Prepping For Your First 14er Hike
Hiking 14ers is a very rewarding experience that’s on most hiker’s bucket list! A 14er is a mountain that’s above 14,000 feet.
You’re pushing your body to new limits, you’re climbing high, and there are quite a few of them so you can really turn peak-bagging into your own personal sport for the coming seasons. There are 96 14ers in the US. The majority of them are in Alaska, Colorado, and California.
Pick One That Matches Your Skill Level
There are so many different 14ers to pick from that match your current skill level. There are 14ers that can be done as a day hike or 14ers that can be done on a weekend backpacking trip like Mt. Whitney (which is the highest point in the lower 48 states), or there are 14ers where you can really test your skills and mountaineer to the top.
During the first phase, do your research and find a 14er that matches what you’re comfortable with doing.
Train Your Body
Yes, you pick a 14er that matches your current level, but you still need to train for it. Even the ones that can be done as a long day hike.
Training will help strengthen your body so you’re physically prepared to handle the terrain, which makes the hike far more enjoyable. Strengthening your body also helps prevent injury. A common mistake I see among hikers is relying on gear to get you up the mountain. If you have knee pain, relying on things like Advil or knee braces. Or on your hiking boots to prevent foot pain.
Your body needs to be in a position to care for itself.
Training also helps your body utilize oxygen more efficiently, which only helps you at altitude!
Get the Right Gear
You need to be prepared with layers and the right gear to be comfortable and keep you safe on the mountain. On 14ers, the weather can change at any time, so you want to make sure you bring layers. I’ve had it hail on me in August! There’s also a good chance of it being cold and windy on the summit.
Acclimate Acclimate Acclimate
Altitude sickness is so common on 14ers. I mean, you’re at 14,000 feet! There is far less oxygen than where most of us live.
The most important thing to remember is that you need to take time to acclimate. Altitude sickness can go wrong very quickly and can lead to death, so this is not something you want to mess around with. So you need to take a few days before your hike to acclimate. For more on altitude sickness, read through this blog post.
Hydrate Early and Often
Hydration helps prevent altitude sickness and helps your body function better when you’re physically exerting yourself on your 14er hike. So make sure to hydrate before your big hike, and during!
I know a lot of hikers try to save pack weight and food and water are the first place they usually try to cut weight, but you need both for your body to perform optimally and to feel your best.
You need to fuel your body on strenuous trails.
Make sure to have a good dinner the night before your big hike. This way you will replenish your energy reserves so you’ll be ready to go in the morning. Make sure you’re also making nutritious choices before your hike.
If you have time in the morning, eat a good breakfast full of carbs to help fuel you. Then during your big hike make sure to fuel your body! Generally you want to be at least snacking every hour to keep your energy levels high.
Take Care Of Your Feet
Your feet are responsible for getting you up the mountain! They’re also often neglected by hikers. So make sure you’re doing your part to wear correct footwear, prevent blisters, and stretch your feet. Read through this blog post to fully understand how to care for your feet.
Have a Turn Around Time
As a rule to follow, you need to be off of high mountain passes and peaks. Really anything about 11,000 feet or higher, by 11am to 1pm, so you don’t get stuck up there during a storm.
Be Prepared For Changing Weather
This goes back to the two earlier points. The weather at the top of a 14er will be much colder then when you started. Also, it can rain or hail at anytime. I’ve had it rain on me several times on 14ers and snow once. So whether you’re day hiking or backpacking, make sure you bring the right clothing with you so you’re prepared for when it’s in the 70s and 80s when you start, and for when it’s 30 with a windchill at the top.
Always check the weather before heading out so you’re prepared. When checking the weather, make sure to check the weather for the different altitudes too. I like using Mountain Forecast for that. It shows you what the temperature is at different elevations, the wind speed and direction, and if rain or snow is predicted.
Since you need to be off the mountain by early afternoon at the latest, you’re going to want to start hiking early! Often times, even in the dark.
Depending on the length of the hike, you might start as early as 2am. I know this seems ridiculous to start that early, but if you’re planning on summiting for sunrise, that’s just what you gotta do. Even if you’re not planning to summit for sunrise, you’re going to want to make sure you make it to the summit by mid-morning at the latest.
This way, you’re also hiking with the sun instead of against it. I personally would rather start in the dark any day then still be hiking knowing the sun is coming up and you’re still fresh and have the whole day ahead, instead of hiking after dark when you’re exhausted and the day is over.