By Kyle Zinkula
Ever wanted to climb a 14er (a mountain with a peak above 14,000 feet)? Think the time to do so has passed with the coming of winter and the heavy snowfall hitting Colorado? Think again! The colder season may limit your options and create a new setting for your hike, but you can still hike.
The predominant issue with hiking in the winter is, you guessed it, snow. The heavy snowpack that accumulates in the mountains makes it hard to follow a trail and also creates severe avalanche risks. However, some mountains have short and direct paths that make hiking manageable, as well as mountain shapes that lower avalanche risk. Another issue with snow is the difficultly of walking through the powder. If you plan on tackling any of these mountains, bring snowshoes and ice spikes and don’t forget to account for snow slowing your speed.
The first 14er, or for this trail, 14ers, that are worth mentioning are Mount Democrat, Mount Cameron, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Bross. These four mountains come together to create the 4-in-1, otherwise known as the Decalibron trail. The seven-and-a-half mile loop trail connecting all four 14ers allows you to summit each mountain. However, it is worth noting that while Mount Cameron has a peak above 14,000 feet, the saddle between it and Democrat and Lincoln is not enough to technically qualify the peak as an individual 14er. It is up to the hiker to determine if they wish to count the peak, as there are several other mountains that pose this same issue. Having recently completed the trail this winter, this writer believes it to be a manageable hike, but manageable does not mean easy.
Another prime 14er to hike in the winter is Mount Quandary. The best trail up this mountain is six and a half miles long, making the overall distance less than the Decalibron. An important note for this mountain is its popularity. The mountain is considered the most popular 14er to hike in the winter. It is not uncommon for hundreds of people to flock to the peak during the summer months, and while winter numbers will be lower, still prepare for a crowded trail.
A third mountain worth noting is the infamous Pikes Peak. The recommended route up for this time of year is the Crags trailhead, as the colder weather makes the 26-mile Barr Trail (the closer trailhead to Colorado College which starts in Manitou Springs) an impractical choice. The Crags Trail is 14 miles round-trip and serves as an enjoyable hike with a clear path. The snow cover may make the trail more difficult to follow, but the road to the top of the peak comes into view a little over halfway the hike up. Since the trail follows the road from that point, one can easily navigate to the summit from there.
As mentioned before, make sure to factor in how much the snow will slow you down when planning your trip. Winter hiking gear and extra layers are essential, as are a hat and gloves. As with any 14er, make sure to bring plenty of water (at least two liters) and snacks for the long trek ahead of you.