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First 14er and Trailhead question

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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First 14er and Trailhead question

Postby Flatlander2011 » Mon Aug 15, 2011 9:01 am

My wife, 14year old daughter and I are coming to Colorado next week and want to do a 14er. I have been reading the forum here for a few weeks and just want to ask/confirm a few things.

We will be coming from about '1000 feet elevation. We will be spending about seven days in Colorado with four hikes planned...2 miles, 4 miles and 6 miles each at a little bit higher elevationa capping it off with a 14er attempt. I hope this should maybe get us a little acclimated to the altitude. We are not in trmendous shape although we did do 5k together last fall and have been consistently exercising this summer in prep for this trip.

I have narrowed it down to Gray's, Quandary or Bierstadt although in my wilderness heat of hearts (I have done some backpacking and horse trips in colorado in the past) I would rather do Huron or Handies (not sure the family would feel comfortable that far from civilization). I really love the pictures I have seen in the San Juans but they all look remote based on what I am seeing.

My concerns over each peak above:
Grays-this would be my choice of the three but I read conflicting reports on the trailhead. I will be driving a Dodge Caravan Minivan. Some of the reports say no problem and others say you cannot get there without a four wheel drive. I thought about renting a Jeep for the day but really do not want to spend the extra money.
Quandary-looks like the rock fields you have to cross could be pretty challenging for a first timer and it is an overall significantly steeper climb.
Bierstadt-for some reason based on trip reports and youtube videos this one just looks boring to me.

So any suggestions, help, tell me where I am wrong or suggestions on other peaks would be appreciated.

BTW-we will be doing this hike on a Monday so any estimates of crowds would be welcome also.

Thanks in advance

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Re: First 14er and Trailhead question

Postby Tornadoman » Mon Aug 15, 2011 9:18 am

Where do you guys live? There are a lot of us flatlanders who make it out to climb 14ers. I made it to the trailhead for Grays Peak in a Toyota Corolla last fall w/o any real problems. Of course others would have a better idea of how the road is this year. Grays would be a good choice because you could get Torreys too if you were feeling well. Quandary might be a little steeper but it is also a great choice for a newbie too, I don't see most people having problems with this as their first 14er. Bierstadt is indeed pretty easy but it does have quite nice views and I don't think you will be bored. I did it as my 1st 14er and didn't find it boring at all. Huron has the best views out of all of the ones you listed. The last couple miles to the trailhead are likely 4wd, at least they were a couple years ago. That would make your round trip something like 10 miles, but still under 4,000 feet of elevation gain. It's out there a bit further than the others but still gets plenty of hikers not really complete wilderness or anything. The San Juans are a long ways from Denver, etc, but are absolutely beautiful. I haven't done Handies yet but it looks like a good one.

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Re: First 14er and Trailhead question

Postby DanR » Mon Aug 15, 2011 9:34 am

Regarding the trailhead status for Grays: while the road used to be very difficult for a lower clearance vehicle I think that all of the reports from this year indicate that most vehicles can make it to the trailhead with some small amount of care. If you haven't found it, this site has a handy trailhead access status section that you can reach from the dropdown called 'Trailheads' at the top of the front page.

Regarding peak choice, your reasoning seems sound. If your family has a great time on this trip then maybe you can plan a more ambitious and wilderness-y future trip.

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Re: First 14er and Trailhead question

Postby BenfromtheEast » Mon Aug 15, 2011 9:39 am

G&T TH was accessible by 2WD about a six weeks ago with no problem, but there are a couple sketchyish spots depending on your comfort level. I'd say if you're driving your mother-in-law's minvan and absolutely cannot afford to hear about "oh you scraped my brand new car" for the rest of your life, then don't risk it. But you should be able to make it up there just taking it slow in those couple spots. I did Quandary yesterday and don't recall any rock fields that would be an issue. There are places where you're walking on piled rocks, but they're pretty stable and that's pretty typical here. There's nothing you have to climb over or anything like that.

Dan makes a good point; you might be best off picking the hike you think will be the most fun for your whole family, as an investment for future trips to happen!

Whatever you decide, it'll be important to guage your speed on your early hikes and decide how early to start off for your 14er attempt so you can comfortably be on your way down by noon. And of course the usual: be hydrated and bring lots of water, warm synthetic clothes, jackets, etc. But it sounds like you're doing your homework Enjoy!!

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Re: First 14er and Trailhead question

Postby DaBrune » Mon Aug 15, 2011 9:44 am

I would say that you are right on with saying that Bierstadt is boring. I mean, while you will be climbing a 14'er and there will spectacular views from there, it is almost always just packed with people and it is fairly short with a very easy and established trail (wooden platform all of the way across the marshes). So, I would say Grays or Quandary would be a better bet. Both are a bit longer than Bierstadt and maybe a bit steeper, but I found those climbs to be more fun than Bierstadt. I wouldn't worry about the rock fields on quandary, the trail leads through them with not a whole lot of scrambling on your part. And the trailhead at Grays and Torreys is accessible with most any vehicle this time of year. It is a little rocky but I have made it up there in an old POS Ford Contour so I think anything can make it. I think that people have the most problems early season when there is still a bit of snow on the trail. And I agree with Tornadoman that on Grays, if you are feeling good, you can easily make your way over to Torreys and get 2 for the price of one so that might make that climb the best bet of your 3 options.

