Mt Democrat South Ridge is a very infrequently traveled route up this insanely popular Colorado 14er. Instead of taking the classic East Slope ridge, the South Ridge gives hikers some scrambling in the Class 2- Class 4 range. The ridge is about a mile long with loads of small towers and fairly poor rock quality but is an okay scramble up the 14er. For hikers looking to create an even larger loop on the Decalibron or link together neighboring Mt Buckskin with Mt Democrat, this route is a great option. *PLEASE NOTE* There is a very small section of this route near the summit that passes through privately owned land. Respect this land by picking up any trash, leaving any artifacts and following all principals of leave no trace. Know that without specifically granted permission from the land owner you are trespassing.
Mt Democrat South Ridge Quick Facts
Virtual Trail Guide: Mt Democrat South Ridge
Mt Democrat South Ridge Rating: ★★★ (3/5 Stars)
Distance: 3.6 Miles RT – Assuming you take standard route down
Elevation Start: 12,000ft
High Point: 14,154ft
Total Elevation Gain: 2,148ft
Estimated Time to Complete: 4-5 Hours RT
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult What does this mean?
Class: Class 3 – What does this mean?
Season: June – October (Expect road closure and no TH access outside of this period)
Directions to Mt Democrat South Ridge
Trailhead: Kite Lake
Getting Here: Take US CO-9 into Alma. Once you are in the small community of Alma, look for a sign indicating Kite Lake/Road 8. Take this road about 5.5 miles until you reach Kite Lake. The dirt road can have variable conditions and the last ½ -¼ mile can be very tricky to navigate without a high clearance vehicle.
Parking: Parking for the Decalibron can get very tricky, especially on busy weekends. There is a small lot at the start of the trail and room for plenty of additional parking along the road. I would highly recommend getting to the TH early or later in the afternoon so that you can secure a good spot. There are non-plumbing restrooms at the TH.
Fee: $5 which needs to be paid in cash or check as of 2022. Snag an envelope and pay at the first fee station so you do not have to backtrack.
Dogs: I would not recommend bringing a dog on this route, the rock quality is too sharp and loose.
Camping: There are about 5-10 camping spots along Kite Lake that generally fill up pretty quickly. If those spots fill up, you can technically camp near your car, just be careful because much of the land surrounding the area is private. PLEASE pick-up after yourself.
Hike xfactor(s): Towers and Towers and Towers
Usually when you hike a ridge, navigating towers is fairly standard practice. However, like the Ellingwood Ridge up La Plata, this Mt Democrat’s South Ridge seems to have a countless number of very small towers (10-20ft high). Although this ridge is relatively short, if you stick to the ridge directly, you will find yourself scrambling up and down a number of small towers that seem to go on forever. While scrambling, be sure to be EXTRA careful on all the rock – this route is hardly ever hiked + paired with poor rock quality – almost every single piece and slab of rock is loose.
Hike Tip(s): Don’t let the look of Mt Democrat South Ridge discourage you, the climbing looks MUCH harder than it actually is. While scrambling up to the summit – try to stay as direct to the ridge as possible to avoid tedious downclimbing that is likely not necessary. This entire ridge seems to go without any cliff-outs. The exposure on this hike is not super bad, but BE SURE to check all holds as there are a number of sections where loosing your hand or footholds could send you tumbling down a far distance. This is especially relevant on the east side of the ridge.
Best Views: The best views on this hike are looking west to Mt Arkansas and the beautiful basin that surrounds it. Views from the summit of Mt Democrat are pretty good as well so long as you can avoid the eyesore that is the mine to its northwest.
Mt Democrat South Ridge Hike Route
*This includes a hike up neighboring centennial Mt Buckskin which is not necessary.
- 14er Day Hike Packing List
- Men’s Trail Runners
- Women’s Trail Runners
- La Sportiva Trango Hiking Boots (Men’s)
- La Sportiva Trango Hiking Boots (Women’s)
- Backpack (Winter)
- Backpack (Summer)
- Food & Water
- Optional: Garmin inReach
- Optional: Hiking Poles – 120CM
- Optional: Headlamp
- Optional: Garmin Fenix Watch
- Optional: GoPro, Joby Tripod, GoPro 360
- Optional: Drone
- *Links included in this description might be affiliate links. If you purchase a product or service with the links that I provide I may receive a small commission. There is no additional charge to you.
My Trip to Mt Democrat South Ridge: September 2022
I had a pretty big week hiking around Labor Day and my legs were pretty tired. However, with the Leadville 100 run in my rear mirror and weekends not dedicated to training the world was my oyster! I decided to check off another “to do” hike on my list and headed to Mt Democrat later in the afternoon on a Sunday. Mt Democrat South Ridge route is not one that has a lot of information on it, but it’s in Gerry Roach’s 14er book so I decided to check it out. Wanting to make my day a bit longer, I decided to re-hike neighboring Mt Buckskin as well.
When I arrived at the TH, most hikers were leaving for the day after tackling Mt Democrat’s standard route or the Decalibron. I made the slog of a hike up Mt Buckskin and started down its northern ridge back down to Mt Democrat South Ridge starting point. The hiking here was uneventful and honestly really didn’t add any value to the day besides some additional mileage and vert. Now on the southern saddle of Mt Democrat, I was ready to begin the ridge.
There was a strong westerly wind blowing all afternoon which made flying the drone tricky and almost stole my hat a few times! The ridge was pretty consistent the entire way up: loose rock, loads of class 2, some class 3 and even spots of class 4 if you were looking for it. Even though the scrambling was relatively short for a ridgeline, the number of small towers seemed to go on forever. Every time I thought that I was going to get cliffed out, it did go which was awesome.
As I hiked to around 13,600 the ridge suddenly ended and I was now on the southern slopes of Mt Democrat and just a few hundred yards of loose scree separated me from the summit. When I arrived at the top of Democrat, I had the entire summit to myself which was awesome yet not super surprising since it was 5:30 in the afternoon. I made extremely quick work of the hike down taking the standard route and was back at my car in no time.
Overall, I thought Mt Democrat South Ridge route was okay but not a scramble that belonged in any sort of classics list. I was happy to check it out and out of my three trips to the top of this 14er, this was by far my favorite way to the top.