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456 1st Fourteener 2011-08-13

Longs Peak, my first fourteener

Longs Peak was my first Colorado Fourteener. I did not climb it because it was a Fourteener, I climbed it because it was Longs Peak, rich in mountaineering history. Oddly enough, my first ten or so ascents of the Peak were by technical routes and then I finally hiked the standard Keyhole. I then understood why people (almost) stood in line to climb the famous Peak. What a great, fun route up a great peak.

From my first ascent until now (this summer was either the 36th or 37th! Longs Peak summit), on each trip I have learned something. The trail is different. The climbers are different. The weather is different. If you can never step in the same river twice (Heraclitus), the same is true of climbing the same mountain. It is always a different experience.

Years later my wife (her first Fourteener was Longs Peak) and I began climbing the Fourteeners. All the experience that we gathered from our youth to the present was called on to help us through the maze of peaks. Along the way there was even more that we learned and that we share...

Tips on climbing your first Fourteener ...

Begin training before your first climb. You don't have to be an Olympic athlete but the more fit you are, the easier the climb will be.

Make sure that your training at least equals the requirements of the route. If you plan on doing a peak that is 12 miles round trip with 3500 foot gain, try to build up mileage and elevation gains to match. If you are stuck in the flatlands, increase your mileage by two miles for every 1000 feet of altitude. The goal is to be strong enough to comfortably and safely walk that distance.

If you are hiking with a dog, train him also. Our dog, Jake, had tender feet and we had to take special care of them or they would swell up to the size of softballs. We pre-treated his feet to help toughen them.

Practice packing exactly what you plan to take. There are no short cuts to packing the ten essentials, but there are lighter options. Buy things in your local town so that you can train with your actual pack and weight. The lighter your pack, the easier it is to climb but don't sacrifice safety.

Plan on spending a few days acclimating before you do your first actual climb. Spend those days adding to your training and adjusting to the changes in the climate and terrain. Some folks can drive straight to Colorado from sea level and climb a peak the next day while others are sick no matter how long they wait trying to acclimate. Most folks' acclimating rate is somewhere between those extremes.

Talk over rescue plans with those in your group. If someone is injured, how can you rescue them. These plans are even more important in remote areas. If you bring a dog, you also need to devise a rescue plan for him.

All of the Fourteeners are hard. Do not underestimate them. One time, we were spanked climbing one of the easiest peaks, Mount Sherman. If you have bad weather, all of the peaks are hard. If you are ill prepared, they are even harder.

The drives to some of the trailheads are long and speeds are slow due to the condition of the roads. Allow a lot of time for travel.

Some trailheads have 'no camping' signs posted. Almost all (National Forest) will at least let you camp a hundred or so feet away from the parking area.

Prepare everything for your climb the night before going to sleep. Sleep in your clothes or have them ready. Have breakfast ready to eat and drink. Have duties assigned. Pack your packs. The more efficient you are in camp gives you more time on the trail.

Plan on hiking between 1 and 2 miles per hour. If it is an easy trail - then 2 mph. If it is off trail - then 1 mph, if you are lucky!

Drink lots of water the night before and then for breakfast. Have a water plan for the summit trip. Are you carrying all of your water or are you planning on filtering or treating along the way.

Start early.

Set a slow, steady pace. You can always speed up later if it is not hard enough for you.

Concentrate on making the next step, not on climbing the mountain. If you make enough steps you will find yourself on the summit.

Talk to other hikers that you meet.

Question the group and yourself about blisters and acclimating.

If you are constantly needing a break, slow the pace. It's better (and more time-efficient) to walk at a consistently slow pace than to frequently stop and start.

If in a group, it generally works best to keep the slowest hiker in the front, setting the pace.

When scrambling, don't trust any rock. Test the rock before pulling on it. Move precarious stones away from the edge. Give the scramble your full attention. Be aware of your surroundings. Don't climb beneath someone, they might knock something on your head. When climbing, try not to disturb any rocks!

If the scramble becomes more like a climb, practice on the harder sections. Move up a few steps and then reverse. When you descend the mountain you will probably have to climb down the rocks too.

Drink regularly. I prefer a hydration system so that I do not have to stop and get out the water bottle.

Eat BEFORE you bonk. Keep gels or snacks handy so that you can eat while you walk.

Keep an eye on the weather. Remember, you will need to be back to a safe place before a storm hits.

Don't forget to have fun.

Save energy, food, and water for the descent. When I think of miserable days on the mountains, most of my worst times were on descents; the agony of it all.

I hope these tips help you get to the top, if not to at least help you on the mountain. Tomorrow, I will publish a list of older but relevant and important Journal entries.

Happy Fourteener trails.


1st Fourteener - Links


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