What’s up all you out-of-state rookies and couch-jockey bums?
Yes, I’m referring specifically to that subset of you that not only have never been on a strenuous Colorado hike, but are so oblivious to the geography of the state in which you now reside the you’ve never heard the term “fourteener.”
For the record, aside from being the name of a now defunct-minor league basketball team (look it up), “fourteener” refers to mountain peaks that reach the dizzying height of 14,000 feet of higher above sea level. Colorado is home to 54 (or more, depending on how you measure, who you ask, which T-shirt you bought at the state line) of these majestic masses of rock, and climbing them is not only one helluva workout, it’s also an opportunity to experience the state’s natural beauty from a uniquely lofty and stunning perspective.
As a Colorado native, I’ve been hiking all of my life, but as a proud member of the couch-jockey bum club myself, I did not summit my first fourteener until this summer, during my 25th year as a lifeform on Earth. As such, I feel I am especially qualified to share my very limited knowledge and expertise with those of you that are considering tackling your first fourteener in the near future.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re going to make like me and drag your sagging ass up several thousand vertical feet of trail:
Wear the right shoes
They’re called hiking boots for a reason.
I should have known better, but when I hiked Mount Massive — Colorado’s creatively-named second tallest mountain at 14,421 feet — I decided I could make do with my New Balance cross trainers. I made this foolish decision knowing full well the shoes tended to pinch my big toe. Well, eight hours and 13 miles later, I was left with some bloody socks. (Editor’s note: The author submitted a photo of his toe for this story. We decided to spare you readers the visual.) I’m more than a month down the line now and the big toe nail on my left foot is still a lovely shade of plum. (Ed: Again, ew.) For all I know, it’ll be like that forever.
I’m not saying your feet won’t hurt anyway after a big hike, but it’s 100 percent worth it to invest in a quality pair of hiking boots. If you can break them in with a few shorter hikes before taking on a behemoth, all the better. You’ll be glad you spent the money.
Hydrate. A lot.
You’re already running the risk of getting hit with some altitude sickness, which happens when your body cannot pull enough oxygen from the thin, high-altitude air, often manifesting in symptoms including headache, loss of appetite and weakness.
I looked it up on WebMD. It’s also possible that I have the mumps or caffeine withdrawal. Or astigmatism.
My point: Don’t compound things by letting yourself dry out, too.
Hydration is key to any physical activity, but it’s especially important when you go on a big hike and have to carry all your water with you. Know yourself and how much liquid you need to stay sharp.
I brought four 12-ounce water bottles with me up Mount Massive. I did fine at the start, sure, but as the trail got steeper and the air got thinner near the summit I found myself taking swigs more and more frequently. Turns out, 48 ounces wasn’t near enough for my fat ass. I got so thirsty near the top I ended up refilling a bottle from a trickle of glacial runoff, knowing that decision could have resulted in a nasty stomach bug (Ed: Giardia!) and me periodically pulling off the trail to pop a squat the entire way down.
That didn’t happen. I was fine, but it still demonstrated how underprepared I was when it came to water.
Make sure you’re hydrated before you set out on your hike, and I would advise bringing 150 percent of the water you think you’ll need. After all, you might not be lucky enough to find a Giardia-free stream like I did.
It’s also a good idea to bring some energy-boosting snacks, like trail mix or—if you’re poor like me—peanut butter sandwiches.
I don’t have much in the way of personal examples to share with you on this one, because I’m not a complete idiot and everything I’m about to relay is common sense, but, just in case, here are some basic reminders that your mom is sure to repeat when you call her to tell her you’re going to climb a fourteener.
Know the approximate time it will take to complete your hike and start early. Many experienced hikers will tackle some of Colorado’s bigger peaks before sunup. It provides a valuable cushion should something go wrong and helps you avoid the afternoon rain and thunderstorms that so often descend on the mountains in the summer months.
Bring extra cold-weather gear. If you haven’t experienced Colorado’s abrupt weather shifts, you soon will. The state is notorious for going from sunny and cloudless to unholy shitstorm and back over the course of just a few hours. Don’t get caught unprepared. I lucked out with a beautiful afternoon on Mount Massive, but I also had an extra hoodie, rain coat, gloves, pants and winter hat in my bag in case the shit hit the fan.
People have died because they thought they’d be fine hiking in shorts and a T-shirt. Real talk.
Don’t hike alone and let people know where you’re going and when you expect to be back. Ever seen “127 Hours?” Think it would be fun to drink your own pee and hack off your own arm with a pocket knife in order to survive? If you would like to avoid such a calamity it’s a good idea to take the necessary steps so that others can help you if something does go wrong on a trail.
I could go on and on, but they don’t pay me by the word around here. (Ed: Stop whining.)
A few more tips:
Don’t be a dick. Be respectful of other trail users, and the trail itself. In short, if you leave trash anywhere on a trail, you’re a dick.
Don’t hike Longs Peak unless you really know what you’re doing. It’s beautiful and not far from Boulder, but it’s one of the more challenging fourteeners … and it has a knack for killing someone every summer. More real talk.
Have fun. The sense of accomplishment gained by summiting a fourteener is nice and all, but if you’re not enjoying yourself along the way then screw it. So have a good time, drink water and go get some real hiking shoes. You’re in Colorado now, you couch-jockey bums. Enjoy it.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or firstname.lastname@example.org