How to Hike a Colorado 14er |

How to Hike a Colorado 14er

14er (noun): a mountain peak reaching 14,000 feet or more in elevation. By now you’ve heard of the popular Colorado pastime

of trekking up one of the state’s 54 “14ers” — mountains that eclipse 14,000 feet in elevation. In recent years, more and more daring and intrepid people have tried their hand, to notable success, at besting these local geographical wonders.

For those interested in attempting this formidable, but attainable, undertaking here’s a beginner’s guide to enjoying and knocking off the state’s gorgeous peaks.

1 Pick your peak

Now that you have decided you want the glory, the struggle and the windy peak selfies that come with conquering your first 14er, you’ll need to decide which mountain you are actually going to attempt.

The most straightforward 14ers are commonly referred to as “walk-ups” because they require no specific skills besides just handling the altitude gain and strolling up a well-maintained and obvious dirt path. These trails are ranked Class 1 or 2 (of 5) and generally considered “easy.”

Quandary Peak (14,265’) is the lone 14,000-foot member of the Tenmile Range, and not far from Breckenridge. While there is a bit of a sharp incline toward the final ascent coupled with a noticeable total elevation gain of 3,450 feet, it’s a short Class 1, 6.75-mile round-trip with a very clear-cut trail on the standard East Ridge route. For the most part, it’s a casual, satisfying day trip where running into some friendly mountain goats who are used to seeing people is a frequent and fun experience.

2 Get an early start

Hiking 14ers is an early bird-type activity. If you plan to summit, rather than just hike up to tree line (ordinarily around 12,000 feet), it is essential that you beat the all-too-common afternoon thunderstorms and the accompanying lightning. Plan to have summited by 11 a.m.-ish and be back below tree line — where there are objects taller than you in case of lightning — by the noon hour. Hiking 14ers is fun, but it’s not worth your life. Be smart, friends.

3 Stick to the path

Aside from doing your research and bringing a printout of the route before arriving to the trailhead, the path will be fairly distinguishable. Rock piles, known as cairns, act as markers to keep you on trail. Should you still get lost, there will no doubt be other hikers out, and giving a friendly hello as well as asking for directions (or following behind) is totally acceptable. When in doubt, you can always retrace your steps to the most recent cairn or point of reference and try to relocate the path. Note: It is never a good idea to “just hike up” or “just go straight down,” as this often does not lead to a peak’s summit or trailhead, nor does it help avoid additional human impact with off-trail erosion and protecting nearby wildlife habitat.

4 Pack smart

Before you begin, you’ll want to lather up with sunblock, wear sturdy, comfortable shoes and have plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Between 2.2 and 3 liters, or approximately 75 to 100 ounces, of water per day is suggested, depending on amount of exertion and your physical size.

A hat, gloves and sunglasses are nice additions, and bring plenty of layers of clothing because you’ll likely end up adding and shedding clothes throughout the day. Unforeseen changes in weather are customary, even potential snow in July, so a thermal as a base is comfy and an outer, water-resistant shell can be fairly crucial.

Don’t forget the snacks, if not a full lunch, for when you reach the apex. A little toilet paper isn’t a bad idea because you never know when nature might call, and some survival odds and ends like a pocketknife, matches and a first-aid kit are also generally recommended.

Last, bring a friend. Hiking is pleasurable regardless, but better to play it safe with a hiking buddy, plus introducing another human to the fulfillment of the outdoors should be an objective anyway.

5 Don’t slack on the downhill

First, don’t get lost. Things tend to look quite different on the way down than they did going up and exhaustion can allow confusion and doubt to take hold. Following the trail and the same directional cues that were mentioned earlier should ensure one does not lose the way.

Rocks tend to be a bit

more slippery on the downslope. Keep knees bent and consider your steps when encountering scree (areas of loose, small rocks) and boulder fields. A good hiking pole can help prevent a spill or twisted ankle.

Congratulations! You’re hooked.

Once you’ve checked off your first 14er — a mental hurdle as much as a physical one — you’ll be well on your way to planning future excursions and unable to prevent the habit-forming experience from becoming a total addiction. With each peak accomplished on your list, you’ll come to more fully appreciate the words of the late, great Kiwi Sir Edmund Hillary, who of course was the first confirmed climber to stand atop Everest, when he postulated, “It is not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves.”

A version of this article originally appeared at

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