Summit County’s Quandary Peak is now the most popular 14er — by far
Amid COVID-19, Quandary saw 29% more hikers than second-place Bierstadt
The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative released data Thursday, June 24, showing how many more people hiked the state’s 14,000-foot peaks in 2020, and nearby Quandary Peak is at the heart of that spike.
After two seasons with similar use levels, Quandary Peak — the lone 14er in Summit County — left Mount Bierstadt in the dust in 2020 as the undisputed most-climbed Colorado 14er. Quandary bested Bierstadt by almost 11,000 hiker days.
The Fourteeners Initiative’s trail counters tabulated 49,179 hiker days at Quandary in 2020 compared with 38,204 at Mount Bierstadt — a staggering 29% difference between the first and second most-hiked 14ers.
Across the state, the number of people climbing a 14,000-foot peak in Colorado last year surged by 44% compared with 2019, reaching an all-time high of 415,000 hiker days. Last summer was also 18% higher than 2018, the previous most trafficked year.
Fourteeners Initiative Executive Director Lloyd Athearn said Quandary’s trail counter on the peak’s most popular route, the east ridge, captured 100% of the estimated 2020 hiking season. Athearn said a trail counter was installed on Bierstadt in mid-July and captured data for 63% of the season. As such, Athearn said early season data on Bierstadt was modeled for the total season estimate of 38,204.
As for Quandary, Athearn said between June 20 and Sept. 7, the mountain saw only five days in which fewer than 200 people climbed the peak.
“The last couple of years with our monitoring, it seemed to be neck and neck, but this last year, (Quandary) just blew (Bierstadt) away,” Athearn said. “… What has been interesting to us is just the size of the increase there.”
Athearn said the Fourteeners Initiative has noted how Quandary is hiked daily compared with more weekend-heavy traffic on Bierstadt and other 14ers. Athearn said Bierstadt actually has higher numbers for Saturdays and Sundays but that the traffic on Quandary is more consistent.
“It seems like it’s constantly seeing a lot of people,” Athearn said.
Athearn said the good news with Quandary is that even though its traffic numbers keep going up, the Fourteeners Initiative and partners have done a great job of maintaining the quality of the trail. In 2018, the Fourteeners Initiative rated the Quandary Peak trail in A-minus condition. Athearn credited local towns, the National Forest Foundation and The Summit Foundation with helping finance work to upkeep the east ridge trail.
“It seems to be showing you can get more people there without having the impact on physical resources on the mountain,” Athearn said. “The trail is in better shape than it was 10 years ago despite seeing significantly more people.”
Athearn and the Fourteeners Initiative are a part of the group of local governments and stakeholders working on a plan to best handle the impacts on the trail and surrounding area, namely congestion, traffic and parking near the popular Quandary Peak Trailhead, which is on the windy switchbacks going up to Hoosier Pass.
“It’s about how you handle so many people loving a great place,” Athearn said.
Athearn said one good thing about the number of hikers on Quandary is that it reflects more people of various backgrounds and hiking experience choosing to recreate outdoors.
“We have both rising obesity, sedentary lifestyle and screen addiction, so getting people out to recreate in nature is a good thing,” Athearn said. “It’s good for health, mental health and leads to people being connected to public lands. But how and where we manage it all, that is a growing issue in Colorado.”
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