August 28, 2017
Hiking is an incredible experience. Whether you’re hiking to take in fresh air, get in a workout or summiting mountains for grand views, it’s important to prepare for the changing elements. This is especially true when you decide to tackle your first 14er.
A 14er, or “fourteener,” is a mountain summit of at least 14,000 feet above sea level. Colorado, which boasts 58 14ers according to the Colorado Geological Survey, ranks as a top destination because it has the most of any state. Fourteeners range from easy to strenuous in difficulty, but none of these hikes should be taken lightly. Most 14ers must be summited by noon local time, as weather conditions generally deteriorate in the afternoon. Physical fitness, preparation, and the proper clothing and equipment not only enhance your experience, they can flat-out save your life.
Summiting a 14er can take up to 10 hours of hiking in some cases. Experts encourage newcomers to train for two to four months to build up their cardiovascular endurance, core and leg strength, and flexibility.
– Cardiovascular fitness: Running and cycling build endurance. Start with 30-minute sessions two to three times per week and build to 45-minute sessions. Mix in workouts on a Stairmaster machine, hills, and interval training.
– Strength training: Your legs and core will carry the brunt of the load. Use functional training exercises such as step-ups, lunges, and squats to build leg strength. Add weighted vests or a weighted backpack to increase the load over time.
– Flexibility: Maintain elasticity in those muscles by stretching them before and after your sessions. Yoga is beneficial in building core strength.
Many summit bids end in misery because a hiker did not know the terrain and plan accordingly. Purchase a map, and learn how to read topographical lines. Become familiar with the route, elevation change, camping spots, location of water sources and exit routes. Study the weather history, and know the signs of approaching storms. If you traveled from a place closer to sea level, allow time for your body to acclimate to higher altitudes. Altitude sickness is a common hurdle.
Your trip research will help you plan the most effective path to success. Generally speaking, there are two methods to summit a 14er:
– One push: This hiker may start in the darkness at 2 or 3 am and hike with a headlamp and light pack. After summiting, this hiker will head all the way back down to the start, making for an extremely long day.
– Base camp stopover: This hiker starts later in the morning. He will carry a heavier backpack because he has shelter, food, cookware and sleeping gear for overnighting at 10,000 to 12,000 feet. After some sleep, this hiker carries a lighter summit pack to reach the top before noon, then descend to base camp, pack up and head down.
A hiker summiting a 14er should carry the established 10 essentials and be mindful of proper clothing layer techniques.
Be aware, you may start the day in shorts and T-shirt in a desert, head through a forested region, then get above treeline where winds and cooler temperatures require insulating layers and rain gear. Carry an adequate supply of water, and a water filter or purifier. Once above treeline, there may be fewer water sources, so plan accordingly.
When using the base camp method you’ll need a backpack capable of carrying a sleeping bag and pad, a tent, food, cookware and fuel.
Follow these guidelines for training and preparation, and you will be rewarded with spectacular views and the memory of a lifetime.