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Stories behind the summits: The history, origin behind the name of every Colorado 14er

Posted: 11:51 AM, Jul 14, 2020
Updated: 2020-08-11 11:32:27-04
Pikes Peak.jpg

Behind every summit is a story.

Colorado is home to more than 50 14ers, or mountains that exceed 14,000 feet above sea level. These mountains instill a range of reactions — joy, fear, triumph, frustration, longing, thrill, exhaustion. Thousands of Coloradans and visitors to our state brave the possibility of failure, poor weather, injury and more in order to stand above 14,000 feet — to look around and feel quite certain you’re on top of the world.

Fourteeners had a similar effect on early settlers in the 1800s. And filled with the emotions that accompany a summit, they were tasked with assigning a name — some with deep-rooted importance, others with comical carelessness — to each one.

If you’ve ever wondered about the name origins of Colorado’s highest peaks, this history lesson is for you.

First, a few quick definitions

Before we get started, here are three names and terms you should know, since they come up often in this article.

One of the earliest collections of information and name origins for Colorado’s 14ers was written by John Lathrop Jerome Hart in 1925. The book, titled, “Fourteen Thousand Feet: A History of the Naming and Early Ascents of the High Colorado Peaks,” is cited often here.

Many of the names of Colorado’s 14ers come from two geological surveys — the Hayden Geological Survey (in the 1870s) and the Wheeler Geological Survey (in the late 1860s through late 1870s). These two organizations were later combined with two other surveys to create the U.S. Geological Survey.

Name origins of Colorado's 14ers

Blanca Peak | 14,345 feet

Blanca Peak.jpg
Photograph by Timothy H. O’Sullivan. Taken in 1874. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Blanca Peak is the tallest mountain in the Sierra Blanca, which translates to “White Sawtooth” mountains. The range earned that name from its year-round snowcaps. The mountain's first recorded summit happened in August 1874 but the group, which was part of the Wheeler Geological Survey, found a man-made structure at the top, likely built by local Native Americans.

Source: Rocky Mountain Field Institute

Capitol Peak | 14,130 feet

Capitol Peak_Wren Nichole Branham.jpg

While the exact history behind Capitol Peak’s name isn’t exactly known, experts believe it could have stemmed from the shape of the mountain. It was named during the Hayden Geological Survey in 1874, though the group claimed the peak was inaccessible and they weren’t able to summit it during that expedition.

According to an issue of “Trail and Timberline” by the Colorado Mountain Club, a member of that survey named W.H. Rideing wrote about Capitol Peak and the nearby Snowmass Mountain: “After mature deliberation the expedition rechristened them the Whitehouse and the Capitol, under which names we suppose they will be familiar to future generations.” Capitol retained its name and Whitehouse was later renamed Snowmass Mountain.

It's also rumored, as described in “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” that "it’s not known if any deep thought went into the naming of the peak." The shape of the mountain may have simply reminded the survey party members of the state capitol building.

Sources: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart, “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn, “Trail and Timberline, Issues 64-99” by The Colorado Mountain Club

Castle Peak | 14,279 feet

Castle Peak_@sarahmariekirk on Instagram

Members of the Hayden Geological Survey took one look at this mountain, northeast of Crested Butte, and named it for the “striking towers” along its ridges.

Source: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart

Challenger Point Peak | 14,081 feet

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A plaque at the summit of Challenger Point Peak in June 2020.

If you happen to climb this 14er and don’t know its name origin, it should become abundantly clear once you reach the summit. There, you’ll find a plaque reading:

CHALLENGER POINT, 14080+
In Memory of the Crew of Shuttle Challenger — seven who died accepting the risk, expanding mankind's horizons. January 28, 1986. Ad Astra Per Aspera

The final line — Ad Astra Per Aspera — translates to “to the stars through adversity” in Latin.

On Jan. 28, 1986, Francis Scobee, Michael Smith, Gregory Jarvis, Ronald McNair, Elllison Onizuka, Judith Resnick, and Christa McAuliffe all perished in the NASA Challenger space shuttle when it broke apart shortly after liftoff. The following year, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names approved to name the peak Challenger Point — an idea that stemmed from a Colorado Springs resident. The plaque was installed at the summit on July 18, 1987. Somewhat surprisingly, before it was formally named, it was simply known as a subpeak of Kit Carson Peak, a nextdoor 14er.

Sources: U.S. Board of Geographic Names, “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn, “The Colorado Mountain Companion: A Potpourri of Useful Miscellany From the Highest Parts of the State” by John Fayhee

Crestone Needle | 14,197 feet

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Photo courtesy of Sarah Hessler

Both Crestone Needle and its neighbor, Crestone Peak, are a couple of the mountains in the jagged cluster called the Crestone Group. Both earned the name “Crestone” from the Spanish word crestón, meaning “crest.” Just take a sideways look at the peaks and you'll see just how narrow the mountains become. The group was originally named the Trois Tetons because it resembled the Teton Range in Wyoming.

