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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.

Guided Rock Climbing Tours in Colorado

Fashionably Late to the Party: Rock Climbing Season in the High Country

   In a region dominated by seasonal change, outdoor enthusiasts must learn to adapt, and adjust their activity of choice a few times throughout the year. Winter brings a deep bounty of snow, upon which backcountry skiers and riders glide through powder and hone their skills, while weaving through thickets of pine. Spring brings a stability to the snowpack which enables us to tackle aesthetic couloirs among the higher and steeper terrain. Slowly, as the warming sun brings a season of melt, pedals begin to spin, and once the trails have dried, mountain bikers rise from the valley and into the hills. During this season of transition, cliffs and crags also begin to see the sun. Their faces and crevices drying out as the snow above streaks down and dissipates into the thin air. For a climber, the warmth of April and May, is a time of transformation from skiing to rock climbing, and frankly, it leaves me giddy like a child.

     Life in Breckenridge, at 10,000 feet, is a far cry from my previous life at zero feet in Ocean Beach, San Diego. Besides the obvious surfing, beach dwelling, and endless burritos, rock climbing was a year round affair. I could climb the local practice crags on the 99 percent of days that didn’t see rain. In the heart of winter, with a couple hours drive, we could find ourselves plugging cams in the world-class, Dr Seuss-esque territory that is Joshua Tree. Southern California’s distinct lack of seasonal change is what many believe to be its best asset, yet it’s easy to fall into a rut this way. The mountainous terrain of Summit County is the antithesis of this, providing an outlet to keep things fresh. It’s no secret that rock climbing season arrives late at this altitude, but the prior months spent skiing only amplifies my excitement for seeking change in the form of dry rock.

     There is a certain mindfulness to be gained while climbing on rock in the warmth of the sunshine; bathing like a lizard with its tongue stuck out. In shorts and a t-shirt, placing bare hands and sock-less toes on the minute alterations in the rock’s face. Rising above the last piece of protection, upward progress in this primitive state is a privilege, not a right; each step higher must be earned, or else be swept back down. Like skiing untracked powder, rock climbing is both an artistic dance and a demonstration of musculature. Finesse meets power with the hopes of topping out.

     Contrasting the aesthetic and simple enjoyment both these disciplines provide, they boast a striking difference when it comes to physical contributions to one’s psyche. Periodization in fitness training, typically refers to trending the down swings from breaking down muscle during workouts, with the up swings from the resulting super compensation, to achieve an elevated status at a certain point at the end of a cycle. Blocks of these cycles are stacked upon one another, and when it comes to backcountry, human-powered skiing, by April and May you’ve developed butts and thighs for days, but with little muscle gain in the upper body. While this puts the skier at peak performance for those big 5,000+ foot, springtime ski objectives, all that added weight below the belt acts as an inhibitor while trying to hold on with just finger tips during rock climbing sessions. In opposition, once nearing the end of high country climbing season around October, the lean strength gained while on the rock, creates a strong upper body with thin, sinewy legs. After all, rock climbing is all about the strength versus weight ratio, and to achieve peak climbing performance at the end of the cycle, those heavy legs have got to go.

     In terms of lifelong fitness gains, this biannual cycle from skiing to climbing and back again, builds a robust cardiovascular and musculature system that is tenacious and willing to adapt. One does not strictly benefit the other, but in the long run, they work together in unison to obtain a well-rounded level of athleticism. The fitness nerd in me loves this cyclical periodization, but above the tangible, both sports are truly encompassed by the way they make you feel, within an immaterial figment of our heart. A collective gathering of mind, body, and soul, with the singular purpose to create happiness.

     By late April and early May, our south facing crags are ready to see their first ascents of the season and help us to remember what it’s like to hold the rock just right. By June, even the forested rocks are arriving to the party, calling to anyone who will join them in a vertical dance. Rock climbing season arrives fashionably late here in the high country, but there are many among us who are eager and fit for the challenge that lies ahead.

Join Colorado Adventure Guides this summer to either take your rock climbing skills to the next level or simply try top-roping for the first time. We offer guided days for all ability levels, as well as structured courses to gain the knowledge and experience to tackle new objectives on your own. Check out the rock climbing section on our website to learn more.

Here is a list of the climbing courses we’ll be offering this upcoming season:

  • Rock 101: Intro to Rock Climbing – Thurs 6/28, Sat 7/7, Thurs 8/2, Sat 9/15
  • Rock 201: Anchor Building – Thurs 7/12 & Sat 8/11
  • Rock 301: Learn to Lead Sport – Sat 7/14 & Thurs 8/16
  • Rock 501: Self-Rescue on Rock – Thurs 7/26 & Sat 8/18

*Dave is the lead climbing guide and operations manager with Colorado Adventure Guides in beautiful Breckenridge, Colorado. He takes pride in pushing his clients to new heights and urging them past perceived limitations to achieve their goals. During the shoulder seasons, he and his wife take to the road in their camper van to climb, ski, hike, and explore the places that continually inspire them.

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