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peak ascent - grays and torreys

7 Tips for Hiking a Fourteener in Colorado

6 Reasons to Take a Mountain Bike Skills Course in Colorado

7 Important Tips for Hiking one of Colorado’s Fourteeners

How to Hike a Fourteener: Tips for Climbing Grays, Torreys, Quandary, and other High Colorado Summits

Guided Hiking in Colorado

For hikers in Colorado, few objectives are more sought after than the state’s 58 peaks above 14,000 feet. Some of the best peaks accessed from Summit County include Grays Peak, Torreys Peak, and Quandary Peak. All of these mountains offer up a great intro to climbing Colorado’s Fourteeners.

Hikers from Denver to Florida flock to Colorado’s high Rockies to hike to our many 14,00-foot summits, and many may not realize what an undertaking a climb like this can be. But with proper planning and preparation, you’ll find yourself safely back at the trailhead reminiscing on summit stories.

Understanding the Terrain: What’s it Like to Climb a Fourteener?

Guided Peak Ascents in Colorado

Colorado has the highest concentration of 14,000-foot peaks in the U.S. We’ve got our high average elevation and proximity to the Rockies and Continental Divide to thank for that. Because these peaks rise far above treeline, the terrain is a rocky alpine wonderland that is both imposing and challenging. Fourteener difficulty varies widely from peak to peak—some have a well-maintained and easy to follow trail to the summit, while others require skilled route-finding and often ropes and climbing skills.

No matter which peak you choose to climb, you’re bound to be met with a rewarding challenge. You’ll need to climb thousands of feet of elevation gain on the hike up and then have the energy to get back down after a summit celebration. You’ll likely traverse sections of loose rock and boulder fields and you’ll probably find yourself on a windy ridge. And, of course, you’ll be topping out over 14,000 feet above sea level, so you’ll need to be acclimated to the elevation. The challenge of climbing one of Colorado’s Fourteeners will reward you with views of surrounding high peaks, alpine flora and fauna, and a good leg-burning hike to remember.

Successful Summits: Common Mistakes and Tips for Hiking your First Fourteener

If you’re new to hiking Colorado’s high peaks, it’s necessary to be prepared for the adventure. It can be easy to overlook the details before you head out for your trek, but if you’ve done your research and trained well, you’re more likely to have a great time on your push to the summit.

Guided Hiking Tours in Summit County, Colorado

1. Assess your Fitness Level

Climbing a Fourteener is more demanding than your typical hiking trail. You’ll be out for multiple hours, climbing in elevation, and encountering alpine terrain. Be sure you’re physically prepared for the challenge before you set out from the trailhead with the summit in mind. Many hikers new to Fourteeners underestimate how tough the climb can be, and the hike isn’t over once you’re at the summit; you’ve got to get back to the trailhead safely, too. The more physically prepared you are for the climb, the better the experience will be. Hit the trails and hike some steeper climbs as training before you set your sights on a Fourteener.

Guided Fourteeners in Colorado

2. Acclimate to Altitude

The altitude in Colorado is no joke. Going from a low elevation up to 14,000 feet too quickly is a bad idea. Take the time to adjust to the thinner mountain air before starting your climb. Do a shorter hike at a moderate elevation, or spend a night at camp before you hit the high peaks to help your lungs and legs adjust. Doing this will only make your Fourteener hike that much more enjoyable.

Fourteener Route Selection

3. Know your Route

Do your homework before you head out to hike. Study maps and trail routes so you know where you’re headed before your boots hit the dirt. For most Fourteeners, it’s crucial to stay on your intended route in order to avoid impassable sections of trail, like cliffs. Know how many miles you have ahead of you and how much climbing you’ll have to do so that you can get a better gauge of how long it will take.

Packing for Fourteeners

4. Pack the Essentials

Bring a pack along for the trek and make sure it’s full of everything you need for your hike: water, food, navigation, layers, first aid, and communication. Bring more water than you think you’ll need; the high alpine can dehydrate you quickly, between the altitude, wind, and sun. Sip plenty of water throughout the hike to stay hydrated. Have trail snacks on hand, and maybe even pack a lunch to chow on at the summit. Be sure that you have a map and compass (and know how to read and use them). GPS navigation can be helpful too if that’s your style, but don’t rely on that alone. Anytime you venture into the wilderness, it’s always a good idea to have some basic first aid on hand.

When you pick your layers for the hike, remember that it may be calm and warm at the trailhead, but that 14,000-foot summit is likely to be chilly and windy. Bring extra layers just in case and definitely don’t forget your sunglasses and sunscreen—the rays are strong up here!

