A 14er by Any Other Name

By PI HEUSTED

If you were to ask your hiking buddy to choose between two mountains to summit this weekend and one is a 14er but the other isn’t, they’d want to summit the 14er. Every conversation I have about hiking seems to be about one thing: Colorado’s 14ers.

Photo by Austin Halpern

Even at home in Washington, there is this bizarre obsession with taking trips to Colorado, climbing a 14,000-foot peak, and then posting about it on every possible social media platform. I understand the desire to have a concrete goal, like summiting every 14er in the state, but I don’t think that these peaks are all they’re cracked up to be.

In Colorado, hiking seems to be less about the actual climb and more about the bragging rights that come with the height of the summit. The goal is to be on top of a mountain taller than someone else’s and to then go out the next weekend and do it again. You have to be sure to document all of this on social media so that everyone knows that you hiked a 14er and to gain the prestige that comes with having a long list of 14er summits.

I will admit that when I was first looking at Colorado College, I was drawn to this notion of checking 14ers off of a list, so I started doing some research. The only 14er in Washington is Mount Rainier, and I half-expected the 14ers in Colorado to be similar: requiring glacier travel, several days to summit, 10 miles of climbing with 9,000 feet of elevation gain — but this isn’t the case.

Grays Peak, one of the most popular 14ers in Colorado, is an 8-mile hike with 3,000 feet of gain; it shares distance and elevation gain that are shockingly similar to Mount Si in Washington, a hike with a reputation for being a popular trip for beginning hikers or “weekend warriors.” Grays’ status as a 14er seems to make it a more impressive hike, despite the class 3 scramble at the end of Mount Si.

I’m also puzzled with the strange emphasis on the Colorado 14ers — not Alaska’s, or California’s, or the one in Washington. Colorado does have the most 14ers of any state, but it also has the highest mean elevation; any hike you start in Colorado is going to give you a higher start point than hikes in other states.

It’s not that the 14ers here are all technical climbs that attract alpinists looking for a new challenge, or that they’re the tallest peaks in the U.S.; instead, there is a collective desire to summit the Colorado 14ers for the sake of talking about how many you have summited.

Maybe I’m just a purist, but I worry that this borderline fetishization of summiting 14ers takes away from what makes hiking so enjoyable for so many people: spending time outdoors. Your abilities or “clout” as a hiker shouldn’t come from how many 14ers you’ve crossed off your list, but instead from your respect for the mountains and a true love of being outside.

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