COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — If it seems you’re encountering more and more people at 14,000 feet, it’s probably because you are.
Yet again, the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative has tracked increased popularity on the state’s 54 highest summits.
In an analysis recently released, the nonprofit steward estimates 353,000 people flocked to the peaks during 2018’s hiking season, up 5.7% from the 2017 count. That’s almost 100,000 more than the first report from four years ago.
The heightened numbers come with CFI increasing its monitoring capabilities on the mountains, said the organization’s executive director, Lloyd Athearn.
“Each year we continue to optimize the accuracy of the data collected and have more confidence in the estimates we release,” he said in a press release.
While using some in-ground counters from the U.S. Forest Service, CFI has its own 22 along the trails, with two deployed last season on Pikes Peak. One tallied hikers on the backside through Devil’s Playground, the other on Barr Trail past the turnoff for Bottomless Pit, high enough to not reflect descenders from the Manitou Incline.
Compared with other estimates on fourteeners nearest the Front Range, America’s Mountain’s is on the lower side — between 10,000 and 15,000. The report doesn’t include all those who ascend Pikes Peak by road.
Mounts Bierstadt, Elbert, Lincoln, Bross, Democrat and Sherman as well as Quandary, Grays, Torreys and Longs peaks all see more people, according to the report.
For the first time, CFI considers Quandary Peak the busiest fourteener. Bierstadt previously held the notorious rank.
The organization tracked 38,259 hikers on Quandary between May and October last year. That’s up 35% from initial estimates.
CFI approximates 36,800 crowded Bierstadt over that same period in 2018. The mountain claimed the busiest day of the season: 1,023 stomped the trail on July 20. Seven days prior, 945 were counted on Quandary.
While the changes in CFI’s reports have been “dramatic” in Athearn’s view, they don’t necessarily mean more damage to the summiting paths, he said.
“In many places, our investments in trail construction and maintenance mean the summit trail is in better condition despite significantly increased hiking use.”
He indicated that was the case on Quandary, where CFI in recent years has reportedly invested $223,400 on improvements.
But the question Athearn ponders: Will advocacy be able to keep up with demand?
“The challenge is building out and maintaining the network of sustainably designed, durably constructed summit hiking trails — CFI’s top priority — before hiking use impacts make this harder and more expensive to do.”
Big mountains, big numbers
Colorado Fourteeners Initiative hiking estimates for 2018
— 35,000-40,000: Quandary Peak, Mount Bierstadt
— 25,000-30,000: Grays and Torreys peaks
— 20,000-25,000: Mounts Elbert, Lincoln, Bross, Democrat
— 15,000-20,000: Longs Peak, Mount Sherman
— 10,000-15,000: Pikes Peak, Mount Evans
— 7,000-10,000: Mounts Massive, Belford, Oxford and Yale, Huron Peak
— 5,000-7,000: Mounts Harvard, Shavano, Princeton and Holy Cross, La Plata and Tabegauche peaks
— 3,000-5,000: Mounts Antero and Columbia, Missouri Mountain, Humboldt Peak
— 1,000-3,000: Castle, Maroon, Capitol, Pyramid, Blanca, Crestone, Kit Carson, Culebra and Little Bear peaks, Mount Lindsey, Crestone Needle, Ellingwood and Challenger points