Check the Weather Before Hiking

5. Check the Weather

Colorado is fickle. One minute it will be hot and sunny, and the next it could be snowing and blowing. Take a good look at the weather forecast when you’re planning your hike. In the summer months, it’s common for afternoon thunderstorms to roll in and the last place you want to be when there’s lightning is above treeline on a high peak.

Summer Peak Ascents in Colorado

6. Get out Early

Many Fourteener hikers fancy headlamps, and for a good reason. Getting an early (often pre-dawn) start on these high peaks is a great way to ensure you’ve got plenty of time to hike and to help you avoid the afternoon thunderstorms that linger in the mountains mid-summer. And there’s another bonus to early starts: watching the sunrise color the mountains from the trail.

Summer Peak Ascents in Colorado

7. Know When to Turn Around

It’s great to plan hikes with an objective, like a 14,000-foot summit, but it’s also important to know when these objectives may be out of reach on any given day. Sometimes it’s the weather and others it’s how you’re feeling. Either way, knowing when it’s time to turn around and try another day is a crucial skill for hikers.

When it comes to weather, keep an eye on the skies. If you see dark clouds forming and you haven’t reached the summit yet, it’s time to turn around and try another day before the lightning and thunder end up right overhead. The summit will always be there.

It’s also important to look out for signs of altitude sickness when hiking at high elevations. Common symptoms are nausea, headache, and fatigue. Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill to instantly cure altitude sickness and the best thing to do is go down to a lower elevation. If you’re not feeling well, don’t try to struggle to the summit anyway. Most instances of altitude sickness are mild, but pushing it too hard can result in more serious conditions like High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). Turn around before you have to remember those acronyms.

As long as you’re well prepared, hiking Colorado’s Fourteeners is a fun and rewarding challenge that allows you to be immersed in the high Rockies. Avoid the common mistakes of hikers new to this challenge and you’ll likely have a good time and hopefully find yourself with some summit stories to take home with you.

Fourteeners Near Summit County: Grays, Torreys, and Quandary Peak

For visitors to Summit County, the easiest accessed Fourteeners are Quandary Peak and Grays and Torreys Peaks. Quandary sits just south of Breckenridge near Hoosier Pass and is a great intro to hiking Fourteeners. Grays and Torreys sit along the Front Range on the edge of Summit County. The two peaks are connected by a saddle and are often hiked together in the same day. For hikers climbing these peaks for the first time without a guide, we highly recommend taking the standard route up each peak as it will be the most straight-forward, easiest to follow, and usually the least challenging.

What if I want to Hire a Guide?

We’re here to help! Climbing a Fourteener with an experienced local guide has many benefits. A guide can help with showing you the route while offering up fun facts about the area you’re hiking in. Plus, if you’re interested in climbing one of the peaks near Summit County, like Grays and Torreys or Quandary from an alternate route, a guide can show you the way through mountain meadows and up alpine ridgelines to the summit with fewer crowds and spicier trails. 

Colorado Adventure Guides operates on Quandary Peak, where we guide both the standard route and alternate routes to the summit, as well as Grays and Torreys Peaks where we take hikers up alternative routes, like Kelso Ridge. Or, if a day hike doesn’t quite satisfy, we guide overnight hikes, camping near treeline before summiting the next day. 

half day mountain bike ride

6 Reasons to Take a Mountain Bike Skills Course in Colorado

6 Reasons to Take a Mountain Bike Skills Course in Colorado

Intro to Mountain Biking Course Colorado

Summit County is home to some of the best mountain biking in the state of Colorado. Hundreds of miles of single-track weave across the mountains and through the valleys from Keystone, Dillon, and Silverthorne to Frisco and Breckenridge, and even down the slopes of Copper Mountain. Few places offer more miles of prime mountain bike trails, and it’s a dreamy place to ride whether you’re a complete beginner or seasoned pro.

Whether you’re new to mountain biking or you’ve got miles of single-track under your belt, it never hurts to practice the fundamentals and learn some new skills to progress on the bike. For new riders, the trails can be intimidating. With a little bike-handling knowledge and some confidence-inspiring skills, you’ll find yourself flowing through berms and bumps with ease. But the basics aren’t just for beginners. Experienced riders can often find the keys to progression by returning to foundational skills. One of the best ways to do this is through a mountain bike skills course led by a killer guiding company.  These are our top 6 reasons to take a mountain bike skills course, so read on if you’re curious about jumping into the world of MTB or looking to progress as a rider.

