A Complete Beginners Guide To Hiking Colorado 14ers
Ready to make this the year you start tackling the extensive list 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado? Before you start, you’ll need some tips on how to start training, a list of the easiest Colorado 14ers to hike, and to know what Colorado 14ers apparel to bring on your trips. Read on- it’s all covered in our complete guide to hiking Colorado 14ers.
So, what is a Colorado 14er?
Whether you’re new to Colorado or are just dipping your toes into the adventurous side of the state, you’ve probably heard people talking about “14ers.” A Colorado 14er is a peak that stands at or above 14,000 feet of elevation.
Sound like a lot? It is! While Colorado is lucky to have 58 summits over 14,000 feet, mountains of this elevation are usually hard to come by. Which is, of course, a big reason why summiting 14ers is a prized accomplishment here in Colorado.
How hard is it to hike a 14er?
While any hike at high elevation comes with a set of risks you should be prepared for, the good news is that Colorado has some of the most accessible 14ers in the world. In fact, you can drive to the top of several of them (although nothing beats the feeling of accomplishment that comes after a good hike to the top). From family-friendly hikes less than five miles long to challenging all-day climbs, there’s a 14er for every skill level.
A guide to hiking Colorado 14ers
How to train for a 14er
Even if you’re an avid hiker, it’s useful to do some training before heading up your first 14er. The number one reason for this is the altitude. No matter your fitness level, spending time at high altitude is taxing to your body. And it can be quite dangerous if you haven’t properly prepared. For most folks, training for a 14er requires building up your ability for two things. One, general fitness. And two, your tolerance for altitude.
Building the fitness to hike a 14er
As you prepare for your hike, plan 2-3 training hikes that build up to your desired trip length. You’ll want to look for hikes that build up to the difficulty of the 14er you have in mind, which means accounting for both mileage and elevation gain. Many 14ers involve gaining 1,500 ft. of elevation or more during the hike.
A good way to build up to your goal is starting with a hike that’s about half as long as your 14er. Look for a local hike that’s 2-5 miles in length and gains at least 500 feet of elevation along the way. After you’ve got your first hike done, increase the length and elevation gain incrementally until your final hike is similar in mileage and elevation gain to the 14er you’re planning on. Here’s why:
Properly acclimating before hiking a Colorado 14er
Like we mentioned, high elevation makes hiking harder. Your body works about 30% hard for every 1,000 feet of elevation you gain. So, if you’re wheezing instead of running on a trail at 13,000 feet, it’s understandable. It’s also why you should feel comfortable hiking the distance of your 14er at a lower elevation before attempting it at a higher one.
If you’re traveling to or have moved to Colorado from a place with a lower elevation, give you body time to get used to life at a higher elevation. The process of acclimating (slowly moving higher in elevation) can save you from experiencing potentially deadly symptoms of altitude sickness. Before attempting to hike a 14er, make sure that you feel comfortable spending time at 11,000-12,000 feet. Your body needs time to adjust to high elevations, so consider spending a weekend camping and hiking at a higher elevation to see how your body handles the change.
What to pack: Colorado 14ers apparel
Once you feel physically ready for the challenge, make sure you have the gear for a safe summit. To cover the basics, fill your backpack with the 10 essentials.
On top of these items, make sure you have the right Colorado 14ers apparel. This includes warm layers, rain gear, and a hat that will protect your face from the sun. You’ll want a pair of sturdy hiking boots that you’ve tested on a few other hikes as well.
Hazards of hiking Colorado 14ers
Understand the potential risks of hiking Colorado 14ers so that you can enjoy a safe and fun adventure! And remember- the mountain will always be there, so make the cautious decision.
We’ve mentioned it already, and for good reason. High elevation is the #1 risk of hiking 14ers. If you’re not properly acclimated, altitude sickness can ruin your day. Avoid this by taking your time getting used to elevations above 8,000 feet. And if you or anyone in your group begins to feel dizzy, lose their appetite, or get a headache, head down to a lower elevation.
Hiking in higher elevations typically involves walking through sections of loose rock. Watch your footing and surroundings in these areas, and remind younger adventurers that throwing rocks from the trail is dangerous to others.
Not only are you working hard to get to the summit of your first 14er, you’re at altitude! The higher you hike, the easier it is to get dehydrated. So pack more water than you think you need (and drink it)!
Easiest Colorado 14ers to hike
Ready to tackle your first fourteener? Start out with one of these five easiest Colorado 14ers to hike.
Milage: 5.5 miles round trip
Elevation gain: 2,000 feet
Mileage: 7.5 miles round trip
Elevation gain: 3,000 feet
Milage: 5.5 miles round trip
Elevation gain: 2,500 feet
Mileage: 6.75 miles round trip
Elevation gain: 3,450 feet
Mileage: 4 miles round trip
Elevation gain: 2,150 feet
Ready to #FindYourMountain?
Did this guide to hiking Colorado 14ers inspire you to tackle your first summit? We can’t wait to see what you accomplish this summer, so tell us about your adventures! Tag @yocolorado with #FindYourMountain and you might just get featured on YoColorado social media.