This time of year is perfect for heading to the mountains, escaping the heat of the Grand Valley and enjoying a change of scenery. There are several ways to get out and enjoy the mountain life that Colorado has to offer, and one that many natives are particularly fond of is to make it to the summit of one of the 54 Colorado “14ers.”
A 14er, by definition, is a mountain where the peak or summit sits above 14,000 feet in elevation. Colorado boasts home to 57 peaks that rise above 14,000 feet, however only 54 count on technicality because the saddle between two peaks does not drop down far enough to officially classify as a 14er.
If you have made it that high on one summit and can make if across the ridge to the top of another, though, most people would say you bagged yourself two peaks in one day. The highest Colorado peak is Mt. Elbert at 14,433 ft. It is one of the longest hikes but also considered one of the easiest on account of technical skills required. While it is a goal of many Coloradans to climb all the 14ers, it is most definitely not a walk in Riverbend Park; reaching any summit is a challenge, but in the end the work is well worth it as you look across to neighboring mountain ranges, taking in the views and that brisk fresh Colorado air.
In preparation to climb a 14er, first visit www.14ers.com a website devoted to educating outdoor enthusiasts about each one of the peaks. The peaks are listed according to the mountain range they reside in, but as you toggle through the website you will also find you can have them listed by technical difficulty, in which they are ranked from class 1 (mostly hiking, minimal exposure) up to class 5 (very technical, not for the faint at heart, and should have rope climbing experience).
Browse through the peaks and look at the region of the state, level of difficulty, round trip length, routes that can be taken to reach the summit, and the travel directions to the trail head. Some peaks have long routes that are less technical because the trail is gradual, rather than straight up through a traverse or rocky chute.
The website also allows for individuals to create trip reports, and reading recent posts can also be beneficial in the planning process. Some of the best peaks to start off with include Mt Sherman, rich in mining history, located 10 miles from Fairplay, CO. Although listed as a class 2 climb, it is a short 5.25 round trip gradual hike to the top. Once you reach 300 feet from the summit, there is some scrambling over large boulders, but there is very little exposure. Another great one for first timers is Quandary Peak, located just outside Breckenridge. The trail head is right next to a paved road, perfect for any vehicle to travel too.
Be prepared for an adventure
As mentioned, 14ers are challenging, so it is important to prepare in advance, which will make the journey much more enjoyable. Here are some tips: Wear light weight cloths that dry quickly, avoiding cotton whenever possible. Pack a rain jacket, and it is best to have one that compacts small so as not to take a lot of space in your pack. Use wool socks. If they get wet, they dry quickly. It is important to take an extra pair in case you get soaked in a downpour or creek crossing. Make sure your pack is the right fit for your body, too big of a pack can weigh down on the hips and shoulders, leading to quicker fatigue. Sturdy, but comfortable hiking shoes are a must. Never wear brand new shoes on a long climb, you will have blisters and likely give up long before reaching the top.
Always pack at least 2 liters of water. A camel pack and hose make for easiest access to water. It is important to drink 1-2 ounces every 15- 20 minutes to ensure proper hydration. Drink even if you do not feel thirsty, because high altitude can wipe you out quickly. Sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses are must-haves. Apply sunscreen multiple times. Hiking poles can be beneficial, and make it much easier on the descent down over those larger than leg length steps.
Food is important! You burn lots of calories, so pack high energy snacks. If backpacking and staying overnight, dehydrated meals are perfect because they are lightweight, require only boiling water, and are high in sodium and potassium, two things your body needs a lot of at this level of exertion. Preferred snacks include trail mix, almonds, beef jerky, fruit leather or dried fruit, squeeze fruit pouches (my favorites are the mango and apple), hard candy, tuna kits, string cheese, granola bars and PB & J.
Most trails have a mountain stream flowing, and it can be helpful to invest in a water purifier in case you run out of water. Also, if you take your pups along be sure to pack enough water for them as well unless you know for certain there are plenty of places to get water along the trail.
Print the trail description and map from the website before you go, just in case you find yourself lost. Most trails are easy to see and marked with trail markers or stacked rocks. Some are difficult to navigate and have multiple forks, but the trail descriptions are accurate in which direction to turn.
