Friday, May 27, 2016

Five Most Iconic Colorado Mountains

What are the defining peaks of Colorado? With 637 "ranked" peaks higher than 13,000', it is hard to pick just five. What criteria could be used to quantify such a selection? Sheer beauty? Ruggedness? Fame? By any of these definitions on their own you might get a different set of peaks. Certainly Elbert could be cast as one of Colorado's most famous mountains, but without question it is not as photogenic as some of these rugged peaks. Then there are peaks such as Lizard Head, as rough and rugged as they get but so obscure that none but the most interested of fanatics have ever heard of it. And of course, every individual person brings their own biases, their own aesthetic preferences.

So for our selections here in this article, we have attempt to combine these characteristics: beauty, fame, ruggedness, to create a list of five of Colorado's most iconic and defining peaks. No matter if you agree of disagree, it is hard to deny that these are five mountains that Colorado can be proud of.

The classic Maroon Bells image from
Maroon Lake
1. The Maroon Bells (14,156'; rank #24)
In terms of sheer beauty the Maroon Bells are hard to beat. The classic image of the twin peaks framed in the U-shaped valley from Maroon Lake, has become one of the most iconic and defining images from the Colorado high country. Add in that these peaks both top that coveted 14,000' benchmark, and that they have a fearsome reputation as being two of the more formidable and dangerous summits to reach in the state and it seems clear that these mountains deserve their spot here on this list. (Maroon Bells profile page)

2. Crestone Peak (14,294'; rank #7)
Crestone Peak with a dusting of snow
Crestone Peak in the rugged Sangre De Cristo Range is one of Colorado's most beautiful mountains. Rugged, burly, prominent, it towers above its lesser adversaries like a monarch. There can be no doubt that Crestone is one of Colorado's most aesthetic and formidable mountains. It is a peak that Coloradoans can hold against nearly any other peak anywhere in the lower 48. Add in the unique prominence of the Sangres and you get a mountain that at times resembles a misplaced member of a more formiddable range like the Alps or Tetons right here in our backyards. (Crestone Peak's profile page)

3. Mount of the Holy Cross (14,005'; rank #51)
W.H. Jackson's famous 1873 Holy Cross
It is not just the namesake feature on Holy Cross's East Face that makes it beauiful and famous. This gem of the Sawatch Range is rugged and impressive from all of its aspects. Coupled with an amazing surrounding wilderness and you can see why it makes this list. The fame of the mountain, which originated with William Henry Jackson's 1873 photograph and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's subsequent poem, has piqued the imaginations of hikers, religious zealots and mountaineers for well over a century. This is a famous and amazing mountain that deserves to be named among the greats. (read Angels and Demons: The Two Faces of Holy Cross) 

4. Capitol Peak (14,130'; rank #29)
Capitol Peak from the north
Capitol Peak enjoys an oft-touted reputation as Colorado's most fearsome mountain. While many debate on whether this reputation is overstated, there can be no doubt that the mountain has caputred the imaginations of modern mountaineers more than almost any other of Colorado's great peaks. But not only is Capitol a rugged and challenging mountain, it is also stunningly beautiful with its sharp ridges and impressive faces. No matter which direction you approach this mountain from it is a formidable spire. Without question Capitol is one of Colorado's most aesthetic and treacherous mountains. (Capitol Peak's profile page)

5. Longs Peak (14,255'; rank #15)
Longs Peaks North Face with the Diamond
also visible.
Highly visible, intensely rugged, shockingly popular, and classically famous, this list would not have been complete without Longs Peak. As the crown jewel of Rocky Mountain National Park, this mountain has attracted a great deal of attention for many years. It is also one of Colorado's most complicated massifs. Few peaks offer the sheer volume and diversity of routes. The standard route, the Keyhole, is most likely the most popular route on any mountain in the state. Longs Peak also boasts by far the largest number of viable technical mountaineering routes around. From the relatively mild North Face (5.4) to the mixed snow and rock of the dramatic Kiener's Route (5.4, steep snow) to the many world-class alpine multipitch climbs on the 1,000-foot Diamond, this mountain is a rock climber's paradise and one of Colorado's most impressive mountains. (Longs Peak profile page)

Honorable Mentions

Mt. Sneffels. (Debivort at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0
( )
Mount Princeton (14,197'; rank #18)
The massive prominence of Mt. Princeton, especially as viewed from the east in the Buena Vista area, make this mountain one of Colorado's most impressive peaks. It towers with more than 6,000' of prominence over the Arkansas River Valley just a few miles away. In the winter, this stunning peak looks even more dramatic and the effect can be quite breathtaking. (Mt. Princeton tip report)

Mount Sneffels (14,150'; rank #27)
This San Juan gem is one of the most beautiful and rugged peaks in the state. Viewed from the north it boasts a staggering 8,000' of prominence over the plains near Montrose making its rugged profile one of the most sheer and impressive in the Rockies. (Mt. Sneffels profile page)

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