Bonus fact: Almost all accounts say that Crestone Needle was the last 14er to have a recorded and successful summit. Albert Ellingwood and Eleanor Davis summited the peak on July 24, 1916.

Sources: Outdoor Trail Maps, “Climbing Colorado’s Fourteeners: From the Easiest Hikes to the Most Challenging Climbs” by Chris Meehan, “Sunrise from the Summit: First Light on Colorado's Fourteeners” by Glenn Randall

Crestone Peak | 14,294 feet

Crestones_Murphy Smalley
This photo by Murphy Smalley of the Crestones shows Crestone Needle on the left and Crestone Peak on the right.

Crestone Peak sits just to the west of Crestone Needle in the jagged cluster known as the Crestone Group. As stated in the above entry for Crestone Needle, both of these peaks’ names stem from the Spanish word crestón, which means “crest” in English. Before their renaming, they were called the Trois Tetons because they resembled the Tetons in Wyoming.

Sources: “A Climbing Guide to Colorado’s Fourteeners” by W.R. Borneman and L.J. Lampert, Outdoor Trail Maps

Culebra Peak | 14,047 feet

Culebra_Michelle Woodruff.jpg

Look far to the southern-most end of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and you’ll find Culebra Peak. The mountain's name origin has two theories and both stem from the word “culebra,” which loosely means snake or serpent in Spanish.

Culebra Peak has both a snake-like ridge up to its summit and the winding Culebra Creek at its base, the latter of which was named in the early 1800s. General Zebulon Montgomery Pike, an early explorer, labeled the creek as “Rio de la Culebra” on a map he drew in 1810.

Bonus fact: Culebra Peak sits on 83,000 acres of private land called Cielo Vista Ranch, which was purchased a few years ago for $105 million, according to The Denver Post. The mountain has never been owned by the U.S. Forest Service or any other government entity. The reservation fee to climb the mountain is currently $150 per person.

Sources: Denver7, Cielo Vista Ranch website, The Denver Post, “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn, “Colorado Place Names” by William Bright (2004), U.S. Forest Service

Ellingwood Point | 14,042 feet

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Ellingwood Point sits close to Blanca Peak in the Sangre de Cristo Range. According to official name documentation from 1972 by the U.S. Geological Survey, Ellingwood Point was named after Albert R. Ellingwood, a Colorado mountaineer and pioneering member of the Colorado Mountain Club.

He “introduced and pioneered the first difficult rock routes in the Colorado mountains,” the document reads. Ellingwood is known as the first person on record to have climbed all of the state’s 14ers.

The name Ellingwood Peak — instead of Ellingwood Point — was originally proposed in 1969, but was withdrawn in 1970, though some still call it by this variant name.

Sources: U.S. Geological Survey, “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn

Grays Peak | 14,278 feet

Grays Peak.jpg

Both Grays Peak and Torreys Peak were named after botanists — and by a botanist — from the 1800s.

Charles C. Parry made the first recorded summit of Grays Peak in 1861 and decided to name it in honor of his colleague, Asa Gray. Eleven years later, on Aug. 14, 1872, Gray and his wife Jane Loring Gray joined Parry for a hike to the summit for a dedication ceremony. Hunter Dupree, a biographer of Asa Gray, would later write, "With Parry as a host and a whole party of local citizens in attendance, both Dr. and Mrs. Gray ascended Gray's Peak to take possession of one of the loftiest spots in Colorado.” He went on to describe the “sea of peaks,” snow, valleys and lakes seen from the summit. “What greater honor could come to a man than to have his name attached to such a spot?" he wrote.

The apostrophe in Gray's Peak was later dropped.

Bonus fact: Parry would repeat this process on the nearby Torreys Peak, another 14er, and named it after a mutual friend and colleague of his and Gray’s, John Torrey.

Sources: Department of the Interior U.S. Geological Survey from 1905, Harvard University Herbaria and Libraries

Handies Peak | 14,058 feet

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Hart wrote it best in his book: “A history of the high peaks would not be as interesting if there were not some unanswered questions.”

This mountain was already named Handies Peak in 1874 when the Hayden Geological Survey started naming nearby mountains. The most popular theory is that Handies is named after an early pioneer, mountaineer or surveyor who may have lived in the Lake City area during the mid-19th century.

Bonus fact: While few facts are available about this mysterious Handies individual, it is known that he did not die at the hands of Alferd Packer, a well-known Colorado prospector and cannibal — curve ball! — who stayed in the Lake City area.

Sources: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart, “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn

Humboldt Peak | 14,064 feet

Humboldt Peak
Humboldt Peak with an elevation of 14,070 ft, is a summit in the Sangre de Cristo Range in southern Colorado

This 14er, nestled to the east of the Crestone Group, got its name from Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt, a famous German geographer, explorer, naturalist and mountaineer.

