Elk Range
The Elk Range is one of Colorado's most spectacular. It is home to some of our state's most breathtakingly beautiful (and breathtakingly dangerous) mountains. There are five ranked 14ers in the Elk Range, including some mega-classics like Maroon Peak and Capitol Peak. But there is a bevy of lower, also amazing peaks in this relatively small range. The following list takes a close look at this gem of a range, compiling its sixty highest "ranked" peaks. This covers every peak with over 300' of topographical prominence between 12,878' and 14,265'.

This would be a very focused, yet, impressive list of mountains to climb. The Elk Range is notorious for its rotten rock and treacherous exposure. As a group these peaks have attracted a large number of accidents in the past. The Maroon Bells are the main culprit, though Snowmass Mountain, Capitol Peak, and Thunder Pyramid have had a number of fatalities as well. Tread lightly in this beautiful but deadly range.

There are two class 4 peaks, 13 class 3 peaks, 42 class 2 peaks, and three class 1 peaks on this list.

(Note: elevations are given via the classic and familiar 1929 Sea Level Datum)

Peak Name ElevationRank Difficulty easiest route (YDS)
Castle Peak 14,265' 12 class 2
Maroon Peak 14,156'24 class 3
Capitol Peak 14,130' 29 class 4
Snowmass Mountain 14,092' 31 class 3
Pyramid Peak 14,018'47 class 4
Cathedral Peak 13,943' 62 class 3
"Thunder Pyramid" 13,932' 65 class 3
Hagerman Peak 13,841' 88 class 2
"Castleabra" 13,803' 105 class 2
"Lightning Pyramid" 13,722'137 class 3
“Electric Pass Peak” 13,635' 177 class 2
Point 13,631 13,631' 180 class 3
Clark Peak13,580' 200 class 3
Point 13,550 13,550' 220 class 2
White Rock Mountain  13,540' 224 class 2
Point 13,53713,537' 230 class 2
Treasure Mountain 13,528' 235 class 2
Star Peak 13,521'242 class 2
Keefe Peak 13,516' 245 class 2
Hunter Peak 13,497' 257 class 2
Treasury Mountain13,462' 278class 2
Sleeping Sexton 13,460' 283 class 3
Taylor Peak 13,435'294 class 2
“Siberia Peak” 13,420' 306 class 3
Hilliard Peak 13,409' 313 class 2
White Benchmark 13,401'320 class 2
Precarious Peak 13,380' 332 class 3
“Triangle Peak" 13,380' 335 class 2
Italian Mountain13,378' 337 class 2
Buckskin Benchmark 13,370' 343 class 2
Pearl Mountain 13,362'348 class 2
Malamute Peak13,348' 354 class 2
Point 13,336 13,336' 365 class 2
“Oyster Peak”13,312'383 class 2
Mt. Daly 13,300' 394 class 2
Point 13,260 13,260' 433 class 2
Point 13,24413,244' 444 class 2
Belleview Mountain 13,233' 450 class 2
"Cassi Peak"13,232' 452 class 2
Point 13,216 13,216' 470class 2
Teocalli Mtn 13,208'477 class 1
Point 13,180 13,180' 503 class 2
Point 13,162 13,162'513 class 2
Willoughby Mtn 13,142' 532 class 2
Point 13,140 13,140' 533 class 2
Point 13,062 13,062' 599 class 2
Point 13,060 13,060' 602 class 3
Mount Owen 13,058'603 class 2
Point 13,03913,039' 615 class 3
West Elk Peak 13,035' 617 class 1
Point 13,02013,020'627 class 1
Purple Mountain 12,958' 662 class 2
Mt. Sopris 12,954' 668 class 2
Point 12,942 12,942' 677 class 2
Point 12,940 12,940' 684 class 2
Point 12,934 12,934' 689 class 2
"Trail Rider Peak" 12,931' 695 class 2
Point 12,903 12,903' 712 class 3
Point 12,902 12,902' 714 class 2
“Christiana Peak” 12,878' 733 class 2


-The Ranked 14er's
-Centennial Peaks (100 Highest)
-The 200 Highest
-Colorado's Most Prominent Mountains

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Friday, January 13, 2017

14ers Are Dead!

Mount Elbert, Colorado's highest 14er
Mt. Elbert, Colorado's highest (and one of its busiest) mountains
Climbing 14ers is dead. Give up!

What?!? What do you mean? I love climbing Colorado's highest mountains! This hobby is more popular than ever! I have only fifteen more to go before I've stamped every mountain in my 14er passport!

Okay, okay, I still like climbing 14ers, too, and I'm not going to stop climbing them on occasion, but sorry, it's just not impressive anymore to brag over beers that you "climbed" Mt. Elbert. And though your ego may swell to boast about being a 14er "finisher," so many have done it before you, it's just not the same as it was twenty, or even ten, years ago.

