Climbing a fourteener? Congratulations. You’re having a true Colorado experience. Here’s what you need to know to make sure it’s also a good experience.
Altitude sickness: It’s very capricious. It can strike the fittest person in your group, and it can strike veteran climbers who never had it before.
“Also, it can hit people as low as 10,000 feet,” said Roger J. Wendell, a certified CMC leader who has three decades of volunteer experience with the 107-year-old club. “Even people that live in Denver can get sick at 10,000 feet. Certainly people from the flatlands are more susceptible to it, but 10,000 feet and above, that’s the zone to be wary of.”
It’s probably OK to continue if you have a mild headache or become slightly nauseous.
“But when you start getting extreme nausea, dizziness and disorientation, it’s time to turn around and go back down,” Wendell cautioned. “That’s the best cure for altitude sickness.”
Footwear: Wendell recommends lightweight hiking boots.
“People like the extra support around the ankles,” Wendell said. “Equally important, though, is somewhat resistant to soaking up water. Sometimes in the early summer and late spring, trails can be muddy. We would like you to stay on the trail, and a good hiking boot or real light hiking boot will allow you to do that. Many people use trail runners now, but you may have to be prepared to get some wet feet at times.”
Most people stick with synthetic socks that wick away moisture, although some opt for wool. It’s also a good idea to bring some mole skin in case you start developing a blister.
Clothing: Stay away from cotton, and that includes blue jeans. Remember fourteeners can get very cold, even in the summer. Dress in synthetic layers and don’t forget to pack a wind shell.
Navigation: Yes, there are all sorts of modern GPS aids and smart phone apps, but if your battery dies, then what? Bring an old fashioned map and compass just to be safe, and know how to use it.
Nutrition and hydration: You may lose your appetite on the trail. Eat anyway. You may not feel like stopping to pull your water bottle out of your pack. Do it anyway. You need to drink a lot at high altitude, and you’re going to burn a lot of calories on a fourteener.
“We encourage people to eat a light breakfast and snacks along the way as needed,” Wendell said. “You might have to force yourself a little bit.”
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