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.

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....

-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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1 comment:

  1. I've only climbed a dozen 14ers in Colorado, so I'm just getting started. With the exception of Longs Peak, I have climbed every peak on this list. Obviously, this is anecdotal evidence, but we saw more people on Bierstadt than any other peak. We traversed the Sawtooth to Evans, and I might have seen fewer people on top of Evans, and there's a road to the top of Evans.

    I'm guessing there were 100+ people on the summit of Bierstadt when we were there. Looking back to the Guanella Pass Trailhead, there was a steady stream of people ascending and descending the peak. It look like ants.