Summit County home to some of the state’s most popular 14ers, according to 2017 report | SummitDaily.com

Summit County home to some of the state’s most popular 14ers, according to 2017 report

Teague Holmes (front) and Fritz Sperry skin along the final stretch of the East Ridge en route to the summit of Quandary Peak, the only 14er within easy driving distance of Breckenridge. Quandary was the third most hiked 14er last year, according to CFI.

Some of the state's most popular 14ers are still in Summit County, according to the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative's 2017 report. The report found that Grays and Torreys peaks, located on the Clear Creek border and accessible from Summit County, were collectively the second-most-hiked 14er in the state with an estimated 28,500 hiker use days, which represents the number of days one hiker climbed one peak in one day. The third-most was Quandary Peak with over 21,000.

Mount Bierstadt took the crown for most popular 14er, seeing 39,000 hiker use days.

The report declared that there were 334,000 hiker use days on 14ers last year. That is an increase of 23,000 hiker days over the year before. CFI also found a 7 percent increase in overall hiking from 2016 on several 14ers with multiple years of stable data.

The hiker use estimates were gathered with trail counters using infrared sensors. Data from previous years, U.S. Forest Service counters and other metrics were used to fill gaps. The data for several 14ers are different from the 2016 report due to changes in sensor placement. Strictly speaking, the CFI counting process is not scientific, nor subject to peer review, and so the accuracy of the hiking use numbers cannot be verified.

Lloyd F. Athearn, executive director of CFI, said that the data is becoming more reliable every year.

"With each passing year our confidence in the hiker use estimates increases," Athearn said in a press release. "We have improved the number and placement of CFI trail counters, optimized data collection techniques to reduce data gaps and located additional data sets from third parties. The net effect is that estimates of hiker traffic on 32 peaks is based principally on some form of field monitoring."

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Mount Elbert's hiker numbers, which topped the list last year, took a big hit due to a change in sensor placement. In the report, CFI noted that the Elbert counter might have been overcounting in previous years because nearby vegetation heating up and blowing in the wind might have been triggering the sensor. CFI said that the new placement more accurately reflects Elbert visitors.

Regardless of how accurate the data is, the number of visitors to 14ers has certainly been trending up, particularly for 14ers closer to the Front Range.

"Colorado's Fourteeners continue to be some of the most popular mountain hiking and climbing destinations in the country," the organization said in a press release. "More than 55 percent of all 14er hiking use statewide occurs on the 11 peaks closest to the Front Range population centers, while almost one-third of use is concentrated on just six peaks."

The number of hikers also represents a significant amount of money coming into the county. CFI estimates that $90 million is generated by hikers climbing 14ers around the state based on the number of hikers and a 2009 study of the average amount of money spent by hikers in Breckenridge.

However, the increasing popularity of the trails also means increasing strain on the trail networks.

"The challenge is building out and maintaining the network of sustainably designed, durably constructed summit hiking trails — CFI's top priority — before hiking use impacts make this harder and more expensive to do," Athearn said. "If we can provide a robust network of 14er hiking trails that protects the fragile alpine tundra ecosystems through which these trails pass we can protect these signature Colorado peaks while helping foster this source of hiker-generated revenue for years to come. However, use on some peaks is literally mushrooming and may be exceeding CFI's ability to build sustainable summit trails."