DENVER — Today is not like most work days for Lloyd Athern.
“We’re in my pile-oriented office here,” says the Executive director for Colorado Fourteener Initiative (CFI).
Today, the mountains are made of paper, but in the summer, Lloyd and his crew are usually working on the highest parts of Colorado.
“CFI is a nonprofit that preserves and protects the 14,000-foot peaks in our state through active stewardship and public education,” he says, referring to tasks like trail building, maintenance, collecting and analyzing data.
CFI did just that with over 20 infrared trail counters on various 14ers during the 2017 climbing season (mostly May through October). They learned how many people are climbing the state’s tallest mountains. They used crowd-sourced information and past statistics to supplement what their technology couldn't track.
“Over the course of the season there were 334,000 people out on the 14ers,” says Athern, adding that some people might hike a 14er more than once a seaons, and that not everyone they counted made it to the summits. “Some people might get turned around by their own ability or weather, or what-have-you, but they’re on the trail. They’re providing impact on the trail, and that for us is really what’s important.”
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That's an increase from 2016, when CFI estimated 311,000 people hiked the 14ers.
Since CFI began counting hikers with infrared sensors in 2014, they’ve noted a 6 to 7 percent increase each season.
Mount Bierdstadt was the busiest last year, with 35,000 to 40,000 hikers; Tuesday, July 18, was the most popular day for Bierdstadt, when 1,382 hikers attempted the peak.
The mountains along the Front Range get the biggest numbers, while the Elks, Sangre de Cristos and San Juans had much less foot-traffic, at 1,000 to 7,000 visitors.
“We’re all kindred spirits,” says Athern. “We’re all trying to enjoy the wonder of being out in the mountains.”
With more traffic comes more wear on the trails. The data CFI collects helps them focus their efforts to see the best results.
“With our population growing with use on the peaks growing we need to devote ever-more resources to making sure these priceless lands are not trashed.”
CFI started tracking hikers at two new locations this year.
If you really want to nerd out over the data, check it out here.