Ever since I summited my first 14er back in 2010 I have been hooked on being above 14,000 feet. There is just something magical about being eye level with the clouds.
Last summer I set a lofty goal of completing every 14er by age 30. There are 54 14ers, and I have currently done 22 of them. While I’d like to eventually summit all of the 14ers I think I may be revising my goal for several reasons.
The problem with 14ers is that everyone else and their mom agrees with me. On popular front range 14ers (e.g. Greys & Torreys, Quandary, Bierstadt, etc.) there are caravans of hundreds of people hiking every summer weekend. If you arrive after 7 a.m. you are sometimes out of luck as far as finding parking! I love being in mountains to reconnect with nature and find solitude on the high peaks – sometimes 14ers do not provide this experience.
Luckily I’m pretty much done with the high traffic 14ers. I need to do Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln and Bross in the front range and just Mt. Antero, Mt. Missouri, Mt. Columbia in the Collegiates. After that it’s on to the Elk, San Juan and Sangre de Cristo ranges, which are not a day trip for Denver residents and will be much less crowded. Because of the distance and planning these peaks will require, I think my goal will be 3-4 peaks a summer. I’m not going to get all 54 peaks by age 30 but that’s okay! Why? Well you see I’ve recently fallen in love with hiking shorter peaks.
Because of the fixation that Coloradans (myself included!) have with 14ers the “smaller” mountains tend to go ignored. While the parking lot for Greys and Torreys is full every Saturday morning in July, neighboring peaks that are 12,000+ feet and offer the exact same views are often deserted. Graham and I hiked Mt. Yale earlier this summer, which was his first 14er ever. He’s a Colorado native and had always only hiked 12ers and 13ers for the exact reasons above. Over Labor Day weekend we were in Grand Lake for the weekend, so Graham had the chance to introduce me to the exciting world of sub-14ers.
The Indian Peaks Wilderness borders the Boulder area along the front range, and it’s a pretty popular place for people to hike. The western side of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, located by the bustling metropolis of Granby, is probably 1/20 as popular.
Graham and I had originally intended to hike to Upper Lake, about a 10 mile hike from the Roaring Fork Trailhead. The first part of the trail was brutally steep, much like a 14er, and probably helped keep a lot of casual day hikers from attempting the hike. We had the trail completely to ourselves and saw no sign of others.
The scenery was lush and green, and we hiked alongside a creek for the first few miles. Cooper was excited about the creek, taking several swim breaks along the way. #mountainpup
When we reached an exposed mountainous valley at treeline I was instantly a believer in sub-14ers. We were in a beautiful mountain valley, eye level with the jagged Indian Peaks and not a soul was in sight. I was half-tempted to start running around Julie Andrews style and sing “The Hills Are Alive.”
Graham and I veered off-trail at this point because we wanted to see the view from the top of a nearby peak. We found a worn trail and headed towards the peak. We were immediately rewarded with awesome views of Lake Granby.
At the summit we found a trail register in a peanut butter jar. Graham and I were interested in knowing what peak we were standing on after all, and as it turned out we had found Mt. Irving Hale, an 11,754 foot peak. The trail registry dated as far back as the early 1990s, which was kind of crazy to see. Physical proof of how much less traffic Irving Hale got than a 14er.
If you noticed giant puffy clouds in the summit photo don’t worry we saw those too. After evaluating the weather at the summit we decided to just turn around from Irving Hale and not continue to our original destination of Upper Lake. We quickly got back below treeline and the weather cleared. I’m always happy to not take my chances with weather though because you never know when you’re not going to be lucky.
Once we got back to the creek we took a much needed break to soak our feet in the cold stream. The trail had been steep on the way up and back down, so it felt great to submerge my aching feet in some seriously cool water.
Overall my first sub-14er was an awesome experience. It offered everything I love about 14ers minus the congestion. And the best thing about sub-14ers? See below.
Peaks in Colorado:
14ers – 54
13ers – 637
12ers – 676
11ers – 468
I’ll let the numbers talk for themselves.
I’ll also let Cooper talk. Look at how happy that pup was after a sub-14er!