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How to climb a mountain

Colleen O’Neil
coneil@postindependent.com
A hike to the summit of Mount Sopris can give you a totally different view of the Roaring Fork Valley.
Colleen O’Neil/Post Independent |

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Climbing mountains is an essential part of the Colorado lifestyle. I mean, they’re even on our license plates. And walking up a really big hill is totally worth it — there’s nothing like standing on a peak, looking at everything below you. But it’s also a little dangerous up on top of the world.

If you’ve hiked a fourteener recently, chances are you’ve seen a tired family from Illinois on the mountain with nary a rain jacket or energy bar. You and your friends don’t want to be those, exhausted, scared people. We put together this handy guide to make sure you have sound advice while you’re out there tackling peaks.

First of all, the elevation is tough on your body. Even if you’re an Olympic athlete at sea level, 10,000 to 14,000 feet is a totally different world. If you’re new to the area, take a few days to acclimate before climbing a fourteener. See how you feel walking up the steps to the pizza joint before you try taking on the mountain.

While you’re checking out the gear shops in town, don’t let the employees get you in over your head. You might hear someone say, “You should check out Capitol, you don’t really need any crazy gear.” But don’t listen. There is no such thing as an easy fourteener — especially not in the Elks (our local mountain range). Even Mount Sopris poses some technical challenges. If you start out underestimating the mountain, you’ll probably come back into town with your tail between your legs — or worse. Respect the mountain and respect your own ability level.

Once you’ve picked your peak, it’s time to get serious and prepare for the hike. First, plan your route, and then plan an alternate route if you get into trouble. The peaks in the Elks are technical and physically demanding. During the summer, rocks can get loose from heat, people and wildlife, trails can get crowded, and bad weather can sneak up on you in the afternoon.

It’s best to start walking early on a weekday morning (think sunrise or earlier) to avoid hordes of other hikers and to dodge bad weather.

If you do run into other hikers, be respectful and know proper trail etiquette. Essentially, whoever is working the hardest gets to keep going. This means a hiker going uphill, a hiker without an easy pull-off or the hiker with the bigger burden gets to keep trucking.

Check the local forecast, too, since thunderstorms can happen every day. And even if the weather reports say it should be warm in town, the peaks are totally different. Always try to be off the peak by noon — that’s usually when the clouds build up into thunderheads. Expect your triumphant climb to be met with cold and wind. Layer up, wear sunscreen and sunglasses and be prepared to be moving in and out of very different climates.

You should also take at least two liters of water and some extra food, because there are no snack bars on mountain tops.

If you decide your four-legged friend needs to have the accomplishment of tackling a fourteener, keep Fido leashed. Dogs threaten fragile alpine wildlife. A dog running free is a menace to wildlife and other dogs. Also, dogs can get injured — if you’ve climbed enough mountains, you might have seen dog owners carrying their pet off the top of a fourteener. It’s one thing to carry your poor little terrier down a few thousand feet, but if your baby is 100 pounds of dog, you both might struggle to make it down.

Dogs aren’t the only ones who can do damage to the environment either. Stay on the trails when you are hiking because there are plants on those peaks much older than you, and nobody wants to be the guy that trampled the hundred-year-old vegetation.

For more information on these proud peaks and how you can interact with them visit http://www.14ers.org.


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