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You CAN conquer a 14er and this is how!

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For many Colorado natives and recent transplants alike, the achievement of summiting one of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks is (or should be) a bucketlist item. 

There is no parallel feeling than standing atop of a peak, with the world on folding before you. 

However, year after year unprepared hikers attempt to summit with sometimes disastrous results: Injury, getting caught in dangerous weather conditions, being unprepared for the terrain, elements or altitude or some find they are simply unfit for the endeavor. 

On that note, it can be challenging to find the time to train, especially for busy parents.  However, we like to think of it this way: people train for a 5k, 10k or triathlon. Compared to these events, a 14er might as well be Mount Everest.  

Besides the obvious oxygen deprivation and greater cardiovascular demands, there are many more challenges to hiking a 14er that make it worth spending the time to actually train for this “event” to make it not only safer but more enjoyable too. 

So here are some basic tips to help you prepare you for your first 14er summit:

Practice Makes Perfect

Make sure to fit in some training hikes on terrain and at elevations that will mimic your 14er summit. We recommend hikes that include steep inclines, technical terrain, boulder or rock fields, and sections with scree (areas with loose small rocks and dirt).  You are going to be much better off on your summit hike if you actually practice on this stuff and learn how to manage it in a controlled environment. Plan several hikes at higher altitudes so you can see how your body reacts.  Some people do fine at high altitude but others can get very sick.  It is important that you exposure your body and allow it to adapt so that you can enjoy your hike and learn to minimize the effects of altitude sickness. Check out my post with recommended local training hikes here!

How to work on balance and full body strength

At certain points during your 14er summit you will literally be scrambling up large boulders and hopping from rock to rock.  Towards the top of the summit there is rarely a “trail,” just a big rocky boulder field that you must navigate following the cairns (or piles of rocks that act as official trail markers). Working on your balance will help you to be more stable during this section thus reducing your risk for a fall or injury.
You will need not only strong lungs and legs but working on upper body strength will be useful when you are needing to use your arms to literally climb up those large boulders or lower yourself down on the descent. By working on your fitness you will be more confident on the hike which will help you to summit and descend more quickly (more on this below)

Know the basics!

Make sure you are prepared for summit day by dressing and packing properly. You wouldn’t believe how many people I’ve seen starting their hike at 12 p.m. in jeans, flip flops and with no supplies.

Some basic considerations:

  • Start early (like 6 a.m. or earlier) to give yourself plenty of time. Hiking a 14er is not a race however you will need to start your descent by noon at the absolute latest to avoid the severe thunderstorms that typically roll in mid day.
  •  Wear proper attire (hiking boots or trail running shoes with good traction), layers including a water proof jacket and pack extra layers, hat, gloves, socks, etc.
  • Pack plenty of water! Like multiple litters. Your body needs more H2O at higher elevations and being properly hydrated can help prevent altitude sickness. Ideally you’ve done some training hikes with a pack to practice and strength your body for carrying extra weight.

There is much more that goes into planning, training and summiting a 14,000 foot peak and many great resources out there.  We recommend you take the time to do some research, learn about what you need, the route and check weather conditions before your summit. is a great website for this. If you want to bring your kids along, there are other important considerations so don’t miss Amber’s article, My Daughter’s First 14er: A Beginner’s Guide to Climbing Colorado’s Rooftop

Most of all, remember to take in the epic views, lots of pictures, smile and appreciate the beauty of this amazing state of ours. 

Lauren Jones is the mom of 2 amazing boys, has her degree in exercise science, is a seasoned stroller runner, trail runner, competitive obstacle course racer and has summited over thirty Colorado 14ers.  She is founder of the website Life’s 2 Short Fitness which organizes outdoors adventures and training programs for Colorado women! Check out her 14er training program and Women’s beginner trail running clinics starting soon in Denver.  
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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson June 2, 2017

    Every single time I do a 14er, I vow “never again” en route but then I always return. The altitude definitely knocks your socks off but these are some awesome tips! My recommendation for first-times is to do Sherman or Bierdstadt.

  • comment avatar Jean June 2, 2017

    I’ve always wanted to climb a 14er but am too nervous. Wondering if your training program involves hikes to see if you’re ready?