How to Climb a 14er

A 14er is a mountain with a summit above 14,000ft (4267m). The highest 14er in the contiguous United States is Mt. Whitney (14,491') in California. Colorado has over fifty 14ers, making it the highest state in the US. Some other famous 14ers include Pikes Peak, CO (14,110'); Mt. Rainier, WA (14,410'); and Mt. Elbert, CO (14,433').
Although many 14ers can be climbed in one day, it is important to have a basic understanding of survival techniques and always BE PREPARED.


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    Prepare your route. Make sure the trail you plan to follow is within your hiking and endurance capabilities. Check the weather report for the day you plan to hike. Try to be off the peak as early as possible to avoid afternoon thunderstorms and lightning.
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    Gather all your supplies the day before you attempt the climb. You may be trying to summit in one day or take a multi-day backpacking trip. Either way, ensure you have proper equipment and survival gear.
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    Notify someone of your trip and estimated time of return. Provide specifics including: vehicle make, model and license number; who you are traveling with; trailhead; and planned route.
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    Leave early to give yourself enough time to complete the trip and avoid hazardous weather. Lightning is especially hazardous above treeline. Storms have a greater chance of forming in the afternoon. Plan to descend below treeline as early in the day as possible.
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    When hiking, try to keep a steady pace. Don't rush at the start and be sure to give yourself enough water breaks.
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    Above 12,000' (or lower if you're not acclimated) stop and rest for a few minutes if you feel lightheaded. The lightheadedness is from a lack of oxygen to your brain. Resting will make more blood available for your noggin'.
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    Enjoy the view at the top and sign the logbook (if available) as a record of your success.
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    Observe the weather and return to tree line before hazardous weather approaches.
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    Keep a steady pace on the descent. Be careful not to run and trip. The downward hike is often more strenuous on the legs and feet than hiking uphill.
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    Return to the trail head before dark, or be sure to carry a flashlight or headlamp.
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    Brag to your friends about your success (or try again another day).


  • BEFORE YOU LEAVE, decide on an turn-around time, based on weather reports and sunset. On the trail, be prepared to turn around earlier if weather, a medical condition, or water dictate. NEVER continue towards the summit after your predetermined turnaround time.
  • Take lots of water breaks.
  • Bring extra water and leave it in your vehicle to drink on the drive home.
  • There are many great mountains in Colorado that require very little or no technical climbing and can easily be completed in a single day.
  • Pack light but be sure you have all essentials.
  • Always hike with others.
  • If you begin to feel tired above tree line, consider turning back. The mountain will be there tomorrow.
  • If you can spend the night at the trailhead, that will help to acclimate you and will eliminate driving the day of your ascent. A weather radio will be useful to check the weather that morning if you decide to do this.
  • Zip-offs, or shorts under long pants are a great way to keep cool while hiking and stay warm at the top. Remember that it can be 70 degrees at the trailhead but windy below freezing at the top.
  • Start and summit as early as possible as thunderstorms are more likely to occur later in the day (typically 1-4pm)
  • If you are traveling from an altitude near sea level give yourself at least 24 hours to acclimate to an elevation of 5,000 feet (1,524.0 m) or more.


  • Avoid being caught in open areas during a lightning storm! While these can occur at any time, they are most prevalent between 1 and 4pm.
  • The advice in this article is dangerous because every mountain is different, especially mountains of this size. You may need to know a LOT that isn't discussed here in order to safely climb a big mountain, such as how to protect yourself with rope, harness, climbing gear, anchors etc.; how to climb in balance using specialized equipment like crampons and ice axes; how to avoid objective hazards like rockfall and avalanche; how to know when conditions are becoming dangerous, etc., etc.
  • Read up on and be aware of High Altitude Sickness symptoms and remedies.
  • At high altitudes (above 10,000ft), there is less oxygen. Depending on where you are from, it will be harder to breathe. Take many short rests and breathe steadily.
  • Weather in the mountains can change very rapidly. Be prepared and bring appropriate gear.
  • Be sure to apply sunscreen to any exposed skin. There is less atmosphere to block UV rays at 14,000' and you will burn much more easily. It is best to additionally wear a brimmed hat and long sleeves.
  • If you plan to drive after the hike, be sure you are not tired and can remain alert!
  • Do not push yourself too hard. Abort the climb if hazardous conditions arise.
  • Make sure you drink enough water to stay hydrated!

Things You'll Need

  • First Aid Kit (with band-aids, gauze, tape, etc.)
  • Water, water, water (at least 50 oz--two full size biking water bottles--per hour)
  • Sunscreen (SPF of at least 30)
  • Chap Stick
  • Fire Starter (matches, lighter, flint/steel, candle, etc.)("trick" birthday candles work great...they're much easier to keep lit!)
  • Whistle (three short blasts signal an emergency)
  • Mirror (for signaling a search plane in an emergency)
  • Flashlight
  • Map of Area
  • Compass
  • Pocket Knife
  • Food (lunch and snacks as appropriate)
  • Extra Food (a couple candy bars are good)
  • Any required Medication (inhaler, aspirin, ibuprofen, allergy kit, etc.)
  • Proper clothes for weather (jacket, hat, etc)
  • Camera/Binoculars (many awesome views, don't forget film/memory chip and extra batteries)
  • A Pack to carry your gear
  • Hiking poles

Article Info

Categories: Climbing