For Colorado residents and visitors alike, few outdoor recreational opportunities can rival climbing a Fourteener as a true rite of passage. It’s real man-versus-mountain-type stuff.
What’s a Fourteener? Quite simply, it’s a mountain that is at least 14,000 feet above sea level. The Centennial State has 54 of these peaks within its borders, which is the most of any other state. (It actually has 58, but to officially count as a Fourteener, a peak must be 300 feet higher than the saddle of an adjacent peak.)
At any rate, that makes Colorado ground zero for serious summit-baggers — those who are determined to reach the peaks of as many mountains as possible — as well as for newbies who are looking for an unparalleled, truly adventurous experience.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, you don’t simply walk up a Fourteener, no matter how “easy” it’s supposed to be. If bagging a 14,000-foot summit is on your bucket list, there are a few things you need to keep in mind prior to hitting the trail.
Safety is a major concern on a 14,000-foot mountain. While many Fourteeners provide realistic hiking and climbing experiences for newbies, you must never forget that this isn’t a routine walk in the woods. The experts at 14ers.com have quite a few tips:
1. Be aware of altitude sickness. Coloradans who live a mile high, or even higher, may not experience many symptoms above timberline — perhaps a dull headache and some shortness of breath. If you’re coming from lower elevations, however, consider arriving in Denver a few days early to get acclimated to the 5,280-foot altitude, then try to spend the night in a higher-elevation town. If possible, do a little hiking above 8,000 feet. According to the experts at Backpacker Magazine, drinking plenty of water and eating carbohydrate-rich, low-fat foods will help, as can ibuprofen. Trails.com recommends that you get plenty of rest and avoid alcohol, as well.
2. If you or anyone in your group is experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness, the best course of action is to descend immediately.
3. Dehydration is a major concern in the thin, dry air at high altitude. Bring plenty of water (it may seem like too much, but trust us, it won’t be); experienced Fourteener hikers recommend 3 liters of water in a bladder-style reservoir, with perhaps another emergency liter in a bottle.
4. Storms are a serious risk, particularly in the summer months, when monsoon-season storms fire up at mid-day. Above timberline on a high mountain peak, you’re utterly exposed if lightning strikes. Get started as early as you can, even if that means camping or staying in a hotel nearby. Ensure that you reach the summit by late morning, so you’ll be well on your way back to the trailhead when the afternoon storms gather steam. And if you see a storm brewing, turn back immediately. Summit fever is understandable, but it’s not worth getting hurt.
Easily accessible, and a reasonable day trip from Denver:
(You can summit Grays and Torreys in a single, classic hike.)
If you’re based in Denver, you’ll want to plan an overnight stay in South Park or Breckenridge:
Again, you’ll want to plan an overnight stay if you’re coming from Denver:
(This is Colorado’s highest peak, at 14,439 feet.)
If you’d like to learn more about climbing 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado, check out this 2013 article by Denver-based 5280 Magazine. And then start planning your trip!