Tips For Hiking Colorado's Fourteeners
The good news about hiking Colorado's fourteeners (the term
for mountains over 14,000 feet high), is that it can be done.
In fact only a handful of the 54 fourteeners require special
equipment to summit. Depending on your skill level, as many as
50 can be scrambled up with hiking boots or - as I like to climb
them - in running shoes.
This doesn't mean they are without risks though. There are
risks related to weather and isolation and the particulars of
the mountains themselves. With that in mind, here are some tips
for keeping it safe when you hike and scramble to the top.
Learn About The Mountain
It's easy to get information online now about all of Colorado's
fourteeners. Check out the one you hope to hike up to make sure
it is a hikable one. Discovering that you need a safety line
for the last two hundred feet is discouraging to say the least,
and you may be tempted to risk too much to complete the climb.
Other information you need is where to park, the usual conditions
of the trails (are they snow covered until July?), and the route
that makes the most sense for you (most have several). Take notes,
and bring them with you.
Be Physically Prepared
If you haven't been hiking in a month, don't aim for the summit
of a large mountain. Do some shorter hikes first. Although you
may make it to the top of a fourteener on willpower alone, it
is coming down that is often more dangerous. That's not a time
to be out of energy or with blistered feet.
Even if it is one of the easier mountains to go up, there
are some essential things you should always carry, and other
items which are usually a good idea. Essentials include water
(I like to carry two one-liter bottles), a first aid kit, snacks
for energy, a map, a compass, and rainwear. Other things you
may want to bring include a GPS unit (mark your car before starting
the hike), extra socks, and a cell phone. The cell phone generally
won;t work until you are high enough, and I don't recommend using
it or having it on. It is just a nice emergency device in case
of an accident.
This is important with Colorado's fourteeners. In fact, try
to leave by the first light - even before sunrise. Storms are
common in the early afternoons in these mountains, so your goal
will be to be to the top and on your way down before noon. Almost
every year hikers are killed by lightning in the mountains of
Colorado, which brings us to our last tip.
Know The Risks and How To Handle Them
If you are not familiar with hiking in mountains, learn a
few risk-mediation skills before you go too far from your car.
Lightning, for example, is attracted to lone trees, so don't
hide out under one (that got six people struck last year in the
Spanish Peaks). Know how to stay dry, because hypothermia is
one of the biggest risks. Get used to hiking on loose rocks before
doing it on top of a mountain. Learn how to recognize "hot
spots" on your feet before they become blisters, so you
can treat them early. Practice using a map and compass before
you get ten miles out.
Apply the tips here and you can safely hike up most of Colorado's
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