Have you ever climbed a 14er?
According to the USGS there are 59 “named points” in the state of Colorado that reach14,000 feet or more.
While I don’t live in Colorado I do live close enough and have climbed enough 14ers to know what a big deal summiting a 14,000 foot peak is. There’s something magical about being able to stand on the top of a peak where you literally feel like you are on top of the world.
If you’re trying to muster up the courage to tackle your first 14er here are my top tips for climbing your first 14er.
Research and find the perfect first peak.
14ers are diverse and range in difficulty. Many of the “easier” 14ers that are closer to Denver are also extremely popular to climb…almost too popular and on a weekend can feel overwhelming due to crowds. To create your plan I recommend the website 14ers.com. The information on this website is accurate and up to date, so please spend hours and hours and hours here before you lace up your boots and head to the trailhead.
Get into shape first.
Climbing a 14er is no joke, even the “easy” ones will still make your lungs burst and legs burn no matter how in shape you are. The best way to get in shape for hiking is really to just get out hiking. I recommend scheduling a few good climbs before you attempt your 14er summit and if you can’t do that hit the stairs with a loaded pack at your local football stadium or find a hill any hill and walk, jog, run, crawl up it over and over again until the neighbors think you’re nuts.
Consider the altitude.
If you’re flying out from sea level there are a few different schools of thought in terms of acclimatization, check out this post. Most important is to stay hydrated, well-fueled, don’t just listen to your body but act on your intuition. If you’re feeling crappy head down the mountain immediately, don’t keep climbing. You want the climb to be a positive and fun experience not feel like a raging hangover.
Get an early start.
If you’re hiking a popular 14er trail near the front range make it your goal to start hiking before 5:30 am to avoid not just crowds and congestion but dangerous high altitude afternoon lightning and thunderstorms that tend to roll into the Rockies mid-late afternoon. You’re gonna wanna be off that summit when a storm rolls in. You’re also gonna wanna avoid people, because sometimes the magic of a summit is realizing that you’re on the peak alone. Plus, ya know, social distancing too.
Crowds on the trail.
When I’m hiking at high altitudes I throw a few “extras” into my pack to make the trek easier. Remember, you’ll be above treeline and sun at 10,000, 11,000 + feet can be brutal. Take extra time to sunscreen up, wear a good hat and protect your body from the sun. With summit breeze you might not feel hot but trust me, you’ll be frying under the intense sun. Yet another reason to get started early.
Don’t forget to wear boots or shoes that are well broken in. Some people climb and even run up 14ers in just a good pair of running shoes, but I recommend that new hikers always wear boots to provide that ankle support, especially as you’re descending a scree slope. Remember that taking care of your feet requires paying attention to both your shoes and your socks. I’m a huge fan of LaSportiva boots and shoes and love the lifetime guarantee and moisture-wicking properties of Darn Tough & Fits Socks.
Don’t forget some extra water, extra food, an extra pair of socks and a rain jacket for that afternoon storm in addition to your typical packing list.
As most hikers know, nutrition and hydration are crucial for any long day on the trail. At altitude a few other things to consider are an electrolyte drink (Nuun happens to be my #1 pick because it doesn’t taste super sickly sweet and it’s much lighter tasting than a heavy drink like Gatorade) and a protein sport gel or energy chew.
If I’m starting to feel weird, lighteheaded and headachy from altitude (for me this happens around 13,000 feet but everyone is different) I’ve found that a gel is easy on my stomach but gives a quick boost of energy. I like Honey Stinger energy gels because they don’t taste like chemicals and if the thought of a gel is stomach-turning you can also mix them with water for an energy drink for the same effects.
Don’t forget though, that nutrition isn’t just what you’re eating during your climb. It’s also what you’re putting into your body several days before your summit attempt. Don’t skimp on water and healthy food before your hike.
Do you have any questions about climbing your first 14er? If some drop them below or share with us on social media.
Good luck and happy hiking.
p.s. This blog post does contain links for online shipping at my Outdoor Retail Store, Laramie’s Basecamp. When you shop at Basecamp it helps keep my dream of helping all women get outside and explore alive, and by doing so you’re supporting a woman owned outdoor retail store and guiding company in the United States. There aren’t a lot of woman-owned gear shops like us around. Thank you!