Miners in the area had already named a nearby mine after Humboldt, which likely accounts for the peak bearing the same name. According to Hart, Humboldt was “the most famous man of his age, with the exception of Napoleon.”

Sources: “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn, “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart

Huron Peak | 14,010 feet

Huron Peak.jpg

Huron Peak is likely named after a North American tribe, who previously were known as the Wyandot People, though there is also speculation it's named after a nearby mine that has the same name.

Bonus fact: The mountain wasn’t officially recognized as a 14er until 1956, when the U.S. Geographical Survey recorded its height for the first time.

Sources: “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn, “Climbing Colorado’s Fourteeners: From the Easiest Hikes to the Most Challenging Climbs” by Chris Meehan

Kit Carson Peak | 14,165 feet

Kit Carson Peak.jpg

Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson was a famous explorer, trapper, mountain man, scout, military officer and Indian fighter. The latter essentially became his career. This “earned him both folk hero status through its aggrandizement in the dime novels of his day and condemnation from some later revisionist historians as an agent of the displacement and decimation of the native peoples of the West,” according to Britannica.

In 1863, he oversaw mass destruction of homes, crops and livestock belonging to the Navajo, who were fighting to keep their traditional land in New Mexico. When they surrendered, he ordered thousands of them to walk 300 miles, in what is now known as the Long Walk, to a location in New Mexico that wasn’t suited for their agriculture. According to the Associated Press, there was a push in 2011 to rename the Kit Carson Peak, which failed.

Bonus fact: Kit Carson was believed to be the only military officer in history of the United States who couldn’t read or write, but was still able to successfully rise to the rank of general.

Sources: “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn, Britannica

La Plata Peak | 14,336 feet

La Plata Peak.jpg

Colorado’s rich mining history lives on in many ways, including the name of this mountain, just west of Twin Lakes. In his book, Hart wrote that the Hayden Geological Survey had named La Plata — which translates to “the silver” in Spanish — likely because of a silver mine in the area and above treeline. Miners who worked in the area would commonly sing the rhyme: “A good silver mine is above timberline, 10 times out of nine.”

Sources: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart

Little Bear Peak | 14,037 feet

Little Bear Peak

It’s a cute name for one of the most challenging 14ers in the state.

Little Bear Peak’s name origin is cloudy, but it is likely named after the nearby Little Bear Lake slightly south of its peak, along Tobin Creek. And where did the lake get its name? That remains unknown. Even the history section on Little Bear Peak’s page on the U.S. Geological Survey’s website is nonexistent.

Albert R. Ellingwood, a Colorado mountaineer, climbed the peak and wrote about it in a 1924 piece called “A Note on Certain Elevations,” saying, “We were not the first upon the peak, for there was a small, rude cairn at the highest point.”

It was formerly called West Peak since it is just west of Blanca Peak, another 14er.

Sources: U.S. Geological Survey, “A Note on Certain Elevations” by Albert R. Ellingwood and published in “Trail and Timberline, Issue 93” by The Colorado Mountain Club

Longs Peak | 14,259 feet

Longs Peak_Boulder Field.jpg
The Boulder Field at Longs Peak. Photograph by William Henry Jackson. Taken between 1882-1890. Courtesy of Denver Public Library.

The most northern Colorado 14er is named after Major Stephen Long, an American army officer and explorer who led an 1820 expedition from Pittsburg to the Front Range in search of Pikes Peak. At the time, he was a member of the U.S. Topographical Engineers. On June 30, 1820, he and his party reached a point where they could just barely see the Rocky Mountains. They set their sights on what appeared to be the highest peak, assuming it was Pikes Peak, when it was in fact modern-day Longs Peak.

This expedition was the first recorded sighting of Longs Peak by settlers. After realizing it was not Pikes Peak, but rather some other large mountain, the group decided to name it after their leader.

Previously, the mountain was known as Nesotaieux by the Arapaho and as Les duex Oreilles, or “Two Ears,” by French fur traders before it was officially renamed in 1890.

Bonus fact: Longmont is named after Longs Peak, since the 14er can be seen particularly well from the Front Range city. The French word “Mont” translates to “Mountain."

Sources: REI, Britannica, National Park Service, “Trail and Timberline, Issues 64-99” by The Colorado Mountain Club, Colorado.com

Maroon Peak | 14,163 feet

Maroon PeaK and N Maroon Peak.jpg
North Maroon Peak is at the far right in this photo, and Maroon Peak is the summit to the left of it.

A key part of the coupled mountains known as Maroon Bells, Maroon Peak was named for its color by the Hayden Geological Survey. It was originally called Maroon Mountain, but that was changed due to a technicality.

In his book, Hart made it very clear he disagreed with this move.

“A peak cannot ordinarily have two peaks, but a mountain can easily have two peaks," he wrote.

The peaks were ultimately given different names — Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak. The latter is not technically considered a standalone 14er because it does not rise 300 feet or more above its saddle with Maroon Peak.

