As Coloradans, we enjoy the privilege of being able to hike some of the most beautiful high altitude terrain in the country, but, as anyone who has ever hiked a 14er can attest, it can also be some of the most difficult. Preparation is key, even if you’re at peak physical fitness, and even more key if you aren’t. That’s why we’ve compiled this short list of the best tips and tactics for tackling that first 14,000 ft beauty.
Training and Conditioning
Properly training for a 14er requires a mix of cardio, strength training, and conditioning hikes, but it’s important to allow yourself a healthy amount of recovery time before you begin your ascent. Most experts recommend starting training for about two months to adequately prepare, although your plan depends on your fitness level, and you should speak to your physician if you’re worried about your health.
Regardless of your fitness level, focusing on the areas of the body most involved in hiking should be your primary approach. Work on your calves and quadriceps to minimize the fatigue on that difficult ascent, so you can focus on staying sure-footed on any loose scree. Include more lunges, step-ups, squats, and calve-raises into your normal workout – you can even add a backpack to the mix for some added realism and a little extra weight.
Start Small (or as small as you can)
Every 14er is different. Some are steeper, some are longer, some are craggier and rockier, and some are just downright scarier. That said, some are also a little bit easier, or at the very least, more accessible. Quandary, pictured below, is one of the best mountains to start on.
It might look tough, and compared to a walk in the woods, it is. But if you come prepared and push yourself just enough, you’ll find yourself summiting in just a couple hours, with your mind and body relatively intact. And the views are as spectacular as any other. Just make sure you start early enough to avoid those afternoon storms and you’ll be good to go.
Always Be Prepared
The age old boy scout motto is truer than ever when hiking at these altitudes, yet dozens of hikers each year suffer injury, and even death, from undervaluing basic preparations that anyone can take.
- Bring water – lots of it. The recommended amount is 2-3 liters for a major 14er, and one of those liters should ideally have some electrolytes. Rest and drink often.
- Wear suitable clothing and pack layers. Synthetic fabrics are better than cotton, which won’t insulate as well. It’s also worth adding a waterproof layer, like a rain mac or windbreaker to make sure you don’t get wind up soaking wet at 14,000 feet (not a pleasant experience).
- Bring snacks. High energy foods like PB & J sandwiches, energy bars, and even candy bars can help keep you going as the climb gets tougher. You’ll need all you can get, so don’t be afraid of a high calorie count.
- Make sure to protect yourself against the sun. The sun’s rays are more intense at higher altitudes and that means your skin and your eyes are more at risk. Don some sunscreen before and during your hike, and make sure you have some sunglasses, so you can see those incredible views without searing your retinas.
- Do some research on your hike. Beyond finding the right mountain, read some hikers’ accounts online and make sure you have a decent understanding of what to expect. If you’re doing a longer hike, bring more water and food to keep you going. If you’re doing a steeper shorter hike, consider cutting some of that extra weight to make your ascent easier.
With these simple suggestions and a little training, you should be well equipped to take on your first 14er. It won’t be easy, but it wouldn’t be worth it if it was. Work hard, be safe, and have fun – and make sure not to forget your camera either.