We already established my hipster mountaineering tendencies. Since I like the path less traveled, I typically stick to 13ers here in Colorado. A 13er is a 13,000-plus foot peak. Although these mountains don’t have the same clout that the famed Colorado fourteeners have, I find them to be much more satisfying climbs. Why? Most Colorado 14ers have a trail accompanied with a lot of folks traveling along it. Colorado’s 13,000-foot peaks require a lot more route finding and off-trail travel. Here’s a look at a few Colorado 13ers within two hours from Denver.
The Sunset Jaunt: Mount Sniktau (13,240 feet)
Whenever someone mentions a great beginner peak, Sniktau always makes it on the list. Located along the Loveland Pass ridgeline, this mountain provides easy access with zero approach. The total round-trip length is only 3.7 miles, making it an ideal starter for anyone who is new to climbing mountains and a little hesitant to start on something more substantial. If you’re a seasoned vet, this mountain makes for a great perch to watch the setting sun. Expansive views of the Contential Divide, Eagle’s Nest Wilderness, and Holy Cross Wilderness can’t be beaten. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Long’s Peak to the north.
- Class: 1
- Round-trip distance: 3.7 miles
- Elevation Gain: 1,800 feet
- Required gear: Hiking gear with a few extra layers
- Best for: New climbers, quick summits, sunsets
New to climbing and hiking mountains? Check out these handy resources:
- Acclimatizing Safely
- Your ultimate guide to hiking for beginners
- Tips and tricks to survive your first 14er
- Mental tips for climbing your first peak
- What to pack for summit day
The Gentle Hill Walk: Mount Parnassus (13,579′)
Mount Parnassus was not a fun climb for me personally, but if you’re into hillwalking, this is a great peak. Despite my lack of hillwalking lust, the views from the top are beautiful. Neighboring Bard Peak adds to the drama, the ridgeline presents itself as a fine challenge. If you’re looking for a bigger challenge, then consider adding Bard to the loop. I did this peak in the winter and it’s a lung buster if there is no trail in the snowpack.
- class: 1-2
- Distance: 8 miles without Bard, 9 with
- Elevation gain: 3,334 feet
- Gear: Summer – regular hiking gear with extra layers. Winter: Snowshoes and microspikes (for the approach)
The Best Beginner Winter Ascent: West Ridge of Atlantic Peak (13,841 feet)
Why not climb mountains year-round? Winter may be a tougher season, but that doesn’t mean that you still can’t climb mountains! If you have the correct gear and avalanche training, try for a winter peak. Atlantic Peak in the Tenmile Range is a great beginner winter mountaineering route in Colorado. The Atlantic Peak’s West Ridge has a minimal approach of approximately three miles and plenty of ridge to enjoy. The views of the dramatic ridge between Atlantic and Fletcher make you feel like you’re far off in the Himalaya.
- Class: 2
- Round-trip distance: 4 miles plus 2.8 miles of road walking (if the road is closed, which in winter, it is).
- Elevation gain: 2,450 feet
- Required gear: summer – standard hiking gear with a few extra layers. Winter: ice ax, microspikes/crampons (depending on snow), snowshoes and avalanche safety gear.
Planning a visit to Colorado? Be in the know with these local tips:
- The Best Day Hikes Near Denver
- Incredible Beginner 14ers for Your Bucket List
- Amazing Fall Hikes in Colorado You’ve Probably Never Heard of
- 29 Alpine Lake Hikes You HAVE to Try!
- The Best Free Camp Spots Near Denver
Ready for the snow? Here’s a look at a few wintery posts
Best All-Round Climb: The Citadel to Pettingell Traverse
Hands-down one of the best all-around climbs and one of my favorite Colorado 13ers. This climb, best done in conjunction with Snoopy’s Backside Couloir offers a bit of everything. The approach is on the longer side, but with twin summits, The Citadel (13,294′) provides some fantastically spicy scrambles on its own. Combined with Pettingell, the route turns into a Class 5 traverse with lots of exposure to keep the heart pumping. The crux of the climb is a 55-foot rappel off of a vertical rock face. You can opt to continue on to Pettingell through some more Class 3 scrambling and a Class 2 walk-off or descend the steep saddle after the rappel.