Sources: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart

Missouri Mountain | 14,074 feet

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Huddled next to Mount Belford and Mount Oxford — two other 14ers — Missouri Mountain is the shortest of trio. Because of that, it wasn’t even recognized until 1956. The mountain was named by miners from Missouri after their home state, which stems from the indigenous word “mihsoori,” meaning canoe.

Source: “Colorado Place Names” by William Bright (2004)

Mount Antero | 14,074 feet

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Photograph by William Henry Jackson. Taken between 1880 and 1900. Courtesy of the Denver Publlic Library.

While many of Colorado’s 14ers were named after early settlers, a select few also have names rooted in the culture of the indigenous people. Mount Antero is one of those.

The mountain is likely named after Chief Antero of the Uinta band of the Ute Indians. He frequently advocated for peace between Native Americans and the white settlers in Colorado.

According to Hart, “In the War of 1879 Antero’s tribe behaved itself. This may be one reason why his name was chosen.”

Sources: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart, Outdoor Trail Maps

Mount Belford | 14,203 feet

Mount Belford
Mt. Belford

James Burns Belford was Colorado’s first U.S. congressman and practiced law in Denver, but he was also known for his "bright red hair, fiery speeches, and flamboyant persona” which landed him the nickname “Red-Headed Rooster of the Rockies," according to "A Climbing Guide to Colorado's Fourteeners." Legend has it that miners who worked around Mount Belford associated the reddish rocks on the summit with the congressman.

Sources: “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn, “A Climbing Guide to Colorado's Fourteeners” by W.R. Borneman and L.J. Lampert, “The Fourteeners: Colorado's great mountains” by P. Eberhart and P. Schmuck

Mount Bierstadt | 14,060 feet

Mount Bierstadt.jpg
Taken September 2019

Mount Bierstadt was initially named Mount Rosalie after American painter Alfred Bierstadt’s wife, Rosalie Bierstadt. But in 1914, 12 years after Alfred Bierstadt’s death, the Colorado Geographic Board and the U.S. Geographic Board officially renamed the peak Mount Bierstadt after it was suggested by Ellsworth Bethel, a Denver high school botany teacher.

Bonus fact: Mount Evans was also initially named after Rosalie Bierstadt. She may have had both peaks’ titles stripped of her name, but a 13er called Rosalie Peak lies southeast of Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans.

Sources: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart, “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn, “Climbing Colorado’s Fourteeners: From the Easiest Hikes to the Most Challenging Climbs” by Chris Meehan

Mount Bross | 14,172 feet

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Mount Bross in July 2020

Letting out a "wahoo!" at the top of a 14er isn't overly unusual, but for one man, it led a mountain to bear his name.

This peak, which is now private, was named after former Illinois Lt. Gov. William Bross, who — according to rumors — climbed the nearby Lincoln Peak in 1868 and was so impressed with the view that he “belted out a hymn, apparently heard for miles around.” This legend made a round around town and soon, the peak that was previously just called the south summit of Mount Lincoln was given its own name — Mount Bross.

Lt. Gov. Bross owned mining property near Alma, which is about six miles southeast from the base of mountain.

Sources: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart, “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn

Mount Columbia | 14,077 feet

Mount Columbia_Benjamn Downing Photography.jpg

According to Hart, Mount Columbia, which is part of the Collegiate Peaks, was named by Roger Toll in 1916 as he placed registers on summits along the Sawatch Peaks. The name was officially adopted in 1922. According to the National Park Service, Toll went to school at both Denver University and Columbia University.

Sources: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart, National Park Service

Mount Democrat | 14,155 feet

Mount Democrat.jpg
Photo taken June 2020

Mount Democrat came as almost an afterthought in the wake of the naming of Mount Lincoln, which is roughly two miles northeast (and includes going over the unofficial 14er Mount Cameron*).

In 1861, Judge Wilbur Stone, who would later help draft the Colorado State Constitution, climbed the summit of Mount Lincoln and declared it should be named after the current president. This sparked a conversation — if a mountain were to be named after Republican Abraham Lincoln, there must be a peak representing the Democratic Party. And so, Mount Democrat was officially named in 1883.

Bonus fact: Before it was named Mount Democrat, the mountain was known as Mount Buckskin after a town at its base named after Joseph “Buckskin Joe” Higginbottom. He was apparently nicknamed such because he enjoyed wearing aboriginal apparel.

Sources: “Colorado Place Names” by William Bright (2004), “The Colorado 14ers: Standard Routes” by The Colorado Mountain Club, “Ghost Towns of the Colorado Rockies” by Robert L. Brown

*Details at bottom of article

Mount Elbert | 14,400 feet

Mount Elbert_Jennifer Brown-Rogowski

Mount Elbert was named after Samuel Elbert, who served as the Colorado governor from 1873 to 1874.

