Climbing a Colorado 14er (or many of them) is a goal many people have. Some of these peaks require technical climbing skills and equipment, getting on the trail as early as 2 a.m., and hiking several miles with verticals gains of 4,000 feet or more. For those who would like to bag a 14,000-foot peak with less effort, there are some relatively easy ones. Quandry Peak, Mount Bierstadt, and Mount Democrat are some of the easiest ones to climb. While they are still tough climbs, they are manageable by people in good shape who are willing to put in the effort.
The climb to Mount Democrat begins at the Kite Lake Trailhead at 12,000 feet. Starting at this high elevation is one of the reasons this climb is easier; additionally, the approach is is a direct route with no passes to go over. The 5.5-mile dirt road to Kite Lake is passable by passenger cars, but it is rough, so allow 30 minutes to drive it. There is a $3 fee to park at the lake and $12 to camp. Mount Democrat is eminently visible from the trailhead, and it does look high! The trail is generally easy to follow, though there are some spots where it gets a bit faint. After the first half mile the trail becomes almost entirely rocks and talus, and the climb is continuous. The first third of the hike is not too steep as the trail winds up the bottom of the cirque between Mount Democrat, Mount Cameron, and Mount Lincoln. Here there is still some alpine vegetation and some remnants of mining activities of long ago. The second third is the climb up to the saddle between Mount Democrat and Mount Cameron. This part is moderately steep and rocky with a few long switchbacks. The views are spectacular, though, and they hint at what is to come.
At the saddle, which is about 1.5 miles in, hikers are treated to views of the Continental Divide and many 13,000-foot peaks on the northwest side of Mount Democrat. This area can be very windy and cold, even on a nice day. The last third of the hike is the steepest, and some sections are quite steep and rocky. The trail winds around the east side of the summit and climbs to a false summit where the true peak can finally be seen again. From here it is fairly flat before a climb of a few hundred feet to reach the true summit where the mountains to the south and southwest can be seen for the first time. The summit is spacious, and there are some rock shelters to use as you relax and take in the view. It is a treat that the trailhead is visible from the summit, as is the winding access road to Kite Lake. The trail down is steep enough to slow down most hikers, so don’t expect a fast descent. Allow four to six hours for the round trip, longer than might be expected due to the roughness of the trail and the altitude.
Many robust hikers descend to the saddle and then climb to Mount Cameron and Mount Lincoln to bag three 14ers in one day. This requires a very early start and a focus on the weather so as to not be on exposed ridges or peaks if afternoon thunderstorms come up. Even on the Mount Democrat climb it is important to pay attention to the time and weather forecasts because storms coming from the western horizon are not visible for much of the climb. In spite of these standard precautions, the Mount Democrat peak climb is a satisfying and exhilarating accomplishment for any hiker who wants to bag their first 14er.