For each 14er route, the approximate elevation gain (in feet) is calculated using the following steps:
Subtract the starting (trailhead) elevation from the summit elevation to determine the "Minimum Gain" of the route.
Determine an approximate amount of "Additional Gain" based on portions where your route goes downhill. If you are returning via the same
route, double that number because you have to regain it on the way back. Example: If you lost 500 feet of elevation during your ascent, your total additional gain (if you return via the same route) would be 1,000 feet.
Total Elevation Gain = Minimum Gain + Additional Gain
For the routes on 14ers.com, additional gain is included when it is 50 feet or more.
For nearly all 14er routes on 14ers.com, round-trip mileage is calculated by: 1) Tracking the route on a GPS unit, usually on multiple occasions, and 2) Manipulating the GPS track data to remove as much "drift" as possible. Drift occurs when the accuracy of the plot changes during the hike, resulting in a track point that isn't quite in the right spot. Most devices, including GPS units and smart phones, experience some amount of drift as track points are plotted. So, when you're tracking with a gps or phone, that "drift" can add up to additional mileage in the calculations. Sometimes it may be a substantial amount overstatement.
Compared to many mountains around the world, the Colorado 14ers aren't too difficult but we still face plenty of risk every time we climb. When planning a climb, we check the weather forecast to avoid the risk of being caught in a thunder storm. In winter, we assess the avalanche risk to avoid dangerous terrain. Additionally, there are risks specific to each route that don't change from day-to-day and should be considered before heading out. On 14ers.com we've come up with a scale from Low to Extreme to rate the risk of exposure, rockfall potential, route-finding difficulties and commitment. Please keep in mind that these ratings are in the context of the 14ers and are not intended as risk factor ratings for all mountains:
Exposure is the empty space below you which could result in injury or death if you fell. If you're "afraid of heights," the exposure risk might be an important factor when selecting a route. A LOW exposure route would be a walking up the standard trail on Quandary peak. HIGH exposure is crossing the knife-edge on Capitol Peak. EXTREME exposure is climbing the final wall when traversing from Crestone Peak to Crestone Needle.
Mild exposure in the area but not along the immediate route.
Mild exposure very close to the route. Route options may be limited but you should be able to walk through the exposure area.
Dangerous exposure along the immediate route. It should be avoidable with some slow hiking or scrambling.
A fall could result in serious injury or death. Moving through the area will require some scrambling or short technical moves.
A fall would likely be fatal. Big, sheer drops.
Is there a risk of rockfall or instability along the route? Walking up a Class 1 trail would likely have a LOW rockfall risk but climbing Maroon Peak or Little Bear Peak have HIGH->EXTREME risk of dangerous rockfall.
Risk of rock-fall is low either because the route is fairly low angle or the the rock is very solid throughout.
Rockfall is possible on steeper sections but the route is generally stable. Most Class 2 routes fall into this category.
Rockfall is likely on steeper sections. Wear a helmet!
Rockfall is very likely, making the route quite dangerous. Climb in a small group, avoid other groups and wear a helmet!
Rockfall is unavoidable and the terrain is extremely loose.
How big is the risk of getting off-route due to a lack of trail, confusing terrain, misplaced cairns, etc.?
Route is easy to follow.
Route may have some minor complications and/or lack of trail but it's mostly obvious.
Route has several areas which may be confusing so you'll need to pay close attention to route features.
Route is fairly complex and will require extra time for careful route-finding. Some cairns may lead you in the wrong direction and it may be easy to get off-route and enter dangerous terrain.
Route is very complex with many confusing sections, requiring plenty of time for route-finding so you don't get off-route and into dangerous terrain. Plan ahead, read the route description carefully and take experienced partners.
How big is the commitment to get to the summit? Are there complex sections high on the mountain that require a lot of time on your ascent AND descent? If so, the risk of getting caught in bad weather or without adequate supplies is higher. For Example, Capitol Peak's standard route has been given an EXTREME commitment rating because once you're past K2 and working you're way closer to the summit, there's no escape from the ridge and you're a long way away from flat terrain and tree line. If weather rolls in when you're climbing high on Capitol, you're in trouble and the only way back is via the same route.
The most difficult sections are short.
The more difficult sections are a bit longer and will require a extra time.
The more difficult sections are longer and more frequent, requiring extra time. This may also slow your progress on your return so you will need to watch the weather to allow enough time.
Due to the complexity and possible regain on your return, you'll need a lot of extra time to climb the difficult sections of the route. Returning will also require extra time. Don't attempt this route if the weather may turn foul.
The distance, complexity and lack of retreat options make this the highest level of commitment for a 14er route. Do NOT attempt this route if foul weather is possible or you're not in adequate physical shape to return safely. You'll also need plenty of food and water.
GPX (the GPS Exchange Format) is a data format used for GPS data (waypoints, routes and tracks). GPX files have gained in popularity and most mapping software will allow you to import/export GPX data. Some software packages will also pass GPX data to/from your GPS unit so you can prepare for a hike by adding route information to your GPS or download it to your computer after you've finished a hike.
Google Earth KML Files
You must have Google Earth installed to open a KML file. To get Google Earth, visit Google.com and look for the free download. Most of the route data used to create the Google Earth files was gathered using a GPS unit on a hike. When it's loaded into Google Earth, the route line may not exactly match the visible trails and terrain because of how Google Earth maps are generated. Use the route lines as an estimate and don't expect them to perfect. They should only be used to estimate the location of the route.
The 3,000-foot "rule" is just a guideline which some hikers use to define when a peak has been climbed. It's a goal. If you hike to a 14er summit without gaining 3,000', you still hiked the peak. If you decide to adopt this goal, that's fine. If not, no worries, you are like most. Climbing these peaks with or without gaining 3,000' on every peak is a big accomplishment. The 3k thing is no different than having a goal to climb 20 peaks a year, or 100,000' of annual elevation gain or climbing at least once a week. 14ers.com did not come up with the 3k guideline and simply mentions it because it's a popular topic.