Hi Friends! I have been very anxious to share with you my experience of climbing my first 14er. For those of you who aren’t quite sure what that is, it is a hike up a mountain that is at least 14,000 feet in elevation. Out here in Colorado, it’s a very common activity. My bestie Carey sometimes will hike one and then go in to work! That’s pretty intense but she’s an unstoppable bad ass. I could hardly stand once we finished nine hours later.
Carey and I were having brunch last Sunday, while sharing fried chicken and waffles with a blueberry sauce, and a couple screwdrivers later, she mentioned that her old roommate asked her to guide him on his first 14er the next day. I said, “Excuse me, ugh, can I come?” We both got really excited and after I invited myself, we planned for the trip. I asked her what to pack, what time we’d head out, and a little bit about the mountain we were about to summit. If you are wondering about Missouri Mountain, it is located by Leadville, CO in the Collegiate Peaks of the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains in the San Isabel forest. It is 14,075 feet in elevation and if you’re up for it, you can also climb up Mt. Oxford and Mt. Belford in the same day. The camping there is awesome even if you don’t want to summit there is a beautiful lake called Clear Creek, you drive right by to get to the trail head. Out of 58 14er’s in Colorado, it is ranked 36. Carey says its about a Class II as far as difficulty goes. There was a little bit of handwork and climbing but overall it wasn’t so bad.
That night, I fed Waylon a little extra and made sure she was well hydrated for our hike the next morning. Then, I started to pack. I laugh at myself now because packing light is key but very difficult. I packed and repacked at least four times, trying to make it work when in reality, I was just not going to be able to bring my camera. The pictures here were all taken with my phone, sorry for the blur, I was blindly taking photos. As hard as it was for me to except this, water was more important to me. Also snacks. I have an Osprey pack but it’s a small one so I had to wear a fanny pack as well. There were plenty of places to filter water along the hike but time is of the essence. We didn’t have anything to do later that day but storms have been brewing up lately.
What I packed in order of importance:
- Water. 2L in Osprey, 1L in collapsable water container, and 1L in Camelback water bottle that I left in the car. I brought so much just in case Waylon needed some.
- Snacks with protein, fat, and sugar. I brought jerky, almonds, a calorie filled granola bar, dog food (for Waylon), energy matcha and lemon drink powder, and an apple. I chose an apple over other fruits because it wont get smushed in your pack, its refreshing, and there is no peel to have to pack out. Aaron brought bananas…
- Walking stick. I can not express to you enough how much this helped me. I went out and bought it that night because I have bad knees. It did slow me down a lot having this pole due to walking more carefully down hill vs. when you don’t have one you basically run down hill. It also has the option to be a monopod/ selfie stick which I was pretty pumped about… it didn’t work if you were wondering.
- Layers. I wore Keen sandals with a rubber toe. Yes, my feet were wrecked but the rubber toe is nice to you protect your toesies. Although, if you have callused feet you would have been fine. I liked the idea of wearing sandals because you walk through water quite a bit and they dry out super quick. The only problem is that once your feet are wet, sand and rocks can get in there and irritate your skin. I had some hardcore blisters. Carey had a really awesome tip with wearing layers. She said to dress a little cooler than normal because your body builds up heat once you get moving. We wore shorts, tank top, and a fleece sweatshirt with a hood incase the wind picked up. She packed a rain jacket… I didn’t want to pay $80 for a rain jacket so I went without. I was lucky though because she’s the best and packed two. It only sprinkled for a minute but I recommend bringing one.
- Protection from the sun. Sunglasses, hat, and sunscreen. I applied sunscreen every couple hours. Being that close to the sun will burn you way faster than being at normal elevation.
What Carey brought:
- Tiger balm. This is a topical pain reliever made from herbal and plant-based sources. Made with methanol, clove, mint, cajuput oil, and camphor it smells really nice and soothes the aggravated area. It was a really nice for my knees and shoulders. It was a great addition to my vape pen, and better than Advil or whatever.
- First Aid Kit. Obviously… Carey is a trained mountain guide and has taken many courses to have these credentials. Certified bad ass I think is what her card says. She had with her Mole-skin and Rock tape, which we used to put over my blisters. By the end of the hike I was walking on the sides of my feet which almost had me roll my ankle multiple times.
- Water filter. This filter was such a great addition to our hike because fresh mountain water is delicious. It’s so cold and crisp, probably the most refreshing tasting water in the world. Iodine tablets are another way to make sure your water is free of any harmful bacteria so you don’t get infected with Giardia. If you don’t have either of these things, make sure there’s no wild life shitting above you. Cattle, horses, etc will “go” in the water and if you’re down stream, GTFO of the water. Also if you’re wanting to drink river water, get it as close to the source as possible and fill your bottle from the fastest flowing part of the river. Standing bodies of water are a no-go.
