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13 Essential 14er Tips to Help You Reach Your Next Summit This Summer

Summer is coming, and that means 14er season is just around the corner. If you’re like me, you are probably hoping to cross a few more peaks off your bucket list this summer. However, it’s always good to remember that reaching the summit is never a certainty. A few simple best practices can help make the difference by saving time and effort, reducing your risk, and giving you more tools to adapt to the mountain environment

Before you head out into the backcountry, make sure you master all these essential hacks and best practices to give yourself the best possible odds for success.

13 Colorado 14er Tips for Safe and Successful Summits

1. Start Early: Embarking on your hike early in the morning is a masterstroke. It’s not just about saving time and energy, but also about immersing yourself in the serenity of less crowded trails. Getting an early start enables you to complete most of your hike before the afternoon thunderstorms, typical in Colorado, roll in. The calm of the early morning and the crisp, cool air can invigorate you, setting the perfect tone for your hike. An early start also means you get to witness the sunrise from the mountain, which is an experience in itself.

2. Train with Weight: Tackling a fourteener requires both mental resilience and physical strength. Start preparing weeks, if not months, in advance with practice hikes carrying a weighted backpack. This strategy helps build your strength and endurance, making the actual hike feel like a breeze. Remember, the mountain won’t go easy on you, so you shouldn’t go easy on your training. The more you sweat in training, the less you’ll struggle on the trail.

3. Layer Up: The weather on a fourteener is as unpredictable as it gets. It can flip from sunny to stormy in a heartbeat. Dressing in layers is your best defense against these sudden changes. This strategy allows you to add or remove clothing as needed without wasting precious time and energy. Remember, every minute counts when you’re on the mountain, and quickly adapting to changing conditions can make a significant difference in your journey. Layering also helps regulate your body temperature, ensuring you stay comfortable throughout the hike.

4. Invest in a Good Pair of Hiking Boots: Your choice of footwear can make or break your hike. While it might be tempting to save money and opt for cheaper boots, this is one area where you should not compromise. A good pair of hiking boots provides the comfort, support, and protection you need to tackle different terrains. Quality hiking boots can be the difference between reaching the summit and turning back early due to discomfort or injury. They can also save you from common hiking injuries like sprained ankles or blisters.

5. Hydrate the Night Before: Hydration is the lifeblood of any physically demanding activity, and hiking is no exception. Start hydrating the day before your hike, not just the morning of. This gives your body ample time to absorb the water and prepare for the challenge ahead. You’ll feel refreshed, energetic, and ready to take on the mountain. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, dizziness, and other symptoms that can hinder your progress, so make sure to drink plenty of water before and during your hike.

6. Prioritize Lightweight, Compact Gear: When it comes to gear, less is more. Every ounce counts when you’re climbing a fourteener. Invest in lightweight, compact gear that won’t weigh you down. Not only will this save you energy, but it can also save you money in the long run as you won’t need to replace heavy, bulky gear as often. Remember, the lighter your pack, the easier your journey. It’s not just about packing light but packing smart, ensuring you have all the essentials without the extra weight.

7. Use Trekking Poles: Trekking poles are more than just a hiking accessory, they can be your lifeline on the trail. They can help save your knees on the descent and give you an extra push on the ascent. They’re also relatively inexpensive compared to other hiking gear, making them a smart investment for any hiker. With each step, they’ll help distribute your weight, making your hike more comfortable and efficient. They also improve your balance on tricky terrains, reducing the risk of falls and injuries.

8. Invest in a Quality Hydration Pack: Staying hydrated on the trail is crucial, and a quality hydration pack can make this task much easier. With water easily accessible, you won’t have to stop or slow down to quench your thirst. This keeps your momentum going and helps maintain your energy levels throughout the hike. A good hydration pack is designed to distribute the weight evenly, so it doesn’t put strain on any particular part of your body, making your hike more comfortable.

9. Bring High-Energy Snacks: Fuel your body with high-energy snacks like nuts, dried fruit, and energy bars. They’re small, light, and packed with nutrients – perfect for a long, strenuous hike. They provide a quick and easy energy boost when you need it most, without weighing you down. When your energy starts to flag, a handful of these snacks can give you the push you need to keep going. They also help keep your blood sugar levels steady, preventing energy crashes and mood swings.

10. Practice Altitude Acclimation: High altitudes can be challenging if you’re not used to them. The thin air can make it difficult to breathe and can quickly drain your energy. Spend some time at high altitude before your hike to get your body used to the thinner air. This is crucial in determining the success of your hike, and can make the difference between reaching the summit and turning back. It’s not just about physical acclimation, but also about understanding how your body responds to high altitudes, so you can better manage the symptoms of altitude sickness if they arise.

11. Choose the Right Route: Picking the wisest route is just as important as having the right gear. Some routes are more time-efficient than others, and the last thing you want is to waste time and energy on an inefficient route. Research your route ahead of time to make sure it’s the best one for you. It can save you time, effort, and potentially, a lot of frustration. The right route will match your skill level and fitness, ensuring you enjoy the hike rather than just endure it.

12. Only use GPS for Backup: Keeping track of your progress and staying on the right path can be challenging, especially when you’re high up in the mountains. A GPS tracker may seem like the solution, but studies show that relying too much on GPS actually makes you worse at navigating without it. Bring a route map and compass and rely on it first to strengthen your navigation and route-finding skills. Bring a GPS, but only use it as a backup when you are not sure of your location with just a map.

13. Pack a Portable Charger: Your phone’s battery can drain quickly when searching for a signal, and you don’t want to be left stranded without a means of communication. A portable charger can be your savior in such situations. It’s a small investment that can make a big difference, so make sure to pack one in your bag before you hit the trail. It’s not just about keeping your phone charged, but also ensuring your other electronic devices like your GPS tracker or headlamp have enough juice to last the hike.

Colorado 14er Tips for Safe and Successful Ascents: Now You Know!

The 14ers of Colorado are rugged and unforgiving. If you are not careful, they can take a lot from you. However, with the gear, skills, and best practices, you can significantly increase your margin for error and boost your odds of reaching the summit.

Are you climbing any fourteeners this summer? If so, share your experiences with the community and leave a tip or best practice you’ve learned in a comment below. We’d love to hear your strategy and tactics for climbing 14ers. Safe travels on the trails!

Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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Become a subscriber to download my free 14er planner. It lists all 58 peaks in the perfect climbing order. Get it now & start planning!