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Best Beginner Class 3 14ers

So you’ve done most of the easier 14ers, what is next? Over a third of the 14ers in Colorado are rated class 3 or higher, with many options to make the ‘easier’ 14ers harder as well. If you want to complete the 14ers, climbing class 3 and 4 is mandatory. But where do you even start? Some of the class 3 14ers can be intimidating starting out, and each have their own unique challenges. However, there are easier ones that are great for learning on. If you aren’t sure where to even begin, here are the best beginner class 3 14ers in Colorado when you are starting out. 

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Best Class 3 14er for Exposure: Torreys Peak - 14,267 feet

Trail: Kelso Ridge

Elevation Gain: 3,100 feet

Round Trip Distance: 6.75 miles

Range: Front, in the Arapaho National Forest

Nearby Towns: Georgetown, Dillon , Idaho Springs

What to Know

If you are reading this list, chances are you’ve already summited the overpopulated mountains known as Grays and Torreys, located only an hour or so from Denver. What many don’t realize when they are hiking the two mountains, is there are quite a few different paths up them. 

Kelso Ridge has been one of my favorite routes on the 14ers. It is a great introduction for those wanting to do class 3 mountains. The climbing is slightly more technical than some of the others on this list, and the exposure definitely more intense.  But, as far as route finding goes, Kelso is pretty straight forward. Though you have the option to make it a little spicier (fun in a slightly more dangerous way) if you want. The rock on this route is solid too, but still check before weighting a hold. 

What many don’t realize before starting class 3 is that climbing down is almost always harder than climbing up. The route up 
Kelso Ridge is great in that it is a short one that contains no downclimbing if you don’t want to do it. You can completely avoid it if you don’t feel comfortable yet, and head down the standard route on Torreys instead. 

You’ll also get to experience some pretty intense exposure too on another of the famous 14er knife edges, the most infamous one being on Capitol Peak. This knife edge is short,  giving you a taste of what the exposure is like without having to be in it for too long. Despite this, it is a fun climb and recommended as a great beginner class 3 14er.

What is Kelso’s challenge? Finding parking at the extremely popular trailhead. 

Beginner Class 3 14ers: Kelso Ridge on Torreys Peak

Best Class 3 14er for an Introduction: Mt. Sneffels - 14,150 feet

Trail: South Slopes

Elevation Gain: 2,900 feet (You can do as I did and start slightly below the restroom parking lot for the full 3,000 feet elevation gain rule)

Round Trip Distance: 6.00 miles

Range: San Juan, in the Uncompahgre National Forest

Nearby Towns: Ouray, Telluride, Silverton

What to Know

It may be a far drive from Denver, but the views are definitely worth it. Mt. Sneffels towers dramatically over the town of Ouray, but you’ll be heading around to the other side. From here you will be hiking up from the Yankee Boy Basin. The basin is incredible, especially during wildflower season. It is incredibly green here with brilliantly blue lakes and thousands of wildflowers. 

You’ll get to enjoy the scenery before heading up the scree on the South Slopes of Sneffels. There is one class 3 move on the South Slopes route of Sneffels, making it a great 14er to start if you are unsure of exposure.  It also is one of the shortest routes up any 14er, both easier and harder ones. This makes it so you won’t be as tired when you reach the harder sections.

The only move that is committing is the final move to the summit across the notch. It isn’t as exposed as other mountains too, helping boost your confidence before tackling some of the harder class 3 mountains out there. 

It is a good 14er to bring micro traction on as well, as the best time to come up is when there is just a little bit of snow left on the couloir, to avoid some of the scree. 

Pay attention to the routes too as you come up. There is another class 3 route up to the summit as well on the southwest ridge, but I wouldn’t tackle this one until later unless you are good with route finding and exposure or have a partner to guide you up. 

Sneffels’ ultimate challenge? Trying to convince yourself to leave behind the breathtaking scenery once you are done.

Best Class 3 14er for Getting a Feel: Wetterhorn Peak - 14,015 feet

Trail: Southeast Ridge

Elevation Gain: 3,300 feet

Round Trip Distance: 7.00 miles

Range: San Juan, in the Uncompahgre National Forest

Nearby Towns: Lake City, Silverton

What to Know

Another peak surrounded by the brilliant green foliage that the San Juan Mountains are known for, Wetterhorn is a great beginner class 3 14er.  In fact, it is many people’s first class 3 scramble. It is a short mountain, making it not as committing as some of the harder ones out there, and it gradually gets harder as you continue up it. 

The approach is gentle and pretty, slowly leading you up to harder terrain.  Once you reach the last half mile or so, the fun really kicks in with some easy route finding and class 3 climbing. Overall, the route is fairly straight forward. Route finding comes in handy occasionally to  help make your path easier or harder. There are many cairns on the mountain if you do get off-trail, and the crux (hardest move) is near the end. 

You will have to downclimb everything on this peak, but taking it nice and slow helps while you are getting used to the scrambling.  The exposure is fairly limited on this route, with the most being at the end on the catwalk. The class 3 moves shouldn’t feel too hard, making it a fun mountain to climb around on. 

The challenge? Making the drive, nearly six hours from Denver. Also, trying to not stop a few dozen times to take photos. It is harder than it sounds. 

