Hiking and climbing one of Colorado's 14er peaks is a thrill! Here's how to prepare your body for the grueling task of climbing a 14,000-plus-foot peak.
If you’ve set your sights on the summit of a 14er, odds are you’re already pretty active, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to train for the trek. While some hikes to the summit are easier than others, all are arduous and will require both strength and endurance. That means starting to train for your climb at least three months in advance (longer if you have been spending more time on the couch than at the gym or on the trail).
Weight it out
Weight training at least three times a week is a good start to get ready to tackle your first 14er. Work all your major muscle groups, not just your legs, and spend at least 30 minutes per workout. A strong core, as well as strong arms, will help propel you to the top.
Can you say cardio?
Strength is only half the equation of 14er fitness. Aerobic workouts are just as important. Get that heart pumping and improve your body’s ability to deliver the oxygen your muscles will need as you make your ascent. Run, hit the treadmill or the elliptical, take the stairs -- a lot. Trails.com (a resource for all things hiking, backpacking and camping) recommends exercising at 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate (which typically is 220 less your age; check out this calculator to do the math)
Know and boost your VO2 max
VO2 max, or maximal oxygen uptake, is the measure of the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during an intense workout. You can have it measured at the gym, but might not need to. Any kind of aerobic exercise will up your VO2. If you’re already in great shape, adding short bursts of increased intensity to your workout routine will help you increase your VO2 max. Intervals should up your heart rate to 80 to 95 percent of maximum for a minute to 10 minutes. This likely will leave you winded and will make you think your heart is going to pound right out of your chest, so be smart about how long and how many intervals you add. In other words, know and respect your body and push it, but don’t push it beyond its limits.
Add some elevation
You’re training to climb a peak more than 2.5 miles high, so it only makes sense to take your fitness prep uphill. Make sure you add runs and climbs into your routine. Even small hills can help you prepare to tackle the incline you’ll face on your 14er.
It’s worth noting here, too, that your climb will involve activity at altitude. If you’re not used to the elevation, it is a good idea to do some training at altitude. And while we’re talking altitude, make sure that you and everyone in your climbing party know the warning signs of altitude sickness, which include, but aren’t limited to, nausea, headaches, racing heartbeat and shortness of breath.
Extend your clock
Climbing a 14er can’t be done in an hour or two, rather, it could take you the better part of a day or more, so you should make sure your training regimen includes longer workouts, such as hour-plus runs or hiking or biking for three or four hours.
Strength and stamina are key, but so, too, is flexibility. Stretching and other exercises that increase your flexibility are important elements to add to your routine. Trails.com recommends at least one yoga class a week.
Know where you’re going
Not all 14ers are the same, so make sure to study the mountain you’re going to tackle. Will you need rock climbing equipment, will you encounter snowfields, what is your route to the top? Doing your homework will help ensure a great day.
What and how much you carry with you depends on how long you plan to spend bagging your peak. For a day trip, at top of your list should be plenty of water to ensure you don’t dehydrate. Other essentials include adequate clothing to deal with temperature swings, a map, a fully charged cell phone, sunscreen, toilet paper, zip-lock plastic bags to carry out your waste, and of course food, such as Backpacker’s Pantry’s lightweight, nutritious options for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks.
A good checklist of what to pack based on where you’re heading can be found at 14ers.com.
Rest up to be ready
In advance of your climb, try to spend a few days prior at altitude to ensure you’re acclimated. Eat plenty of healthy food in the days leading up to your climb, drink lots of water so you’re hydrated and take it easy for the day or two prior to your ascent. It’s also a good idea to abstain from alcohol in the day or two leading up to your climb, which will help you stay hydrated. Trails.com also suggests that ibuprofen prior to your ascent can help counter inflammation or headaches brought on by being at altitude and that antacids can counter low blood pH due to lack of oxygen.
Now that you’re properly rested and prepared, your mountain awaits.