The Colorado 14er Initiative has spread 23 different infrared monitors across Colorado trails, dating back to 2015, to keep track of just how many people are trying to bag the legendary Colorado hikes. Executive Director Lloyd Athearn said it's in the best interest of everyone to know just how many sets of boots are stomping along the path at a given day.
"We've seen use, generally speaking, go up substantially pretty much in the 5% to 7% a year over time," Athearn said.
While continued growth is his expectation, 2021 proved extenuating circumstances can still deter the average hiking population. In a release, the organization describes trail closures along Mount Democrat, Cameron, and Lincoln halting progress along some of the easiest mountains to get to (for the major population centers).
There's also the fact that Colorado had, and many hikers decided sucking wind up and down difficult mountains was probably a bad idea when the air was 50% ash (this is a joke, but Colorado did rank in the top 10 several times for the worst air quality in the world).
Finally the new shuttle and parking lot system for Quandary Peak, the most popular 14er, made things a bit more complex for hikers to get out and go.
All of this accounts for the final total of 303,000 people hiking the trails in 2021, a 27% drop in usage from the previous year. But that number needs some context because 2020 was also a gangbusters year for hiking fourteeners, as everyone and their brother were trying to exercise safely during the pandemic while trapped at home looking for a way to leave the house.
Still, that year's data is in comparison to 2019, which, in comparison to even more previous recordings, was a low year because of the massive snowfall, avalanche conditions, and late snowpack making the tops of hikes difficult. Athearn said these fluctuations are unnatural, but it's not the end times for 14ers.
"My hunch is that people have not, you know, given up on the 14ers," Athearn said. "They aren't necessarily looking for something else. It's a good bet over time to think more people want to climb them then, you know, fewer people. We just don't know at this point."
Even with more hikers, trail conditions are actually improving as well, like along Quandary.
"We saw use increase you know more than double closer to maybe even triple and yet the trail condition grade increased from a C plus to an AA minus," Athearn said, attributing that change to a smarter, kinder, eco-conscience type of hiker.
The data for 2022 will be collected after Labor Day, we will let you know what they find.
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