Peak Past: Colorado’s 58 – Or Is It 54 – Fourteeners?

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2min 11sec
Wikimedia Commons, Karl Lund
Mount Princeton is one of the fourteeners of the US state of Colorado. It lies in the Collegiate Peaks, in the central part of the Sawatch Range, just west of the Arkansas River. While not one of the highest peaks of the Sawatch it is one of the most dramatic, abruptly rising nearly 7,000 feet above the Arkansas valley in only 6 miles.

“Fourteeners” is a weird word.

If you think about it, 14 is just one of those numbers that doesn’t get a lot of interest or attention. Sweet 16. Turning 18. 21. Those are all a big deal, but nobody much minds fourteen. 

Except here in Colorado.

Because “Fourteeners” refers to our state’s 14,000-foot-high peaks, all falling in the Rockies that run from northern British Columbia all the way down through Colorado into New Mexico, a distance of roughly 3,000 miles.

They’re our state’s backbone, and the Fourteeners are the biggest vertebrae. 

Jeri Nordgren’s book on the history of naming these peaks—titled “Colorado’s Highest”— says the U.S. Geological Survey claims there are 59 Fourteener peaks in Colorado. The Colorado Geological Survey says there are 58. The Colorado Mountain Club lists 54.

So why the discrepancy?

Well, each group has slightly different criteria for what counts toward elevation, like the summit’s rise independent of another peak.

The first great American survey of Colorado’s lands was in 1873, by explorer and university professor Ferdinand Hayden, who coined the term “Front Range” on that expedition, which we still use everyday.

Of course, different groups have had different names for peaks too—the Arapaho called our Pikes Peak “the Long Peak,” the Tabeguache Utes called Pikes Peak “Tava,” meaning “Sun Mountain.”

The Spanish had two names for Pikes Peak: “Montana del Sol” and “El Capitan.” 

Wikimedia Commons
A drawing of Pikes Peak as a panorama from 1890.

Of the 58 Fourteeners on the Colorado Geological Survey list, the Fourteener titles fall in four distinct categories: 17 are descriptive words, seven are Spanish terms, five honor colleges, and 29 are personal names, including one Lt. Zebulon Pike, the namesake for our very own Fourteener here in the Pikes Peak region. 

Until our next mountainside chat—be good, be well, and no matter what, climb on.

Peak Past (formerly Peak Perspectives) is a weekly segment written and voiced by Matt Cavanaugh, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and a resident of Manitou Springs where he lives with his wife and two young children. Through his writing, Cavanuagh explores life in the Pikes Peak region, including the gradients and subtleties of our lives in the shadow of America's Mountain. 

You can find more work by Cavanaugh here.

KRCC's Abigail Beckman manages the "Peak Past" series. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of KRCC or Colorado Public Radio.

Peak Past is sponsored by Gold Hill Mesa.