Elbert was appointed as secretary of the Colorado Territory by President Abraham Lincoln under the Territorial Gov. John Evans. In 1873, he was appointed the state’s sixth governor and two years later, he married Evans’s daughter. Afterward, he went on to serve several years on the state’s Supreme Court.

Elbert’s impact in Colorado isn’t without controversy. He was part of the group involved in the 1873 Brunot Treaty between the Utes and U.S. government. This agreement removed 3.7 million mineral-rich acres from the Ute Reservation and opened it up to mining. The Utes were left with about 12 million acres, but this dwindled in the following years until most of Colorado’s Ute bands were forced into Utah in 1881.

Sources:“Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart, “Colorado Place Names” by William Bright (2004), “The Colorado 14ers: Standard Routes” by The Colorado Mountain Club, State of Colorado Archives, Colorado Encyclopedia

Mount Eolus | 14,083 feet

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Early surveyors compared clouds rotating around the peak of Mount Eolus as “many mighty lions about their lair,” circling in a restless manner and showing “their terrific, destructive power, which only awaited a mandate from the God of Storms to be set in motion.” As such, the peak was named after Aeolus, the Greek god of winds.

The current spelling of the mountain — without the A — was first used in the Wheeler Geological Survey of 1878.

Sources: “Colorado Place Names” by William Bright (2004), “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart, “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn

Mount Evans | 14,265 feet

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Photo by William Henry Jackson. Taken between 1880-1900. Courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

The history between Mount Evans and nearby Mount Bierstadt is somewhat entangled. In 1863, the now-Mount Evans was named some variation of Rosa — possibly Rosalia or Rosalie. Painter Albert Bierstadt named the peak after his wife. However, it only bore that name until 1895, when Colorado officially named it Mount Evans after John Evans, the second governor of the Colorado Territory, on his 81st birthday. Evans lived at the base the mountain.

Throughout the past few years, however, there have been proposals and discussions about changing the name, since Gov. Evans was heavily involved in the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864. On July 2, 2020, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis created the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board to evaluate proposed changes to names of geographic and public places in the state, though it's not yet known if this mountain's name will be up for discussion.

Sources: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart, “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn, “Trail and Timberline, Issues 64-99” by The Colorado Mountain Club

Mount Harvard | 14,412 feet

Mount Harvard.jpg
Photo by William Henry Jackson. Taken between 1880-1900. Courtesy of the Denver Public Library

When J.D. Whitney, a Harvard University professor of geology, climbed and measured this mountain with a group of other explorers in 1869, he claimed that it seemed to surpass the height of any other mountain that had been measured up to that point in the Rocky Mountains.

“We gave it the name Mt. Harvard in honor of the university to which most of the members belonged as teachers or students,” he wrote in a report.

Sources: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart

Mount of the Holy Cross | 14,009 feet

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Photograph by William Gunnison Chamberlain. Taken between 1865-1880. Courtesy of Denver Public Library.

The name of this peak in the northern Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains originates from a very distinct cross — or cross-like shape — made of snow packed into crevices in the mountain’s northeast face. It was first reported on the mountain in 1869, as seen from Grays Peak.

The cross was estimated to have been 1,400 feet tall and 450 feet wide. William Henry Jackson photographed it in 1873 and the developed photo showed the snow in a clear cross shape.

Crumbling rock has since caused the cross to lose some of its outline, but according to recent pictures, the vague shape is still visible on that slope.

Sources: “Colorado Place Names” by William Bright (2004),“The Colorado 14ers: Standard Routes” by The Colorado Mountain Club

Mount Lindsey | 14,042 feet

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The summit’s name comes from a former president of the Colorado Mountain Club, Malcolm Lindsey. Lindsey was an active member and became club president from 1943 through 1946. This mountain was a favorite of his and at the time, was named Old Baldy. However, in 1953, a few years after he died, it was renamed in his honor. A plaque was placed at the foot of the mountain in 1955, but within a month, it was stolen and never found. It was never replaced.

Source: “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn,

Mount Lincoln | 14,293 feet

Mount Lincoln.jpg
Photograph by William Henry Jackson. Taken between 1880 and 1900. Courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

In June 1861, Judge Wilbur F. Stone, who was a placer miner at the time, summited Mount Lincoln and was so impressed with the view that he returned down to the town of Montgomery and called a meeting of citizens to name the peak something grand. According to Hart, Stone said it had to “indicate its position as one of the great landmarks of the country.”

Hart continued in his book to say that during the public meeting, “One mentioned Washington, another Adams, another Jefferson, when, as by a common inspiration, all shouted the name of Abraham Lincoln, which signified unanimous adoption.” The name was made official that same year as Stone’s summit — 1861. This then sparked a conversation about the need for a mountain representing the Democratic Party, which resulted in a nearby 14er being named Mount Democrat.

