In scouting, we grew up using the slogan a lot: “Be Prepared.” These simple two words encompass a lot philosophically, and even more when thinking about a trek through the Rockies. If you want to truly be prepared to hike a 14er, you must be ready to respond positively to any emergency situation that may arise. This means having the gear, skill and knowledge necessary to actually do something to respond to an emergency, rather than being completely reliant on search and rescue. Here’s my advice, from the perspective of an Eagle Scout and Colorado mountaineer.
Check and Plan for the Weather
The weather in the Rocky Mountains is notoriously fickle year-round. The weather forecast can change rapidly, even the day of your hike. Check the forecast repeatedly leading up to your climb to ensure you know the possibilities, and pack accordingly. Bring layers sufficient to have 1 layer beyond what you expect, and if the forecast is on the margin of your comfort zone, stay home. Don’t forget to factor in wind to your plans, as they will significantly chill you, especially on ridge routes.
First Aid Kit & First Aid Training
While you should definitely bring a first aid kit on your climb, it’s not very helpful if you don’t know how to use it. If you’ve never taken a formal first aid class, you should definitely consider taking one if you plan to do this more than once. Small injuries are nearly inevitable if you spend enough time in the Rockies, especially from minor trips and falls. Even if you are trained, take time to get familiar with your kit while you’re still at home. Make sure you can quickly find what you’d need for a significant injury, and refresh your memory when it comes to the following emergencies which are especially prevalent in the Rockies.
Always Pack the Ten Essentials.
They’re called the ten essentials for a reason – they’re essential for responding positively to emergencies. Self-reliance is often the difference between life and death in an emergency, so equip yourself to be able to act when you need to. The Ten Essentials for Mountaineering include:
- Navigation: Map, altimeter, compass, [GPS device], [PLB or satellite communicators], [extra batteries or battery pack]
- Headlamp: Plus extra batteries
- Sun protection: Sunglasses, sun-protective clothes, and sunscreen
- First aid: Including foot care and insect repellent (if required)
- Knife: Plus repair kit
- Fire: Matches, lighter and tinder, or stove as appropriate
- Shelter: Carried at all times (can be light emergency bivy)
- Extra food: Beyond minimum expectation
- Extra water: Beyond minimum expectation, or the means to purify
- Extra clothes: Beyond minimum expectation
Pre-Read the Route & Bring a Good Map
Too often, groups of friends head out to climb a 14er without ever taking time to review the route or trail map. Taking time to review both the route, and the surrounding geography, is key to staying on route on many 14er trails. Many routes are hard to follow due to numerous social trails that weave off the main trail. If you aren’t careful and have an idea of where you should be, it’s easy to get off-route. Even if you don’t get lost, you cause unnecessary environmental impact. Leave no trace: Plan ahead, and bring a map!
Leave your Plans with a Dependable Friend
Always assume that despite your best preparation and intentions, something may go wrong. Write up your plans with detail and send or leave them with a dependable friend or family member. Be sure to give them the following so that if the worst occurs, things move swiftly:
- Leave where you’re climbing, the route or trail you’re taking, the time you start and expect to return home.
- Leave details like who is in the group, what color coats you’re wearing, and your vehicle information.
- Give them the number for the Sheriff’s Department in the area you’ll be climbing – they usually can start search and rescue operations more quickly than local 911 operators.
- Give them a hard-cutoff time: When they should call for help. Leave time for running behind… but not too much time, no more than 4-5 hour buffer.