Meet the Mountains

By Sue Bjorkman

Chaffee County 14ers

If you’re a “peak bagger,” you already know this area well. That’s because Chaffee County holds a unique distinction. It has the highest concentration of mountains over 14,000 feet (or 4,266 meters) in Colorado and the nation. Colorado officially has 54 fourteeners, with 15 of the majestic peaks found in the Sawatch Range in the Upper Arkansas Valley. A dozen of these are between the “Now This is Colorado” county lines. This 100-mile range also includes more than 300 peaks over 12,000 feet, elevating the area to one of the most dramatically scenic in the state.

The Ute word, “Sawatch” translates to “the blue-green waters of the earth,” a poetic description of this flowing “sea” of mountains. The peaks are within the San Isabel National Forest and the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness that includes the famous Colorado Trail and 100 miles of trails. This adventurer’s paradise is also right in Salida and Buena Vista’s backyard. That means your pre-and-post summit activities can include hot springs, craft breweries, distilleries, art galleries, live music and remarkable meals at independently-owned local restaurants.

Collegiate Peaks

Half of Chaffee’s peaks make up the subset of the Sawatch Range known as the Collegiate Peaks, all named after Ivy League colleges.

Mt. Harvard: (14,420)

Named in 1869 after the first Harvard Mining School class came with their geology professor Josiah D. Whitney on an surveying expedition. This peak measures third tallest in the state, but is the highest of the Collegiate Peaks and its summit is the county’s tallest point. Lying high in the Horn Fork Basin above Bear Lake, the summit is distinguished by spotted and striped granite blocks. Because it’s just two miles from Mt. Columbia, the two are often climbed together.

Mt. Columbia: (14,073)

Climber Roger Wolcott Toll named this peak in 1916. Toll attended both Denver University and Columbia University before embarking on a distinguished career in the National Park Service. Below the south slope are picturesque beaver ponds on Frenchman Creek. Summiting via the difficult East Ridge Trail is only accessible March-November.

Mt. Princeton: (14,197)

Rising prominently west of U.S. 24, this peak was named in 1877 by Henry Gannet, chief topographer in a Wheeler-led government survey. William Libby, a Princeton University physical geography professor, and his students were reportedly the first to officially summit this peak. Getting to the trailhead requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Princeton is notable for the distinctive Chalk Cliffs and for the post-summit relaxation at the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs located at its base.

Mt. Yale: (14,200)

Named by the same Harvard group because Yale was Josiah D. Whitney’s alma mater. Despite this tie with Harvard, the bigger rivalry is with Princeton. The two peaks are just a few feet apart in height so it was once tradition for alumni of both schools to come here and pile rocks on top of their summits to fight for bragging height-rights. Accessible from July-September, the Mt. Yale Summit Trail is recommended for only the most experienced hikers.

Mt. Oxford: (14,153)

The last to join this scholarly group, it was named in 1931 by Rhodes Scholar John. L. Jerome Hart, a Denver lawyer and climber who studied for a year at Oxford University. This peak is known for vast sweeping views of basins to the east but has no surface water so hikers must carry their own. It is often climbed in the same trek with Mt. Belford.

Mt. Belford: (14,197)

The last to join this scholarly group, it was named in 1931 by Rhodes Scholar John. L. Jerome Hart, a Denver lawyer and climber who studied for a year at Oxford University. This peak is known for vast sweeping views of basins to the east but has no surface water so hikers must carry their own. It is often climbed in the same trek with Mt. Belford.

Native American and Spanish Influences

Mt. Antero: (14,269)

Dramatically visible from U.S. 24 between Buena Vista and Salida, this prominent peak was named in honor of Chief Antero of the Uintah band of the Ute tribe. Antero is Colorado’s 10th highest peak. Its slopes contain a hidden wealth of gems and minerals that have attracted miners and rock hounds for many years. The most sought-after finds are aquamarine rock crystals and smoky quartz.

Mt. Shavano: (14,229)

Named in honor of Ute tribe Chief Shavano, this peak is easily visible from Poncha Springs and Salida, Mt. Shavano is distinguished by its “Angel of Shavano” natural formation. Just after the heaviest of winter snow melts, a figure of an angel with outstretched arms appears in a snowfield on the mountain’s face. Local legends vary but the gist of the story is that a young goddess was turned “frozen” by the punitive god Jupiter. Her fate led to becoming a symbol of hope for the valley she watches over.

Tabeguache Peak: (14,155)

Shavano’s closest southeast neighbor, this peak was named for a Ute tribe that once roamed the area. Because of the mile and a quarter ridge connecting Tabeguache to Shavano, they are often climbed together. It is a tough one to pronounce but we recommend the pronunciation by mountaineer Louis Dawson of “tab-uh-wash,” with the accent on the first syllable.

Mt. Huron: (14,005)

Huron Peak, named after the Huron Tribe just squeaks by to qualify as a 14er. and lies about 18 miles west-northwest of Buena Vista. It has the reputation of being one of the easier of the Sawatch 14ers to summit, but “easy” in the case of any mountain of this size is a relative term. Lying about 18 miles west-northwest of Buena Vista, the peak is near the famous Three Apostles, a trio of 13ers.

La Plata Peak: (14,336)

This peak’s name means ‘silver’ in Spanish. The first recorded summit was in 1921 by Colorado College alum Albert Ellingwood. The long northeast ridge is named for this pioneering climber. A rugged peak known for spectacular views, steep slopes and sweeping ridges, is the fifth highest mountain in Colorado.

Missouri Mountain: (14,067)

Thanks to miners from the “Show Me” state, this peak now honors the state of Missouri. Located about 15 miles northwest of Buena Vista, it is separated from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford to the east by Elkhead Pass.

*Elevations of 14ers are often adjusted and vary according to the source. The ones used here are courtesy of the Traihead Company in Buena Vista and believed to reflect the latest surveyor measurements.

Related Posts

CHAFFEE COUNTY VISITORS BUREAU

Salida Wedding Fair

Buena Vista & Salida, ColoradoBuena Vista & Salida, ColoradoBuena Vista & Salida, ColoradoBuena Vista & Salida, ColoradoBuena Vista & Salida, ColoradoBuena Vista & Salida, Colorado Heart Of The Rockies Wedding FairSalida, Colorado |...

Harness the Adventure

Ziplines and Aerial Parks Captain Zipline Aerial Adventure Park   Three different and daring adventures await in one location: The Lost Canyon Zipline Tour has captured the attention of national media from Outside Magazine to National...

Yoga Retreats

Vacations aren’t what they used to be. Now we want them to be life-enhancing, even life-changing. Instead of being an excuse for indulgence, sometimes we want them to be about wellness and meditative, restorative experiences. One way to do this...

Happy Trails

American Discovery Trail   The newest of the “Long Trails,” the ADT runs through 15 states from California to Delaware. Even if you hiked all 6,800 miles of the American Discovery trail from sea to shining sea, you won’t find a more...

Salida’s Sweet Spots

By Sue Bjorkman There is nothing cookie-cutter about Salida’s bakeries and sweet shops. Independent entrepreneur-owned businesses tempt and treat you to uniquely creative specialties. Talented local bakers, pastry chefs and confectioners bake everything...

Seven Peaks Music Festival

New Country Fest Transforms Labor Day Weekend in Buena Vista “Now I'm standing at the top with the sweat behind me Yeah, you gotta look up if you ever wanna find me,” from Dierks Bentley’s ‘The Mountain His home may be in Tennessee, but Dierks...