All that said, I would try to get to Huron. That will provide you with the best views by far and really isn't that far from civilization. Leadville is about 20 minutes away in one direction and Buena Vista is about the same distance in the other. It is about an hour longer drive from Denver though so that might be a problem for you depending on your schedule. It is a harder climb than any of the other 3 but still not too bad with an established trail most of the way to the summit. Handies is going to be the most beautiful of any of the peaks you mentioned, but it is about a 6-7 hour drive from Denver so it usually is a multi-day trip from there.

Hope that was helpful.

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Re: First 14er and Trailhead question

Postby MtHurd » Mon Aug 15, 2011 9:45 am

In my opinion, Grays is just as "boring" as Bierstadt. Quandary is a good climb and you shouldn't have any problems with boulder hopping, it's an easy climb but less boring than Bierstadt or Grays. Huron would be a great choice in my opinion, much better views from the summit. If you want a little more excitement, then Yale has similar views as Huron but has some fun scrambling near the summit that Huron doesn't have.

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Re: First 14er and Trailhead question

Postby summers » Mon Aug 15, 2011 9:46 am

I drove up the Grays trailhead yesterday in a Corolla. We ended up parking about a mile and a half from the trailhead due to traffic issues -- a whole bunch of cars backing up, apparently someone got stuck, though we never saw anyone. The road had a couple of very sporty spots a little past where we parked, but nothing that couldn't have been passed with care. I could have made it to the trailhead if I had been patient to wait on the traffic. Or -- just park like we did and add a little distance walking up the road. If you don't get there before 7am, you could end up walking some distance anyway if you are on a weekend.

Regarding Bierstadt being boring, sometimes pictures are deceiving. This isn't one of those times. I like Grays much better than Bierstadt.

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Re: First 14er and Trailhead question

Postby Flatlander2011 » Mon Aug 15, 2011 9:57 am

Wow, I was not expecting this many responses this soon. You guys are great and have helped a bunch already. We are actually going to be staying a couple days in the Gunnison area so could go in any direction. I love the thought of Handies or Huron. Gonna have to ponder it a little. Driving up from the Sunny South so distance from Denver is no issue.

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Re: First 14er and Trailhead question

Postby scalba123 » Mon Aug 15, 2011 10:11 am

I attempted Handies last year (had to turn back 3/4 on the top due to the weather) and only saw one hiker with his dog the entire time. You may want to take that into consideration if being out in the middle of nowhere is a concern.

The views heading up Huron and Bierstadt are incredible. Sounds like you have a great trip planned. Good luck!

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Re: First 14er and Trailhead question

Postby paflytyer » Mon Aug 15, 2011 10:20 am

There's nothing better than a family outing in the mountains! The 4wd road to Huron TH is not suitable for a dodge minivan. There are some large rocks, some deep mud (a few weeks ago) and a stream crossing. I would say you need at least 8-9 inches of clearence on your vehicle just to avoid bottoming out in most spots. The Grays &Torreys TH is do-able in your minivan..... just go slow and pick your lines.We passed a Mazda Miata going up there 2 weeks ago! The earlier in the morning you go, the less traffic there will be on the TH road and you can take your time. Weekdays would be much better than weekends. Huron has the better views, but Grays & Torryes are amazing as well. Enjoy hiking with your family.......sometimes it's who you're with and not what mountain you're on.

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Re: First 14er and Trailhead question

Postby parsonne » Mon Aug 15, 2011 10:28 am

Between those three I would say Quandary, but I have also never been to the San Juans. I took my cousins from NE on that route last summer after similar acclimatization without any problems. The road to Gray's really isn't that bad but it comes down to how much you care/worry about your car. Although you can definitely make it in a two-wheel drive car, if you want to guarantee no damage I probably wouldn't do it, but you would most likely be fine with some careful driving. The road to Quandary TH is very easily accesible.

Honestly the standard route on Bierstadt isn't the most exciting (unless you are adding the Sawtooth) but may be slightly easier than Quandary considering the total elevation gain. A Monday won't be as bad a weekend but you never know, I have been surprised before.

I expect you will all be satisfied with Quandary. Take a look down the West Ridge route when you are at the top too, it's pretty sweet!

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Re: First 14er and Trailhead question

Postby JayMiller » Mon Aug 15, 2011 10:52 am

We are actually going to be staying a couple days in the Gunnison area so could go in any direction.


Absolutely, make a drive down to Lake City and do either Red Cloud (and Sunshine if you are up to it) or Handies from the Grizzly Gulch Trailhead. The road to Grizzly Gulch is easily passable in a mini-van. The San Juans are absolutely the prettiest area in Colorado and the Lake City part is the prettiest of the pretty. For truly spectacular views, climb Handies by way of the Grizzly Gulch trail and decend into American Basin and return down the road. It adds about a mile in distance, but American Basin is worth it this time of year. Please do not miss the chance to see the San Juans.
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