There are over 50 summits in Colorado with an elevation of 14,000 feet or higher. These are commonly called fourteeners (or 14ers) and get a lot of attention from outdoor enthusiasts. Some folks have climbed all of them, which quickly leads to the question of What Is A Fourteener? This question is really about what is a distinct fourteener versus when is a summit just a subpeak of another fourteener. The Colorado Mountain Club list of 14ers shows 54 peaks, while other lists include a few more summits. Doing a search on Lists Of John reveals there are 74 locations in the state that exceed 14,000 feet. What constitutes “the correct list of 14ers” is often debated in the climbing community but I won’t try to sort that out here. I’ll use the Colorado Mountain Club list of 54 summits for this posting.
Summits On The Air (SOTA)
Obviously, if these are the 54 highest summits in Colorado, they are all going to be SOTA summits, right? Not so fast, Sir Edmund. The SOTA program generally requires summits to have 150 meters (492 feet) of prominence, a measure of the elevation of a summit relative to the surrounding terrain. From peaklist.org:
Prominence is the elevation of a summit relative to the highest point to which one must descend before reascending to a higher summit.
There are exceptions in the SOTA program that allow for summits of 100-meter prominence, but this does not apply to Colorado. Paul/VK5PAS has a webpage that explains prominence as applied to SOTA.
In recent history, the folks that set up the SOTA Associations have done a great job of sorting through what is a valid summit. In the US, there are excellent databases of geographic information that make this possible. Which is to say that in a particular SOTA Association, a consistent method is applied for determining “what is a summit”? This is all documented for Colorado in the W0C SOTA ARM here: https://sotastore.blob.core.windows.net/arms/ARM-W0C-3_3.pdf
Lincoln, Bross, Democrat, and Cameron
Now, back to the Colorado 14ers. There is a popular trek that allows a climber to summit four 14ers in one day, without extreme effort. The trail starts at Kite Lake, heads up to Mount Democrat (14155 ft), then over to Mount Cameron (14222 feet), and on to Mount Lincoln (14293 feet). The return trip passes over Mount Bross (14178 feet) and back down to Kite Lake. (There have been access issues in recent years concerning private property on this loop, so be sure to check that out and respect any closures).
If we check out the official list of SOTA summits, we will find Mount Democrat (W0C/SR-059) and Mount Lincoln (W0C/FR-001) listed but not Mount Cameron and Mount Bross. Per Lists of John, Cameron and Bross have prominences of 152 and 315 feet. The col between Lincoln and Cameron, does not drop down enough to provide Cameron with sufficient prominence. Same with the col between Cameron and Bross. Mount Lincoln has the highest elevation of those three summits and wins the honor of being listed as a SOTA summit. Note that Democrat, with the lowest elevation of the four summits, does qualify for the SOTA list due to its 770 feet of prominence. (There is a big enough dip between Democrat and Cameron.)
Now back to the list of 54 Colorado Fourteeners: Mount Cameron is not on the list but it often shows up on other 14er lists. Mount Bross is shown on the list of 54 but is not a SOTA summit. There are seven other Colorado 14ers that don’t qualify for SOTA:
You don’t need to become an expert on calculating prominence to do SOTA activations. Really, the key thing is to check the SOTA list and make sure your intended summit is on the list before you hit the trail.
73 Bob K0NR