- Flower book! She is so sticking awesome! We crossed so many wild flowers and bless her heart she pulled out her book and looked up the different flowers along the way. We found Elephant Heads, Colorado Columbine, Rocky Mountain Penstemon, Bell Flower, random succulents, Yarrow, wild Roses, Indian Paintbrush, and Mule ears.
That was my favorite part of this hike up to the summit. I love flowers, especially wild flowers. It’s like sprinkles on ice-cream, they don’t really taste like anything but they’re beautiful and jazz up your cone. Unlike sprinkles, flowers smell and taste good (sometimes), maybe don’t go around eating flowers, unless you want to don’t let me stop you from being you. My biggest piece of advice if you’re wanting to summit your first 14er, is to look up. Look behind you. Stop and stare at the glory that is before your eyes. A lot of people are stuck on the number of 14er’s they’ve climbed or the time it takes them to complete one. I took my sweet ass time. I had no choice but to take a bunch of breaks, but it’s an unspeakably beautiful planet. I saw many high altitude creatures such as marmots and pika. Gosh, the mountain range that was in front of me when I got to the top of the ridge (not the top of the summit btw) went on forever. I swear to you I didn’t know that there was land like this left in existence. There was nothing but mountains, peaks, valleys, and lakes. Wow, when I saw this all of the pain that was coursing threw me, disappeared for like a minute until I realized that I was not in fact there yet. There was still a lot of height to gain.
We got lost
Yeah… So we got lost in the beauty of it all. Seriously we did. We were so caught up with the flowing river right along side the trail that we had completely missed the cairn stacked up right next to the manmade tree bridge. Taking pictures and not paying attention added about an extra hour to our hike. There were flags in the trees all of the sudden but they only took us in a circle bringing us back to the narrow rocky trail where we started. Crossing through the river, we found a trail, not knowing if this was the trail, we took a chance and followed it. Coming back down the correct way we had noticed the obvious bridge to get on that trail. Moral of the story kids, pay attention. Be aware of your surroundings, follow foot prints, avoid climbing over manmade barricades, look for landmarks like flags and cairns. Cairns or stacked rocks are a nice way to know you’re going the right way. I never knew those had a purpose until then. Just thought that was a fun hippy thing to do.
Getting to the top.
Some people like to celebrate when they reach the destination by drinking a beer, doing yoga, scream at the top of your lungs, or get naked, I don’t know, I mean who wouldn’t? I like to find any reason to party. When Aaron got to top, he decided to shave his beard in which he had been growing since he moved to Colorado (a little over a year). He also wanted to move his wedding ring from his left hand to his right. He had not been with his wife for quite some time but just didn’t feel the strength until then to finally except it. I like to think that a birdie momma used his beard to make a cozy nest for her little babes. Carey’s dog had gone with us and even though he has been to many of the 14er’s, he had never made it all the way up until now, he’d follow Waylon anywhere. For me, I wanted to climb at least one this summer and I thought I would maybe feel something spiritual up there being close to the heavens and whatnot. But nope, I took off my shoes, sat on a rock, hugged my dog, and ate some dried mango.
Getting down took half the time as going up. We rushed a little more heading back because the clouds started to come over us and get dark. It sprinkled for a little while but the sky cleared up quickly. I was really sore that night. Walking was painful. I felt great on the inside though. It’s quite an accomplishment to conquer something this challenging. Once we got to town we ate big. A bottle of wine, buffalo wings, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, bread and butter, and pie. Then, I slept hard. I had to work the next day, but I wasn’t really that sore. It wasn’t until 24 hours later that everything began to ache. Stretching before hand, during, and afterwards is a good idea. My calves are still tight.
Training for a 14er
If you want to get your body ready for this extreme activity, here are some ways to prepare yourself and improve your endurance.
- Interval running and walking 2x a week. This helps to get your cardio up to par. Being in shape will make or break your trip. Breathing is fun.
- Yoga 2x a week. Increases flexibility helps prevent injury during your hike.
- Ball lunges, calf raises and squats. Increases strength in calves and ankles which is important when hiking on rocky, unleveled trails.
- Jumping. When you come down the mountain, you’re practically running because of basic science. Energy in motion stays in motion. You’ll love gravity at this point but make sure you have your eyes focused on the ground and stay clear of rocks. Mountain biking will help you with this skill.
- Stair climbing 1x a week, alternate steps.
- Hiking on weekends so you’re used to the elements and practice what you’ll be doing.
- Inclined treadmill walking, no hands, there are no handrails on any of the 14ers unfortunately.
- Stay active during the off season. Climbing a 14er in the off season can be very dangerous. Starting around July is a good time for a beginner. Skiing, snowshoeing or indoor rock climbing are good ways to stay in shape.
If any of you have some helpful tips or advice for my next 14er please comment below. Also if you have any recommendations on which one I should attempt next, let me know! Thanks for tuning in this week! I hope you’re inspired to try it out for yourself!