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(Part II) Guide to Hiking Colorado 14ers for Beginners: Basecamp

Updated: Aug 4, 2019

Several summers ago, my brother and I, both in our mid-20s, were a couple years removed from college and each about a year away from getting married. We have always been close and enjoyed similar interests, so my brother suggested that we embark on one final “bro” excursion to check an item off our bucket lists before we began our married lives. We devised a quest to hike as many Colorado 14ers (mountains with summits above 14,000 ft) as possible over the course of a week in mid-July—a daunting task (especially for Midwesterners unaccustomed to high altitude) but one we were eager to undertake. We hiked seven 14ers in seven days, starting on a Saturday and finishing on a Friday. Here is a list of 14ers we hiked and the order in which we hiked them:

Saturday, July 22: Mt. Evans (14,264 ft)

Sunday, July 23: Grays Peak (14,270 ft) and Torreys Peak (14,267 ft)

Monday, July 24: Quandary Peak (14,265 ft')

Tuesday, July 25: Mt. Elbert (14,433 ft)

Wednesday, July 26: La Plata Peak (14,336 ft)

Friday, July 28: Longs Peak (14,259 ft)

Although most people recommend you hike only one to two 14ers per week, we were able to average one per day by preparing ahead of time. Although we made several mistakes, we quickly made adjustments to optimize our chance for success. Since we were prepared, we ended up staying safe and having a great time. So if you’re eager for adventure, check out the tips below!

1. Allow several days to adjust to the high altitude. Since we were both living in the Midwest at the time, we arrived in Denver several days ahead of hiking our first 14er to give ourselves plenty of time to acclimate to the altitude. Conveniently, I was already in Boulder for work travel the week before the excursion, and my brother flew out to Boulder on the Wednesday before. We filled those days with warm-up hikes in the Boulder foothills (around 8000 ft) and at Brainard Lake Recreation Area, which sits at just over 10,000 ft about an hour drive from Boulder.

Brainard Lake near Boulder, Colorado

2. Sleep at high elevations, if possible. The night following our hike of Mt. Evans, we slept at the trailhead of Grays and Torreys Peaks at an elevation of 11,280 ft. This allowed our bodies to acclimate to reduced oxygen levels while we slept, which can reduce your chance of altitude sickness.

Grays and Torreys Peaks

3. Hike an easily accessible 14er first. Our first 14er was Mt. Evans, which is just to the west of Denver. Mt. Evans is a great introductory 14er because it is one of the few 14ers that you can drive to the summit (another notable one being Pikes Peak). Therefore, should altitude sickness set in, we could quickly return to lower altitudes by car. We parked at 12,850 ft by Summit Lake and hiked the rest of the way to the 14,264 ft summit along the west ridge, which is a 5.5 mile round trip hike, the shortest of the week.

View from the summit of Mt. Evans

4. Hike busier 14ers on weekdays, and get an early start. Grays and Torreys Peaks are two of the most popular 14ers in Colorado. We regrettably ended up hiking them on a Sunday in the summer, so the trails were quite busy. We started the hike at 3am to avoid the crowds and ensure we were back to the trailhead before any afternoon storms could develop. As we started up the trail, we could see a train of lights leading up the North Slope of the mountain. We worried that we hadn’t started early enough, but as we descended the mountain six hours later, the trail was literally packed with streams of hikers just starting up the mountain. An early start also helps you avoid the heat, which was also a commonly heard complaint by the hikers who got a late start. Not to mention that you miss out on some spectacular sunrises. So getting an early start is definitely worth it.

5. Build flexibility into your schedule. We hiked Longs Peak (14,255 ft) in Rocky Mountain National Park as our final 14er. We arrived in the park around 1pm on the Thursday of our trip hoping to snag a campsite at the Longs Peak Campground, but were unsuccessful. We planned on taking the next day as a day of rest anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal. We grabbed a campsite at the nearby Glacier Basin Campground instead. However, after a quick check of the weather, we made a last-minute decision to forego the day of rest and hike Longs Peak on Friday rather than Saturday to give us the best chance at a cloudless summit. The weather ended up being perfect for our hike up Longs Peak, but was pretty crummy the following day. When we left Rocky Mountain National Park around noon on Saturday, the summit of Longs Peak was obscured by the clouds, so we were relieved that we had built flexibility into our plans to account for the changing weather conditions.

View from the summit of Longs Peak

For tips on preparing for hiking 14ers, check out our preparation tips. If you're ready to start hiking, check out these tips for when you are on the trails.

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