A 14er is a term used to describe mountains that are at 14,000 feet or higher. Mountain climbing enthusiasts seek out these natural wonders to hike, climb, and simply enjoy. At 14,000 feet you have the normal challenges that you have on any other hike along with the added potential to get Altitude sickness.
While living life at sea level, a good percentage of thrill seekers will find that going above 14,000 feet is not all that fun. What happens is that the hiker cannot get enough oxygen from the air at that altitude. The air is thinner at 14,000 feet above sea level. The symptoms of altitude sickness are,
- Fast breathing
- Loss of appetite
Altitude sickness is caused by the elevations changing quicker than the body can acclimate to it. If you hike or climb slower and rest in between elevations your body will have a smooth adjustment. If, however you do get altitude sickness symptoms, they should vanish once your body gets accustomed to the new elevation.
Preparing for the Journey
The excitement of the 14er doesn’t begin at the climb, it begins with training. A few things you will want and in my opinion, need to do is to prepare for the hike. I suggest if you live at sea level, get to a higher elevation for a day or more. Getting your body acclimated to a higher altitude will make breathing easier along with minimizing the chances of dealing with headaches, stomach issues, and fatigue.
In my opinion exercising should also help. The 14er’s will take between 5 hours to a full day. That is taxing on even seasoned hikers. Getting a training regimen and sticking to it will help to assure you a successful hike.
Do your research and find out the time it takes for your chosen 14er. Now you can prepare for that long walk. Start in your immediate area and build up your ability to walk for that time period while also being geared up as you would make the real walk. This will not only build your resistance but will also wear your boots and other gear you will take with you.
Why a 14er
Most 14ers offer convenient access for almost any level of enthusiasts. Families like them because children who can climb can join in on the fun. A day on a 14er can include hiking, photography, and even skiing! People just enjoy the clean air and environment on hills that can be hiked in a day.
For solo hikers, the 14er offers an adventure without as much danger that other mountains have. Some of these peaks offer more of a challenge than others, offering you an option to fit your skill. Hiking these mountains will allow you to push yourself and grow your skills.
The challenge of the hike is what the 14er is about. Pushing yourself to fight altitude sickness and fatigue on the journey to the top. Then the long walk back to tell your friends about it. The success of the challenge will just feed the need to conquer other 14er’s and possibly all of them.
Follow the Switchbacks
Most of the trails on 14er’s are well marked. Switchbacks are your best option and safest even though they may be longer than taking a direct route to the top. Staying on these marked routes gives you a safer path, keeps you from getting lost, and keeps the ecosystem from damage. The last thing you want to do is trample all over, damaging plant and animal life.
Having these well-marked trails is a big draw for hikers that want an adventure without ending up on the late-night news. Have respect for nature and the people that maintain these trails by keeping them clean and undamaged.
Ok, so you may not have thought about it, but what do you do if you need to go? Well, you won’t find porta-potties along the trail. You will become closer to nature than some are used to. Especially if it’s your first 14er. Modesty is challenging on some of the 14er’s because of the popularity. Walk a safe distance off the trail and wait until the coast is clear. Make sure you bring a roll of toilet tissue and leak-proof container to take back your used toilet paper or other personal products. Keep the mountain as you found it and do not litter!
Keep Hydrated and Nourished
Staying hydrated will not only keep the energy up but will also aid against altitude sickness. Bring plenty of water probably more than you think you will need. I would also try and bring a drink that has electrolytes to help your body recover.
High energy foods that are light should be brought along, as well. Some foods to bring are jerky, nuts, energy bars, and dried fruits. Foods high in fats and energy will feed your body under stress while keeping you fairly light. Other foods may wear you out and slow you down. Do some research on the proper foods to take if you are unsure.
The weather can change quickly and vary depending on the elevation. Pack extra clothing so you can layer up or down to maintain your temperature. Keep from getting cold and keep from sweating. Also, bring rain gear to keep dry. It’s sometimes hard to predict the weather and getting caught in rain without the proper gear can lead to hypothermia.
The heat can also wreak havoc on your body. Keep breathable clothing and use a hat to protect your head. Sunglasses and sunblock are also needed not only in the summer but in the winter.
All of these elements and challenges is what makes these 14er’s so popular. People just want to push themselves and see if they can make the peak. So, if you want to test yourself find a 14er that matches your skill. I may find you there enjoying the sights from the top looking down on the people below!