Story and Photo By R. Scott Rappold
For those who have never been, allow me to describe what it’s like to climb a 14,000-foot mountain.
Your heart races and blood thins for lack of oxygen. You gasp for air but can never seem to get a lungful. You know there’s a top to this mountain, but it always seems to be just past the next rise. Dizziness, nausea, a splitting headache; all are side effects of the altitude sickness that strikes many climbers.
A little beer goes a long way up here. When you’ve plopped down amongst the rocks and boulders at the top of the world, pop open a cold craft beer. What better way to celebrate the accomplishment?
Colorado has more peaks above 14,000 feet than any other state. So when you get out and about in Colorado this summer, give one a try. Here are some of the best summits attainable with just a pair of boots, with long views perfect for enjoying with a can of suds or a stiff drink.
Note: Even “easy” 14ers claim lives each summer, so visit 14ers.com for detailed trail information and safety advice.
⎡ Quandary Peak ⎤
It’s one of the most-climbed 14ers, and for good reason. The trailhead is right off a paved highway in tourist haven Summit County, and the route is a simple ridge walk. Enjoy views of the Sawatch Mountains and the Arkansas River valley while sipping on a 471 Small Batch IPA from Breckenridge Brewery.
⎡ LA PLATA PEAK ⎤
Another trail reachable by a paved road, this peak is tougher and steeper than the previous two, but located almost in the geographical heart of Colorado between Aspen and Twin Lakes. You won’t find a better spot to stand in awe of the immensity of the Rockies. Enjoy a Crank Yanker IPA in a tall can from nearby Eddyline Brewery.
⎡ HUMBOLDT PEAK ⎤
The Sangre de Cristo range of southern Colorado is home to some of the most forbidding 14ers, but this slag heap is a mere walkup, with stunning views of the jagged Crestone twin peaks and the immense San Luis Valley beyond. Nearby Westcliffe has no brewery, so stop in Sangre Distilleries for award-winning spiced rum. Just remember, liquor hits you a lot harder at 14,000 feet, so take it easy for Pete’s sake.
⎡ MOUNT EVANS ⎤
If you are not quite in 14er shape, you can drive the stunning Mount Evans Scenic Byway, North America’s highest paved road. The road goes nearly to the top in summer. It’s but a short walk to the summit, where the rugged peaks of the Front Range stand in stark contrast to the smog of Denver in the distance. Hit Tommyknocker Brewery for a Butt Head Bock Lager for this one.
⎡ MOUNT DEMOCRAT ⎤
Most people climb this as the first of a three-in-a-day-hike above Kite Lake, where you can drive to 12,000 feet in a passenger car. But it’s a worthy summit all its own. Pack a red, white and blue tallboy of Dale’s Pale Ale.
R. Scott Rappold is the former outdoor recreation reporter for The Colorado Springs Gazette and a full-time ski and mountain bum who writes when he needs money for skiing or beer.