When Kyle first moved to Colorado, he kept telling me about these “14-ers”. I’ll save some of you a google: a 14er is a mountain that is 14,000+ feet in height (I admittedly had to google it, Kyle don’t read this!), and CO has over 50 of them.
I had the opportunity to hike my first 14er, Mount Elbert, in July 2015. It is the second highest mountain in the lower 48 states, so naturally I was pretty intimidated. We camped near the trailhead the night before, which was a great move because we had to get started really early in the morning-- around 6 am. Camping saved us a few hours of beauty sleep, rather than waking up at 3 or 4 am to leave Denver.
We woke up and got started around 6 am. We wore a lot of layers, because the temperature was around 32 degrees in the morning. However, as we started moving through the woods we worked up a sweat quickly, so layers are key (and so is a pack to stash your layers away!).
I had gone hiking many times before that, so I felt comfortable with the altitude, although I’m not an avid gym goer and have never been higher than 14,000 feet (on land of course). Generally, it’s good to go at your own comfortable pace; and if you’re hiking with someone who may be more advanced, make that point clear. Don’t try to be a hero, or show off, because you have a lot of altitude and miles to go.
The first part of the hike was very manageable. Dense forests, cool air, shade, it was all well and good. We continued on, making many stops along the way for little sips of water, and eventually hit the tree line. There was little shade here and the sun broke through the clouds. As we continued upwards, I felt very weak and heavy at the same time. I ate some of my Clif bar and drank a lot more water, which helped. We also had to take little pauses along the way. We were getting up to the summit when we discovered…..
….it was a false peak! Not just one false peak--- the first of THREE false peaks!!! We seriously considered turning around at that point. It was windy, there was loose rock, I was so tired that I wanted to cry like a little baby. But, the battle up was over half way done. I weighed my options: get to the top and feel super accomplished, or turn around and then feel guilty that I didn’t finish it when I was physically capable of doing so albeit at a slower pace. I live in Chicago, which is extremely flat, so it was probably the one rare opportunity I had to get to the top. So we continued on, and it was so hard, and my legs felt like jello. But when we got to the top, my jello legs did a little jig in the snow. The view from up there was incredible, and worth the effort. We saw a dog steal someone’s sandwich up there. When else would I be able to see a dog steal a sandwich at 14,446 feet? That was easily the second best part after the view! It will always be a favorite memory of mine, and I have many more 14ers waiting for me.
So to finish up this thing, here’s some technical advice: please start early, get off the mountain before noon to avoid dangerous lightning and thunder, bring a lot of water (I had over 64 ounces), don’t go on any ice or snow if you don’t have crampons. Do you research before picking a 14er hike!
Now here is my own non-technical advice for you: go at your own pace that you feel comfortable with, drink and eat a lot, take a break whenever you feel like it. If you are dizzy, be very careful. But if you have tired legs and are mentally cognizant, continue on. Don’t get let down by mini crises like a false peak (or three false peaks!). You will feel great when you reach the top, trust me. And always remember that in just a more few hours you’ll be finished, hopefully eating a gigantic meal in some awesome mountain town with dirty legs and lungs full of fresh mountain air. It’s always worth it.
Written by the lovely Hilary Chase. She's a PHD Chemistry Student at Northwestern University but she's also my girlfriend, and has been a part of Bighorn since the start.
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