#1 Learn Mountain Bike Basics

Being a beginner is awesome. It presents a fun, new challenge to get excited about and the sky’s the limit when it comes to progression. But, as with any outdoor sport, it’s tough to get started without some basic knowledge. That’s when a beginner bike course can be extremely helpful to get you out on the trails. Modern bikes are complex and many of the components will feel alien to new riders, and that’s okay! We’re here to help you know your way around your bike so that you understand the basic components.

There’s a lot to learn when you’re new to the world of mountain biking, and we want to make sure you’re aware of more than just how to pedal. Along with riding skills, a course can teach new riders basics like trail etiquette as well as how to give your bike a good inspection before heading out on a ride.

It’s also helpful to know proper body positioning and to gain a general awareness on the bike. YouTube will only get you so far. Having a certified instructor to help you learn these skills on the dirt will allow you to get feedback from a professional and let the information soak in better as you practice. Where should I place my foot on the pedal? When should I shift into a lower or higher gear? How should I balance my weight on the bike? These are common questions for beginners and a course will not just tell you the answers, but show you how and allow you to practice.

mountain bike rides
mountain bike rides

#2 Gain Confidence on the Trails

Colorado Mountain Biking Trips

Maybe you’re totally new to the sport and you’re nervous to hop on the bike for the first time. Or perhaps you’ve been at it for a while and find yourself stuck and in need of some extra encouragement to ride tougher trails. Either way, a skills course will help you gain or rebuild confidence on your bike.

For new riders, practicing the fundamentals with an experienced guide will allow you to learn valuable tips and tricks when starting out. Then, instead of having to learn all this the hard way, you can hit the trails with some familiarity of your bike and how to ride it with ease.

A course can also be useful for learning skills like basic on-trail bike repair. These are the sort of things that make you a more well-rounded and self-sufficient rider so that you have the confidence to get farther out on the trails knowing you can get yourself back even with a dreaded mechanical.

#3 Level Up Your Riding

Mountain Bike Colorado

Skills courses aren’t just for beginners. If you’ve been biking for a while but find that you’re not progressing as much as you’d like, an instructor can be very helpful in pointing out the areas where you can improve to level up your riding. Oftentimes, this means getting back to some basics in order to relearn skills or break bad habits. But, it’s also about learning new and more advanced skills so that you can start riding better and feel comfortable on more challenging terrain. Having trouble taking that corner faster, rolling over that rock garden or into that drop? A skills course just might unlock the secrets to sending.

#4 Break Bad Habits

Colorado Mountain Bike Guides

If you’re a new rider, why develop bad habits when you could learn the right way from the get go? Getting instruction will help to nip bad habits in the bud as you’re learning to flow on the trails. And whether we learned from pros or taught ourselves, any rider can develop bad habits. An instructor can help by observing your riding and pointing out areas where you’re stuck using the wrong technique, and then allowing you to practice to rebuild good habits.

#5 Discover New Trails in Summit County

mountain bike course

When you get out on a skills course with Colorado Adventure Guides, you’re getting more than an instructor—you’re also getting a guide. You may find yourself on fun new trails that you’ve never ridden before, even in your own backyard. And we all know how fun it is to discover new single-track to ride. Resources like TrailForks and MTB Project are great, but nothing’s as good as a local guide showing you some awesome spots.

#6: Meet New Biking Buddies

Full Day Mountain Bike Tour

A skills course is a great way to jump-start your riding abilities, or catapult you into new skills. And chances are, the people in the course with you are there for the same reasons: to progress and have fun on bikes. Taking a course allows you to get to know other like-minded bikers, and you may just find some new riding partners to help encourage and fuel your progression long after the course is over.

At Colorado Adventure Guides, we offer a few different options for instructional mountain bike courses.

Intro to Mountain Biking Course

This course is designed for folks who are new to the beautiful sport of mountain biking. If you’ve had little to no experience on a mountain bike, our instructors will show you the fundamentals of riding the trails so you’ll have the confidence to get out there for some fun on your own. We’ll cover things like basic bike awareness, offer some skills practice, and then we’ll hit the trails to put those newly minted skills to work.

Intermediate Mountain Biking Course

If you’ve been riding for a while and you’re ready to take it to the next level, this course will give you the tools to do just that. You’ll work on skills like cornering and small drops, and practice riding some spicy technical stuff, too. On top of that, our intermediate courses cover things like basic on-trail bike repair and how to dial in your suspension to maximize your bike’s potential—all things that will help you have more fun out on the trails.

AIARE Level 2 Avalanche Education Course

Corn Skiing: Spring comes early to the high-country

Historically, March is one of our snowiest months in Summit County, and typically great for backcountry skiing.  However, this season, March has been virtually snowless.  Warm sunny days combined with the lack of new snow, has sent our snowpack into a transitional phase.  With this transition, corn season arrived, and while it’s not the powder that most of us seek, it can be pretty darned fun.

