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Peak Baggers Take Note: Colorado's Famous 14ers Just Got Shorter

Colorado Hiking
by Alex Bresler May 2, 2024

For many mountaineers, summiting the tallest peaks is the ultimate badge of honor. In several states, that means tackling 14ers, a term used to describe mountain peaks higher than 14,000 feet. Peak bagging, as the activity of chasing those great heights is called, is especially popular in Colorado, whose 50-plus 14ers number more than any other state. But a new study by researchers at the National Geodetic Survey just shrunk Colorado’s highest peaks.

The study, published in the Journal of Geodesy, set out to analyze the current summit elevations of Colorado’s 14ers using two types of data: Light Detection and Ranging (LiDar), which uses remote sensing to evaluate the Earth’s surface, and geoid models, which measures elevation based on sea levels. The takeaway? In general, the summits of Colorado’s famous 14ers are more than five feet shorter than they were once recorded to be.

There are two reasons for this: For one, environmental changes such as rising sea levels are impacting mountain elevations. But the researchers also found that the original estimates for Colorado’s peaks, which dates back to the 1950s, were about three feet too high.

According to the new data, none of the 58 peaks in Colorado that were originally considered to be 14ers were eliminated, and no new peaks were added to the list. There were, however, changes to the order of Colorado’s tallest peaks. Notably, Huron Peak in the Sawatch Range of the Rockies now ranks the lowest, barely qualifying as a 14er at 14,004.1 feet. Mount Elbert remains the tallest peak in the Sawatch Range, North America’s Rocky Mountains at large, and Colorado’s highest summit at 14,437.6 feet. It’s also the second tallest peak in the contiguous US after California’s Mount Whitney — whose summit measures 14,505 feet.

Mount Massive, Mount Harvard, Blanca Peak, and La Plata Peak round out Colorado’s five tallest 14ers, towering between 14,423.9 and 14,343 feet. Two summits also received a special mention for being just shy of 14er height: Grizzly Peak A at 13,994.9 feet and Sunlight Spire at 13,994.3. Capitol Peak, known as the hardest Colorado 14er to summit, ranks 31st on the list at 14,136.3 feet.

There’s another helpful piece of data included in the findings: All peaks listed also come with “uncertainty estimates” ranging from six to eight centimeters given the difficulty of gathering elevation data in rugged mountainous areas.

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