Bonus fact: When President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, Stone, who was a temporary editor of the Denver Gazette at one point, wrote that while other states erected statues and monuments to honor Lincoln, nothing would beat Mount Lincoln. Stone wrote, in a somewhat poetic fashion, “Let, then, other States and other peoples raise their monuments of patriotism and of art to gild the fame of the great dead; but Colorado can point in all time to this proud monumental mountain, which rears itself as the gigantic spine of this continental vertebra — she can point it out hundreds of miles away, to the traveler as he goes from ocean to ocean on the future international railway, and exclaim with the old Latin poet Ovid, … I have erected a monument more enduring than brass, and loftier than the Pyramids.”

Sources: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart, “The Colorado 14ers: Standard Routes” by The Colorado Mountain Club, “The Mines of Colorado, Volume 20” by Ovando James Hollister

Mount Massive | 14,421 feet

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Photograph by Louis Charles McClure. Taken between 1890-1919. Courtesy of Denver Public Library.

No secret here: Mount Massive is one huge mountain.

It's enormously wide, with five points above 14,000 feet and a three-mile summit crest. Explorer Henry Gannett, who was the first to summit it, wrote simply: “Massive Mt. 14,424 feet, its broad heavy outlines suggesting its name.” An attempt to call it Gannett Peak failed, as did pushes to name it after former President William McKinley or British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Sources: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart, “The Colorado 14ers: Standard Routes” by The Colorado Mountain Club

Mount Oxford | 14,160 feet

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Mount Oxford was the final of the Collegiate Peaks to earn a name. It was somehow overlooked from prior surveys in the area and wasn’t formally named until 1925. The name ended up coming from Hart, who wrote in his 1925 book that the peak would be named Mount Oxford. He, along with his brother, who was another prominent mountaineer, attended the university in England.

Source: “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn

Mount Princeton | 14,204 feet

Mount Princeton
View of Mount Princeton and Buena Vista. By Harry H. Buckwalter. Taken between 1890-1910. Courtesy of Denver Public Library.

Early explorer and geographer Henry Gannett, who is often considered the father of American topographic mapping, is responsible for naming this peak after the university in New Jersey. Originally, Mount Princeton was called Chalk Mountain for the Chalk Creek at its base by the Wheeler Geological Survey, but this was ruled out later by the U.S. Geographic Board.

Sources: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart, “Colorado Place Names” by William Bright (2004)

Mount Shavano | 14,231 feet

Mount Shavano.jpg
Photo by William Henry Jackson. Taken between 1880 and 1900. Courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

Mount Shavano is one of the few 14ers named after a Native American, specifically Ute Chief Shavano, who led a band of Tabeguache Utes from the 1850s through the 1870s. He’s perhaps best remembered as a strong peacemaker — he signed two treaties with the U.S. government (the Brunot Treaty in 1873 and a follow-up treaty in 1878) — and saved many Ute lives as well as settler lives.

He lived around current-day Laughing Bear Ranch (north of modern Ridgway) before, despite his loyalty to helping settlers, he was exiled to Utah in 1881 by the U.S. government. He died four years later.

The Wheeler Survey originally called the mountain Usher Peak after a chief counsel for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, but the U.S. Geological Survey rejected the name and stamped its approval on Mount Shavano in 1907.

Sources: “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn, “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart, U.S. Geological Survey, Laughing Bear Ranch

Mount Sherman | 14,036 feet

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The history behind Mount Sherman’s name origin isn’t known for certain, but it’s likely named after General William Tecumseh Sherman, who led the Union army to several victories during the Civil War.

Sources: “The Colorado 14ers: Standard Routes” by The Colorado Mountain Club, “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn

Mount Sneffels | 14,150 feet

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Photograph by Vaughan Jones. Taken between 1890 and 1900. Courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

No, not sniffles. Sneffels.

The name comes from the Icelandic mountain Snæfell on the west coast of the country. As the story goes, Frederic Endlich, a member of the 1874 Hayden Geological Survey expedition, was standing north of Mount Sneffels, pointed at the peak and said, “There’s Snæfell!” in reference to author Jules Verne’s “A Journey to the Centre of the Earth,” a science fiction novel from the 1860s. And the name stuck.

Hart wrote in his book that Snæfell sounds like Sneffels, so to prevent an accidental naming of “Sniffles,” the peak was named Mount Sneffels.

Bonus fact: Mount Sneffels is on the background of Colorado’s new driver’s licenses.

Sources: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart, “Trail and Timberline, Issues 64-99” by The Colorado Mountain Club

Mount Wilson | 14,246 feet

Mount Wilson.jpg
Photograph by William Henry Jackson. Taken between 1880 and 1990. Courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

Despite a common misconception, this mountain was not named after former President Woodrow Wilson.

This mountain’s name actually stems from Allen David Wilson, an American cartographer who joined the Hayden Geological Survey and led an exploration party across western Colorado in the 1870s. He ended up being the first known person to summit several 14ers, including Mount Wilson, and went on to chart the topography of many of the state’s highest mountains.

