How To Climb A 14er: The Basics

Climbing peaks in the high Rockies of Colorado is a challenge and a great adventure. It is a serious undertaking and the difference between having a wonderful, positive experience and an epic disaster begins with preparation. There are three main components of this: Physical conditioning, trip planning, and proper equipment.

Physical Conditioning

Even the easiest of routes to the summits of Colorado’s fourteen thousand-foot peaks is physically demanding. The more fit you are, the easier and more pleasant the journey will be. Even the shortest routes are 6-7 miles round trip to your parking with half of that distance being uphill. Breathing, hiking, and climbing almost 3 miles above sea level will wear you out.

That three-mile training hike you did at sea level doesn’t translate directly to the exertion levels you will experience at altitude. Add to that the cold and wind that frequently exist on these mountains and a serious physical effort will be required to summit and return safely. Throw in the wild cards of weather and trail conditions and it becomes clear that this undertaking is a serious outdoor commitment. Never underestimate these climbs.


Trip Planning

With the above in mind, select your mountain carefully to match your outdoor experience skill level. On the resources below, peaks are listed by mountain range and can be researched by route difficulty, length, and elevation gain.

  • Understand your route, its difficulties, and read accounts of ascents to learn about trail and weather conditions, obstacles, and route-finding issues.

  • Understand the weather patterns typical during the month you plan to climb and be sure to find out the current conditions before you embark.

  • A good rule of thumb in the Colorado Rockies is to be on the summit no later than noon in order to be on the descent before the typical afternoon thunderstorm.

  • Plan a landmarked schedule, watch the weather, evaluate the condition of your party, and know when to turn around. The mountain isn’t going anywhere, and you can always try again. View any “non-success” as excellent training and a wonderful walk in the Colorado High Country!


Proper Equipment

What you take is dependent upon your skills, the route attempted, and current climbing conditions. Know your limits! That said, The Colorado 14ers, Third Edition, from the Colorado Mountain Club Foundation offers the following general list:

  • Navigation (map, compass, GPS, etc.)

  • Illumination (Headlamps hard to beat!)

  • Hydration

  • Nutrition

  • Sun protection (hat, sun glasses, sunscreen)

  • Insulation (cold, precipitation, and wind)

  • First Aid (Don’t forget blister mitigation!)

  • Repair Kit (varies, but should include knife)

  • Fire (matches, lighter, etc.)

  • Shelter (emergency blanket, lightweight tarp).

This list offers a simple framework for planning. I’m happy to answer questions in-depth about equipment planning when you contact me.

--Keith Hobgood

Information you can use:


Other Resources: The Colorado 14ers, Third Edition by the Colorado Mountain Club. And the definitive, Colorado’s Fourteeners, Third Edition by Gerry Roach cannot be beat for detail about each of the mountains.

As always be free, live well, and love YOUR life!