Wednesday, September 8, 2010

14ers for Dumbies

I'm not an expert on hiking 14ers but after completing 12 I have learned a few things along the way. My enthusiasm for hiking has been rubbing off on my friends and family and I find myself more and more enjoying these great mountains with those who have no idea the journey they are about to embark on. I tell people all the time who have never hiked a 14er before that it will change their life in ways they never dreamed of and encourage them to come with me if only once. I also find myself fielding emails and phone calls about everything from what to bring to how long will it take, the weather etc. So I've complied a list of what I think it's important for anyone to know should they attempt a 14er in the future with or without me. *But do me a favor, invite me along please?

(*as a side note I refuse to duplicate mtns. until I have finished them all. My only exception is if someone wants to hike a different route I haven't done before)

Here's my top tips, in no particular order of importance:

1. Research your mountains: for the first time 14er it's important to go online ( is my favorite source of information) and pick an easy mountain to start with. The 14ers are ranked in order of difficulty and if you've never done one before you certainly don't want to pick a class 3 or 4 to start with. This may seem like a no brainer but a lot of times people pick mountains based on what their friends are doing or what's close to home. Long's Peak for example, is in Estes Park which is a popular tourist spot but it's one of the more diffcult 14ers.
The easiest are:
Mt. Elbert 14,433' 1
Mt. Lincoln 14,286' 8
Grays Peak 14,270' 9
Torreys Peak 14,267' 11
Quandary Peak 14,265' 13
Mt. Bross 14,172' 22
Mt. Democrat 14,148' 28
Pikes Peak 14,110' 30
Mt. Bierstadt 14,060' 38
Handies Peak 14,048' 40
Culebra Peak 14,047' 41
Mt. Sherman 14,036' 45
San Luis Peak 14,014' 50
Huron Peak 14,003' 52

My recommendation for a beginner would be Quandary or Sherman. Both are under 7 miles roundtrip and straight forward hikes meaning even if you hiked them by yourself you won't get lost. Bierstadt was OK for me considering I hiked it alone, until I reached the top where there was some difficulty for me finding the best way up as all there is are large boulders to climb on.

2. Budget your time: It's just a fact when you are hiking 14ers you're going to have to get up before the sun to hit the trailhead. Once you do a few you'll start to get the feel of how long say 6 or 12 miles will take you to complete. Ideally you should be increasing your speed the more comfortable you become. Start with a 4-6 mile hike to begin with and work your way up. On average a 4.5 mile hike will take you 3 to get up and 2 to get down. Never forget you have to go down. If weather is a factor just know that sometimes it can be even slower going down than you were going up due to the loose rock.

3. Gear up: There are some essential things you need to take with you when hiking and there's some things it's probably a good idea to have but aren't really necessary. I swear by my hiking poles

If you have any knee injuries you will appreciate them on your hike down. I use them as extensions of my arms to pull myself up the mountain and to brace myself on the way down. Learn how to use them because otherwise they'll just be a nuisance for you. Also make sure when you buy some, get the adjustable kind because if you need to scramble on rock you can pack them away in your bag. Don't go overboard on expense though because if it starts to lightening you'll have to ditch them (who wants to carry a lightening rod on them?). I bought mine off
Make sure you have a good backpack with hip straps to keep the weight off your shoulders - I highly recommend camelbak pack's with a hydration system so you don't have to stop and open your water bottle for a drink every few feet. If you are hiking with a dog you can buy a collapsible dog bowl to carry for their water or food.
Good hiking boots are a must. I wear merrell's. Make sure they come over your ankle and that they are water proof and broken in enough before your hike. Having the right socks is just as important and I swear by SmartWool. You'll pay $18 a pair but I haven't gotten blisters yet and I've hiked more than 10 hours at a time in them.

Other must haves: a whistle, a knife, compass, headlamp (my hiking poles have lights on them - helpful for any unexpected stays into the dark), emergency rain pancho, sunscreen, hat, gloves, cell phone, camera and trail maps (which you can print out from I also recommend advil because you are bound to get a headache from the altitude your first hike.

4. Dress up: You can't dress for a 14er hike like you would if you are walking around the neighborhood. I'll admit my first few hikes I did in yoga pants because they were comfy. Then I realized if I got stuck in a rain storm I'd be screwed, pancho or not. So pick your clothes wisely and opt for things that are water proof. I wear northface lightweight pants now that are rain proof. With my tops I take a little more liberty wearing thin cotton shirts (although thermal shirts are best), but I always bring my light down jacket to wear over them that is water resistant. Dress in layers because the weather varies drastically from the top to the bottom. Remember you can always take it off but if you don't bring enough you'll be miserable.

5. Eat up: You will be burning calories out here...A LOT of calories. My first hike we only brought a few peanut butter sandwiches and they were quickly eaten. I also forgot food for my dog and realized what a mistake that was when she was grabbing my sandwich out of my hand. So now that I know better I always bring enough food for both of us. Apples, peanut butter sandwiches, Clif Bars, fruit snacks, beef jerky, canned tuna - basically load up on the protein. And plan for your hike and how much you'll need of food and water. Coming down on Mt. Yale I ran out of water because I only brought a camelbak full of water and one extra water bottle. The hike was 10 miles and took us nine hours and I should have known better. Remember, you'll drink your water so no matter how heavy that pack feels, it will be a lot lighter coming down.

Truly the most important advice I can give you is to be prepared gear, food, and clothing wise and enter the experience with an open mind. I have people ask me all the time, "Do you think I can hike a 14er? I'm not even in shape!" I tell you it's not about being in shape. Does being in shape help? Certainly. But I'd say 90% of the hike is mental. If you can put one foot in front of the other you can hike. Don't tell yourself you can't and don't ever give up unless weather or a serious health issue forces you too because once you get to the top it will be all worth it. However, knowing when to turn back is also important. The mountain will, after all, always be there....just waiting to be summited by someone like you

*I dedicate this post to my bff Malia who said she couldn't the whole way up and yet she did....*

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