There are 58 14ers in our beautiful state and if you have never attempted to climb one, today is your day. Summiting a mountain is no easy feat, but it is a truly liberating feeling of accomplishment. Here are the basics of what you need to know before tackling your very first 14er.
Mt. Quandary Summit, Colorado
The prep for a 14er starts two days ahead of the actual hike. Drink lots of water; eat protein and carb rich foods and lay off the booze. If two days ahead is a serious fast for you than at least the one day before hand volunteer to be the designated driver. Hiking hung-over is terrible and hiking a 14er hung-over is sheer torture; don’t do that to yourself. Drink water, get a good night’s rest and eat a good breakfast. Hiking this long takes a lot of energy, the average 14er is 6-8 miles.
Backpack Essentials & Gear:
You are going to be gaining a lot of elevation and that means that the temperature from the base of the trailhead to the summit of the peak is going to vary greatly. Layers are your friends. I always start with a dry wick tee and build up from there, always bringing one warm long sleeve layer.
Bring a raincoat or something waterproof, because you never know what weather will move in, especially as your hike trails into the afternoon hours.
Mt Bierstadt Summit, Colorado
These little beauties are key, especially during the early hiking season when the hot summer sun is reflecting off the snow.
Sunscreen goes hand in hand with the shades; goggle tans in the summer are not the best look.
Depending on the month you may need a warm hat or a simple baseball hat. The choice is yours but I find I end up wearing a hat almost every time I hike. You will be working up a sweat and the winds at the top are not especially warm.
Investing in a good pair of hiking boots is great but you don’t need to run to REI and break your budget. Make sure that your footwear has a good tread on the bottom. The earlier in the summer season you hike, the more likely you will at some point be hiking through snow; treads will help you maintain traction.
Bring more than you need. I go through two large Nalgene’s per hike and that is drinking conservatively.
Protein-packed snack bars are great. My top snack choices are cheese, trail mix and fruit. The selection is up to you; just pack some goodies you’ll want to celebrate at the top with and keep in mind you are in this hike for the long haul.
Start early. Really early. Earlier than you want. The benefits of starting your climb before the sun comes up outweigh the downfall of being sleepy for the first 30 minutes. Getting a jump on the hike will put you ahead of the crowd. Most beginner 14ers are very popular and the mountains that are the closet to the Front Range are full of people, especially on the weekends. If you are looking to really get lost in nature Saturday at 9am is not your best bet.
Good Ol’ Mountain Goats
Take your time. It is not a race. Hike at a pace that you could carry on a conversation; this will help to regulate your breathing and heart rate as the oxygen levels drop as you ascend.
The descent is a great time. You have summited a mountain and your adrenaline is pumping and you feel awesome. Remember you have been climbing uphill for the past few hours and your legs are probably tired. If you sat at the top for a while to enjoy the view, give your legs 5-10 minutes to get back into a rhythm and enjoy the views on the way down. This section of the hike will take you far less time than the ascen,t so if you are feeling exhausted, know that gravity is there to help and the way down is always easier.
Helpful Hint: The summit of every 14er will most likely still be covered in snow and ice through the end of June and early July; check out trail reports for more details.