how not to hike a 14er

I was not familiar with the term "14er" until my brother and D started talking about doing one for my brother's birthday. Basically the term 14er describes a mountain that is above 14,000ft. Colorado has 53 of the 96 14ers in the US, so the term is widely used in Colorado. My brother had been wanting to climb one since he moved there and we were flying there for his birthday, so it just seemed reasonable to do a birthday hike. There were a few things I would have done differently...

We chose Gray's Peak to hike, since it was rated one of the easier 14ers in Colorado. Let me start by saying, I thought I would be fine because it was rated one of the easiest. Typically any 14er is going to be difficult. I think one of my first mistakes was thinking this hike was going to be pretty moderate. The trail was about 8 miles long and had an elevation gain of 3500 ft.

First off, the road was extemly bumpy on the way to the trailhead so make sure you have a 4x4 vehicle you can drive there. We started the hike bright and early so we could be some of the first people on the trail head. Starting this hike so early was incredible because we could watch the light come over the mountains.

This was taken at 7am when we had been hiking for about 30 min.

This was taken at 7am when we had been hiking for about 30 min.

During the first 30 min I realized I had made a mistake. D and I had arrived in Colorado not even 24 hours before this hike and I could feel my body just gasping for oxygen. It takes the body awhile to acclimate to the depleted oxygen levels around you and needless to say, we had not given ourselves enough time. Some people bring little oxygen cans with them on hikes like this, but we were not even aware that was a thing until we saw some people using them as they passed us on the trail.

Gray's peak is the tallest point in this picture.

Gray's peak is the tallest point in this picture.

I would highly recommend starting this hike before sunrise. Something about mountains and colored clouds can't be beat.

I would highly recommend starting this hike before sunrise. Something about mountains and colored clouds can't be beat.

Most people do these type of hikes in the summer where Colorado weather is perfect. We ended up doing this hike in November, which caused a few issues. I was wearing my hiking boots, wool socks, an under layer, hiking/waterproof pants, my trusty Patagonia jacket (which I talk about in this post), a beanie, neck guard, and gloves. Somehow, I was still cold. As we got about 1/2 way up, I realized I should have had more layers and was freezing. Unfortunately, my brother kindly loaned me a layer to put underneath my jacket. Now, without a valid reason to stop the hike prematurely, onward we went.

Many breaks were taken along the way for snacks and resting. We brought some cliff bars and trail mix. While hiking, we never feel like eating that much and with how bad I was feeling at this point, it was hard to even eat a full bar. However, this cool mint one is very tasty and contains caffeine (always a win in my book). 


Although the higher we went the worse I felt, the views did become more and more spectacular.


As we continued, it started to snow. And snow some more. Until we were basically caught in a blizzard and eventually a whiteout.

Needless to say, I was miserable at this point and every step I took was a mental feat. I know I'm making it sound like I climbed Mount Everest, but in combination with the blizzard, altitude sickness, and gasping for air with every breath I was over it. I wish I was joking when I say that I sat down and cried at one point close to the top.

With some coaxing and encouragement from my husband, we made it to the top without even getting to see the view because of the snow storm.

The unfortunate part is that once we made it to the top, we had to go all the way back down. Since the snow had built up, the hike down was slippery and wet. We spent most of it on our butts from slipping so much which took even more energy to get back up each time. Not to mention that my hair was wet so it just kept grabbing snow. I eventually stopped trying to keep the snow off, which is where the infamous snow dreads pic was born.


We finally made it down the mountain and had to take the bumpy ride back down to the actual rode. D felt so sick at this point that we had to pull over while he threw up from altitude sickness.

I tried to be as transparent as possible through this 14er experience so that you don't make the same mistakes I did. Here's what I would have done differently in some bullet points.

  1. Allow time to get acclimated to the altitude. Although my brother and sister-in-law struggled on this hike, they did not struggle nearly as much as D and I. Since they live in Colorado, they had been used to higher elevation and the change in altitude did not hit them as hard.

  2. Bring more layers. I truly thought I would be fine with what I chose to wear since we would be hiking the whole time, but I was wrong. Throw a couple extra layers in your backpack just in case.

  3. Create the right mindset. I did not think this hike would be that bad since it was rated one of the easier 14ers. I wish I would have started with thinking this would be difficult for me so that when I started to really struggle it did not catch me off guard. Mindset is everything and I did not have the right one.

  4. Go during the summer. If the snowstorm did not convince you enough, do not try this hike during the fall/winter months. Do yourself a favor and go during the summer.

I hope this helps if you have ever thought about climbing a 14er! Let me know your successes and struggles with hikes you've done!