Leaves have changed in the high country and some of the high peaks have seen dustings of fresh snow, but that doesn’t mean fourteener season is over in Colorado. The fall can be an especially enjoyable time to climb Fourteeners, even in October.
“It’s generally a little bit cooler, a little bit less crowded, so people are able to enjoy the hike a little bit more,” said Reed Fischer of the Colorado Mountain Club. “The fall colors make for a really unique look at a lot of the peaks.”
And while fourteener climbers must always be vigilant about weather, the threat of thunderstorms boiling up over the high peaks the way they do in the summer is significantly reduced in the fall.
Monsoonal flows common to summer typically are shut off. Cold fronts also help wring moisture out of the air. The goal doesn’t have to be getting off the summit by noon to avoid lightning, something that is highly advisable in the summer.
“You get those fronts in the fall where it clears everything out and there is zero chance of thunderstorms, so you can be up there all day,” said Jon Kedrowski, who slept on the summit of every Colorado fourteener in 2011 and produced a photo book about the adventure called “Sleeping on the Summits.” “You don’t have to leave at 3 a.m. to summit,” he said. “You can leave at 6 or 7 a.m.”
In fact, when Kedrowski finished his fourteener project with an ascent of the Mount of the Holy Cross near Vail, the date was Sept. 28.
“I knew I could go up there and stay the night and not worry about storms in the afternoon and shoot sunset photos, sunrise photos,” Kedrowski said.
Cooler temperatures mean more comfortable conditions for climbing in the middle of the day, but they also mean it can be near freezing when your hike begins, so plan accordingly and pack extra layers of clothing. There may have been recent snow that melted and then froze overnight, so you can encounter patchy early morning ice on rocks.
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Kedrowski recommends keeping that in mind when picking a mountain to climb and which route to choose. The typical route up Quandary Peak near Breckenridge, for example, is via its east ridge. That side of the mountain will catch early morning sun, which can take the chill out of the climb.
“Some years, you get that first dusting of snow and that can be treacherous on the semi-technical ones,” Kedrowski said. “But this year, it really hasn’t taken effect yet. We’ve had a few of those snowstorms but nothing major where it’s sticking significantly. The peaks up high are still fairly clear of snow and ice. Even the technical ones like Capitol and the Maroon Bells are snow-free. You can climb them and not have to worry about anybody else.”
In fact, Kedrowski has made an annual autumnal ritual of climbing Capitol, a popular but precipitous peak near Aspen.
“When you do Capitol in midweek in late September, there’s never anybody up there,” Kedrowski said. “The last four falls in a row, I go up there and do it. I just love Capitol Peak.”
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