Engearment’s Jace Jackson Bags All 58 of Colorado’s 14ers
Summiting his first 14,000 foot peak (Mt. Bierstadt) at 9 years old, Engearment writer Jace Jackson spent two decades methodically ticking off one fourteener after another.
Being a “14er Finisher” in Colorado is no small feat- ranging from Class 1 to Class 5, there are 58 peaks over 14,000 feet in height.
He recently finished his final peak, Handies Peak, in September.
“I summited my first 14er when I was 9 years old. I caught the 14er bug immediately, composing a hand-written 14er checklist (long before 14ers.com),” said Jackson.
Jackson had forgotten about the list until his father returned it to him on the summit of his finisher peak. An appropriate gift, as the list was dated 2001, almost exactly 20 years prior to his first summit of Mt. Bierstadt.
“My motivations have varied widely since I first decided to climb the 14ers. Some days I felt like I was hell-bent on chasing a list, other days I was just looking for an excuse to go camping with my wife,” said Jackson.
“Ultimately, what I’ve landed on is that climbing mountains is a great excuse to be outside with the people I love and see some really cool parts of Colorado I wouldn’t have otherwise visited. That, and I’m extremely goal-oriented.”
Initially, Jackson was just occupied with summiting new peaks. It wasn’t until he was well past the halfway point that he realized that summiting all 58 was actually possible.
That’s when he began to put a plan into motion, and connected with other 14er Finishers, whom he described as “great mentors, whose value cannot be overstated,” according to Jackson.
Despite his experience mountaineering, Jackson knew that he needed a strategy to successfully accomplish his goal.
Together with his mentors, they wrote a plan to tackle the remaining peaks over the course of the last 3-4 years. Each written plan analyzed peak difficulty, range, logistics, and proximity to Denver. Consequently, he has summited a 14er in every calendar month but two- October and December.
“Most people tend to pick off the low-hanging fruit early on, and they’re left with all of the difficult peaks at the end, making for a daunting task. With that in mind, I would aim to have a mix every season that included a couple of the tougher class 3-4 peaks, as well as some gentler peaks closer to home,” explained Jackson.
“This strategy isn’t the most efficient if you’re trying to break a speed record, but it seemed to be the best way to tackle them as someone living in the Denver-area working a full time job.”
Other resources Jackson utilized were 14ers.com and Gerry Roach’s classic tome, Colorado’s Fourteeners. Both provided route descriptions and valuable data. He also downloaded Gaia GPS maps on his phone, which, “…have saved his butt more than once.”
Favorite summit view: Pyramid Peak
“It offers such a unique and dramatic view of the Maroon Bells with Capitol Peak and Snowmass Mountain, looming in the background. The geology of that area is breathtaking and Pyramid’s summit offers an incredible perspective.”
Most Challenging: Capitol Peak
“It’s a long hike in, followed by 4 hours of hyper-focused climbing on loose rock in a no-fall zone.”
Most Dangerous: Little Bear
Due to a massive loose scree field perched above a narrow section named “The Hourglass”, rockfall is extremely common.
“You’re basically making difficult Class 4 moves right in the line of fire. There is very little you can do to mitigate the rockfall hazard. You just have to minimize your time in the hourglass and hope you’re not in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The Big Week: Snowmass Mountain, North Maroon Peak, and Pyramid Peak
“This summer, I did Snowmass, North Maroon, and Pyramid back-to-back-to-back. That resulted in 43 miles and 16,150’ of elevation gain and plenty of Class 4 climbing over the course of six days. That was definitely the most densely-packed 14er week for me.”
The best hiking partners
Beginning with his father who took him climbing 14ers as a child (and was present for his finisher), Jackson’s family and close friends have accompanied him for most of his 14er journey.
Jackson’s favorite hiking/climbing partner is his wife, Taylor, who accompanied him for 33 summits, while his rescue dog, Samson, accompanied them for 21.
Advice to peak baggers
There is no “typical” 14er hiker in Colorado. Peak baggers range from casual hikers to mountain bikers, to skiers, to serious mountaineers.
Jackson has seen six-year-olds on Mt. Sherman, and a friend of his met an 80-something-year-old woman who had just climbed the Cables Route up Longs Peak.
“The Colorado 14ers offer something for nearly everyone. Most people who are reasonably fit and have a good attitude (along with a healthy respect for the mountains) should be able to stand atop a Colorado 14er,” said Jackson.
However, he cautioned, there are no “easy” 14ers.
“There are some that are much less difficult than others and offer a great place to start, such as Mt. Bierstadt, Quandary Peak, Mt. Sherman, Grays and Torreys Peak, and the Democrat group. They all make great 14ers,” Jackson suggested.
Regardless of ability, Jackson advises peak baggers to drink more water than you think you will need, let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return, and pay close attention to the weather and the clouds; especially during the summer months.
In the hyper-outdoors culture of Colorado, there will always be someone else who sets a new record, or comes up with creative ways (such as unicycling or trail running) to stand out from the rest.
For example, in 2018, Josh Sanders climbed 10 separate 14ers in one day, reaching Mt. Belford with just 27 minutes to spare. In 2017, a former Navy SEAL named Josh Jesperson splitboarded down every 14er. Finally, a Siberian Husky named Loki summited all 58 peaks in 2020.
Those are all great feats, but according to Jackson, “To compare individual accomplishments is to steal the joy from your own accomplishments.”
“Make your 14er journey your own! Summiting a single 14er will be the achievement of a lifetime for many; others won’t be content until they finish them all. Both are great. At the end of the day, climbing mountains is a tremendous opportunity for personal growth, so embrace it and enjoy the ride!” finished Jackson.
Jace’s Advice for new hikers
“Leave the mountain better than you found it! If you spend much time on the 14ers, you’ll soon realize that most of these peaks are being loved to death,” he said.
“I’m a firm believer in Leave No Trace practices. This includes things like packing out all of your trash and poop (bonus points for picking up others’ trash), staying on the trail even when it’s less convenient, and camping only in designated sites,” Jackson continued.
Don’t have a hiking buddy? He cited 14ers.com as a good forum for people looking for partners. In that space, he maintained, people will often list their own experience level, risk tolerance, preferred pace, etc. and ask that prospective partners share the same.
Throughout the year, 14ers.com hosts several meet ups open to the public. Volunteering with the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) is also a great way to give back and meet some like-minded 14er folk, Jackson maintained.
PHOTO CREDITS: JACE JACKSON
*Ellingwood is with his wife Taylor