Today I want to share with you the 5 most common mistakes people make when trying to climb their first Colorado 14er. And sometimes their second, third, and nineteenth. 😉
I’ve pretty much made every one of these, which made 14er climbing miserable (and sometimes scary). I would be killing myself and hiking my heart out, but half the time I wouldn’t get to the top.
Now 40 Colorado 14ers later, things are on easy street. (Well, most of the time.) Improving my summit success rate all started with correcting these common mistakes.
1. Starting too late.
During the summer, the Colorado Rockies experience thunderstorms almost every afternoon. On top of a Colorado 14er is NOT where you want to be when lightning is striking all around! These storms also produce large hail, which hurts when it’s pounding you and being driven into your face by the wind.
So when you climb your first Colorado 14er (or 58th, to be honest), it’s important to start super early.
Other advantages to an early start:
- You will avoid traffic on your way to the trailhead
- Parking will be easier
- You won’t have to wait in line for the bathroom (if there is one)
If you are climbing a longer route, you may even need to start in the dark with a headlamp. This is known as an alpine start.
If you feel nervous about hiking in the dark, check out the Black Diamond Icon Headlamp. It’s incredibly bright with a 500 lumen beam, which makes following the trail a lot easier. It also has a 70 hour battery life. I originally bought it for trail running, but it’s going to come on all my 14er hikes too!
2. Not giving yourself time to acclimatize.
About 60 percent of people who travel to the Colorado Rockies from sea level experience symptoms of altitude sickness, including headache, fatigue, upset stomach, and difficulty sleeping.
The best way to avoid this is to spend some time hanging out at high altitude before attempting to hike. After 2–3 days of breathing the thin mountain air, the worst altitude symptoms will pass, and your body will be ready to go higher.
For best results, I recommend spending one night in a Front Range city like Denver, Boulder, or Colorado Springs, and one night in the mountains before your hike. This will give your body time to adjust gradually.
3. Failing to check the weather forecast.
A lot of visitors to Colorado are surprised by how wild the mountain weather can be! (I can totally relate. On my first Colorado backpacking trip, there was a blizzard on June 2.)
When heading out for a 14er hike, be ready for freezing cold, howling wind, blazing sun, hail, torrential rain, and lightning — sometimes all in the same day.
Checking the point forecast for your mountain at weather.gov can help you prepare for the worst of it. If the forecast looks really gnarly 24 hours out, consider postponing your Colorado 14er climb to a nicer day when you can really enjoy it.
4. Trying to hike too fast.
At 14,000 ft., your body has to work 17 percent harder than at sea level to maintain the same hiking pace. Pushing yourself too hard will burn you out and could trigger altitude sickness symptoms.
To avoid this, start your hike early so you don’t feel rushed. Then hike at a slow, steady pace where you can breathe easily and carry on a conversation. If you are gasping, you’re going too fast.
Reign in the urge to compete or show off. Do you know who is most at risk for altitude sickness? Young, fit men. That’s because they are most likely to push themselves too hard.
5. Not carrying the right gear.
Some people are tempted to save energy on their Colorado 14er climb by packing ultralight. This is not a formula for summit success — and could even put you in danger.
For your safety and enjoyment, you’ll want to pack extra clothing layers, at least 2 liters of water, plenty of food, and the 10 essentials of survival gear. Your pack will be heavier. But trust me, it’s worth it!
Now sure what to pack for your first Colorado 14er hike? To get my complete packing list plus additional Colorado 14er tools and tips, just fill out the form below.
So, I bet your next big, burning question is: How the French toast do I climb a Colorado 14er the right way?
To answer this question, I highly recommended checking out my online course Colorado 14er Academy. It teaches you everything you need to know to get in shape, plan your hike, and climb safely. Click here to learn more, sign up, or hop on the wait list for the next open enrollment period.
Originally published May 24, 2019.