Chaffee County 14ers
Meet the Mountains
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.
Hiking and climbing at 14,000 feet is no joke
Do Your Research
Most of the fourteener routes involve Class 2 scrambling or climbing. Only a few fourteeners have hiking routes to the summit. Determine your route based on your ability and others in your group. Roads to the trailhead can oftentimes be a journey on their own, so make sure your vehicle can safely travel to the trailhead. Check the weather forecast ahead of time and plan appropriately.
Make a Plan
Summertime in Colorado’s high country means afternoon thunderstorms, so check the weather beforehand, plan an early start, have a group turnaround time, and be back below tree line by noon. Cell service is spotty to non-existent in the backcountry, so plan for alternative communications. Remember, summiting is optional but returning to the trailhead happy and safe is mandatory!
Pack the Right Gear
The old saying goes that if you don’t like the weather in Colorado, then wait five minutes. The weather at 14,000 feet can be radically different than at the trailhead, so make sure your pack includes extra layers, plenty of water, food and the 10 Essentials to get you through an unplanned night.
Virtual Tour Of The 14ers In The Sawatch Mountain Range
Search and Rescue
Chaffee County has two Search and Rescue organizations. These are all volunteer organizations operating under the direction of the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office. Their mission is to provide search and rescue services, as well as outdoor safety education, at no cost to the public.
Please consider purchasing a COSAR Card to ensure Colorado’s search and rescue teams are reimbursed for your rescue.
Half of Chaffee’s peaks make up the subset of the Sawatch Range known as the Collegiate Peaks, all named after Ivy League colleges.
Native American and Spanish Influences
Sawatch Range 14ers
*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.