It's that "fourteener bagging" time of year.

Last Saturday was my annual pilgrimage to hike a Colorado fourteener (14er), a mountain with a summit of 14,000' or greater.  This year my friend John and I were headed for Mt. Lincoln in the Mosquito Range.  As usual for August, the trails were packed early and we had to park about a 1/2 mile from the trailhead. This is only my second annual outing, so it's not like it's an established tradition.  I'm still definitely a newbie.  Just ask my quads.  I whimper every time I descend a flight of stairs right now.  This is why I hike 14ers in August, when there is the least chance of snow or ice on the peaks.  Still John, who is younger, in better shape, and almost as good-looking as me, just about had to drag my butt up some sections.  But, after two full summers of living in Colorado, and two successful summit bagging attempts, I'm starting to learn some things.  Let me summarize:

  1. It snows on a 14er in August.
  2. Going down is as hard as going up.  Reference 'quads' above!
  3. No matter how early you arrive, there will already be several cars at the trailhead and people already coming down from the summit.
  4. Trail "traffic jams" are common.
  5. Everyone has a different view of what is required to legally summit a 14er.
  6. 14er bagging is serious business in Colorado
  7. Outside of Colorado, most people don't even know what a 14er is.  Or probably care.

So, what does it mean to bag a 14er?  Is it okay to drive a car, as you can, to the parking lot at the top of Pikes Peak, get out, walk to the summit and claim a legal bagging?  There's a general consensus in Colorado, claims Gerry Roach, author of the Colorado 14er bible, Colorado's Fourteeners that, "one should gain 3,000 feet (under their own power) for a 'legal' ascent of a fourteener."  However, he agrees that there is nothing sacred about the number 3,000.  It is just the general distance between the tree line and 14,000'.  Some people argue that any classified hike from an established trailhead is valid.  Some might argue riding a mountain bike up a 4WD track constitutes a legal summit.  There's always a different point of view and the only thing that is certain is that bagging 14ers is a big deal to a lot of people in Colorado. 

In Colorado there has been a long-standing informal agreement that one should gain 3,000 feet for a “legal” ascent of a fourteener
— Gerry Roach, Colorado's Fourteeners

Colorado has a generally accepted, but arguable, 53 fourteeners.  Arguable, because technically there are up to 20 more unranked 14,000' peaks depending on how you classify a summit's prominence and USGS measurements.  The Colorado Geological Survey claims 58 fourteeners in Colorado., and Wikipedia claim 53.  However, Wikipedia claims 7 unranked summits, claims only 5, and claims 19.  

Again, this stuff is a big deal to a lot of people.  For example, in 1988 the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD29) was updated with the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD88), which made Sunshine Spire, in the Needle Mountains, a legal 14er at 14,001'.  So, now it is an unranked 14er (due to only having 215' of prominence with the saddle to its neighbor).  However, as the story goes, there is resistance to accepting the new measurement because Sunshine Spire is generally considered the hardest 14er in Continental US to climb.  Those who claim to have climbed all Colorado 14ers now find themselves short a very difficult bagging.  On the other side, those who have climbed it would like to see it made an official 14er because its prominence is almost identical to that of Thunderbolt Peak in California, which is considered a sentimental, official 14er.  As a side, only Wikipedia has the Huevos Rancheros to list Sunlight Spire at 14,001'. is very conflicted with Sunlight Spire, claiming it at 13,995' but referencing the NAVD88 data which clearly states on the same page it is 14,001'.  Did I mention, bagging Colorado 14ers is a big deal to a lot of people in this state?  That's a DEFINITE understatement.  

Not me. Just bagging the four 14ers I've summited, all classified as easy hikes, has been tough enough.  Wait a minute there, Kev.  You just said above, did you not, that this past Saturday was only your second outing, so how could you have hiked four 14ers?  Ahhh, well that's because there's this thing called "saddle-bagging" or "ridge traversing".  See, if you legally summit one 14er, but there are other 14ers connected to that 14er by a traverse, or saddle, then it is generally accepted that you can cross over to the other summit, or summits, and claim them as legal bags.  Phew!  Again, that is a general agreement.  Roach says, "Most people who climb fourteeners do this."  However, some claim this is only 'visiting' a 14er, not summiting one.  Oh, and yes, to keep everything on the up and up, I have to also admit that one of the 14ers I've bagged, Mt. Cameron, is actually an unofficial 14er.  This is because its prominence to Mt. Lincoln is under 300' which is generally considered the minimum prominence for an official 14er.

Where is this General?  I'm thinking a dishonorable discharge is in order...