July and August are the perfect time to tackle one (or more) of Colorado’s 53 (or more, depending on who you listen to) 14ers. The warmer weather lessens your chances of stumbling upon an uncrossable ice patch or being caught in a dangerous blizzard, but you do have to watch out for those frequent afternoon thunderstorms.
Before you get out and start exploring, here are a few tips to help you make the most of your experience:
1.) Know your routes. Plan ahead by visiting 14ers.com to pick the best route for your ability level. Knowing what to expect will help you mentally prepare for your climb. A 15-mile hike can seem intimidating, but if you mentally break up your climb into a series of little waypoints, like stream crossings or trail junctions, you can focus on achieving one small goal at a time.
2.) Go slow. It’s not a race; maintain a steady pace. But, because of those afternoon thunderstorms we mentioned, …
3.) Start early. A good rule is to be back below tree-line by noon to avoid getting caught in a storm, out in the open, on top of a mountain.
4.) Go with a group, especially if it’s your first trip out. Or, hire a guide (like us!) who not only has done this before, but will have wilderness first aid training AND most likely be able to help enhance your trek with all sorts of good tips and knowledge about Colorado.
5.) Dress appropriately. Layers are the key, since your hike will span several hours and major changes in altitude, and therefore, multiple temperatures. Always have a waterproof shell, because, as we mentioned before, rain is common in the Colorado summers. Also, no cotton! Cotton absorbs sweat and dries slowly, which cools quickly in chilly mountain air, putting you at risk for hypothermia.
6.) Good shoes are a must. There is a time and place for your $50 blue light special shoes, but hiking for hours over mountainous terrain is not one of them.7.) Carry the 10 essentials:
- Navigation (map and compass)
- Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
- Insulation (extra clothing)
- Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
- First-aid supplies
- Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
- Repair kit and tools
- Nutrition (extra food)
- Hydration (extra water)
- Emergency shelter
It’s not good enough to just CARRY extra food and water. You need to use them …
8.) Stay hydrated. You’ll be exerting yourself at high altitude, so try to bring around 2 liters of water. Tip: A Camelback or some type of hydration bladder is the easiest way to pack that amount of water.
9.) Eat! Why bring all that food up the mountain just to bring it back down? You’ll be burning massive amounts of energy, so you’ll need to refuel. Bring stuff you’ll actually eat, instead of those high-protein bars that you don’t really like the taste of.
10.) Don’t forget about personal needs. You’ve got the 10 essentials, but what about other items that will make your trek comfortable? Sure, you can live without chapstick, but the effects of high winds and sun are mitigated with some SPF chapstick. You might want to consider TP as well, since your frequent hydration ensures multiple bathroom stops. And of course, a plastic bag to cart away trash.
11.) Know the signs of altitude sickness. People liken the feeling of altitude sickness to a flu or hangover; headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea. Hydration is your #1 weapon against it, so keep sipping that water. The “cures” for this are wide and varied; the sherpas of Nepal feed sick climbers garlic soup. Others recommend upping your iron intake prior to your climb, taking ginko tablets to increase circulation, and deep breathing, as practiced in yoga or meditation. If you do feel sick, take a break, as exertion only worsens symptoms.
12.) Train. It takes a decent amount of strength and stamina to hike over ascending and descending terrain for hours on end, and that’s just what’s needed for the easiest of 14ers. If you’re not in good physical shape, get to work!
13.) Leave nothing but your footprints. Hikers practice Leave No Trace ethics, to better preserve the beauty for the next eager climber.
14.) Bring a camera. The view from the top of a 14er is the closest you’ll ever get to being on top of the world.
For more information about CWRAG’s guided Longs Peak Climb, visit http://www.coloradowildernessridesandguides.com/hikingandpeaks/