10 + 1 Tips For Hiking Your First Fourteener
By Alexis Rose
Visiting or living in Colorado presents many opportunities, one of which is hiking fourteeners. The famously tall and picturesque mountains are not only icons of Colorado, but fun challenges for hikers of any level. They’re rewarding too: after the hike up, you’ll get to drink up the gorgeous views visible only from the top.
But fourteen thousand feet?! That’s a long way up! Don’t worry. I’ve been in your shoes, too. As I stood at the base of Barr Trail, gazing up at the summit of Pikes Peak (my first fourteener), I wasn’t totally sure I could do it either. But I did. And you can too!
Here are some tips to help make your first climb a great one:
1. Do your Research
After deciding what mountain you want to hike, look into blogs, forums and even dedicated websites that talk about it. One great resource is 14ers.com and the 14ers App for iPhone or Android where you can save photos of the route. Gerry Roach’s book “Colorado’s Fourteeners” is also fantastic. Use these to get an idea of how long it’ll take you to get to the top, where the trailhead starts, and what the terrain looks like, as well as any other rules of the mountain (no dogs, no camping along the way, etc.).
Create a plan by considering the average time it takes hikers to summit, your own abilities and any recommendations from past hikers (14ers often has current Trip Reports for many peaks). Inform someone who’s not going with you of your plan and when they should hear from you. This is a precautionary measure that could save your life.
2. Bring A Buddy
This goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyways: Don’t hike without a buddy. Even if you’re on a well-traveled path that’s full of other hikers, something can go seriously wrong and you could find yourself alone. Avoid a call to Search and Rescue by bringing a friend, especially when you’re new to backcountry travel and/or high elevation.
3. Pack Plenty of Water
This, too, goes without saying, but again, I’m saying it anyways: Never go on a hike without water. Never. Dehydration is a serious issue and is one of the main causes of altitude sickness. Take small sips of water throughout your hike and avoid gulping it down.
4. Don’t Forget the Snackies
I never go on a hike without snacks. You’re going to burn a lot of calories when you hike a fourteener, especially at the higher altitudes. Snacks like trail mix, Clif bars, peanut butter sandwiches and dried fruit are all easy to digest and they’ve got a good amount of calories. They’re a great way to keep refueling after sustained effort and they brighten any hike.
5. Consider Bringing Excedrin
Even if you drink plenty of water throughout your hike, sometimes headaches are unavoidable. The change in pressure affects everyone differently, so some people will always get them while others will not. Don’t let unbearable head pains drag you down. Bring some Excedrin to shake off any high altitude headache you might get.
6. Wear good socks
I’ve made the critical mistake of not wearing the right socks and it turned out pretty terrible. And I was hiking TWO fourteeners that day. My feet were Blister City. Invest in a good pair of socks designed for hiking. They’ll have the right type of cushioning, they’ll cover your ankles and they’ll wick away sweat, preventing blisters. Bring a second pair, just in case.
7. Wear Moisture-wicking Clothes
You’re probably going to work up a sweat during your hike. Wearing moisture-wicking clothes will help cool you down if it’s hot and help keep you warm if it’s chilly. These types of pants and shirts prevent sweat and water from sitting on your skin and affecting your body temperature.
Check out your local gear shop to find clothing styles that are right for you. In the Boulder/Denver area, try Neptune Mountaineering (Boulder), Bentgate Mountaineering (Golden), or Wilderness Exchange (Denver).
8. Pack Layers
Hiking a fourteener is like walking through all four seasons in one day. You can experience sun, rain, wind and snow all in one hike. And you’ll find when you finally reach the summit that it’s CHILLY up there…even on a nice day! You gained several thousand feet in elevation, after all, so it’s not surprising it’s cold. Your body will probably be sweaty (Unless you’re superhuman!) and the second you stop moving, your temperature can drop dramatically.
Bring layers that will keep you warm and dry so you’re as comfortable as possible. Wear lighter layers to dump heat while you’re moving, but make sure to whip out that warm jacket once you reach the top so your core temperature doesn’t drop. Hats and gloves are a good idea, too.
9. Start Early
Starting between 5 and 6 a.m. will ensure you reach the summit before the classic Colorado-afternoon lightning begins. You don’t want to find yourself at the top of a mountain as a thunderstorm is starting. If the clouds are already rolling in and you’re not at the summit you should consider turning back. Exposure to the elements above tree line is a completely different game and a very dangerous situation to be in.
10. Take Breaks When You Need Them
If you’re about to take on your first fourteener then you might not be accustomed to gaining several thousand feet in elevation in just a couple hours. A hike like that can really take it can take it out of you! Just remember, this type of hike isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Take occasional breaks and listen to your body.
Plus 1: Enjoy the View At the Top.
You’ve earned it!
I hope these tips help prepare you for your first fourteener. They’re incredibly rewarding hikes that not many people outside of Colorado get to say they’ve done. Good luck with your first climb!
Comment below with which fourteener you first hiked and how it went!
About the Author: Alexis Rose is the founder of Wife in the Wild Blue Yonder, a blog dedicated to providing advice and resources to military spouses. She’s determined to help others by sharing personal stories and useful information that other military spouses can learn from and apply to their own lives. She’s a passionate writer and photographer, a Harry Potter fanatic, a lover of dogs, a swimmer, a rock climber and a yogi. She’s always up for an adventure and she loves to travel.