Here in Colorado, 14ers (or peaks over 14,000 feet) are a thing of lore. The state boasts more 14ers than any other state in the lower 48, clocking in at a whopping 53. Some of these mountainous beasts are technical and difficult, not suited for beginners. However, plenty of them are merely high-altitude walk-ups that encourage great adventure for discerning outdoor enthusiasts.
If you are considering tackling your first 14er this summer, these tips will help you get to the top—and back down—safely and full of good memories.
1. Start Early
It may be tempting to hit that snooze button, but don’t let those cold, pre-dawn temperatures keep you in the tent. It is critical to your safety to be on the trail early!
Storms above treeline can be apocalyptic. A few light sprinkles are not a big deal, but these high altitude storms are in a class of their own. Black skies, gusting wind, sideways hail and wicked lightning are all standard.
Fortunately, bad weather typically rolls in during the afternoon. As long as you are off the summit before lunch time, you should be fine!
2. Drink Your Water
I know, I know—you always stay hydrated while exercising, right?! That said, altitude is a different beast and higher elevations can wreck the most physically fit people.
Here is a tip: adequate hydration is the best way to combat altitude sickness! For some, this means drinking extra water in the few days leading up to the trip. For others, this means constantly sipping during the hike. Regardless, the bottom line is this: drink your water and you will feel worlds better.
Pro tip: Add your favorite variation of electrolytes to your water bladder. Not only will this make your water taste better, but the electrolytes will help keep you cramp-free and hydrated.
3. Dress Properly
It may be easier to throw on your favorite jogging clothes and hit the trail, but we’d like to advise you otherwise.
Have you heard the expression “Cotton Kills”? It’s a tad dramatic, but the meaning is accurate. When you excessively sweat—like while hiking a 14er—your cotton clothes will absorb the moisture and become wet. Once you are above treeline and the wind is whipping, those cotton clothes will become very cold, causing you to catch a chill.
To avoid this, invest in a few good technical pieces of apparel. Find a tech tee made of synthetic materials or Merino wool. Not only will these wick sweat away from your body, but they will also dry quickly. Additionally, procure a decent hard shell jacket that will protect you from both wind and rain. Finally, don’t forget your hat and sunglasses! The high altitude sun can be soul-crushing, and a hat is imperative to keep the elements off your face while sunglasses keep your eyes protected.
4. Sun Safety
I can’t stress this enough: protect your skin from the sun! In addition to the hat and glasses, don’t forget sunscreen on any exposed skin. The sun is hot and unobstructed, so even the smallest patch of bare skin will fry like bacon within minutes. Likewise, don’t forget chapstick. I always carry chapstick with SPF because sunburned lips are excruciating!
Experienced hikers: What would you add?
I’d just one important leave behind: your whereabouts. Make sure that family, friends know you’re planning to summit, who you’re going with and when you plan to return.
That’s a great one to add, Greg. No one can help if they don’t know where you are!
Heather… what did you do with my comment from yesterday? CA having the highest 14er in the lower 48…