Mt. Bierstadt Colorado Winter 14ers

Winter 14ers for Beginner Mountaineers: Top 10

With the fall and winter months approaching quickly, Colorado mountaineers are whipping out the crampons and double boots in lieu of the trad rack and trail runners. But if you’re new to the big mountains, the cold and snow can be quite intimidating for good reason. If you’re looking to bag some winter 14ers but don’t want to risk your life to do so, this list list can help steer you to some solid safer climbs. Whether you’re looking for a more intense climb than the summer hikes or love the solitude of the off-season, winter 14ers can be an amazing experience.

However, before even considering attempting any of these winter 14ers, I would recommend that you have experience with climbing 14ers or at least 13ers in the warmer months, or at minimum go with someone who is familiar with the mountain and the cold. For nearly all of these climbs, I recommend having at minimum microspikes and trekking poles. It was a very rare day that these aren’t essential pieces of gear. In addition to that, most of the climbs call for snowshoes, especially after a storm or on the less travelled routes, and many of them necessitate an ice axe and the experience with using one. 10 point crampons are rarely if ever necessary on most of these routes.

This is not meant to be an all inclusive guide to each climb, just merely an introduction to help you decide which climbs to do. Always check weather and route conditions beforehand. I’ve linked to some helpful resources at the bottom.

The short and sweet winter 14ers:

1. Quandary Peak (East ridge)

Quandary peak winter
The route up Quandary follows that ridge and kicks up there in the last third.

The good:

Everyone has to knock off Quandary at some point. The 6 mile round-trip and straightforward route makes this one a great first winter 14er. Its easy 2 hour drive from Denver and convenience to Breckenridge allow many climbers to make it a day trip. The road is plowed all the way to the trailhead year-round making it a safe bet for your first winter 14er.

The bad:

Quandary will usually be loaded with people on the weekends throughout the year. Depending on what you’re looking for, this might be a little less than the exciting winter 14er experience you may be looking for.

Quandary Peak winter
The mountain speckled with other climbers.

The ugly:

Quandary is consistently the winter 14er requiring the most rescues each season. The winter route stays out of avalanche terrain by following the ridge line the entire way, exposing you to any wind and cold that get channeled over the mountain. Do any research on this mountain and you’ll find inexperienced hikers and climbers heading up there without adequate preparation. In 2015 I helped with a rescue of a climber on Quandary on Christmas day.

Quandary winter 14er rescue Colorado
Rescuing a hypothermic and frostbitten climber on Quandary.

The beta:

On a heavily trafficked weekend you can get away with Microspikes all the way to the top. I will caution against not packing the snowshoes though; if you have to bail from the ridge for whatever reason, the snow off the sides won’t be packed and postholing even a mile can take hours. Commit to the trail or bring snowshoes for backup. Ice axe would be useless.

2. Mt. Sherman (Southwest ridge)

Mt. Sherman winter summit
Mt. Sherman summit ridge

The good:

Sherman is a close second after Quandary as far as easy winter 14ers. The route is a little more entertaining with some cool abandoned mines along the way and a beautiful ridgeline climb toward the summit.

The bad:

The road is only plowed to within three miles of the summer trailhead. It tacks on 6 miles but still ends up being only a 10+ mile round trip with the additional mileage on a gravel road. Take it from me, when the plowing stops, just start hiking.

Mt. Sherman winter trailhead
Well hey you can’t get your car stuck in a much prettier place

The ugly:

There really isn’t much. This is a beautiful climb. As with any of these ‘easier’ 14ers, just don’t underestimate it and you’ll be golden. Beware of the wind that could pick up on the summit ridge but that stretch is relatively short so if you have some nylon shells, you should be solid.

The beta:

I used snowshoes on the road walk but you could potentially do without them. I left them on the windswept ridge once I hit it and picked them up on the way back. Microspikes and trekking poles were helpful, ice axe is unnecessary. This is a short one; if you’re a faster hiker, keep warmer by getting a slightly later start and soaking up that sunshine. And if anyone tells you that tactic is bogus or dangerous, you didn’t hear it from me.

3. Bierstadt (West slopes)

Mt. Bierstadt Colorado winter 14erThe good:

Bierstadt is another super straightforward climb, albeit with a little more route finding than Quandary and the road is closed and unplowed two miles shy of the summer trailhead. However, the route stays off the ridge making for a much tamer climb than Quandary. For the normal winter route, it’s an 11 mile round trip and only an hour and a half drive from Denver.

The bad:

11 miles is a stark difference from the 6 mile jaunt of Quandary. Be sure you’re in shape for a longer day of trudging through the snow. Being off the ridge line means it won’t be wind swept, leaving you with deep snow to contend with. Go on a beautiful weekend and you’ll almost certainly be able to follow someone else’s tracks though. Selfish protip: if you’re not the first hiker of the day, you won’t have to set tracks, sleep in a little bit longer and you’ll get an easy hike to the top. BUT, get brownie points for being the first one and making everyone else’s day easier.

The ugly

Be familiar with route finding on this one. The trail is ambiguous under the snowpack at times and you could end up off route postholing and making your day a lot harder than it needs to be.

The beta:

Bring snowshoes and a topo map for this one. Know the route well. If you’re well acquainted with winter 14ers, hit up the Sawtooth Ridge and cross over to Evans for a ~15 mile day. Don’t underestimate this route though, it’s full on sketch.

Sawtooth Ridge winter colorado
The sawtooth ridge is the utmost badass fun route of all these winter 14ers but undeniably not a beginner route.

4. Democrat, Lincoln, Cameron, Bross

Lincoln, Democrat, Bross winter 14er
Democrat, Lincoln, and Bross look tame from a distance but are almost certainly getting blasted by wind.

The good:

A solid four-fer! The easiest way to bag four winter 14ers in one day, this ~15 mile loop (winter trailhead 3 miles shy of summer trailhead) can be mostly a breeze on a good day. If you’re just looking for one peak, Democrat stands out with an only 8 mile out and back.

The bad:

This is a long day. On the approach to the slopes of Democrat the snow can be very deep after fresh snowfall or drifts blown from the mountain, turning this more into a trudge than a hike. There’s avy danger around, especially on the slopes of Democrat so be cautious and sit this one out if you’re less experienced.

The ugly:

Once you hit ~13,500 feet on the saddle between Democrat and Lincoln, you’re up there for a few miles. It’s a long time to be at that kind of elevation and a lot of exposure up on the ridgeline. The route follows the ridge up to Democrat, back down to the saddle, across the Cameron, then over to Bross. The entire stretch between Democrat and Cameron you’ll be exposed to the wind.

Democrat, Lincoln, Bross winter
Following the loop on Democrat, Lincoln, and Bross can be one of the trickier winter 14ers in whiteout conditions.

The beta:

Bring snowshoes and microspikes. If you’re descending the gully on the way out from Bross, you might want to consider bringing a helmet if you’re with multiple people. Make sure to stay close to prevent any kicked off ice from picking up too much speed between each person. Know the route well, especially if you’re solo. The weather can turn sour quickly on all winter 14ers so, you’ll need to know the route even in a whiteout. But since this is a loop, you’ll constantly be on new terrain.

The long winter 14ers:

5. Grays and Torreys (West Ridge)

Grays and Torreys Winter 14er Colorado
Torreys via the Continental Divide on the left, Grays in the distance on the right

The good:

As far as route finding goes, it doesn’t get much easier than following the Continental Divide. With the standard summer route being exposed to avalanche risk and the road being unplowed well below the trailhead, I recommend (if you’re up for it) to follow the Continental Divide instead.

The bad:

Grizzly Peak is an intermediate peak you’ll have to climb and it’s a mound of choss. It’s crumbling scree slopes will make you work for every foot of elevation gain. But the descent down its backside can be an alright glissade to save some energy. Don’t let the seemingly tame distance fool you on this one; there’s a lot of elevation change.

Grizzly Peak Colorado winter 14er Grays and Torreys
The disintegrating Grizzly Peak

The ugly:

Since you’ll be following the Continental divide above 12k the entire route, you need an absolutely perfect day for this climb. Do not take risks with the weather on this route. If you become hypothermic and need to bail, your options are limited. It took me three attempts before I pulled this day off comfortably. The second time I bailed because I desperately had to poo and the wind was so harsh that I decided to turn back rather than freezing my man parts off.

The beta:

Park up on at Loveland Pass. There are almost always other people there so you’ll have good tracks for the first section of the climb. Not much need for snowshoes but might be helpful on the backside of Grizzly. I used microspikes and trekking poles, didn’t use my axe. No avy risk on ridgelines. Unless you want to go for a 1000ft sled ride, stay away from the leeward cornices and try to keep visible ground below your feet for most of the stretches on the ridge.

Cornice Grays and Torreys winter 14er colorado
Stay away from those cornices

6. Pikes Peak (Northwest slopes)

Pikes Peak colorado Crags Campground winter 14ers
The terrain is windswept and bare on Pikes which means easier hiking but the imminent threat of piercing winds.

The good:

With a year-round road all the way to the top and heavy hiker traffic year round, this is a reasonably safe winter 14er. The trail remains bare or at least easy to follow the entire way.

The bad:

If you’re looking for a snooze cruise then Pikes is for you. If you’re looking for one of the exciting winter 14ers then you’re SOL on this mountain. The views are underwhelming and the traffic speeding by you makes you feel like you’re the biggest idiot in the world for not sticking your thumb out and hitching to the top.

The ugly:

Same as above, commercialization of the peak. I’m alright with some sacrificial mountains to allow the non-hikers the ability to explore the backcountry but just don’t expect a mountaineering experience from this one.

The beta:

The road to the Crags Campground parking lot is reasonably passable with 4WD and I’ve heard of 2WD getting up there. Study your topo carefully on this one as it’s a long day with a lot below treeline. Finding the trail can be tough at times.

7. Mt. Elbert (East ridge)

Mt. Elbert winter 14er
Spindrift atop Mt. Elbert

The good:

The highest peak in Colorado is a piece of cake if you’re in good shape. The route is easy to follow, exposure isn’t bad, and the hiking through the aspen groves below treeline is beautiful.

The bad:

Frankly this mountain is a pretty anti-climactic winter 14er. It’s long (~13 miles from the winter trailhead) and there’s not much exciting about it. It’s not bad, just nothing really stands out. Despite being relatively low grade terrain, I still highly recommend being in good shape for all of these climbs, but especially Elbert. It’s a long day.

The ugly:

The wind on the summit of the highest mountain in Colorado can absolutely rip. Usually it’s easy to pop up there for a few photos and then get off the peak before your nose turns purple but it’s definitely something to be aware of. If the wind is blasting up the east ridge, it could make for a hell of a day. Check the weather beforehand.

The beta:

I used snowshoes till a mile or so past treeline then switched to crampons on the windswept terrain. Trekking poles are going to take some weight off your legs for this long day but an ice axe is of no use. Park at the winter trailhead and don’t be like me a try to be a hero and attempt to get past that. The dirt road beyond that is gnarly in the summer and atrocious in the winter.

Mt. Elbert winter climb
Snowshoes or skis are crucial for the sections below treeline. Mt. Elbert is getting blasted by wind ahead.

The stunningly beautiful winter 14ers:

8. Belford and Oxford (Northwest Ridge)

The good:

Another kick ass multi-peak day but with a little twist compared to the others. Belford and Oxford are super straightforward 14ers. The road is relatively heavily travelled packed snow to the trailhead, but my subaru outback had no trouble. However, there are highly variable road conditions since it is unplowed. Always check trailhead conditions, otherwise you might end up tacking an additional 8 miles roundtrip onto your hike. The route is an easy, albeit steep, bolt to the top of Belford and then a skirt down the ridge and over and up to Oxford.

Belford, Oxford, Missouri winter 14ers
Looking back at Mt. Belford from Oxford, central ridge is the route

The bad:

Friggin hell the wind will get you on this one. Get your poops out before you hit treeline because above that it can really whip. This was one I had multiple attempts at before I felt comfortable gunning for the summit.

The ugly:

The trailhead is pretty remote, cell service is iffy, these mountains are in the middle of nowhere and bailing puts you even further from civilization. This triple will make you feel like you’re the only person on earth so know what you’re doing before you set out.

The beta:

Cut left at the sign just above treeline. It can be tough to distinguish Belford on the approach but once you’re on the slopes it’s a cake walk keeping on track (literally just go up).

If you’re in for a fun, more advanced variation (albeit not beginner friendly), once you’ve bagged Belford and Oxford, skirt down the southwest face toward Missouri and hit up the north face couloirs for an awesome winter 14ers three-fer. This is a solid ~14 mile day with some avy risk and technical climbing so if you’re a beginner just retrace your steps back off Belford.

Mt. Missouri winter 14ers couloirs
Climb the Mt. Missouri couloirs to seal the three-fer

Snowshoes for the approach, microspikes for the climb. Ice axe only necessary on Missouri couloirs, crampons were nice on the couloirs too but would probably only be necessary in the spring once the snow settles.

9. La Plata Peak (Northwest ridge-winter route)

La Plata Peak winter 14ers
La Plata stands out for its persistent beauty the entire climb

The good:

La Plata has a prime winter route that follows the ridge most of the way and avoids avalanche risk nearly completely on the winter route. It’s an incredibly beautiful route with incredible views and solitude. The road is plowed all the way to the trailhead for a ~10 mile round trip.

The bad:

Gaining the ridge is mildly sketchy but not horrendous. Stay close to your partners to avoid loose rocks and ice from becoming projectiles.

