They are Colorado’s overlooked peaks. Hidden in the shadows of their larger cousins, Colorado’s 13ers number in the hundreds (637, to be exact). And while the 14ers get all the press, the diversity and challenges of these peaks are one of the state’s best-kept secrets.
The beauty of the 13ers is their sheer numbers. They’re everywhere. And with these numbers comes diversity. Highly technical routes vie with day hikes. Extended multi-day missions to the remotest heights compete with overnight camping trips ideal for families. And for those of us who live in Boulder, the proximity of 13ers in our backyard makes it easy to catch the 13er bug: Numerous objectives are easy to reach and you can be back in town for happy hour.
One of these objectives is Mt. Audubon (13,223). Located in the Indian Peaks wilderness area, it’s a great day hike, a peak that rewards an early start with an early return to civilization, and the smug satisfaction of knowing that while the minions were slaving away in the sweltering confines of their cubicles down in Boulder, you’ve been up high and cool, looking out over wildflower meadows, getting a good workout and remembering why you moved here in the first place. This popular peak is easy to access, with the four-mile trip to the top starting directly from the parking area at the Brainard Lake trailhead. With amazing 360-degree views from the summit, including vistas into nearby Rocky Mountain National Park, the summit is a great place to linger on nice days.
A more challenging mission is the one-two punch of North and South Arapahoe peaks. Topping out at 13,397 and 13,502 feet respectively, these mountains bookend a key water source for our city, Arapahoe Glacier. Because of the importance of the glacier, travel on it and in some surrounding parts of the watershed is banned. (Skiing the glacier in the summer is the ultimate poach, but don’t try it unless you’re willing to pay a hefty fine. There are other legal options in the surrounding Indian Peaks wilderness that offer as much of a challenge.)
The beauty of the Arapahoe peaks is that they make for a long and challenging day. The traverse between the heights is challenging on account of the terrain and the altitude, but the chance to bag two summits with a high alpine “crossing” is one that every serious peak bagger or summit junkie shouldn’t miss.
The twin mountains also make for a worthy end-of-the-summer goal for those who are building their mountain climbing resumes. Spend your weekends tuning up your mind and your body on shorter missions, with the goal of the Arapahoes as a great way to wrap up the summer summit season.
But the traverse is not a journey to be taken lightly. While only a half mile from summit to summit, the average elevation of the crossing is 13,500 feet, with plenty of exposure. Those not comfortable with basic rock climbing moves or who have a fear of heights may want to hire a guide and rope up. Weather is always an issue, although the dryer days of fall can provide peak baggers with increased confidence, as a mid-summer thunderstorm on the traverse would be a nightmarish experience.
Finally, there’s the more obscure Piute Peak (13,088). Sitting above a large basin with 12ers, Toll and Pawnee, Piute doesn’t get as much hype as the Arapahoes or as much traffic as Audubon. It’s no less worthy an objective, though. Easy to access via the Mitchell Creek trailhead, it’s a peak for those who want to linger in a spectacular basin below the mountain after they’ve chalked up the summit. Full of wildflowers, and featuring the sparkling waters of Blue Lake, the basin is the ultimate picnic paradise, a private oasis of mountain beauty that is worth a trip by itself and which is an easy, fast hike from the trailhead.
Once you’ve sampled these local 13ers there’s more. Much more. And perhaps that’s the strength in numbers: more than 600 summits of all types and difficulty waiting for you and your friends — enough mountains to create memories for a lifetime.
You don’t have to look hard to find info on Boulder’s local 13ers. Nederland’s Chamber of Commerce has a great website that includes details on how to access all of the peaks mentioned here. Take the opportunity to patronize a Nederland business before or after your trip to support the good folks up there and the Chamber’s efforts to provide a great source of information about the surrounding peaks: www.nederlandchamber.org