Another important thing to consider is the weather. Most afternoons in the Colorado mountains include light showers and scattered thunder storms. It is best to start from the trail head early in the morning, possibly just before sun up so you can assure you can take your time getting to the top and still be back to the car by 1 p.m. Many peak baggers will car camp at the trail head and get started up the trail around 4 a.m. with head lamps. 14ers are popular adventures, so it is rare that you will be out there all alone, and the core group of hikers tend to begin around 6 a.m. The avid hiker can typically go one mile in 30 minutes, although with increased elevation this might jump up to 45 minutes. Know your own abilities and plan accordingly so you can give yourself enough time to enjoy the scenery, spend some time at the top, and make it back in a safe time before the thunder rolls in. The weather is unpredictable and cannot be controlled! Should you get caught in a lightning storm, it is important to get low to the ground. Scrunch up in a ball and crouch on your toes, this way your whole foot is not grounded should lightning strike close by.
Over the Fourth of July, my husband and I backpacked into the basin of Huron Peak and set up camp around 1 p.m. The temperature was warm and sunny; knowing we only had another 1.5 miles to the top we felt we could easily make it to the top and back down in a few hours. At approximately 800 feet from the top it got windy and began to hail lightly. We looked in all directions and saw the clouds were wispy and still far enough away and we continued onward. Then, 300 feet from the top, we stopped to rest and began to take out our cameras to take a picture of a mountain goat, and all of a sudden a huge bolt of lightning came crashing down. We hunkered down low and began to scramble down as quickly as possible. Every 100 feet we found ourselves crouched down low until it was safe to be upright moving again.
This was not our first time in the elements, but every time this situation arises it is scary. As you prepare for your journey, check out the link on the website for mountain safety and mountaineering tips, they can be very beneficial and help to be better prepared for emergency situations. The journey up Huron Peak was obviously not successful on July 4th, however we made it to our tent safely, although did not get that shot of the mountain goat. We were soaked to the bone, but since we were prepared, we had dry clothes in our tent to change into, as well as 30-below sleeping bags. The next morning we arose at 5:15 a.m., and were headed back up to the summit by 6 a.m.
We hiked that beast twice, and our legs were sore at the end of the day, but we made it and it was well worth it. There is something about being in the Colorado Mountains that is like a drug; no matter the challenge, the beauty and adventure always outweigh the soreness, and leave you wondering what you can conquer next.
Palisade Rec will help get you in shape, and take you hiking
If you feel you need to get in better shape before making your first attempt at a 14er, here are some Palisade Recreation outings and classes that will help you to get in better shape, building up leg and core strength as well as lung capacity.
Join us on Mondays at 7:30 a.m. for a hike on one of the Grand Valley’s many trails. The group will meet at Palisade Town Hall and take a shuttle to the trail head. Hikes are $4 per person, and do not require pre-registration, although recommended to guarantee a seat on the bus. On July 28, we’ll take on the Lost Lake Trail, a 2.5 mile moderate-strenuous hike on the Grand Mesa. August 4, we’ll try the Wrangler Loop, a 4.5 mile moderate hike along a section of the Kokopeli trail system. August 11 will take us to Leftover Lane, a 4 mile moderate loop in Grand Junction on the lunch loop trails, and on August 18, we’ll try out Devil’s Canyon Pot Holes, a 3 mile hike in Fruita. It’s perfect to practice large steps down and over boulders. The Morrow Point Boat Tour is planned for Friday, August 8, when you can join Palisade Rec for a journey to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The tour will include a hike down into the canyon and an interpretive boat tour of the Black Canyon. Registration is $32, and there are only a few spaces left, grab them before they are gone.
Try one of Palisade Rec’s fitness classes, they’re perfect for building balance, enhancing flexibility, and building a stronger core. All classes are held in the Community Center; Core Strength is held on Mondays at 5:30 p.m. and Wednesdays at 9 a.m. Yoga classes meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. and Weights for Life meets on Thursdays at 10 a.m. Join us!