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Climbing 14ers: Getting Started

Safety First!


Mountaineering in Colorado can be very dangerous, and many people have died on the 14ers. Weather, terrain, and other people can put you in a situation where your knowledge and experience will be vital. If you are new to these peaks, we urge you to pick up a book on mountaineering safety and make sure your basic navigation skills (map+compass, not only GPS) are up-to-par and you can rely on them in a tough situation. Just because a crowd of people can march to the summit of Quandary Peak on a summer Saturday, it doesn't mean they are all safe. Altitude sickness, dehydration, and fast-building storms are the most common problems. Do your homework, pack accordingly, pick the right day and partners and know when to turn around if things get ugly. Be safe out there!

Weather

  • Pick up a book on weather so you know how to "read" the sky and predict weather as best as possible.
  • Check the forecast the days and night before your trip.
  • Dark, brewing clouds are bad.
  • During summer, lightning is your main problem on a 14er. Start early and turn back if a thunderstorm is brewing.
  • Don't underestimate a forecast with high winds. Wind will make your hike more difficult and much colder.
  • A barometer is very helpful. Many new GPS units or hand-held weather stations will give you barometric information. Rapidly dropping barometric pressure is usually a sign of adverse weather to come.

Altitude Sickness

  • Buy a book on mountaineering that covers altitude sickness. It's a common problem on 14ers, especially for people visiting from lower elevations.
  • Know when to spot the symptoms (in you and your partners).
  • Turn back if necessary. The best remedy is to get to lower elevation ASAP.

Know Your Limitations

  • Get in shape in the off-season. Even the easiest 14er routes require proper conditioning.
  • Not everyone is fit enough for every hike. Understand when your body is telling you to turn back.
  • Make sure you have the proper skills to tackle the route. Many 14er routes can turn from easy hiking to technical climbing in a hurry.
  • Make sure all of the people in your group have the proper skills for the route.
  • Turn back if necessary.

Safe Trekking

  • Start early.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Pay attention at all times. The altitude may impair your judgment, so it is very important to stay alert.
  • Keep a safe distance from other hikers.
  • Travel quietly.
  • If you are climbing a steep slope or gully, be careful not to send debris down on other climbers.
  • Watch for animals - cougars, bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots, deer, elk, and more...
  • Don’t wander off into the wilderness. If you get hurt, you may never be found.
  • Bring a cell phone and/or satellite communication device like the Garmin inReach Communicator.
    On many 14ers you will NOT have cell coverage and satellite devices have saved many lives.

Mountaineers try to avoid accidents; good mountainneering safety also means studying and avoiding the broader range of general mountaineering incidents. These include all undesirable events that could have led to accident: an emergency bivouac, a lost route, a "close call." An incident without injury or serious consequence can offer valuable insight into the most common factores that lead to accidents.

It's important to note that incidents do not just "happen." Careful review of reported accidents and of other mountaineering incidents reveals human error in most cases. Even the most competant climbers have accidents, in fact that reminds us of how small we are before the forces of nature. Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills