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Winter 14er Ascents--How, Where to Start

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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Winter 14er Ascents--How, Where to Start

Postby Exiled Michigander » Thu Aug 05, 2010 11:32 am

Looking ahead to winter--can't believe it's already August. Any recommendations for a good 14er for my first winter ascent attempt? Other than ice ax and crampons, any other must-have equipment? Any suggestions appreciated.

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Re: Winter 14er Ascents--How, Where to Start

Postby climbing_rob » Thu Aug 05, 2010 11:36 am

Elbert was my first and all-time favorite "easy" winter climb (done it 8 years in a row early January, with the CMC). Very safe from an Avy standpoint, and because its popular, usually (but not always!) has a nice track. Easy access from the South trailhead (twin lakes). No ice axe or crampons needed; they would be useless weight.

Some might suggest Grays, but be very careful on that one; there is an Avy chute off of Kelso Mountain the normal route crosses under; stay way out in the valley to avoid this.

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Re: Winter 14er Ascents--How, Where to Start

Postby SpringsHiker » Thu Aug 05, 2010 11:39 am

I would have to say that Sherman is the best overall 14er for a first-time winter ascent. This factors in route difficulty, avalanche danger, proximity to the normal TH, etc. However, for safety reasons and not to suggest you overlook this, it should be pointed out that specific winter conditions at the time of any planned winter hike must be thoroughly researched. After that, Quandary is generally good, Elbert is viable, I did Antero as a winter climb (it can be very long depending on road access), Grays/Torreys with the same issue as Antero. Pikes Peak can be done in winter and I have done it/attempted it several times but can be very long.
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Re: Winter 14er Ascents--How, Where to Start

Postby martynda » Thu Aug 05, 2010 12:55 pm

Most of the "beginner" winter 14ers don't require an ice axe or crampons. You'll start needing those things for slightly steeper terrain, but that also puts you into avy terrain, not some place you want to be going as a beginner. That being said, I always carry an ice axe and crampons because you never know what you might get yourself into. Also, make sure you know how to use the axe and crampons and practice self arrest (St Mary's glacier is a good place).

Here's a good overview of the 14st:

Also, additional must haves in the winter above the treeline: a down jacket, face mask, and goggles, headlamp. Never leave home without them.

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Re: Winter 14er Ascents--How, Where to Start

Postby wooderson » Thu Aug 05, 2010 3:41 pm

Fellow exiled Michigander here....

I agree with the other posters that Quandary, Sherman and Elbert are generally good first winter 14ers. As for gear, like martynda said, crampons and ice axe really aren't necessary on these routes, but I personally always do carry an axe. Instead of full crampons, Katoolah microspikes work great on icy spots, and you'll also very likely need snowshoes. Chemical hand-warmer pouches are also nice to have on those frigid mornings.

And finally, don't forget to come up with a system for carrying your water so it doesn't freeze. I've seen lots of people go with the insulated bladder & hose. The thing that's worked well for me is to simply carry a nalgene bottle on a lanyard around my neck, tucked inside my jacket. Your body heat will easily keep it from freezing.

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Re: Winter 14er Ascents--How, Where to Start

Postby summers » Fri Aug 06, 2010 10:03 am

I would never go out in the winter without my microspikes. I don't have crampons -- nor the experience in the winter to go up anything vertical enough to require them. But microspikes are amazing on moderately steep (and moderately slick) snow, or on ice. I like my snowshoes, but often leave them behind if I think I can get away with it. But I would never leave microspikes behind.

My first-ever winter ascent was Sniktau (a 13er), from Loveland Pass. Fairly short, and no avalanche danger as long as you aren't stupid (i.e., don't go play on the cornices). After that I did Storm Peak and Mount Lady Washington (both 13ers) in RMNP. Again, no avalanche risk. My first winter 14er was Pikes, last February -- though when I want to do more, then virtually any weekend of the winter I can log on to 14ers and find a group doing some mountain. But I found it very helpful to do a couple of 13ers first, and especially to do a pretty short one like Sniktau. I had dressed way too warmly that first time and was sweating really profusely by the time I got back to my car... it took me a few times to get used to how to stay cool in the winter (it's all about ability to regulate your temperature...)

