By Ashley Peterson
No matter how long you’ve been in Colorado, you have undoubtedly heard of these giants, and I’ve written several articles about them already for this very publication. We’re talking about peaks higher than 14,000 feet. There are 58 of these mountains in Colorado.
This means that there really is something on offer for any hiker’s taste. I have summited 36 since I moved here in July of 2020, but I completed 30 in 30 weeks in 2021, which was an awesome personal accomplishment for me. I have gotten on a bit of a ‘peak streak’ and don’t think I will be giving it up any time soon.
14ers and all other mountains are grouped into five different classifications that give mountaineers some insight into the difficulty of summitting a given peak. Class 1 is the least technical, and Class 5 requires gear such as ropes and harnesses. The most important thing about hiking is being prepared, so know what you’re getting yourself into. It is essential to know the route, the technical ability required, and the terrain.
The webpage 14ers.com is a great resource for all your 14er hiking needs. It even provides a feature that allows you to add tick marks to the peaks you’ve done. Just be careful; while this is a useful tool, making a list may set you on a mind-consuming ‘peak streak’ like me. I also frequently back up my knowledge by using AllTrails and bring that information along too.
In this article I’m going to highlight the 14ers located near Lake City. These five peaks in the San Juans are some of the most accessible from Gunnison and they’re all pretty mild in terms of technicality. Three of them can even be accessed from the same trailhead.
14er difficulty is dependent on time of year, weather conditions, and your fitness level and technical experience. Many of the Lake City 14er routes are Class 1, meaning they do not require technical skills, just good fitness and proper preparation. The peaks that are accessible from this area are some of the closest 14ers to us here in Gunnison.
Without further ado, let’s introduce the Lake City 14ers: Uncompahgre, Red Cloud, Sunshine, Handies, and Wetterhorn. These mountains offer incredible views and fairly easy hiking within the context of 14ers. In fact, Handies Peak (14,048 ft.) is rated as one of the easiest 14ers in Colorado.
If you’re interested in bagging two peaks in one hike, Red Cloud (14,034’) and Sunshine (14,001’) can be connected with a relatively mild ridge route. After you gain the elevation to Red Cloud, you can follow a mellow saddle to the summit of Sunshine. These were my first 14ers!
Moving right along, Uncompahgre (14,309’) is an easy Class 2 hike that delivered one of the best sunrises I have ever seen in my life.
The total hiking distance is just about 7.5 miles. For me, Uncompahgre was a classic example of the weather changing rapidly in the mountains; what started off as a sunny and dry day quickly turned to hail and snow at the summit. The time between the picture above and the picture below was probably about an hour.
Wetterhorn (14,015’) provides a bit more of a challenge. The classic route to the summit of Wetterhorn is only 7 miles roundtrip up the southeast Ridge, but be advised, as it is Class 3. Routes are rated for their most difficult move, so although most of this hike is Class 1, it does get into some rocky Class 3 moves near the summit.
I attempted this peak in the early summer but got turned around due to inclement weather. We made it miles in, through the Class 1 section, but when the trail turned to wet rock and fog so thick you could almost touch it, with no visibility and therefore no ability to route find, the wetter booted us off Wetterhorn (Apologies for the terrible pun). I returned several months later to bag the summit!
The first several miles are very mellow through forests and grassy fields before the trail turns to rock. Once you reach the top of the ridge, some exposed rock scrambling is necessary before you reach the summit. This scramble is the Class 3 section, and it is a ton of fun! We tackled Matterhorn (13,590’) as an added bonus, which can be done by descending Wetterhorn until you reach a big grassy slope on your left, that can be followed up to reach a short Class 3 section and the summit.
After hearing about the relative ease of the Handies route, I decided to take my dad, brother and sister up it when they came to visit me at the end of August. My siblings wanted to experience a mountain like I do, so, headlamps donned before dawn, we had ourselves a lovely alpine start.
Unfortunately, my dad didn’t reach the summit, but my siblings did, and they had a fantastic time! They were exhausted by the time it was over, and they had gained a new respect for the miles I put in in my free time.
After the hike, my dad promised he’d come back and hike a 14er with me; he picked Culebra, so look out for that trip report in May!
These peaks can all be reached rather easily from Gunnison. Don’t forget to stop by the Cannibal Bar (Packer’s Bar) for some much-needed grub after a solid hike!