It is my favorite time of year. The mountains certainly beckon with their snow-smeared peaks, budding wildflowers, and green alpine grasses. Alpine lakes still have that glacial coolness about them. Life flourishes. However, slogging up to the top of a mountain is easier said than done. Whether you’re a seasoned vet or a mountaineering virgin, these five tips for climbing a 14er will keep you on track.
Number One Tip for Climbing a 14er – Have a Plan
Climbing mountains is dangerous – even the “easier” ones (read: there are no easy ones). Most accidents happen because someone, somehow deviated from the plan. Agree on where you are going, what route you are taking, and what your time frame looks like. Assign an emergency contact and send them your trip plan.
Read up on conditions, past trip reports, and weather before you go. Is there anything particularly challenging about this route that you should be aware of? What is your level of comfort? What points along the route are your options to bail should things go badly? Do you have a Plan B? Discuss these things with the members of your group before heading out.
If it helps, write it down. There’s nothing to be ashamed of by having a written trip plan. Do you think people climb big mountains without having a written trip plan? No, they don’t. In fact, trip plans are fairly commonplace in the mountains, even on easier terrain. They help you stay organized as well as ensure everyone is on the same page. Google Docs makes it really helpful to organize a trip plan and have the whole group weigh in.
Psst…Looking for a 14er packing list? Be prepared with these 14er essentials perfect for any mountain.
Don’t Be a Couch Mountaineer – Set Realistic Expectations
I’ll admit it, I can be a fabulous couch mountaineer. Routes look a lot easier online than they actually are. It’s easy to say “Oh, that’s going to be easy” from the comfort of your couch. I’ve got some news: climbing a mountain is never easy, even if you’re well seasoned, it’s still challenging. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of doing it. Just choose wisely.
It doesn’t matter if it’s your fourth or four hundredth time on the mountain, it’s always important to make sure you understand the challenges of the route you choose. Use sources like 14ers.com and Summit Post to their full capacity. However, take the information with a grain of salt.
For example, 14ers.com is an excellent resource when planning your 14er or 13er route. However, the 15 photos they show you of the route don’t really give you a sense of what seven miles to the top of a 14,000′ peak really feels like. In order to understand that, you simply have to go. Let experience be your guide, and if you don’t have any (don’t worry), check out these fabulous 14 climbs for your first climb.
Be aware of your abilities within each season. For example, I can easily do 15 miles over rough terrain in the summer. However, in winter my routes are between six to eight miles. If you are going to up the difficulty of a route, say going from a class II to a class III climb, try picking a route with lower mileage than what you are used to. Setting realistic goals will help increase your chances of reaching the summit.
Love climbing 14ers? Then you’ll love the thrill of Colorado’s 13ers. Check out a few of my favs, right near Denver!
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You are Going to Hate It – Push Through
I have yet to be on a mountain and wonder why I put myself through such intense physical stress. Sometimes those thoughts are passing, and sometimes they gnaw at me the entire route. If you’re not questioning why you like to wake up at an ungodly hour to subject yourself to intense physical torture at high altitudes, then you aren’t doing it right.
If it’s your first time on the mountain and you have those thoughts, then congrats! You’ve officially joined the club. We all think about it and it’s totally normal. The point is to push through that mental barrier. Set small goals 20 feet away, count, or sing. Distract your mind from its own doubt and you’ll be amazed how far you can go. Of course, don’t ignore safety, but be prepared for the mental challenge as much as the physical one.
Consider Leaving Fido at Home
As much as I love my 4-legged adventure pal, I keep my dog off anything above a class I climb. Her older age aside, she’s cut up far too many paws, and ripped off too many claws for me to justify bringing her up a mountain anymore. The sharp and odd-shaped rocks really make it hell for your pet.
A couple of weekends ago I bumped into two girls and a dog along the trail. They asked me if I thought their dog could do a class III ridge. This is what can happen if you take your dog on a class III ridge. The owner lost the dog and faced criminal charges for his actions. I bit my tongue pretty hard and simply told her absolutely not. Even if your dog lives, breathes, and dies to be in the mountains, it’s simply not worth risking their safety or yours.
Not Reaching the Summit is OK
Ed Viesturs, the first American to summit all 14 eight thousand meter peaks without supplemental oxygen puts it in simple terms, “Getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory.” Don’t ever compromise your safety or the safety of the group in the name of a summit.
Aside from that, you may fail to reach the top, and that’s ok. The first time I attempted a 14er I didn’t make it to the top either. The point is to get out there and try. Just because you don’t reach the top, doesn’t mean you failed. The summit is the bonus, take a moment and look around you. See where you are. Chances are it’s absolutely stunning. Are you out with your friends? Enjoy that time with them. Are you solo? Connect with you and your environment.
Take the pressure off of yourself and simply enjoy being in the mountains. The point of climbing a mountain is to challenge yourself and enjoy your surroundings. Just because you don’t make it to the top doesn’t mean you fail. There is only one way to fail in the mountains and that’s to not make it home.
Bogged down by summit fever? Here’s a few other things to focus on than just the top.
Get Out There and Try!
There are endless resources out there to help you prepare to climb a 14er or 13er. I wouldn’t take this guide as the be all end all. If you are not familiar with climbing mountains I highly encourage you to Google around for information on safety and what to bring with you. Other than that, get out there and rock it!
Looking for more? Check out these fantastic mountaineering tips!
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- First timer’s tips for climbing a mountain.
- Never climb a moutain without practicing Leave No Trace.