Christy Mahon, the first woman to climb and ski all Colorado 14ers
There are few activities in life as simple and rewarding as sumitting a mountain. Whether a leisurely hike, half-day trail run or technical alpine climb, ultimately it’s about getting to the top and taking in the view. But not all mountains are equal, and “14ers”— peaks topping 14,000 feet in elevation—are held in high regard among the country’s “peak baggers.” Colorado boasts 54 of these prestigious peaks, or 77 percent of the 14ers in the contiguous United States.
“If you spend time in Colorado, it’s a must-do,” says Aspen’s Christy Mahon, who has hiked and skied all 54 of Colorado’s 14ers. “After seeing them all, the Elks are by far the most spectacular. We’re so lucky to have them in our backyard—everyone should take advantage of that.”
Aspen is home to seven 14ers: North Maroon Bells, South Maroon Bells, Pyramid, Capitol, Castle and Snowmass in the Elk Mountain Range, and La Plata, located just over Independence Pass. They all offer variety in terms of aesthetics and level of difficulty. Mahon’s favorite 14er in the state is nearby Pyramid Peak. “It’s challenging, but doable for anyone with a little mountaineering experience,” she says. “There’s nothing too scary, but you still feel like you’re on a real adventure. And it’s so fun that you can see it from town.
Whenever [you’re on] the golf course or [in other] ski areas, you can think back on that special time.” All that preparation and hard work will pay off the moment you reach the summit of a 14er, says Mahon. “It’s such a great challenge—mentally, physically and spiritually.”
Mahon's Top Tips
Build up to it. Don’t tackle a 14er the first day you get to Aspen; practice exercising and sleeping at altitude.
Do your research. Know the route and keep an eye on the weather.
Pack appropriately. Your pack—even though it’s just a daypack—should feel like a pack.
Get an early start. It always takes loger than you think. Allow time to find your way and enjoy the summit.
Eat a solid breakfast and multiple mid-morning snacks. Fruit, string cheese, energy bars and caffeinated GU are great when you feel fatigued.
Know that you’re probably going to “bonk” (lose energy and become mentally fatigued) at some point. Anticipate it, acknowledge it and move on.
Don’t zone out too much. It’s fun to escape and take in the natural beauty, but stay mentally aware.
What to Pack
Headlamp: “Even though you’re starting early, things happen.”
First aid kit
Compass: “Know the direction you’re walking in, so you know what direction to walk out.”
A really good map: “It’s only a few dollars from the Ute—buy it and
Spot Satellite GPS Messenger: “You can message for a rescue or just tell your family you’re going to be late for dinner at Cache Cache.”
Micro puff: “These weigh absolutely nothing, and nothing keeps you warmer than down.”
Extra shirt for descent: “Your shirt will defi nitely be sweaty from the hike up.”
Altimeter: “Helps when a guidebook tells you to take a right at 13,300 feet.”
More food and water than you think
Aspen's 14,0000-Foot Peaks
1. North Maroon Bells Peak - 14,014 feet
Rating: Most Difficult
The semitechnical Northeast Ridge route is steep, loose, exposed and has a Class 4 (climbing) section that requires a rope for steep and dangerous terrain.
2. South Maroon Bells Peak - 14,156 feet
The Class 3 (scrambling or unroped climbing) South Ridge Route is a strenuous exercise in navigation and determination. The traverse between North and South Maroon is one of the great classic 14er traverses.
3. Pyramid Peak - 14,018 feet
Rating: Most Difficult
Steep slopes, loose rock, exposed ledges and the occasional Class 4 move puts Pyramid on the border of the “technical” peak category.
4. Capitol Peak - 14,130 feet
Rating: Most Difficult
Considered the most challenging 14er in Colorado thanks to a spectacular knife-edge ridge, Capitol (also a Class 4 climb) is mostly done as an overnight mountaineering experience, camping at scenic Capitol Lake.
5. Snowmass Peak - 14,092 feet
With one of the most scenic approaches, Snowmass Peak, a Class 3 mostly done as an overnighter, is unique in offering a near year-round alpine snow-climb ascent.
6. Castle Peak - 14,265 feet
The highest 14er in the Elk Mountain Range, the Class 2 Castle is an ideal beginner 14er that still offers an exciting summit ridge with breathtaking views.
7. La Plata Peak - 14,336 feet
Located just over Independence Pass in the Sawatch Mountain Range, La Plata is the fifth-highest peak in Colorado and offers a relatively easy Class 2 climb with some difficult hiking that may be off-trail.
PHOTOGRAPH BY TED MAHON (MAHON)