For the camelback bladder, as long as I am absolutely obsessive about draining the hose after every drink (hold the mouthpiece over your head and open it for a couple of seconds), I have not had problems with it freezing even without an insulated hose. That being said, I always carry water to use in case it does freeze. I have had to put the bladder inside my coat before to rethaw the hose because I forgot to drain the tube after a drink. Alternatively, put the bladder inside your coat (I use a pull-over sweater with a large pocket in the front to hold it) and snake the tube up to your neck... I've used that in sustained -10 deg temperatures and it works well.

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Re: Winter 14er Ascents--How, Where to Start

Postby randalmartin » Fri Aug 06, 2010 10:44 am

1] Another piece of equipment advice is to have wind proof liner gloves under your Winter Gloves/Mittens. Inevitably I have the need to remove the outer glove/mitten (when I need improved dexterity to get something) and without the windproof liner my hands quickly get cold to the point that it takes a long time to re-warm them adequately.

2] Carry a thermos of something hot to drink. Personally I love this product because you don't have to remove anything to drink and yet it is spill proof. Nice features when conditions are not ideal.

3] Consider joining CMC and going on some winter trips with some other very experienced people.

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Re: Winter 14er Ascents--How, Where to Start

Postby Dex » Sat Aug 07, 2010 2:24 pm

As to equipment:
theses - viewtopic.php?f=4&t=24386 I stopped the snow from balling up by attaching some plastic on the bottom.
Glacier glasses
Emergency equipment is extremely important - extra clothing, hand warmers and you might want to consider a personal locater beacon.

To me winter hiking is more interesting than the summer - it is all the little things. For example, don't bring food that freezes (cliff bars) and put your food in a small stuff sack and attach it to your backpack strap for easy access - you don't have to take of your backpack to get at your food. Blowing liquids back into your Camelbak stops the tube from freezing up on you.

I think Yale is great for a first timer - I think the road is usually cleared to the standard route trail head.

Don't expect to make it to the top on the first try. Route finding, and cutting the trail in snow shoes can be exhausting.
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Re: Winter 14er Ascents--How, Where to Start

Postby Yikes » Sat Aug 07, 2010 7:13 pm

I've only been up 7 in winter, but my advice is to go with a decent size group (greater than 5 if possible) and let any super heroes break trail. Taking turns in the lead and hanging further back in the group help. If you are lucky you can try to time your trip after another group has already dug a trench and before any new snow buries their effort. Breaking trail in 2' or more of new snow is horribly difficult. There is usually an annual winter gathering which draws a large crowd (20 or so).

Quandry is probably the easiest in winter; the day I went there were over 80 people on the trail that day.

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Re: Winter 14er Ascents--How, Where to Start

Postby Exiled Michigander » Tue Aug 10, 2010 5:42 pm

Thanks to all for the great advice! Should be a memorable winter!

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Re: Winter 14er Ascents--How, Where to Start

Postby Barb4rian » Sat Aug 14, 2010 8:34 pm

To avoid creating a new thread, I think I'll ask my question on this one since it follows the same theme.

How is hiking in December on any of the peaks mentioned here? Being a college student, winter break may be the ideal time for me to tackle one or two. Can the weather be favorable during early winter or is it a lost cause? Thank for the advice, and the above posts were all very helpful! Great suggestions!

Re: Winter 14er Ascents--How, Where to Start

Postby pioletski » Sat Aug 14, 2010 11:07 pm

Barb, at the risk of sounding like your most boring professor, conditions in December are so variable that you can't know what you're getting until December. There have been some Decembers when the early snowfall was huge and we were skiing early (luck with one December enabled Chris Davenport to ski them all in 1 year), others have been bone-dry. Either way it is usually cold and windy, but again, it varies - occasionally you get brilliant sunny still days. The other posts on this thread generally apply to December just as to February. In any case it is certainly not a lost cause, just pay close attention to the weather and snow conditions and pick your partners carefully!
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