My lungs are pulling all the oxygen that they can. My hands are swelling from elevation and feel full of water. My feet feel heavier every thousand feet or so, and the “light” pack on my back feels like I added twenty pounds of weight somewhere. The wind is crisp and cuts through me and gusts throw me off balance at times as I make my way up to the summit. The last of the 58 Colorado 14ers that I have to climb. I can feel how tired I’m getting and push through to reach my goal. I take out our Subaru sign, and set up a quick shot against some rocks to capture Randy and I on our last summit.
How great is that to say?! I can remember when Randy and I decided to set this goal to climb all the Colorado 14ers within two years. We had just started really exploring Colorado, and although I’ve lived here for most of my life, I can honestly say I hadn’t seen much. I mostly skied during my winters and camped out or fished in the summers. Randy had climbed many mountain ranges, but mostly in Montana. We set out hiking new terrain almost every weekend, and soon were eager for something harder and more challenging. That’s when we decided to climb our first 14er, Mt. Bierstadt. Arguably it’s the easiest 14er and a good beginner one to start with. We had also climbed this when 100 other people were as well and soon learned that it wouldn’t be the last time we saw many others on a summit attempt. It was a beautiful thing to see so many interested like we were! From that point on, we knew we’d set out to climb them all.
When you initially climb in higher elevation, it’s the unknown. Yes of course you read about what to take with you, what to watch for and prepare as much as you can, but you soon learn what you need or want and adjust. For instance, Randy and I had only small “summit” packs for Bierstadt and other similar climbs. Our packs really only hold the essentials, and we wanted to pack light to get up and down as quickly as we could. The packs include water, food and maybe a beanie and light rain jacket. But you quickly realize as you go (especially in winter) that you need to pack more. It only takes one climb in a storm, in winter or in high wind for you to want to immediately go to the nearest REI or outdoor store to purchase better hiking shoes, gaiters, crampons, multiple layers of clothing or bigger packs. We adjusted our intake of food as well. At first we ate a lot of food bars, and eventually brought real food, like pizza, bean and cheese burritos, egg sandwiches and peanut butter pretzels. You climb so many of these mountains, and you definitely want something appetizing when you’re not “hungry” but know you need to eat to sustain yourself. Not only do you adjust what you take or what you eat, but also you physically change. Your body becomes accustomed to the higher elevation and shock you put it through. Your body actually uses oxygen better. You feel stronger and can go longer each hike. You cover more terrain more quickly. Again, it all comes with time and experience as you go. Eventually you run out of “easy” 14ers, and move into harder and more technical climbs which could require helmets, ice axes, crampons, snow shoes or floatation. And with that, more risk is involved, and it’s important to know skills like navigating with a GPS and topo map, following coordinates and depending on the time of year, how to detect dangers in the snow like avalanches. At the very least, the more technical climbs require balance, route finding at times and no fear. (I also would suggest a good pair of gloves with lots of dexterity). Colorado fourteeners can be done all without ropes, and you can even do them without all the snow as well. It all just depends on your goals and the time you want to complete them in.
In addition to our accomplishment, Randy and I have also climbed half of the 14ers in California and Mt. Rainier within the last two years. Some things about the Colorado climbs compared to other ranges are that Colorado has amazing resources for anyone to be able to use. Not only does Colorado have forums like 14ers.com, there are books detailing the climbs and its many routes. I personally used Gerry Roach’s “Colorado’s Fourteeners book as my guide, and would refer to 14ers.com which provided current conditions and trip reports to help my decision making. California is another animal. Its far less recorded and the route finding can be intense. We ran into some with great trails and obvious routes, and others were not as tracked. I would highly suggest to bring topo maps of each area (and know how to use them) and a GPS. I was grateful to have my GPS on me. Additionally, many California 14ers require certain permits (depending on the route). In addition to permits, there are routes were you’ll run into glaciers and crevasses. Extreme caution and experience to glacier travel or experience in crevasse rescue is recommended, or hire a guiding company to assist you in those climbs. We simply do not have those features on the Colorado 14ers to worry about.
Our experiences during the last two years are ones that I’ll never forget. I’ve met some great people along the way who are now great friends. We’ve seen some of the less travelled parts of Colorado and have come to appreciate our mountains even more so now. We’ve also seen some of the coolest unique small town of Colorado and now have our own favorites. I guess there is only really one thing left to do…start climbing the 100 tallest mountains in Colorado to complete the Centennial challenge.