Colorado fourteener hiking traffic 20% in 2020 than 2019 — The Know

The view from the summit of Quandary Peak on July 7, 2014, included some patriotic expression. Quandary, located near Breckenridge, is one of Colorado’s busiest fourteeners. (Patrick Traylor, Denver Post file)

It looks as if the number of people who climbed Colorado fourteeners last year will shatter the previous record of 353,000, set in 2018.

The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, which tracks numbers annually, is still crunching 2020 numbers, with a final report expected in a week or two. It’s clear the record margin will be substantial, though.

“Comparing 2020 with the prior higher year of 2018, in most of the places where we have pulled our counters, we’re seeing in excess of a 20% increase in hiking use across the board,” said Lloyd Athearn, executive director of the CFI. “I think we will see our first year that is over 400,000.”

Following the record year of 2018, fourteener traffic declined 18.4% in 2019 to 288,000 because a huge snowpack delayed the start of hiking season that summer. Last year’s surge likely was driven by the pandemic, which caused explosive growth in public lands visitation across Colorado in parks, forests and open spaces.

The CFI annually publishes an “estimated hiking use” report, deriving its estimates in a variety of ways. Some numbers come from a network of automated counters that are hidden along trails, using thermal sensors to detect hikers when they pass. They also use a “multi-factor modeling program,” Athearn said, that takes into account other sources of data — such as people checking off peaks on — and involves some statistical “interpolation” to come up with final estimates.

“It gives what we believe is a pretty accurate representation,” Athearn said. “It’s not 100% perfect, but it’s certainly the most accurate I’ve ever seen.”

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