Sources: “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn, “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart

Mount Yale | 14,200 feet

Mount Yale_Cecilia Potter Whyel

Like many of the other Collegiate Peaks, Mount Yale was named by a graduate of the school.

Professor Josiah Dwight Whitney, who went on to become a Harvard professor after graduating from Yale University, is responsible for naming the peak during a survey done in 1869.

Sources: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart

Pikes Peak | 14,115 feet

Pikes Peak.jpg
Photograph by William Henry Jackson. Taken between 1871 and 1882. Courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

On Nov. 15, 1806, General Zebulon Montgomery Pike got his first glimpse of what would later become known as America’s Mountain as he moved his team west as part of an expedition into the newly purchased Louisiana Territory.

The explorer led a discovery trip in the early 1800s through the state and attempted to climb the now-Pikes Peak in 1806. However, his team turned around before they reached the summit. Pike would later write in his journal that he “believed no human being could have ascended to its (pinnacle).” He called it the Grand Peak, or Highest Peak, which later became popular with other explorers and settlers.

A few years after the failed attempt at the summit, Pikes died in April 1813 in the War of 1812. But his name lived on — the public soon started to call the mountain Pike’s Highest Peak. Newspapers in 1859, during Colorado’s gold rush, then shortened the name to Pike’s Peak, likely in an effort to save space in a headline in the paper. But this name stuck and the mountain was officially named Pikes Peak in 1890.

Bonus fact: Poet and college professor Katharine Lee Bates ascended Pikes Peak in 1893. She was inspired to compose “America the Beautiful” after the journey.

Sources: “Park County” by Park County Local History Archives, “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart, “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn, Pike National Historic Trail Association, History Colorado

Pyramid Peak | 14,025 feet

Pyramid Peak_Matt Hayden‎.jpg

If you’ve visited Maroon Bells and looked southeast from Crater Lake, you’d spot Pyramid Peak, set a little away from the iconic bells. The mountain, with its distinctive shape, was named Black Pyramid by the Hayden Geological Survey due to its shape, but this was later shortened to simply Pyramid.

Sources: “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn, “Trail and Timberline, Issues 64-99” by The Colorado Mountain Club

Quandary Peak | 14,271 feet

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In the 1860s, a group of miners discovered metal on a mountain in the Rocky Mountains and were unable to definitively identify it. Thus, they had found themselves in a quandary or, as defined by Merriam-Webster, a state of perplexity.

Sources: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart

Redcloud Peak | 14,034 feet

Redcloud_Sarah Hessler.jpg

The first person known to have climbed this peak, J.C. Spiller, a chief topographer with the U.S. Geological Survey, named this mountain in 1874.

Lt. Franklin Rhoda with the Hayden Geological Survey described seeing a “red mass” of a mountain from a nearby peak: “The last 2,000 feet in height was composed wholly of dull-red debris, with a very few bluffs. Here appeared some of the finest mountain forms any of us had ever seen. From our distance, which was several miles, the individual stones were all lost to the eye, and the slopes appear as if they were made of red sand, from the coarse debris.” He went on to describe the ridge as full of “graceful flowing curves” and “magnificent sweeps,” instead of jagged lines.

This earned the mountain the name Red Cloud Peak, which was later condensed to Redcloud Peak.

Sources: “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn, “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart

San Luis Peak | 14,014 feet

San Luis_Sarah Hessler.jpg

This peak marks the highest place in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, which is where its name stems from. The valley was likely named after an early Spanish explorer from San Luis in Spain.

Sources: 14ers.com, U.S. Forest Service

Snowmass Mountain | 14,099 feet

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Surveyors participating in the Hayden Geological Survey of 1873-1875 saw a large and prominent snowfield in an amphitheater-like area of the mountain’s eastern flank. And boom, Snowmass Mountain earned its name.

Explorer Henry Gannett would later write, “This snowfield, in August, which is the month there is the least snow in the mountains, has an area of fully five square miles. Probably this is the nearest approach to a glacier in the Rocky Mountains.”

A member of the Hayden Survey named W.H. Rideing said Snowmass was originally named Whitehouse.

Bonus fact: The Ute Indians called Snowmass Mountain the Cold Woman because it seemed to be the source of poor weather in the area.

Sources: “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn, “Trail and Timberline, Issues 64-99” by The Colorado Mountain Club, U.S. Geological Survey

Sunlight Peak | 14,059 feet

Far right Sunlight Peak_Laura Mullendore.jpg
Sunlight Peak is at the far right.

The story behind Sunlight Peak’s name may sound like a cheery one, but unfortunately, it’s the result of a man’s weary imagination after naming several other peaks.

Whitman Cross with the U.S. Geological Survey had been tasked with naming about 30 peaks across the state and he was nearing the end of his list when he had to come up with a name for Sunlight Peak (as well as Windom Peak, another 14er). It's not known why he decided on Sunlight, but it has been noted that when the sun hits the peak, it's a colorful spectacle.