Best of the Class 3 14ers for Route Finding: Kit Carson Peak - 14,165 feet

Trail: via Challenger Point

Elevation Gain: 6,250 feet

Round Trip Distance: 14.50 miles

Range: Sangres, in the Rio Grande National Forest

Nearby Towns: Crestone, Alamosa

What to Know

If you have done most of the lower class 14ers in the state, you may have done the sufferfest known as Columbia. So you must be ready to suffer some more. Kit Carson has a few routes, but the easiest route is rated as an easy class 3. It also involves climbing up another 14er, Challenger Point, rated at a difficult class 2. The route you take will be the North Slope up Challenger over to Kit Carson. 

Depending on who you ask (myself included) the class 3 on Kit Carson is much easier than going down the endless amount of loose rock on Challenger Point.  And you must summit Challenger twice to come down, making this a very committing day once you continue on.  There is a sign that cautions you to not take a shortcut between the two saddles as below lie cliffs. 

This route is long, almost double the length of most other beginner class 3 14ers on this list.  Many people choose to backpack in for a night and spend the night at a gorgeous lake. It’s a pretty place to set up camp for the night before starting your hike the next morning. Plus you can now sleep in.

There is some route-finding involved with Kit Carson, and some people have died getting off route and cliffed out. Make sure to read route descriptions and maps before doing these mountains. If you have a GPS tracker it may be nice to bring along. 

This is a great place to learn route-finding too. Pay attention to your surroundings, look for easier routes up, and memorize your way back. Once you leave the Avenue, (read the route description) it can be hard to find it again on your descent. On your way down, if you feel like you have gone too far, you probably have. Be wary of this because you need to head back up until you find the route back to Challenger. 

Kit Carson’s challenge? Deciding to not spend an eternity on top of Challenger to avoid coming back down that mess. Just grit your teeth and carry on. 

Best of the Class 3 14ers for Endurance: Longs Peak - 14,255 feet

Trail: Keyhole Route

Elevation Gain: 5,100 feet

Round Trip Distance: 14.50 miles

Range: Front, in Rocky Mountain National Park

Nearby Towns: Estes Park, Lyons

What to Know

The most popular of the technical 14ers, Longs Peak, has gained a bit of a reputation over the years as an extremely hard 14er. With a large failure rate and the highest death rate of the 14ers, you might be wondering why this peak is on this list. 

While Longs features a much longer approach than most of the others and a lot of elevation gain, the route finding on the Keyhole route is practically nonexistent. Though very much against ‘LNT’ guidelines, bullseyes were painted along the route years ago to help aid hikers along the route after the cable was removed on the original cables route, no longer making it the standard. Once you get past the keyhole to the class 3 sections, you merely follow the bullseyes along the route straight to the top. 

Longs features a decent amount of exposure and sustained class 3 scrambling. You have almost a mile of it one way. So you might want to try another peak on this first to get the moves down, but as far as route finding goes, it doesn’t get much easier than this. 

Plus you’ll have a hundred new friends with you on this route, so it is easy to find the route by simply following the horde, assuming they know what they are doing. 

Many of the deaths that have happened on this peak over the years have been from being unprepared and/or encountering bad weather on the peak since the climbing takes a while.  As it is popular, you will be sure to make many new friends, or enemies, if you kick rocks down on them in the Trough. Wear a helmet. You’ll see many rocks bouncing along down the mountain. 

Come prepared for a long day. This is a good route for getting used to making moves again and again, as many of the harder 14ers require sustained scrambles. The best time to start this one is between 1 and 3 in the morning. This depends on how fast or slow you move, so you can reach the keyhole early before the crowds and the storms. Despite its reputation, for competent hikers, Longs is a great beginner class 3 14er.

The biggest challenge on Longs Peak? Keeping your patience as you wait in line to go back down the homestretch and trying to stay awake on the drive back.

How to Chose which Beginner Class 3 14er to do?

Now that you have read this list, it’s time to start planning your next 14er adventure. These are all great beginner class 3 14ers with a good introduction into scrambling. All of these have their own challenges. Depending on who you talk to, some will find other class 3 14ers easier. 

If you want to test out your route finding but have good stamina? Check out Kit Carson. Don’t have a lot of stamina but want to practice some class 3 scrambling moves? Head over to Wetterhorn. Want to get used to exposure but not sure of downclimbing? Climb Torreys. Want a shorter hike, with very little class 3 to start? Go do Sneffels. And if you have stamina and want to really hone your scrambling skills while not having to worry too much about the route finding, check out Longs Peak. 

All of these will have their own unique challenges, so you can decide what you need to work on and climb a mountain you think will best suit your skills. 

Before Heading Out on the Beginner Class 3 14ers (or any others)

Note that before attempting the peaks on this list you should have experience with high altitude and hiking. None of these are ‘easy’ by any means. In my opinion, however, each of these great beginner class 3 14ers to learning the necessary skills that you will need later.

Even though these are easier 14ers, the consequences are much higher than class 2 ones. A fall from one of these peaks has the potential to be fatal. It has been for several people. 

Know the outdoor skills well that you worked on during the easier 14ers. Be prepared to turn back if there is any weather coming up.  Go with a partner, preferably one with some experience in the higher class ratings. And most importantly have fun!

Do you think there are other beginner class 3 14ers that you recommend? Let me know in the comments.

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