Hiking 14ers is no new fad to Coloradans. With over 50 Mountains peaking over 14,000 feet in elevation, Colorado Mountain ranges provide a plethora of hikes that range from easy class 1 walking to extremely difficult class 5 that requires climbing ropes and belaying. While hiking 14ers is a difficult feat that should not be underestimated, for outdoor enthusiasts it is a gauntlet that must be accomplished. But before you take off in your sandals and cotton t-shirt for a less than enjoyable excursion, you will find that being a little prepared will make all the difference when it comes to having the best possible time at 14,000 feet.
The most vital part of your journey will keep you hydrated in thin and dry air as high elevations will dehydrate you quicker and leave even the most athletic person feeling winded. I have seen people with small water bottles and while it’s better than nothing, in reality it’s not enough. You’ll ideally want around 24 oz of water for a 14er since you will be hiking anywhere from 5-8 hours. Nalgenes are good, but you will want 2 of them, the best would be a Camelbak or similar water bladder brand. This will keep you from hassling to get your water bottle every time from your pack and you won’t have to stop every time you want a drink.
The second most vital aspect of your hike would be what your wearing on your feet. Some people prefer wearing a hiking shoe that has a high top that will give you more ankle support. I myself steer away from hiking boots since they are bulky and heavy and make traversing more difficult for me personally. Also most people wear them their first time on the hike which will most certainly cause nasty blisters that become torturous after several hours of hiking. I stick with my regular running sneakers, they are broken in and my feet are used to maneuvering in them especially while hiking on rough ground.
That should be your motto when you are gearing up for hiking a 14er. While 90% of our wardrobes are cotton you will want to stay away from it since cotton not only does not wick sweat and water away from your skin, but it also pull heat away from your body when wet which will leave you freezing and feeling sick. Wool, Smartwool, or Capilene by Patagonia are the kinds of fabric you will want to layer with. While it might be 70 degrees at the trailhead, the summit will certainly be much colder. Layering is essential to the clothes you will wear. You will want a base layer (this will absorb your sweat….NO COTTON), a insulating layer , and a exposure layer. Keeping these layers light so you can throw them in your pack as necessary.
Sunscreen and sunglasses
This is an important one that most people underestimate. Weather its your first 14er or your 20th, you’ll will want sunscreen and sport glasses especially once you get above tree line where there is no shade.
* A side note on Acute Mountain. AMS or Acute Mountain sickness can occur when a person is at high altitude especially over 8,000 feet. Usually it happens when a person is not used to the lack of oxygen while their body is exerting. Symptoms usually start with a headache and can feel much like a hang over. Drinking lots of water and staying at a slow and steady pass is the recommended method for dealing with AMS.
By Carolyn Dean