This Gorgeous Colorado Hike Is One Of The Most Dangerous In America

Climbers and avid hikers from around the United States know what a fourteener is: A mountain higher than 14,000 feet above sea level. There are many fourteeners scattered around the country — like the dangerous and iconic Mount Rainier — but Colorado is packed with these enormous mountains. None of the Centennial State's peaks should be taken lightly, but one stands apart from the others as the most dangerous: Capitol Peak. The trek to the summit of this titan has been called one of the most dangerous hikes you can attempt in the U.S., and the more you learn about it, the easier it is to understand why. Aside from the challenging climb, the mountain is crumbling, and many have been killed by unpredictable rock falls.


Many wilderness areas and national parks have trails that are for experienced hikers only, but Capitol Peak in Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is especially treacherous, and even those who have climbed many mountains before may be risking their lives on its slopes. While hikers who have climbed parts of this trail report staggering views, snow, and ice can make this challenging climb impossible, and many are forced to make the wise choice to turn back before reaching the summit due to poor conditions. Even with good weather, the exposure, loose rocks, and the sheer elevation make the journey to the top potentially deadly. As inviting as the mountain looks, multiple hikers and climbers have been killed attempting to reach the summit.


What makes Capitol Peak in Maroon-Snowmass Wilderness so dangerous

While one of the major concerns is that inexperienced climbers are coming to this route expecting a tricky hike and finding a potentially deadly climb, even those with plenty of experience on mountains like this one have been killed. During one short stretch of 6 weeks in 2017, five climbers were killed on the mountain. Four of them were known to be experienced hikers and climbers, most of whom had climbed other Colorado mountains over 14,000 feet before. One climber, Jake Lord, was killed when a rock dislodged from the crumbling mountainside, struck him, and sent him plummeting to the ground below. In an interview with Pique, a friend who was with Lord when he died stated, "To a certain degree, it's nothing that you can control. You don't expect a giant rock to be loose. You expect that if you grab something as big as your body, it's going to stay put."


Despite efforts to spread the word about how dangerous climbing Capitol Peak is, as recently as 2022, a solo climber was killed when a rock that she grabbed ahold of fell away from the cliffside. If the worst does happen, it can take rescuers hours to arrive on the scene, even by helicopter. In 2021, authorities were even forced to make the heartbreaking decision to leave the body of a hiker who was killed on the mountain, after three rescuers were injured trying to recover it — again by falling rocks.

What to do if you want to climb Capitol Peak

Trying to reach the summit of Capitol Peak is a risky, potentially deadly decision. Even those who have successfully reached the top, sometimes on their second attempt, advise caution when deciding if this kind of climb is right for you. In an interview with Fox, experienced climber Chris Tomer stated, "Capitol Peak is not a beginner's climb. You should have years of experience on other peaks and consider going with someone who has climbed it before. You should be able to handle exposure, be able to climb the standard route in the dark, be in the best shape of your life, forget about social media and be in the moment by paying attention to maintaining three points of contact at all times."


If you're interested in a difficult, tall climb and the gorgeous views of the Colorado mountains, you might consider one of the other fourteeners, like Bierstadt, Sherman, or Huron. You'll still need a lot of experience to climb them, and if you're hiking solo you should review the safety tips. If you're committed to seeing Capitol Peak, many hikers on AllTrails have successfully hiked the first third of the route to Capitol Lake (pictured). This provides views of the gorgeous, clear mountain lake and access to the spot where many hikers like to camp for the night, without the steep incline that requires serious climbing or the loose rocks that have taken so many lives on the trail.