14ers: Your guide to getting started
VAIL CO, Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY – Looking to hike your first peaks this summer?
Maybe you’ve driven past the road markers pointing toward the peaks in the distance. Maybe you’re tired of your friends yammering on about their last backpacking trip. Maybe it’s just time to try one – it might just lead to a whole new obsession.
“People talk about it and you think, ‘I gotta go do that,'” said Avon resident and mountaineer Evan Johnson. “Then after you climb a couple, you’re like, ‘How could I not do this?’ There’s nothing like the feeling of just standing at the top of one of the highest peaks in the continental U.S., and seeing for miles around.”
According to Johnson, one of the best ways to start is to go with more experienced hikers. He said he began hiking “14ers,” or peaks with an elevation higher than 14,000 feet, last summer with a group of ski mountaineers.
The group climbed Snowmass in Aspen, hiking up and skiing down – it didn’t take Johnson long to get hooked.
“I was really nervous the whole time because I’d never hiked with skis, and I’d just started skiing a few months before,” he said. “Also, there were some sticky situations I wasn’t used to, like when we were scrambling over dirt, or climbing over boulders bigger than me, but it ended up being one of the best experiences.”
In fact, Kim Siedlaczek of Edwards said she has met some of her closest friends while hiking 14ers.
“I’ve taken people of all abilities, and it’s a great way to get to know someone,” she said.
So you’re going – what do you bring?
Eric Alexander, an Eagle-Vail based climber who has summited mountains around the world, said one of the most common mistakes is going out on a hike unprepared. Even the most in shape of hikers can get into trouble on an excursion without proper equipment or without being sure of their route, he said.
Water and extra water is always an essential, as well as a good pair of hiking boots, he said.
On a day hike or other short trip, his “10 essential items” include a map, compass, headlamp, food, extra layer, sunglasses, first-aid kit, knife, lighter or matches and a fire-starter (such as a cotton-ball soaked in Vaseline). As extras, he also packs a small .99 cent poncho, a reflective blanket the size of a deck of cards, a hat, light-weight glove liners, and iodine tabs for water purification.
Johnson said he finds it better to over pack than under pack, and to make sure to bring clothes for every kind of weather.
“It’s Colorado, so you can expect any kind of conditions,” he said. “Our first 14er this year was Mt. Princeton in June. I remember in Avon it was cold when we started out at 5 a.m. We got to Leadville and it was snowing. We got to the trailhead and it was just coming down for the first hour and a half of the hike. But then it cleared up and ended up being a great day.”
If ascending a peak sounds daunting, most hikers will assure you that anyone can do it.
Siedlazcek said that if someone is active and already acclimated to high elevation, no special training is needed to hike most peaks. She aims to do all the 14ers in Colorado, and hikes at least a few per month beginning in June. She doesn’t do too much “training,” she said, and usually is ready to do some 14ers after coming from a winter of snowboarding, snowshoeing and some shorter spring hikes.
“If you start early and on a good day, anyone can do it,” she said. “With any hike, it’s one step at a time. I know it can look intimidating because it’s a big mountain, but the truth is that your body can accomplish more than you realize.”
Aside from being mentally and physically prepared, experienced hikers will tell you that you should know your route. Guidebooks and fourteener Web sites (try http://www.14ers.com) can give you detailed descriptions, conditions and class ratings for the peaks. Peaks are classified class I (being the easiest) through class V (being the most technical or difficult).
Johnson said it’s also important to check the weather the day before and the morning that you leave. If there’s a chance of storms later in the day, plan to be off the mountain before the afternoon, even if it means not summiting, Johnson said.
Regardless of the route, the peak or how long it takes to summit, mountaineers will tell you that it’s all about the challenge.
“Fourteeners can get you out in a variety of ways, whether it’s pushing your boundaries, challenging you physically or as a way to meet other people,” Alexander said. “I really encourage anyone who’s interested to just go out and try it.”
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