Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Top 8 Least Busy 14ers in Colorado

The companion piece to last week's Top 8 Busiest 14ers post, this article takes data from the same sources (ListsofJohn.com, 14ers.com, and Summitpost.org) and approximates the least busy 14ers in Colorado.

Least popular mountains in Colorado
Capitol Peak in the distance from Snowmass Mtn, number
six on this list
Anybody who has climbed a 14er in the last 10 years knows they are popular, and getting more so all the time as "ticking" them off becomes more and more trendy. So which mountains see the least action? Which are you most likely to find some semblance of solitude?

As with the "busiest 14ers" article, we took the summit logs and reported ascents from three popular mountaineering websites and gave each a score, 1 being the least number of reports, 2 the second least and so on. We averaged those scores to create an approximation of which peaks are the least busy of the 14ers.

Possibility for Error
It is important to note that the only way to know for sure how many people actually climb these peaks would be to count every single person who climbs every single peak on every single day. This, of course, is nearly impossible. There are many ways the data here could be skewed, including bias tilted towards which mountaineers are likely to sign up and report ascents on these three websites, as well as factors such as repeat ascents and others. Regardless, we feel this list gives a good estimation of which Colorado 14ers see the least amount of traffic.

If You Really Want Solitude
If solitude is your thing, we suggest NOT climbing the 14ers. Period. Or perhaps, climbing them in the off season, like the dead of winter. Sure they are great mountains, and climbing them gives you a certain amount of clout in social circles, but if your main goal is to climb great peaks with a sense of adventure, a wilderness experience, and enjoy solitude, we suggest aiming for 13ers and 12ers. In many cases, the climbing on these peaks is just as good, arguably better, and you still get the same satisfaction that climbing any high mountain can provide.

All of that being said, here are the eight least busy 14ers according to our calculations:

1. Culebra Peak
It was no surprise that the only 14er that you must pay heavily to climb had the fewest reports of people climbing it. I have never climbed Culebra, and though I have climbed almost all of the 14ers I have no plans to do so in the immediate future. Were it of outstanding aesthetic value, not merely average as most seem to consider it, perhaps Culebra would see more use.

2. Mount Wilson
This was a bit of a surprise. Clearly there is a direct correlation between a mountain's difficulty and its relative popularity, but to see Mt. Wilson land all the way at number 2 was more than expected. Mount Wilson is Colorado's 16th highest peak. It is highly prominent and has a stunning and highly visible position relative to the popular mountain town of Telluride. All of this, however, apparently is outweighed by its long standard route, class 4 difficulty and distance from Front Range cities.

Little Bear is oft-touted as Colorado's most dangerous, if not most difficult, 14er, therefore it came as no surprise  that it landed in the top 3. I know several people that put off Little Bear until they had just a few 14ers left before completion. Add in its distance from Front Range big cities, and the reason for its relative inactivity makes sense.

4. Mount Eolus
Eolus is a hard peak to get to and somewhat more difficult than most by its standard route (class 3). And frankly, it is not very famous. I've known some people who are fairly acquainted with Colorado's backcountry that are not even aware of a 14er that goes by that strange name, Eolus.

5. Wilson Peak
The Wilson group apparently are not very busy. The reason Wilson Peak is slightly busier than Mount Wilson is probably due to its shorter and technically easier standard route. Still, however, this little corner of Colorado magnificence is significantly less crowded than other comparable destinations.

Snowmass Mountain is long, scrambly, far from Denver, and relatively low in stature for a 14er (ranked #31). We saw these factors repeating over and over while comprising this list and thus it is no surprise that Snowmass Mountain landed at #6.

Least climbed mountains in Colorado
The backside of the Maroon Bells from Frigid Air Pass
7. Sunlight Peak
The Chicago Basin 14ers are difficult to get to, and very far from Denver. The fame (or infamy) of Sunlight Peak's summit cap, however, may be the reason why it sees slightly more ascents than neighboring Eolus.

Maroon Peak is perhaps Colorado's most photographed mountain. It is a stunning and famous peak. It is also one of Colorado's most dangerous. Over half of all deaths reported on Colorado's 14ers so far this decade occurred on the Maroon Bells, the Crestones, and Longs Peak. Despite its fame, Maroon Peak apparently does not see near as much traffic as other 14ers.

Honorable Mentions
Capitol Peak, Ellingwood Point, Windom, and Pyramid Peak were all next up if we extended this list past eight. Also North Maroon, North Eolus, and El Diente would have made the top 8, but we did not include any "unranked" peaks that didn't have at least 300 feet of topographical prominence.

There were a few surprises when the data was finally crunched to create this list. Some of these peaks, like the Maroon Bells, are quite famous, and  thus seem more popular than they are. If we were to create a list of most pageviews or photographs on these websites, a whole different set of mountains would have emerged. But popularity in terms of mythical status and internet fame did not equate to reported ascents. What wasn't surprising was that Culebra topped the list. There's one way to reduce a peak's use: charge $150 to climb it. It is also not surprising that some of the state's hardest peaks are the least busy: Sunlight, Mt. Wilson, Maroon Peak, Little Bear. And if we rounded out the list to 15, we would also have seen Pyramid Peak, Capitol Peak and both Crestones. In fact, all of these mountains here (except Culebra) are at least class 3 by their standard routes. Distance from Denver was also a clear factor, as every mountain in the top 8 is from the Sangre De Cristo, Elk and San Juan ranges. 

An interesting note that reinforced just how busy even these least popular 14ers are, Colorado's highest 13er, Grizzly Peak (which was once considered a 14er until a better survey proved otherwise) would have easily topped this list. In fact, even among the busiest 13ers we could think of (Silverheels, Meeker, Mt. Sheridan, etc.) we weren't able to find any with more reported ascents than Culebra.

Enjoy these peaks. Climb them, take care of them, but even on these mountains don't expect solitude on a summer weekend.

-Ten Mountains You Probably Haven't Climbed But Should
-14ers the Hard Way
-Top 8 Busiest 14ers
-14ers are Dead

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  1. What majestic places to escape the noise and routine of daily life for a bit of solitude.

    1. I agree completely! Thanks for reading and commenting!