Who better to take advice from than someone who has been in your beginner shoes not too long ago? When I say I was a beginner to hiking, I had gone on my first hike just two months prior to taking on Longs Peak (14,259 feet), in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Longs Peak was my first Fourteener (14er) and it was tough, fun, and a thrilling experience.
A 14er is any mountain that has its summit at a height greater than 14,000 feet above sea level. Longs, my first 14er is one of the most well known and hiked 14ers in the state of Colorado. There are 96 fourteeners in the United States.
Each one of the 96 mountains is going to give you different and unique obstacles you’ll have to overcome on the way to your first 14,000 foot summit. This isn’t meant to be an all-encompassing guide or a super in depth “how-to,” rather a starting point on how to learn from the mistake I made on my first journey and some other helpful hints as well.
Sure enough, the weekend after we had originally planned to go up, an experienced climber died while trying to hike up the mountain.
Don’t sleep in. When hiking a 14er you are going to want to start your trip either early morning before sunrise, or middle of the night. We wanted to do that to. But you know what they say, you can’t get everything you want.
We woke up about half hour after we wanted to be on the trail. No big deal, just a half hour. But you also can’t hike 14,000 FT above sea level with an empty stomach; breakfast is the most important meal of the day after all.
Cooking and eating breakfast adds another half hour and before ya know it, you are an hour or two behind your planned start time. With unpredictable weather near the summit, saving every hour you can is big.
Do your homework. No matter what 14er you are going to conquer, any mountain is sure to be a formidable foe
Get plenty of sleep the night before so you don’t over sleep. Set numerous alarms and beat the sun up. Waking up before the sun not only offers you more time to complete the hike, it also gives you a chance to watch sunrise come over the mountains – something that my friend and I missed out on. So if not for anything else, wake up early for me and let me live vicariously through you.
Don’t wear sneakers. As a beginner I thought “Hiking? That’s just walking up hill for a long time, I’ll use my Nikes” And while Phil Knight and Co. make good shoes – and honestly they held up and worked okay for me on the hike (keyword being okay) – not buying actual climbing/hiking shoes was my only real regret of the whole trip.
On Longs Peak, if you take the keyhole route, there’s a part right before you enter the keyhole that is called Boulder Field. If the name doesn’t give it away, it’s a large field of giant boulders. Every step is crucial and a pair of basketball shoes won’t help much.
A little bit later on in the hike, near the summit, there is about what felt like an 89 degree slope that’s a mixture of rock and snow. Almost any 14er you hike at any time of the year is going to still have snow lingering around close to the summit.
Seeing the lake right in front of me and then the whole range just over my shoulder was the first time I understood the line “purple mountain majesty.”
Having the proper footwear here can save you from death or worse… an embarrassing death. Wearing just a pair of normal tennis shoes worked out for me, but only because I took extra precaution as I quickly realized I was being dumb. I looked dumb too when I basically just slid down that hill on the descent like a 5 year down the stairs.
Do take your time. I’m not just talking about the rate at which you climb your first 14er, more like stop and smell the roses. Literally. The best part about the whole hike was the location that we stopped for a short maybe 20 to 30 minute break.
On Longs Peak, not too high above the tree line is Chasm Lake. It wasn’t accessible by the route we were going, but the view was enough. Seeing the lake right in front of me and then the whole range just over my shoulder was the first time I understood the line “purple mountain majesty.”
The surrealist part of that scene was on the descent when we stopped again to rest and look at Chasm Lake. My friend and I were sitting on rocks overlooking the lake, both of us eating a granola bar.
After a few minutes of unsuccessful attempts, I was able to get a Colorado Chipmunk to eat a little bit of a nut out of my palm. Side note…feeding the wildlife isn’t just frowned upon, it’s illegal. You can get kicked out of the park for doing it. So keep the snacks away from our furry, cute, little hungry friends.
Those were just two of our stops, though. Often enough if we came to a scenic spot we would stop, take a few sips of water and enjoy the incomparable mountain views. When you go on your first 14er, do find your own Chasm Lake. Just don’t feed the wildlife (unless nobody is watching… No, but seriously, don’t do it. Wink).
Do your homework. No matter what 14er you are going to conquer, any mountain is sure to be a formidable foe. Know the routes you are going to take, know the average time span that route takes both new and accomplished hikers.
Not only are you up against the mountain itself, but the rest of Mother Nature as well. She can be a cruel and unforgiving woman
Luckily for me, my hiking partner researched the shit out of it and did enough homework for the both of us. My friend knew where the best places to take breaks would be, what time would be the ideal time to take breaks, what time we wanted to be above the tree line, the time we wanted to start our descend, etc.
And while not everything went to plan (see: first tip), having a game-plan and schedule and idea of what we wanted to do when we wanted to do it where we wanted to do it really helped made sure my first 14er went smooth. Not only are you up against the mountain itself, but the rest of Mother Nature as well. She can be a cruel and unforgiving woman.
Our tripped was planned for the weekend after 4th of July weekend. The weather the whole week before our trip called for rain near Longs Peak. The summit was also heavily snowcapped in the first weeks of July.
While there is no doubt you will remember the experience, your memory of the beautiful details will begin to fade; so my last little tip is to bring a camera
Because of this and because of my inexperience, we postponed our hike another month to give the snowcaps time to melt. Sure enough, the weekend after we had originally planned to go up, an experienced climber died while trying to hike up the mountain.
While there is no doubt you will remember the experience, your memory of the beautiful details will begin to fade; so my last little tip is to bring a camera. You are going to see amazing sights and are going to want to capture these views forever, you are going to see small beautiful flowers that you are going to want to bring home with you (don’t pluck ‘em, leave the flowers for others to enjoy as well) but you can’t.
Whether it’s a professional camera or a cellphone camera, taking a picture is a quick and easy thing to do and it’s worth it. Plus, it gives you another thing to show off and brag about to your friends. Like the internet loves to say, pics or it didn’t happen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor Morris lives in Michigan with his parents, but travels all around the U.S. in a beat up Firebird. He’s never quite sure what is next for him as it depends which direction the wind is blowing. Connor is a talented writer/blogger and if he’s not writing or traveling the wind usually blows him towards the nearest television airing the Detroit Tigers game.