What’s corn?  According to the National Avalanche Center, “corn snow” is defined as large-grained, rounded crystals formed from repeated melting and freezing of the snow.  Corn snow forms when we reach a point in the season where air temperatures continue to drop below freezing at night and rise above freezing during the day.  This cycle of freezing and thawing maintains a solid, supportable snowpack, with the surface snow warming throughout the day to create a layer of soft, granular snow, which is great for skiing.  When caught just right, it can often feel a lot like powder skiing.  While it seems simple enough, farming good corn for skiing takes a ton of practice, as it relies entirely on weather patterns and is very time and aspect dependent.  Corn skiing can be extremely fickle and finding the goods is hardly guaranteed.  The slightest cloud-cover or presence of too much wind blowing across the snow surface can erase the corn cycle that day.

Spring can be a complicated time for planning a day of backcountry skiing.  You must be flexible and ready to go when the conditions are right.  The ski guides at Colorado Adventure Guides have been skiing the Summit County backcountry for many years and are constantly tuned into the conditions in order to ensure quality ski conditions for their guests.  So, if you’re looking to try something new, join Colorado Adventure Guides for a day of spring corn skiing and enjoy skiing from the summit of one of our snowy peaks.

Intro to Backcountry Touring

Spring in the County: A tale of sport schizophrenia and suffering

Spring is a funny time in the high-country.  Powder skiing turns to corn skiing.  Backcountry skiers venture farther and higher into the mountains to ski bigger lines.  Some folks abandon skiing altogether and dust off their mountain bikes for spring desert trips.  Others drive to lower altitudes to find dry crags for rock climbing.  It’s like outdoor sport schizophrenia.  The time of year when your vehicle is always loaded down with all the different types of adventure equipment and you decide daily which activity is on the agenda.  It’s fun.  It’s confusing.

For backcountry ski adventurers, Spring is the season of suffering.  Good suffering.  Type 2 fun.  As the spring sun takes a higher angle in the sky, days get longer, and the temps get warmer, our go-to ski spots become harder (if not impossible) to access.  No longer are we putting our skins on in our backyard for a quick afternoon tour.  In fact, we are rarely still in ski boots by the time afternoon rolls around.  Our days begin several hours before first light, often in hiking shoes, skis and boots attached to our packs, and sharp things at the ready for when the climb gets steep. Some may refer to our plans as “hair-brained.”

When the alarm went off at 2:45am, I groaned.  It’s an awful time to wake up and nobody ever gets to bed early enough to make 3 am seem like an appropriate hour to be roused from slumber.  You really have to want it.  I wanted it.   So, I got up, and put the coffee on.  In the pre-dawn darkness, waiting for that hot liquid that would surely make 3 am seem like an okay time to be awake, I decided to look over the maps once last time before heading out to meet the boys.  The plan was in place, well, two-thirds of it at least.  We’d start out walking on a seasonal forest road until we hit snow, then throw the skis on and before long we’d be at the top.  Plan A was to ski an east facing chute then climb back to the top and ski a north facing line into a different drainage than we climbed.  Seemed simple enough.

Maps and plans are “theory.” Until you are standing beneath the objective, you have little knowledge of the “reality.”  As we approached the base of the behemoth mountain around sunrise, it didn’t take long to realize that Plan A was shaping up to be a lot like showing up to an all-you-can-eat buffet with a growling stomach.  There was clearly no way we could eat everything we’d piled on our plate.  So, we abandoned the “warm up” line and shifted our focus to the main event, a 3,600 foot north facing couloir descending into no-man’s land.  The descent would dump us into a relatively mysterious zone, with very little beta available for planning.  We had decided ahead of time that we would make our egress plan once we got down there and put eyes on the lay of the land.

Just to reiterate, maps are mostly theory.  Sure, you can get an idea of general topography.  But, what you don’t see on maps, are the micro-details, the rock outcroppings, the cliffs, the trees, the little creeks, seasonal conditions, or the deadfall.  To make a long story short, what seemed like a relatively straightforward exit, became one of the longest slogs back to the car of all time.  After almost 9 miles and several hours of walking, in the sun, carrying gear that got heavier with each step, and discussing topics like hanging up the ski gear for the summer and the definition of the word “private”, we made it back to our starting point.  By the end of the 13 hour day, we had all resolved to take at least a week (if not the whole summer) off from skis, boots, crampons, Clif bars, deadfall, and suffering.

It has been five days, and I’m just wondering what we are skiing next…or biking…or climbing….

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