Always bring a waterproof and windproof shell!
Most 14ers have at least 3-4000 feet of elevation gain, so the temperatures will wildly differ from base to summit. While climbing the peak, you’ll likely just carry the shell in your backpack and sweat your face off. However, temps usually severely drop around 13,000 feet and I typically get chilled, regardless of how hard I am working. Plus, you’ll *hopefully* have extra time to take in the views from the top, and that’s pretty hard to do when you’re bone chilled and getting attacked by wind! Additionally, storms frequently hit while hiking 14ers, and it’s key to keep your base layers dry. I use my Columbia Compounder Shell and it’s pretty perfect for the peaks.
|Cindy, Heidi, and me (I’m wearing the Compounder)|
Don’t forget to add some sort of electrolytes to your water.
For all y’all that already participate in endurance events, this may seem like common sense, but it’s even more extreme on 14ers. Fact: staying ridiculously hydrated is the best way to combat altitude sickness! For example, I always carry at least 100 oz. of water along with 4-5 scoops of Cytomax. The kicker? I’m super accustomed to the altitude and drink significantly less than someone from Ohio would need at elevation. I usually recommend most of my out-of-state friends to carry a full Camelbak bladder plus at least one or two water bottles. Yes, it’s heavy, but I’ve seen altitude sickness in action and it is no bueno!
Absolutely do not forget your sunglasses, sunscreen, hat, and chapstick with SPF!
Although you may be freezing at the top and trying to force your way through some seriously chilly gusts of wind, don’t be fooled– the sun is HOT! I mean, you are a few miles closer to the sun than you are at sea level, so that means that it is super easy to get sunburned. I swear, the high altitude sun is like a furnace! Plus, your eyeballs will seriously start to hurt if you forget your shades, so just save yourself the headache.
The above photo is just as we started our summit bid of Mt. Rainier. It was around midnight, but I want you to see the ridiculous sunburn I have on my face. I had forgotten a hat on this trip and the snow reflected the sun back onto my face during the entire hike into Camp Muir. My skin literally fell off in pieces for the next few weeks, and I am still concerned about melanoma to this day!
Invest in good hiking boots.
I have some out-of-state friends that will fight me on this all day long and have even summitted a few peaks in their sneakers or running shoes. Yes, these shoes are comfy, but if you intend on seriously hiking above tree line, a good pair of hiking boots is necessary. First of all, the boots will provide more ankle support which is critical when you are hiking through the numerous talus and scree fields that cover mountains above 12,000 feet. Additionally, the soles of hiking boots are more sturdy and stiff. This allows you to hop from rock to rock while minimizing the impact on the soles of your feet. Running shoes have flexible soles that don’t do a lot in terms of protecting your feet. Often, running shoes will lead to bruised heels. In short, no bueno!
Plan to be off the summit before noon.
This is a guideline that should really be a definitive rule. Without fail, massive thunderstorms roll onto the summits of 14ers in the afternoon. Sure, a little rain is one thing, but at that elevation, we aren’t talking about a few sprinkles. Instead, think of black skies, gusting winds, sideways snow, and apocalyptic lightning storms. I’ve stupidly experienced a few storms above 13k and even had to launch my ice axe once when it started mildly conducting electricity. How did I know? It was freaking ringing!
Storms at 14,000 feet are, quite literally, deadly and should be avoided at all costs. Start your hikes as early as necessary, and if possible, try to summit by 10am. Often, this may mean hiking in the wee hours of the morning before dawn. On Mt. Rainier, I started hiking around midnight (because the snow bridges soften as the morning heat index rose). Was it bizarre to be hiking that early in the morning? Sure…but safety always has to come first!