Where's the adventure? Where's the skill? The short answer? Not on Colorado's 14ers. Not anymore.

Spoiler alert! The internet (this website inluded) is bursting with beta regarding Colorado's 14ers. There are hundreds of pictures from every angle. Three-thousand word blow-by-blow descriptions that leave nothing to the imagination. Youtube videos that show every move of every crux. You can easily feel like you climbed them all without even leaving the comfort and safety of your living room.

And people just can seem to get enough.

But the adventure of mountaineering, what has always been at the very soul of this beloved pastime, is simply lost when you follow a train of two-hundred others up the slopes of a mountain. The sense of accomplishment from summiting a tall peak is  eliminated by the hoards of flip-flop wearing gumbies (each following an internet map and GPS tracker on their smartphones) swarming around you on the top.

La Plata Peak in Colorado's Sawatch Range
La Plata Peak in the Sawatch Range
It is true, crowds are nothing new and the internet is now several decades old, but the beta age has reached a new apogee that has spoiled nearly everything. Nothing is secret and nothing is sacred.

One of my favorite nearby hot springs, which ten years ago was a refuge of quiet and solitude, is now a veritable circus on a summer day, complete with beer-guzzling party-goers, lawn chairs and thundering music. With the rise of social media, and millions if not billions of websites devoted to every niche you can possibly imagine, things that were once glorious, like summiting 14ers, have lost their prestige. Climbing these popular peaks, like travel blogging and MTV, is dead.

I hate to be cynical and nobody likes a pessimist. So what are we to do? What is the antidote to the death of the Adventure Era? The terrible answer is: I don't know. I'm tired of hearing people telling me "you should have been here in the 70's." I know they're right. But the world has changed. Earth's population has more than doubled in the last 50 years, and the growth hasn't slowed. Imagine what they will say in another 50 years. Maybe there will be paved staircases with handrails all the way to the top of every peak in the state.

But here are some ideas to help us still cultivate this long-lost adventure. And you don't have to travel around the globe to find it. It is still possible right here in our own backyards in the very mountains we have loved into their graves:

1) Pick a random mountain you have never heard of and climb it. 
Don't use google. In fact, don't even go on the internet at all. Use nothing more than a topo map and your own skill. Treat it like a first ascent. Scout the peak for the easiest line and nail it. Sure "Point 12,762" might not have the bragging power of "Capitol Peak," but is bragging really why we climb? (If you answered yes, then I hate to say it but you are NOT really a mountaineer anyway. Sorry....)

Snowmass Mountain from Geneva Lake
Snowmass Mountain from the backside
2) Climb a 14er by a much harder, non-standard line 
Everyone and their dog (literally) climbs routes like the Keyhole Route on Longs Peak. Go and ascend Kiener's instead. It's much more beautiful, much more exhilarating, and you can pop up on the summit plateau on the other side of the peak from everyone else, making you feel (at least for a moment) like a rock star. Several years ago I created a "14ers the Hard Way" list, to provide alternatives to those over-trampled standard routes. I dare you to complete this list!

3) Climb in the winter
Sure it's much harder, sure it's more dangerous, but climbing 14ers in the winter adds such a significant bump in the hero factor that you can feel like an actual mountaineer once again. You will see these peaks for what they are: impressive, beautiful and majestic. They deserve this reputation. And you deserve to experience them this way.

There it is. I said it. It's done. Climbing 14ers is no longer adventure, it's no longer heroic. It's a cliche. But there is hope, and you can be part of the solution.

-14ers the Hard Way
-The Future of Climbing and Mountaineering
-Ten Mountains You've Probably Haven't Climbed But Should

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Climbing and mountaineering are dangerous!! Please see the DISCLAIMER page
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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Statistical Analysis of Deaths on Colorado 14ers this Decade (2010-2016)

The Elk Range, statistically one of the most dangerous
ranges in the state
The blossoming popularity of hiking and climbing on Colorado's 14ers has also brought an increase in accidents on these peaks. This article is an attempt to analyze the statistics from these terrible incidents and (hopefully) discover some useful conclusions to prevent such tragedies from occurring again in the future.

While every effort has been made to ensure that the data is complete, it is quite possible that some or several accidents have been overlooked. Every year there are accidents that go unreported and sifting through the barrage of information on the internet is not easy, especially regarding events that may have occurred several years ago. Still, this information can prove a useful tool in keeping all of who venture into the highest places of  this amazing state safe.


