Mountaineering in Colorado can be very dangerous, and many people have died on the 14ers. Weather, terrain, and other people can put you in a situation where your knowledge and experience will be vital. If you are new to these peaks, I urge you to pick up a book on mountaineering safety and make sure your basic navigation skills (map+compass, not only GPS) are up-to-par and you can rely on them in a tough situation.
Just because a crowd of people can march to the summit of Quandary Peak on a summer Saturday, it doesn't mean they are all safe. Altitude sickness, dehydration, and fast-building storms are the most common problems. So, do your homework, pack accordingly, pick the right day and partners and know when to turn around if things get ugly. Be safe out there!
Preparing for the Trip
- Consider taking a mountaineering class. If you don’t want to take a class, travel with experienced hikers. General mountaineering classes are offered throughout the country and at the Colorado Mountain Club - http://www.cmc.org.
- Make sure you are in the proper physical conditioning to make the trip.
- Travel with experienced people.
- Acquire the appropriate maps.
- Plan for an early start - especially in thunderstorm season. I usually plan for a start early enough to get me below tree line by noon (on the descent). For a day hike that requires 10 - 15 miles roundtrip, consider hitting the trail a couple of hours before sunrise.
- Check with the local U.S. Forest Service for road closures and trailhead information.
- Bring a compass and/or GPS and know how to use them.
- Tell someone the following:
- When you are leaving
- Where you are staying/camping
- When and where you are hiking
- When you plan to return
- Check the weather forecast and change the day of the trip if the weather is not going to cooperate.
- Research the route (maps and other descriptions) thoroughly so you know a lot about the terrain and landmarks before you even get there. Studying topo maps can really help.
- For winter travel, check with local resources on the current avalanche danger. Pack the necessary gear for avalanche safety.
- Buy a book on mountaineering that covers altitude sickness. It is a common problem on 14ers - especially for people that come from much lower elevations.
- Know when to spot the symptoms (in you and your partners).
- Turn back if necessary. The best remedy is to get to lower elevation ASAP.
Bring the Proper Gear and Supplies
Unless you are planning a roped, technical climb, the following list includes most of the gear you'll need:
- Water (plenty of water)
- Synthetic shirts
- Synthetic long underwear
- Fleece or Wind-Block jacket
- Waterproof shell/jacket
- Nylon shorts
- Hiking pants
- Hiking boots / scrambling shoes
- Hiking socks
- Pack (that fits the hike/climb)
- Knife or multi-tool
- Water bladder or bottles
- 30spf+ sunscreen
- TP (in ziploc bag)
- Trash Bag
- Cell phone
- Extra batteries
- Emergency supplies, including a first aid kit
- SPOT or other personal locator device
- Climbing helmet
- Optional: Trekking poles
- Optional: Water filter
- Optional: Satellite Phone (expensive but extremely valuable in an emergency)
Colder Weather and Snow Climbing:
- Waterproof shell
- Waterproof pants
- Mountaineering boots
- Mountain axe
- Gaiters (ankle or knee-high)
- Winter hat
- Ski goggles
- Balaclava or fleece face mask
- Avalanche beacons
- Avalanche probe
Gear for Overnight Summer Trips:
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Pack cover
- Waterproof bag/sack to hang food in tree
- Small rope to hang food
- Water filter
- Paper towels
Backcountry Ski Gear:
- AT/Tele skis / bindings
- AT/Tele boots
- Ski poles
- Climbing skins
- Climbing skin wax
Know Your Limitations
- Get in shape in the off-season. Even the easiest 14er routes require proper conditioning.
- Not everyone is fit enough for every hike. Understand when your body is telling you to turn back.
- Make sure you have the proper skills to tackle the route. Many 14er routes can turn from easy hiking to technical climbing in a hurry.
- Make sure all of the people in your group have the proper skills for the route.
- Turn back if necessary.
- Skiing/boarding a 14er is much different than visiting the ski area. It takes a certain set of skills to climb and ski in the backcountry and terrain can be steep, dangerous, and difficult to ski. On many routes, a fall could be fatal.
- Start early.
- If you are going to travel in winter, learn about avalanche safety. In winter, avalanche danger is always present. Click Here for the Colorado Avalanche Info Center
- Pay attention at all times. The altitude may impair your judgment, so it is very important to stay alert.
- Keep a safe distance from other hikers.
- Travel quietly.
- If you are climbing a steep slope or gully, be careful not to send debris down on other climbers.
- Watch for animals - cougars, bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots, deer, elk, and more...
- Don’t wander off into the wilderness. If you get hurt, you may never be found.
- Frozen lakes are not always safe.
- Bring a cell phone or satellite phone.
- Drink plenty of water.
Watch the Weather
Safety is always more important than peak bagging!
- Pick up a book on weather so you know how to "read" the sky and predict weather as best as possible.
- Check the weather forecast the night before your trip.
- Dark, brewing clouds are bad.
- During summer, lightning is your main problem on a 14er. Start early and turn back if a thunderstorm is brewing.
- A barometer is very helpful. Many new GPS units or hand-held weather stations will give you barometric information. Rapidly dropping barometric pressure is usually a sign of adverse weather to come.