Why fall might be one of the best times to hike one of Summit County’s 14ers or 13ers
Fall foliage, less traffic on the trails and stable weather patterns could make this time of year a more enjoyable experience — if you can withstand the cold
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include accurate information about various peaks and to correct Summit County Rescue Group’s name.
In the summer months, people flock to Summit County to take advantage of the area’s vast trail system, and among those looking to stretch their legs are hikers willing to ascend to the top of a 13er or even a 14er.
Summit County technically boasts two 14er peaks out of Colorado’s 58 (though some experienced climbers will say there’s a handful less than that due to technicalities). Regardless of the total number of 14ers in the state, the only three in Summit County are Quandary Peak, and Grays and Torreys Peaks, the latter of which technically fall within two county lines.
Because the trailhead most often used for Grays and Torreys Peaks are located in Clear Creek County, most Summit County adventure-seekers are usually looking to Quandary if they are wanting to ascend 14,000 feet or above.
Peaks that are 13,000 feet or above, otherwise known as 13ers, are more abundant in Summit County. For example, according to Climb13ers.com, the Tenmile Range encompasses Fletcher Mountain and Wheeler Mountain, both near Copper Mountain. The Gore Range includes Red Peak near Silverthorne. And the Front Range includes Grizzly Peak and Bald Mountain.
Summer is the most popular season to hike tall mountains like these, mostly due to warmer temperatures. But Cindy Ebbert, land and mineral specialist for Dillon Ranger District, said fall offers its own splendid experience.
“I would agree that the number of people hiking Quandary Peak diminishes in the fall, and so if you’re looking for an experience where you see less people, it’s a great time to go,” Ebbert said. “Also currently right now, we have amazing fall colors. The alpine tundra changes, the color changes and the vegetation — so it’s just really beautiful and crisp and spectacular out there if you have a good weather day.”
Here’s what you need to know about setting off on a 13er or a 14er in the fall months.
Perhaps the biggest difference hiking in July and August versus September and October is the steep drop in temperatures and the difference in weather patterns.
Lloyd Athearn, executive director for the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, said in the summer, monsoon rains usually roll in at some point during the afternoon. He noted it’s dangerous to be at such a high elevation in those conditions, but in fall, there’s less of this kind of risk.
“In fall, you can get these gloriously sunny, stable, cloudless days where you don’t have the time pressure as much as the “oh my gosh, I have to get off this peak definitely before noon if not beforehand,’” Athearn said. “You can maybe have a more leisurely climb, so the weather tends to be, during the course of a day, more stable.”
That’s not to say the fall doesn’t present its own set of challenges. This time of year is usually when snow or frost will set in overnight, making for a chilly morning and slippery conditions. By nature, it’s also colder this time of year, which means it will be significantly chillier at the peak of the mountain. Pair those temperatures with high winds, and it could feel quite brisk once you get to the top.
So how is packing for a fall ascent different than a summer ascent? The biggest difference is in clothing.
Both Athearn and Ebbert said the most important thing to pack is additional layers of clothing so you are prepared for whatever the mountain throws at you. This means long underwear layers, fleece linings and some sort of thick-shelled coat that can withstand snow, rain and wind. Gloves and a hat should be packed too.
Beyond that, the packing list doesn’t change much. Anna DeBattiste, Summit County Rescue Group’s spokesperson, said it’s crucial to take “10 essentials” with you for long hikes such as these. When packing, keep in mind the chillier temperatures.
These items include: navigation equipment such as a compass and maps; a headlamp; sun protection including sunglasses and sunscreen; a first aid kit that includes foot care; a knife; matches and a lighter; shelter to protect you from the elements in case of an emergency; extra food; extra water; and extra clothes.
DeBattiste said of all the calls Summit County Rescue Group receives, “a fair share” come from altitude sickness or individuals who got injured on the mountain such as a blown out knee or a twisted ankle.
Other common calls are for lost individuals or hikers who go a different way down the mountain than they came up.
In 2018, the rescue group responded to six calls in the Quandary Peak and McCullough Gulch area. In 2019, that number dropped to three but in 2020, it rose to 10. In 2021, the number jumped to 23 calls. So far this year, the rescue group has responded to 13 calls in that area.
The Summit County Rescue Group is staffed by non-paid professionals that respond 24 hours a day seven days a week. For more information on their work, visit SCRG.org.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.
Now more than ever, your financial support is critical to help us keep our communities informed. Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.
Your donation will be used exclusively to support quality, local journalism.