Monday, December 26, 2016

The Five Hardest Cruxes of Colorado's 14ers (with videos)

videos and descriptions of the five most difficult climbs on Colorado's 14ers
A countdown of the five most stomach-clenching cruxes of Colorado’s 53 tallest peaks.

Climbing 14ers is the most popular mountaineering pursuit in Colorado’s high country. While more than 2/3rds of these noble peaks can be “climbed” by mere endurance and a pair of hiking boots, a handful of these popular mountains require a bit more technical skill and engagement with risk to reach the top. This list counts down the five most difficult sections (not most dangerous, that might yield a different list altogether) of all the fourteeners by their standard routes.

#5- The Summit Cap (Mt. Wilson)
Some nice exposure and steep scrambling awaits aspiring mountaineers who have reached the top of this San Juan monarch. Luckily, this vertigo-inducing crux is relatively short-lived. There is some loose rock here, however, and some mistimed flailing could prove disastrous. The following video  is a bit shaky but shows a detailed look at those final relatively intense minutes of climbing.

#4- Jumping the Gap (Sunlight Peak)
Much is said about the final move on famous San Juan 14er, Sunlight Peak. There are many that consider it the crux of all Colorado's highest peaks. In fact, Gerry Roach even makes that claim in his book Colorado's Fourteeners. This difficult move is no doubt exposed, and will get all but the most exposure-hardened of mountaineer's attention. But it is short and if you can put aside the dizzying swirl of air all around you, is not as difficult as fear might make it seem.

#3- The Knife Edge (Capitol Peak)
Perhaps the most infamous crux on any Colorado 14er is the Knife Edge of Colorado's Capitol Peak. While some may argue that this is not even the most difficult section of this peak, there is no doubt that the Knife Edge is the mental crux of this stout and infamous mountain. However, wary aspiring ascentionists can take heart with the knowledge that the Knife boasts some of Capitol's most solid rock and that, barring bad weather, as long as you keep your cool and move with deliberation, there is no reason this crux should prove anything other than exhilarating.

#2- The Chimney (North Maroon Peak)
There is no doubt that the Deadly Bells have earned that forboding moniker. As a resident of the Roaring Fork Valley, I can attest to the frequency at which Search and Rescue gets summoned to these beautiful mountains. Unfortunately, these rescue missions all-too-often become recoveries. The hardest section of these two peaks by their standard routes is the "chimney" of North Maroon that is a mildly sustained section of vertical climbing that many consider to be that hardest technical crux of any standard route on any fourteener.

#1- The Hourglass (Little Bear)
For my money the Hourglass on Little Bear Peak in the Sangre De Cristo Range deserves the title for the crux of all 14er cruxes. It is long, sustained, steep and dangerous. It is class 4 if you pick the best possible line, maybe even a little harder if you don't. Add in the immense danger of falling rock and this section is for real. Tread carefully and lightly here as a number of terrible accidents have occurred at this spot.


Think these cruxes were too easy? For a real hard man the following 14er cruxes on non-standard routes will put those five to shame.

Pitch 1 of Kit Carson's Prow (5.8R)
The start of this exhilarating and exposed alpine climb is worthy for the more  technically adept Colorado mountaineers out there.

climbers on Longs Peaks Diamond
Pitch 6 of the Casual Route (5.10a)
Sure, if I wanted to go crazy, there are much more difficult lines on the Diamond. After all, Tommy Caldwell established the wall's first 5.14 in 2014. But the Casual Route is the "standard" way to climb the Diamond and thus its crux gets the nod here.

Summit tower of Sunlight Spire (5.10c)
It's a good thing for those of us weenie everyday-Joe mountaineers that 14,000' Sunlight Spire does not have enough prominence to be considered a ranked peak because it's summit cap is a dozy. First freed in 1988 by Jeff Achey and graded 5.10c, this angling splitter crack is a magnificent achievement for any tough-guy (or gal) mountaineer. Really want something to hold over the heads of all those mere mortal 14er "finishers"? Tell them you free-climbed the Sunlight Spire and challenge them to match the deed.

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