To hike all the 14ers in Colorado you have to be able to scramble some 4th class terrain. The 14ers that require 4th class scrambling are arguably among the finest peaks in CO: North Maroon Peak, Pyramid Peak, Mt. Wilson, Sunlight Peak, Little Bear Peak, and Capitol Peak.
Any person with average athleticism can easily ascend a peak rated 4th class. Colorado’s “tough” 14ers are climbed by hundreds of people every year who are not climbers and their experience is limited to hiking a couple of hard 3rd class peaks.
- Fourth class is scrambling.
- Climbing 4th class peaks requires a different mindset than hiking.
- Fourth class opens the door to the most striking peaks in the US.
- Fourth class is completely safe if approached with the attention it deserves.
Here are some ideas that can make 4th class terrain safer:
- Never make a move you cannot reverse – If your team doesn’t have a rope, you never want to make a move up that you don’t think you can down climb. *4th class is relative easy scrambling, if something feels hard you might be off route.
- Know the crux – Know where the crux of the route is, know what type of scrambling to expect. Is there more than one crux?
- Always be thinking about the descent. Discuss landmarks and forks on the accent so you don’t go the wrong way on the descent.
- Start early – Get a headstart on the weather and other climbers/hikers.
- Don’t rely on technology – Learn the route on a map. Learn the mountain before you go.
- Bailing is always an option – Weather changes fast. Gear can break. Getting off-route happens. The mountain will always be there for another try.
- Be willing to “go for it” – Just send it.
- Check in with partner regularly – Chat about route options, landmarks, weather & headspace
- Consume a steady stream of calories
- Travel light
Not all 4th class routes are equal.
Some 4th class routes are easy, very little exposure and only a very short section of scrambling.
Some 4th class routes are sustained in difficulty for hundreds or even thousands of feet with mind numbing exposure. On long sections of exposed 4th class, many beginners will require a rope.
Fourth Class cruxes can be easy or can be hard in terms of the scrambling moves. The difficulty varies. 5.0 and 5.1 is not much harder than 4th class. It is not uncommon to encounter moves of easy 5th class on a hard 4th class scramble.
Well traveled and popular 4th class routes tend to be on the easy-side of 4th class. Whereas on obscure 4th class routes it is normal to encounter short sections of easy 5th class terrain.
This is part two of a series of blogs dedicated to improving mountain skills.