La Plata Peak winter 14ers
That peak is the wall to gain the ridge for the winter route, crampons could be helpful on this stretch

The ugly:

There’s pretty heavy avy risk on the summer route of La Plata. If you have to bail from the ridge for any reason, you’re bailing into potentially risky area. Besides that, La Plata is a beautiful straight forward winter climb. Steep at times so test your fitness on some of the others before you head out on this long day.

The beta:

Snowshoes for the approach, wish I had taken crampons and an axe to gain the ridge but microspikes worked alright. Route finding is easy once you catch sight of the winter route.

10. Mt. Yale (Southwest slopes)

Mt. Yale winter 14er colorado
The views on Mt. Yale are some of the best of the winter 14ers.

The good:

As far as winter 14ers go, they don’t get much prettier than Yale. It’s a gorgeous mountain with incredible sights every mile. Below treeline you’ll be treated to peaceful pine groves, above it you’ll catch incredible views of the Sawatch Range.

The bad:

This one is hella steep with an intimidating ridgeline traverse on the last pitch to the summit. If you’re looking for a relaxing hike, this isn’t it. If you’re stable on your feet and comfortable with a tight scramble ridgeline scramble on snow and ice, then you’ll have a blast.

Mt. Yale winter 14ers
The summit traverse on Yale could be pretty intimidating in high winds

The ugly:

Route finding above treeline on this one is a bitch and avy danger lurks all around but is easy to avoid if you know what you’re doing. Once you get above treeline and catch sight of the summit, the summer trail meanders its way up there. The main route follows below some slide areas so have some experience with reading the mountain and check conditions before trying this winter 14er.

The beta:

The road is plowed all the way to the trailhead. Crampons and an axe could help you confidently bolt up the face with avoiding the summer trail switchbacks. But snowshoes and microspikes worked fine for me. Pace yourself on the approach, you’ll use most of your energy in the last mile or two of the climb

Mt. Yale winter
Some front points could be helpful on this section of Yale to gain the ridge (it’s steeper than it looks).

As one last reminder, stay safe, prepare well, and have fun. But do not underestimate these mountains.

Other resources to plan climbs of winter 14ers:

Mountain Forecast

Colorado Avalanche Center

Summit Post

Trailhead conditions

16 thoughts on “Winter 14ers for Beginner Mountaineers: Top 10”

  1. Do you have suggestions on what peak or peaks to hike then camp near summit on in the winter? Would like to spend a few days up before heading back to car.

    1. Oh man. Sherman would probably be a good one. They’ll all have potential for being brutal. You could probably pop up a tent on the plateau heading for the summit of quandary. And then Bross would be a good one too, flat as all get out up there and plenty of rocks to build a wind block.

      1. I’d recommend NOT camping on one of those ‘plateaus’ on Quandary you speak of (I know what you mean). Quandary is famous for wind. Quandary doesn’t lend itself well to camping unless you’re below treeline. And the winds, unless you have a true 4-season tent, will test the fabric of what you being.

  2. Where is Humboldt Peak on this list? Is it a bad idea as this for my first 14er at the end of January?

  3. With years of experience, I will tell you that saying “piece of cake “ about any of the 14k mountains will create false confidence in more people. That applies to hundreds of our Colorado mountains, especially in winter conditions, which can happen at any time. How many people do we already see and hear about that aren’t prepared physically? Add to that being unprepared with proper gear and people are way over there heads trying to be a “badass”. Don’t encourage them.

    1. Thank you for your comment Don. I think we may have to agree to disagree. I want to share the mountains with others and lower the barriers to entry. As far as I’ve seen in the data, no more inexperienced people are heading out into the woods per capita than before; it’s just better publicized. Hopefully by reading my info on some of these climbs people will keep off some of the harder routes or even acknowledge some of these are too hard for them.

  4. Thank you for compiling this list and sharing all your experiences. It’s very helpful information. If anything, it makes me even more cautious and careful before doing.

  5. Thank you for taking the time to write this article. I’ve summitted over 20 fourteeners and loads of high altitude hikes and the increased traffic in the summer on those hikes make winter 14ers a welcomed change. Although the summit wind is brutal, the isolation and beauty make exploring these winter 14ers worth it!

  6. This list is so well put together. I love your writing and how you concisely you write while keeping the necessary detail. Really this is great. Would love to see you out together a quick YouTube vid using this guide as a script and add some personal pics. I think the guide is more than good enough in it’s own. But you might get more exposure with the video. If you are ever in Denver would love to grab coffee sometime and pic your mountain brain 🙂

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