Prepping for a Fourteener - The Night Before & The Hike
"When everything feels like an uphill struggle, just think of the view from the top." –Unknown
On days like we have had recently, where the sun seemingly has no intention of showing its face and the clouds threaten to unleash more rain, it makes me long for some amazing hiking weather even more. It makes me think about how, in the summer, the weather is almost always wonderful and sunny in the mornings with rain and thunderstorms rolling in in the afternoons.
The single most important piece of advice, especially for hiking fourteeners and high altitude routes, is to get out there early and get back to lower altitude early too. For those reading this, even if every other piece of advice I may share is lost, that is the one thing that I would recommend ensuring is remembered. The reason an early start and finish for a high-altitude hike is so important is because high-altitude hikers are more likely to get struck by lightning (which comes around in the afternoons).
In my last post about what to do leading up to a big hike, I broke down details on training for a few months prior to the hike along with what to do right before the trip. I also promised details on what to do immediately before the hike, which is what I plan to share today.
Before I go into the details, though, I just want to put a plug in for the importance of remembering sunscreen – this goes for anyone planning to hike anywhere, but it is even more important in high altitude. I’ve been told that people from California and other high-sun states will head out to the mountains and assume they are okay without it because of their experiences at home. When anyone gets up to 10,000 foot elevation or higher, though, there is so much less atmosphere to block them from the sun – and to block the sun’s rays from burning our skin.
I made sure to mention the sunburn right now because I am currently suffering from a terrible one from this past weekend. I went out for an afternoon run with an amazing friend in the afternoon when the sun was probably in the worst position ever. I was only out for about an hour, but my shoulders and back are redder than a cherry. I’ve already applied aloe vera lotion with more essential oils than I want to admit, and am so hopeful that it will help the sunburn heal and tan instead of peeling.
Now, although talking about sunscreen is not anywhere near being out of scope, I’ll get back to hiking fourteeners. Once trained up and ready to go, and after picking out the fourteener to conquer, the next steps include more in-depth planning for the hike itself.
Colorado has many options for dispersed camping, which allows hikers and campers alike to find great camping spots for no money at all. A lot of fourteeners typically have dispersed camping options near their trailheads. I know not everyone likes the idea of tent camping, but that is definitely the route we take. For some of the fourteeners, that is going to be the only option for early-day hiking unless people want to drive up level B-like roads in the pitch blackness of night.
No matter the decision – whether camping or heading out from a cushiony hotel bed – there are some tips and tricks leading up to the hike that we have found help make things go as smoothly as possible. I like to get as much done the night before as possible, since we typically start our hike prior to 5:00 AM.
Before diving in, here is where I am going to put yet another plug about how strenuous high altitude hiking can be. High altitudes can be very dangerous, and strenuous activity makes it even riskier (for more information on altitude sickness, check out Cleveland Clinic here). Be aware of you, your body, and your limitations. Always consult your doctor before starting a new training plan of any sort, especially plans that involve high altitude exercise.
The Night Before
Prep Hiking Bags – Get everything together the night before so snacks, water, and necessities for the hike are ready to go. I will do a full breakdown sometime in the future on what we pack, but generally, we make sure to have:
Water, water, water – We lose twice as much water at high altitudes through respiration than we do at sea level. Making sure to have plenty of water to rehydrate is an absolute necessity (read more from HydraPak here).
Snacks – It is recommended to increase carb intake at altitudes above 10,000 feet. We make sure to bring granola bars, protein bars, and other favorite hiking snacks.
Buzz’s Snacks – Don’t forget, if bringing a dog along, make sure that they are well prepared with food, treats, water, a leash, and anything else they may need as well.
Sunscreen – I’ve said this before, and I’m saying it again for those in the back: Wear sunscreen. I actually found that “with every gain of 1000m (3280 ft), the level of UV radiation increases by approximately 12%” (Source: IndianHikes.com). At 14,000 foot elevation, we have a lot more UV radiation hitting our skin.
The Morning Before
Wake Up Bright and Early – We typically set our alarm for around 4 AM, but it varies. We typically try to guess based on previous hikes how long we will be, and aim to be finished before noon or one in the afternoon to avoid storms.
Get Dressed – We make sure that we are in our hiking clothes, which means layering up (it is cold in the mornings!) and sliding on our proper hiking socks and boots.
Breakfast – We don’t ever start a hike without some food already in our stomachs. We sometimes splurge with donuts, but almost always make sure we have some type of good carbs to get us started. Bananas are another favorite pre-hike breakfast for us.
Excedrin Migraine – Alright, this is THE trick for those that get minor altitude sickness. I was absolutely miserable the first time we hiked above 10,000 feet for the rest of the day. We were invited to a party and, instead, I sat in bed and slept. My head hurt so bad, and it was my body’s reaction to the strenuous activity in the high altitudes. However, ever since then, Zac and I both have taken Excedrin Migraine before we start on our fourteener hikes, and neither of us has gotten another altitude headache or migraine again since then.
During the Hike
Water, Water, Water – Now that the water has been packed in the hiking bag, it is important to drink it! Be sure to take sips of water every 15-20 minutes to help avoid dehydration.
Eat Whenever Needed – The body burns more calories at high altitudes. Similar to running, it is recommended, according to Liftopia.com, to intake around 60-100 grams of carbs per hour.
Go Slow – We take a lot of water breaks, and always make sure to break at the top of the mountain to take in all of the views prior to descending back down. Everything is working harder at the high altitude, so taking it slow will help make the trip much more enjoyable.
Enjoy It! – These hikes are not easy, but they are so, so worth it. Be sure to take in all of the views and truly take advantage of the opportunity. Not everyone gets the chance to hike a fourteener. Soak it all in.
There is absolutely nothing like the view from the top of a fourteener. We always pack a “mini lunch” to enjoy at the top while we soak in all of the views. It can be a lot of work, but being at the top of the world makes it all worth it. The last piece of advice that I will share is that, if a fourteener is in the books for a vacation plan, be sure to keep the rest of the day fairly open. Planning anything big after the hike would likely be a poor move. We honestly have been known to take naps after quite a few of our fourteeners. About the only thing we plan for after a fourteener is a big lunch and some well-deserved R+R.
Now, speaking of some well-deserved R+R, it is way past bedtime for me. I'm about to head to bed to snuggle with some dogs before heading out to my next adventure in the morning! You heard that right – I'll be headed out to a new adventure tomorrow. Although this one will not be our normal hiking and adventuring type of vacation, and Zac doesn't get to go with me, I'm still very excited to see what I will gain from this trip. I am so very grateful to have the opportunity to travel to D.C. for work – stay tuned!