Colorado Fourteeners Initiative has come up with an eye-catching way to warn climbers and hikers that poor decisions on the state’s highest peaks can kill them.
A new series of mountain safety videos was released this month with a heavy dose of information on navigating the big peaks surrounding Aspen.
Colorado Fourteeners Initiative produced the series in an effort to inspire climbers and hikers to be prepared before tackling some of the most difficult of the 54 peaks over 14,000 feet.
“I had been aware of this issue for years. I thought this is something Colorado Fourteeners Initiative should be doing,” executive director Lloyd Athearn said.
The deadly climbing season in 2017 emphasized the need. Nine people died in the Elk Mountains near Aspen during the spring and summer. Five died on 14,130-foot Capitol Peak.
“That really caused a groundswell — what are we doing about this?” Athearn said.
His organization shot footage for the safety videos last summer and produced them over the winter and into spring. In broad terms, the videos try to inform people who come from around the world to climb and hike Colorado’s peaks about what they will encounter.
“Every fourteener has some level of inherent risk,” Athearn said.
Therefore, hikers need to wear proper clothing, carry proper gear and get up and down before afternoon lightning storms roll in.
The series also makes it clear that 10 or so of the 14ers are in a different league and are particularly hazardous. They cannot be tackled via a hike on an established, clear-cut route. The more difficult peaks include Capitol Peak, North Maroon Peak, Maroon Peak, Pyramid Peak and Snowmass Mountain in the Elk Mountain Range outside of Aspen.
The first fatality on an Aspen-area peak this summer occurred last week.
Three of the new videos posted to CFI’s YouTube channel are titled: “The Deadliest Colorado 14ers,” “No Shortcuts on the 14ers” and “What Makes the Elk Mountains 14ers So Dangerous?”
“No Shortcuts on the 14ers” uses Capitol Peak to drive home the point. After reaching the summit in a journey that includes extensive exposure, some climbers have made the mistake of thinking they could shave time off or avoid repeating crossing nerve-racking terrain by heading toward Capitol Lake.
They feature Aspen sources such as Ute Mountaineer owner and avid outdoorsman Bob Wade, Mountain Rescue Aspen President Justin Hood, mountaineer Ted Mahon and Aspen Expeditions Worldwide guide Sammy Podhurst.
Hood said in the video that the terrain people thought would be easier turns into a nightmare.
“It progressively gets worse and worse and all of a sudden you’re sliding on loose dirt and talus. You get to a 300-foot cliff ban that is totally unavoidable. There’s no way around it,” Hood said in the video.
Podhurst said, “There is no shortcut off the mountain. You have to go back the way you came up.”
“What Makes the Elk Mountains 14ers So Dangerous?” stresses that the crumbly rock on the Maroon Bells poses special challenges, as does the difficulty of route finding throughout the fourteeners in the Elks.
Additional videos will be released in coming weeks by CFI specifically on Capitol, Maroon Bells and on whether a person should hire a guide.
The videos are all about four minutes or less. Athearn, a longtime climber, said it is his impression that “the mental process” of preparing to hike or climb a fourteener has changed over time. Although the number of resources available in guidebooks and online forums is greater than ever, he feels fewer people are thoroughly researching their objective. It also appears that the attention span of society at-large is getting shorter, he said. Therefore, CFI decided to make videos on mountain safety in hopes of capturing attention for that short time and inspiring people to seek more information.
The videos were made possible with funding from multiple sources, including the Aspen Skiing Co. Employee Environment Foundation and the Colorado Office of Tourism.
This latest round of mountain safety videos augments what CFI previously offered.
“We released 10 videos last summer — six of them focused on gear,” Athearn said.
The release of the videos is timely. A heavy snowpack lingered well into summer and snowfields will likely blanket parts of some high peaks into August. That delayed the hiking and climbing season for most people.
“There seems to be pent up demand for people to get out,” Athearn said.
He has special concerns about whether people are equipped to stay safe on ice and snow.