The Elk Mountains: Home to Colorado's Most Rugged 14ers

The Elk Mountains are home to Colorado's most rugged—and most deadly—summits.

Greg Heil

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by Jason Weiss

Description

The mighty Elk Mountains lie between Aspen and the nearby town of Crested Butte. While these two iconic Colorado mountain towns are located just a few miles apart as the crow flies, this staggering array of jagged, rocky mountain peaks makes overland travel between the two towns difficult, if not impossible.

These rugged mountains are so formidable, so unforgiving that there's no way for a standard passenger vehicle to cross between the two towns. In the summer, you'll have to drive 110 miles around the mountains to get from one city to another, and in the winter, that distance climbs to 200 miles!

The division is solidified by the formidable 14,000-foot peaks along the spine of the mountain range. This impressive group of seven 14ers is also home to the most technical peak climbs and traverses in the state of Colorado! North Maroon Peak boasts the most technical standard route up any 14er, and it’s followed by Pyramid Peak in the #2 slot. For the full lineup, be sure to read this guidebook detailing the 6 Most Technical 14ers in Colorado.

North Maroon Peak only gets harder if you link it with Maroon Peak via a fifth-class traverse. The renowned Bells Traverse is one of the most technical mountaineering challenges in the state of Colorado, and ranks as one of Colorado's 4 Great 14er Traverses.

Capitol Peak, while not objectively the most technical, has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the deadliest peaks in the state of Colorado. Finally, Castle Peak, Snowmass Mountain, and Conundrum Peak might not be as technical or as deadly as the other summits in the Elk Range, but they are all formidable mountains buried deep in the wilderness. "There's no such thing as an easy 14er," and this wise saying applies doubly so to the Elk Range!

Adventures

Maroon Peak: South Ridge

A long day of steep, sustained hiking and scrambling up one of Colorado's most iconic mountains.

Snowmass Mountain: East Slopes

A two- or three-day mission to summit one of the most remote 14ers in Colorado, requiring snow travel and Class 3 scrambling with exposure.

Bells Traverse

This Class 5 route is one of the most technical traverses in Colorado.