Its 14er Season! Five Things to Make Climbing a 14er Happen
That’s right, the snow is finally mostly melted and even hiking novices can venture up those rocky monsters we can see miles and miles away from the Front Range. (Well, I guess you can’t see them from Boulder proper, but it’s cause we’re too close- which is all the better).
Fourteener season can be super short. You never know how early that first massive snow storm is going to hit. The fourteeners are mostly all open all year, however sometimes the roads will be closed. Snow and ice are a constant for most of the year and require more gear (crampons, snowshoes, water proof layers, and perhaps even an ice axe). So if you want to pleasure of walking through grassy alpine flowers and rocky crags where pikas come out to look at you, all while wearing just shorts, boots, and a rain jacket- you should hike in July, August, or early September.
With the recent disaster up on Bierstadt, people are hopefully going out there more prepared. However I met a woman last week at Mt. Democrat who had said “what thunderstorms?” to which I replied “You know, the ones that happen almost every afternoon during the summer in the mountains…”
Here’s what you need to do to get out there!
1. Plan- Well duh. But even if you’re hiking with people who are super experienced and plan to guide you through, you should look at the route and mountains for yourself. It’s better to know what you’re about to wake up at 4:30 to do. Check out the 14ers website. It has everything! You will likely want to consider:
- How to get there
- What vehicle to take (most roads to 14ers require a high-clearance vehicle)
- Your route
- The length of the route and time requirements
- Gear required
- Previous recent accounts of the trail conditions
I really like reading the recent accounts- they can be very helpful as the National Forest Service does not have enough employees to check each of the fourteener trails even annually. Do not rely on their website, other than finding camping perhaps.
2. Thunderstorms- Know that these will happen. Maybe you will luck out and they won’t happen the day you go, but you do not want to be the tallest thing on the mountain when lightening begins to strike. Usually it is a good estimate to say as long as you’re back at the trailhead at noon you’re safe. However in the recent Bierstadt incident, the storm began at 11. Pay close attention to weather predictions (not of a nearby town, but on the actual mountain). The best you can do is start very early, 5 to 6 works well. Even if you usually sleep until 12 on Saturdays, this is a special occasion- you’re about to climb a giant mountain and literally be on top of America. You can sleep tomorrow.
3. Camp- If the mountain you’re climbing has camping around it (which most do), than be easy on yourself and drive up the night before to camp. It’s probably going to be close to a 2 hour drive from Boulder to any of the Fourteeners and waking up at 3 does not sound like fun to me. Make it into a real trip and camp! The trailheads are usually beautiful and amazing spots as well. Heck some people camp on top of 14er themselves and wake up to the sunrise. Best of all, you will be able to get a parking spot and beat the crowds.
4. The Right Gear- While it may be in the 90’s in Boulder– it’ll be cool and crisp on your 14er. I recommend boots with ankle support, wearing lots of light layers, bringing a raincoat/windbreaker to help stop the wind from going straight to your bones, good cushy socks, a warm hat, and gloves. Gloves are very important if there’s snow you might have to slide down or icy rocks you have to grip. Wear sunscreen (you are super close to the sun!). Water and snacks are also essential. Print out a map just so you have one to reference, especially if you are going on a less busy day.
5. Leave No Trace- Don’t trash the mountains. Seriously. Alpine areas are so fragile with such short growing seasons that they need our help to remain pristine. The Leave No Trace website goes over the seven principles, which explain how to leave the smallest impact possible.
Have fun climbing to the top of Colorado!