Source: “Trail and Timberline, Issues 64-99” by The Colorado Mountain Club:

Sunshine Peak | 14,001 feet

Sunshine Peak.jpg
Photograph by William Henry Jackson. Unknown date. Courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

While the name origin of Sunshine Peak remains unknown, it’s ironic that it bares that name to begin with. One of, if not the, first attempts to summit it in 1875 was abandoned when a thunderstorm rolled in. “In revenge, the mountain furnished (climbers) with an exciting electrical adventure,” according to Hart’s 1925 book.

Sources: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart, “Trail and Timberline, Issues 64-99” by The Colorado Mountain Club

Tabeguache Peak | 14,162 feet

Tabeguache is a shortened name for Mogwatavungwantsingwu, which is a band of Utes that called western Colorado home. Mogwatavungwantsingwu roughly translates to “cedar-bark sun-slope people,” according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Similarly, Tabeguache translates to “People of Sun Mountain.” The Tabeguache bands were the largest of the Ute group.

Before it was officially named Tabeguache Peak in 1982, it had been called Tabeguache Mountain for several years. Before that it was known as Mount Tabequache and Mogwatavungwantsingwu.

Sources: Pikes Peak Historical Museum, History Colorado, United States Geological Survey, “Concepts of Spirit in Prehistoric Art According to Clifford Duncan, Ute Spiritual Elder ” by cultural anthropologist Carol B. Patterson, PhD, RPS

Torreys Peak | 14,275 feet

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Photograph by William Henry Jackson. Taken between 1880-1900. Courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

John Torrey and Asa Gray were some of the most well-known botanists in the mid to late 1800s. While it was a common practice among botanists to name newly discovered plants after a colleague, naming a peak — or two peaks — was something new. But that’s exactly what botanist Charles C. Parry did.

Parry was the first to summit both Torreys Peak and Grays Peak. He’d write, "In my first botanical exploration of the Rocky Mountain region of Colorado, in 1861, I applied the name of Torrey and Gray to twin peaks which, from a distant view, had often attracted my attention." Torrey visited the peak named after him 11 years after the fact, in 1872.

Sources: Harvard University Herbaria, “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn, “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart

Uncompahgre Peak | 14,321 feet

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Photograph by William Henry Jackson. Taken between 1882-1900. Courtesy of Denver Public Library.

The Uncompahgre Ute tribe was one of the many groups that called Colorado home. According to Hart, this peak was likely named after the Uncompahgre River, which earned its name from the tribe. “The transference of the name of the river to that of a peak is in consonance with natural principles,” Hart wrote in his book.

Sources: “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart

Wetterhorn Peak | 14,015 feet

Wetterhorn Peak_Genn Gibbs

The Wetterhorn, a prominent mountain in the Swiss Alps, was the inspiration for the name of Colorado’s Wetterhorn Peak. Lt. William Marshall was participating in the Wheeler Geological Survey in 1874 and decided to name the mountain after its resemblance to the peak in Switzerland.

Bonus fact: While the Swiss Wetterhorn may have more claim to fame, it stands at a mere 12,153 feet.

Sources: “A Compendium of Curious Colorado Place Names” by Jim Flynn

Wilson Peak | 14,017 feet

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Bearing no confusion at all, Wilson Peak is next to Mount Wilson, another 14er.

Both mountains are named after Allen David Wilson, a chief topographer for the U.S. Geological Survey and member of the Hayden Survey.

In his book, Hart says the fact that the nextdoor peaks have a similar name "is the most pitiful bit of nomenclature that could possibly be used."

He suggested Wilson Peak be renamed after Wilson’s companion and younger half-brother, Franklin Rhoda, since he made many first ascents in the San Juan Mountains, but the Wilson name stuck for both peaks.

Sources: “King of the 40th Parallel: Discovery in the American West” by James Gregory Moore, “Fourteen Thousand Feet” by John Lathrop Jerome Hart

Windom Peak | 14,082 feet

Windom Peak_Kelly Putnam.JPG

Whitman Cross with the U.S. Geological Survey was asked to name this peak, among about 30 others, including Sunlight Peak. According to a letter, Cross said there was no special reason for the name Windom Peak, though it may have stemmed from William Windom, a congressmen, senator and secretary of the Treasury.

Windom was described as a “typical politician of his day in that he spent his early life in a log cabin,” according to Hart. Other details on Windom are scarce.

Source: “Trail and Timberline, Issues 64-99” by The Colorado Mountain Club

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Note: All elevation numbers come from the state of Colorado’s website. Five 14ers weren't listed here — Conundrum Peak, El Diente Peak, Mount Cameron, North Eolus, North Maroon Peak — because they don't rise more than 300 feet above the saddle of a nearby peak, and therefore aren't technically considered individual 14ers.