Fourteeners rack up big numbers

Thousands can crowd popular peaks on busy summer days

Posted 8/28/18

Ross Erickson, 29, started climbing fourteeners — mountains with more than 14,000 feet elevation — eight years ago when he moved to Colorado. “Illinois doesn’t have any,” he said jokingly …

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Fourteeners rack up big numbers

Thousands can crowd popular peaks on busy summer days

Posted

Ross Erickson, 29, started climbing fourteeners — mountains with more than 14,000 feet elevation — eight years ago when he moved to Colorado.

“Illinois doesn’t have any,” he said jokingly about why he waited to climb a mountain of that height.

At first, he saw the fourteeners as training hikes for the Colorado Trail, which he was preparing to hike. As the years went on, he advanced to more technical mountains. As a rock climber and a hiker, he was inspired to push his limits.

Now, he’s just shy of 50 fourteeners climbed and shares his lessons learned at the REI outdoor school, where he teaches rock climbing, on- and off-trail map and compass use, and wilderness survival.

For him, the biggest thing he wants students to remember is to always be prepared.

“Know your skill level and remember that you are in the mountains and things can get real,” Erickson said.

In 2016 and 2017 the Alpine Rescue team, which performs rescues in Clear Creek County, averaged 45 missions per year on one of the four fourteeners in the area — Grays Peak, Torreys Peak, Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans.

In 2008 and 2009 the team averaged 15 missions per year. That’s an increase of 300 percent over the past eight years.

Dawn Wilson, of Alpine Rescue, said that there are a couple things that get people in trouble more than others while they are hiking mountains of that height.

“When people go past their ability, that’s when you get into trouble,” Wilson said. “People die. You don’t mess around with these fourteeners.”

Wilson reminds people to be prepared with the proper gear, to tell someone where you are going and your estimated time of return, and to know your capabilities.

One spot Alpine Rescue was called to several times this summer was the sawtooth that connects Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans.

“Mount Bierstadt is one of the easier fourteeners,” Wilson said. “It’s a high-traveled route. But then people go over to the sawtooth and that is not something to be challenged with if you are not prepared. It’s really technical.

“It has killed people before.”

The number of rescues performed on Front Range fourteeners has also gone up as the population in Denver and the surrounding areas has increased. On a sunny day in July, about 3,000 people can be found on Mount Bierstadt.

In July 2017, Colorado Fourteener Initiative released the second edition of its “Fourteener Hiking Use and Economic Impact” report, which estimated that 311,000 hiker use days occurred on Colorado’s fourteeners in 2016 — a 19 percent increase over 2015.

CFI protects and preserves the natural integrity of Colorado’s 54 14,000-foot peaks through active stewardship and public education. CFI partners with the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and passionate volunteers and donors nationwide to create protection of Colorado’s highest peaks; build and maintain sustainable hiking routes to accommodate hiking use while minimizing damage to native alpine ecosystems; close, stabilize, and restore trampled and eroded areas to protect sensitive alpine plant and animal communities; and educate fourteener hikers about Leave No Trace principles and sustainable recreational practices designed to lessen ecosystem impacts.

Through this unique, voluntary partnership, Colorado’s fourteener ecosystems are protected from harm while continuing to make the peaks accessible to hikers without burdensome restrictions and fees.

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