Colorado’s Fourteeners Keep Getting Busier, Report Shows

John Daley/CPR News
The Crestone group of peaks in the Sangre de Cristo, as seen from Mount Lindsey, includes some of the most difficult 14ers in Colorado.

A report by the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative says the state's 54 highest summits continue to see an increasing number of people seeking to climb the fourteeners (4,200 meters).

The Gazette reports that an analysis by the nonprofit initiative estimates 353,000 people were attracted to the peaks during 2018's hiking season, up 5.7 percent from the 2017 count. That's almost 100,000 more than the first report from four years ago.

Colorado Fourteeners executive director Lloyd Athearn says the heightened numbers come with his organization increasing its monitoring capabilities on the mountains.

According to the report, Mounts Bierstadt, Elbert, Lincoln, Bross, Democrat and Sherman as well as Quandary, Grays, Torreys and Longs peaks all see more people.

And for the first time, Quandary Peak was the busiest fourteener. Bierstadt previously held the rank.

According to the report, the number of hikers represented $95.7 million in statewide economic impact based on past expenditure studies.

The report included some additional observations and changes from past years about 14er hiking use that occurred during 2018:

  • The very low snowpack during the winter of 2017-18 meant that CFI staff were able to deploy counters earlier in the season than in past years. Counters on four peaks were out for the entire monitoring period (May 28 through Oct. 7): Mount Elbert and Huron, La Plata and Quandary Peaks.
  • The estimated number of people climbing Pikes Peak was based on two counters placed last year — one on the Barr Trail and one on the Devil’s Playground Trail, also known as the Crags Route, — rather than modeling the entire seasonal hiking use.
  • CFI obtained permission from the Blanca Ranch to place a counter high on Mount Lindsey. This is the third counter placed in the Sangre de Cristo Range.
  • The angle of the sensor on the main Quandary route was refined to ensure that it counted a hiker passing at any point on the trail. The prior sensor angle may have undercounted people who passed immediately adjacent to the tree on which the sensor is mounted. This may be factor in a larger-than-anticipated jump in hiking use on the peak in 2018.
  • Tampering with trail counters — especially those mounted in cairns — continues to cause data gaps on several peaks, including Democrat, Grays/Torreys, Handies (American Basin), Redcloud/Sunshine, Sherman, and Sneffels. While modeling can fill in gaps, that is not as accurate as direct counts and may be a source of either undercounting or overcounting.
  • Forest Service infrared trail counters placed at trailheads serving Mounts Belford, Oxford, Harvard, Columbia, Massive and Missouri Mountain provided upper limits for people hiking on these trails, which also serviced other recreational destinations. CFI’s estimates for hiking use on these peaks all fell below the trailhead counts.