Total deaths on Colorado 14ers (2010-2016): 45
Deaths by mountain: Longs Peak (8), Maroon Bells (7), Crestone Needle (5), Crestone Peak (3), Kit Carson (3), Capitol (2), Snowmass Mountain (2), El Diente (2), Harvard (2), Evans (2), Missouri (2), Torreys (2), Quandary (1), Windom (1), Antero (1), Princeton (1), Little Bear (1)
Deaths by gender: M (41), F (4)
Deaths by age range: >20 (2), 20-29 (10), 30-39 (11), 40-49 (6), 50-59 (11), 60 or over (5)
14er deaths by mountain range: Sangre De Cristo (12), Front Range (12),  Elk Range (11), Sawatch Range (6), San Juan Range (3), Tenmile-Mosquito Range (1)

(Note: I have combined the Maroon Bells in the above list due to the number of accidents that occurred on the traverse between them making it hard to attribute these deaths to one or the other of these peaks) 


There are a few glaring details from the above statistics that are immediately apparent. For one, about half of these deaths (23) occurred on only five mountains (Longs Peak, the Maroon Bells, and the two Crestones). While none of these should really come as a surprise, it is interesting to see just how concentrated this list is. Longs Peak attracts a high number of accidents (almost all of which occurred on the standard Keyhole Route) because it's steep and exposed from every approach. The numbers are further inflated, however, because Longs is by far the busiest of any 14er in the state. On the Crestones, it is noteworthy that half of the eight deaths between the two of them occurred on Crestone Needle's Ellingwood Arete, a technical (5.7) multipitch climb, and only three fatal accidents have occurred on their standard routes. Per capita, the Deadly Bells lead for the dubious prize so far this decade as the most dangerous 14ers by their easiest lines. It doesn't take a Nobel Prize winner to understand why: these stunning peaks maybe be beautiful but their rock is far from it.

Another glaring and thought-provoking statistic is the ratio of males to females that have died on Colorado 14ers. A staggering 91% of the 14er fatalities this decade were males. From an analytical standpoint it is hard to say whether this reflects the numbers of males attempting 14ers over the numbers of females or some other factor (i.e. male tendency towards risk-taking, etc.)

It is also quite clear that the 14ers of the Sangre De Cristo and Elk Ranges are the deadliest. While the Front Range is tied with the Sangres for most fatal accidents total, this stat is skewed by the sheer number of attempts, as the Front Range 14ers (particularly Longs) are some of the state's most popular.


Capitol Peak a 14er in Colorado's deadly Elk Range
Capitol Peak has been site of two fatal accidents
so far this decade
What can also be useful from a data set like this is considering not just what is there but what is not. For example, neither Sunlight Peak, Wilson Peak, nor Pyramid Peak appear on this list. These three mountains are oft-touted as some of the hardest/most dangerous in the state yet nobody has died on any of them so far this decade. Also, there was only one death on Little Bear, another peak that is often regarded as the most dangerous of all the 14ers. In all these instances, however, these low numbers could be the product of much fewer numbers of attempts.

The San Juans. A beautiful range with a large number of rugged 14ers notorious for crumbly rock, yet we only see three deaths from this range. This again, could partially be a product of their distance from the populous cities of the Front Range, and therefore enjoy a proportionally smaller number of attempts. Or maybe the San Juans are not as fierce or chossy as their reputation makes out.


Statistically speaking, there are a couple of easy things you can do to virtually eliminate your odds of ending up on a list like this in the future:

1) If your main goal in Colorado mountaineering is simply not to die, then do NOT climb the Maroon Bells, Longs Peak, or the Crestones. Again, over half of the fatal accidents this decade have occurred on these five peaks. Of course, many people simply cannot put their backs to the siren call of these dangerous peaks. For those, perhaps extra care should be taken to exercise the greatest possible caution: climb in good weather, wear a helmet, start early, avoid crowds, and tread lightly!

2) Be a woman. Apparently simply being a woman slices your chances of dying on a 14er considerably. However, I have not been able to find reliable stats on the ratio of female to male climbers attempting 14ers, or even better, starting out on individual peaks, so it is hard to know women's odds of dying are actually slimmer or if the difference is merely proportional.


Though many of us like to say we "live" for the mountains, probably none of us wants to die there before our time. We accept a certain degree of risk knowing risk is the only path to reward. These 45 deaths are all tragic. The widespread consequences of losing even one life can ripple out and touch so many. But compared to the tens (perhaps hundreds) of thousands of people that attempted Colorado's 14ers this decade, 45 deaths is a very small percentage. We all venture to these high places knowing what risks we take and the potential consequences of our actions. We are willing to accept these calculated risks because it is only in the mountains that we truly feel alive.


-2016 mountaineering deaths in Colorado
-Climber dies on Thunder Pyramid
-Climber dies on Maroon Peak
-Climber Dies on Capitol Peak

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