- Class: 3-4 rock with plenty of exposure and a Class 5 rappel
- Round-trip distance: 9.7 miles
- Elevation gain: 3,532 feet
- Required Gear: Summer – helmet for the Citadel and a 40m rope with an anchoring system, belay device, third hand and harness for the rappel. Winter: not recommended due to avalanche danger. However, for snow climbing season you will need all of the above plus crampons and an ice ax. Snowshoes are advised depending on snowpack
Climb Steep Snow in the Skywalker Couloir of South Arapaho Peak (13,400 feet)
If steep snow is what you seek, you can’t go wrong with the Skywalker Couloir route up South Arapaho Peak. This iconic Colorado snow climb makes its way up the southeastern face of South Arapaho Peak. This is no beginner snow romp, with angles upwards of 65-plus degrees, you’ll want an axe and a tool. Most of this half-mile long couloir is steep and above 45 degrees. Choose between three exits: the easy out, the steep Princess Leia alpine ice exit, or the class 4 scramble (gear recommended for some) Han Solo exit.
- Class: Class 2 walk-off of South Arapaho. Descend the standard route.
- Round-trip distance: 5.97 miles
- Elevation gain: 3,263 feet, with most of the gain in the couloir.
- Required Gear: This climb is best done in early to mid-June depending on the snow year. You’ll certainly want a helmet, mountaineering boots, crampons, an ax and one tool. Depending on conditions, newer climbers may want an ice screw or pickets and some rope for the top of Leia. Han Solo enthusiasts might want to bring a few pieces of trad gear and a rope for added protection (class IV terrain in mountaineering boots can be an experience). Remember, if you’re bringing ropes, you’ll need a harness and belay device with an HMS carabiner.
Scrambler’s Paradise: West Ridge of Pacific Peak (13,957 feet)
If you’re looking for some bang for your approach buck, look no further than the West Ridge of Pacific Peak. Pacific Peak’s prominent summit is screaming to be climbed. Approach via Mayflower Gulch for only a mile or so of travel along a faint climber’s trail. You’ll meet the ridge abruptly where you are greeted immediately with over a mile of Class 3 terrain. The rock is rotten in spots, but you can avoid some of it if you opt for Class 4 gullies. The summit is often a quiet place, where you can catch a view of nearby Quandary, a popular Colorado 14er. Wave to the crowds of people on the summit while you have Pacific all to yourself.
- Class: 3
- Round-trip distance: 4.0 miles if your vehicle can make it to the mine, 6.8 if you park in the paved lot.
- Elevation gain: 2,600 feet
- Required gear: Helmet
The Third Class Introduction: Father Dyer’s East Ridge (13,615′)
Whenever I hear that someone wants to get into Class 3 scrambles but has some hesitation, I recommend Father Dyer’s East Ridge. Once upon a time, I had a crippling fear of heights and exposure would send me into a full-on panic attack. When I finally mustered up the courage to try some Class 3 terrain, a friend of mine recommended Father Dyer Peak. The ridge allows you to scramble without the intense exposure. The route can easily be downclimbed, but if you aren’t up for it, you can climb the Class 2 Cyrstal Peak next door.
- Class: 3
- Round trip distance: 6 miles
- Elevation gain: 2,700 feet
- Gear: Regular hiking gear with a helmet. There’s no rock fall potential on this route, but I always feel better scrambling knowing that my noggin is protected.
There you have it, six fantastic climbs of Colorado 13ers all within a few hours from Denver. There are countless others, but these six offer something for everyone, whether you are the adrenaline junkie rappel freak or you’re just getting started with climbing mountains.