The Southern Rockies are the large, distinct, and high group of mountains centered on Colorado, blanketing a huge chunk of that state. Separated from the rest of the Rockies by the dry, open basins of central Wyoming, the Southern Rockies spill over Colorado's northern and southern borders into Wyoming and New Mexico, but these heart and soul of this mountain group can still be thought of as the Colorado Rockies. The extentions of this area into Wyoming (the Park and Sierra Madre ranges) and New Mexico (the southern Sangre de Cristo and San Juan ranges) are consisently lower than the Colorado portions of the shared ranges.
The Southern Rockies are consistently high, rising to over 14,000 feet/4267m in several widely spaced ranges, but the warm, dry summers of 37 to 41 degrees north latitude keep snowfields and glaciation to a bare minimum. The majority of this area is massive, rounded, sprawling, relatively gentle masses of peaks, with the occasional craggy, steep areas sprinkled about. The many ski areas of Colorado are testament to the terrain of this part of the Rockies--just mountainous enough for excellent skiing without being too steep and rocky.
The best-known peak-bagging endeavor in the western United States is the ascent of all the 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado. Popular guidebooks tell hikers how to gain these magic summits, road maps show their locations with special symbols, and many hikers and climbers would be hard-pressed to name more than a few non-fourteeners in the state. The Colorado Mountain Club officially dubs 54 peaks as "fourteeners", but, as with any list of mountains, there is controversy over what sub-peaks and offshoot summits count as separate official peaks. Some advice: decide on consistent criteria (for example, a 200-foot gain from a col with another summit) and make up your own list, or just select peaks that appeal to you in some way.
Nevertheless, the list of fourteeners is indeed an impressive catalog of summits, ranging from the famous (Pikes Peak-14,410') to the challenging (Longs
Peak-14,256') to the high (Mount Elbert-14,433') to the obscure (Mount Sherman-14,015'). Most fourteeners are easy climbs, often just hikes. Only about ten or so, including those in the Crestone area in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Wilsons in the San Juans, and summits in the Elk Mountains, require anything more than walking to gain the summit. The hardest don't even require a rope if the climbers are good and careful scamblers, and two (Pikes Peak and Mount Evans) have good auto roads to their tops.
With so much attention having been devoted to the fourteeners, more and more people are discovering the Colorado "thirteeners" (13,000 foot peaks), many of which offer just as much as their slightly higher but more popular and famous neighbors. There are, by one count, 583 thirteeners spread out among the state's ranges, so climbing all of them is much more of a long-term, open-ended challenge than following the masses to the summits of fourteeners. And Colorado has plenty of 12,000 footers or 11,000 footers that would be dominant and spectacular if they were located in any other state. Indeed, Robert Ormes, long-time editor of the Colorado Mountain Guide, has expressed dismay at the emphasis of fourteeners, saying that pointy Mount Zirkel (12,181') is perhaps the finest peak in the state.