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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Lee

Preparing for a Summit | 14ers + 13ers in Colorado

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

Disclosure: this is by no means meant to be an all inclusive guide to planning a 13er or 14er summit. This is meant to be a starting point with resources that are helpful for me in the planning process. I am always happy to answer questions. The most important part is to do your research, be prepared and feel comfortable prior to embarking on a summit attempt. These mountains can be extremely dangerous and should not be considered lightly.


It is critical to know your own body and your dog. Don’t push yourself beyond your fitness level or your dog’s fitness level. Also, keep in mind that you can do all the preparation in the world and still encounter terrain or conditions that were not anticipated. And, while no one wants to think about their dog getting hurt it can happen. Make sure you are prepared for a dog injury as well as a human injury. Search and Rescue (SAR) will not send out a team for an injured animal. Check out my packing list for more details.


PLANNING A 13ER OR 14ER HIKE

I start the planning process with a general area/mountain range, distance, elevation gain and technical difficulty in mind.

- I do this by looking at 14ers.com and filtering by mountain range.

- I also recommended filtering by with route if you are not comfortable with route planning and creating your own map without a .gpx file.

- I narrow it down to a few options based on: distance, elevation gain, technical difficulty (class of the climb).

- The class of climb should be your number one priority in planning. You do not want to end up on a mountain out of your capability or your dog’s capability.

- The elevation gain per mile is more important to me than the overall distance. This will tell you how gradual vs. steep the grade of climbing is and is the best way to estimate how long the hike will take.

- Once I narrow it down to a few options, I read trip reports, peak conditions and study the route on 14ers.com.

- I also check to see if the mountain is on AllTrails. If it is, I compare the routes and reviews. AllTrails routes are not always the same as 14ers.com. The difficult part about AllTrails is that it often does not include what class of climb the route is, which is very dangerous and misleading; this is why I recommend starting with 14ers.com. It is also important to recognize that some mountains have multiple routes so make sure you are downloading the right one for you on both 14ers.com and AllTrails.

- If there are no recent trip reports or peak conditions, I will look for a trip report or review from a previous year for a similar time of year as my climb. However, it is important to understand that conditions vary greatly between years. There are multiple 14ers groups on Facebook that can be very helpful for recent condition reports, especially in the off season when less people are climbing.

- If there is a route available I download it on AllTrails and download the .gpx file from 14ers.com to the TopoMaps+ app.

- Other resources I use to study the route: COTREX app, CalTopo, climb13ers.com. See links below for links to helpful resources.

- When I am looking at all these resources, I am primarily looking at the class of climb however I also want to get a sense of the terrain. For example, is there a lot of loose rock or scree that could be tough on the dog’s paws? Is there a lot of exposure, cliff faces or cornices? Thinking about the terrain a dog can handle is just as important as considering what you can handle.

- It is extremely important to check the weather when planning and days leading up to the hike. You never want to be caught above the tree line in a thunder/lightning storm. If there is a storm risk you want to know what time it is expected to plan according. See below for more information on weather.

- In winter it is always very important to check the most up to date avalanche risk, provided by CAIC, in the area.

- In addition, the CalTopo App allows you to filter by map layers. Filtering by the slope angle shading allows you to assess for the avalanche risk. Avalanche risk significantly increases at slope angles of 30 degrees or greater. Check out Winter Hike Planning for more details.


WEATHER

My favorite weather forecast for the mountains is Mountain-Forecast. This website has mountain weather forecast for most 14ers in Colorado. If you cannot find an entry for the mountain you are climbing, particularly a 13er, I recommend searching for a nearby mountain to get the most accurate information. This website has very detailed information including: overall conditions, wind speed, temperature, sunrise/sunset, precipitation and weather radars. You can also adjust by elevation point to see the trailhead conditions vs. the summit conditions. This website shows the weather 5-7 days in advance. 2 days prior you are able to expand the daily forecast and see hourly forecast, as shown below.




CAMPING

Now that I have a mountain picked, a route downloaded, weather checked and reviews read, it’s time to decide if camping nearby is feasible.

- Camping before a summit attempt can be nice because you usually get more sleep than sleeping at home and having to wake up very early and drive to the trailhead. But, this isn't possible or necessary for every mountain.

- This information is sometimes available on 14ers.com in the trip reports.

- I spend a lot of time looking at Google maps at forest service roads in that area.

- I also Google the name of the peak and nearby camping, use various dispersed camping websites (freecampsites.com & thedyrt.com), off roading apps (onX offroad) and blogs.


OTHER TIPS

- Be prepared. This can mean a wide variety of things, check out Solo Adventuring for more tips, weather you will be alone or with a group.

- A route map, a camping location and time estimate is always left with 2 people for safety.

- I calculate a time estimate, based on elevation gain per mile, overall distance and recent reviews. This allows me to leave a detailed plan with someone in case they haven't heard from me by a certain time and need to contact SAR.

- I always carry a Garmin inReach Mini for emergencies. I also use it to update people about my progress on a route if I don't have cell phone service.

- I always start early in the summer months, before sunrise, to minimize the risk of being caught in a storm. Storms generally roll in after 12pm but it can, and does, happen at any time at high elevations.

- I am always prepared to turn around and not summit if the weather changes rapidly or conditions aren’t safe. Reasons I would turn around include, but are not limited to: feeling unusually fatigued (humans or dog), signs of altitude sickness, injury (human or dog), unexpected terrain that is more difficult than we anticipated and can handle, storm clouds approaching quickly, visible lightning, feeling static electricity, poor conditions or visibility and not being able to follow the planned route.

- Weather can change extremely quickly at high elevations so it is important to be prepared for all seasons on every hike.

- Prior to hiking, I make note of the nearest SAR team and the nearest emergency vet.


FITNESS

- Not everyone prepares or stays in shape in the same way, so my way certainly isn’t the right way or the only way. I stay in shape year round with: hiking, snowshoeing, trail running, skiing, at home strength workouts, outdoor biking and spin biking. My dogs stay in shape with hiking, trail running, body awareness & strength exercises and fetch. On average I exercise 5-6 days per week, this includes trail running or hiking with the dogs 4-5 times a week (all year round in all weather conditions).

- I think the best way to prepare to be at high elevation and avoid altitude sickness is to go to high elevations frequently. This doesn’t mean just hiking 13ers and 14ers. There are plenty of mountains and hikes over 11,000 feet that will help you adjust and adapt to that high of altitude. I have found that the more frequently I hike at higher elevations the less it affects me.

- I recommend starting with easier and shorter hikes and gradually increase the distance and difficulty over time so you and your dog build up strength, fitness and endurance. Just like you wouldn’t go hike a 14er as your first hike ever, don’t expect your dog to!

- Since climbing season is primarily in the summer, I use winter to prepare and get in shape! Winter hikes can be more difficult and the weather can be grueling but it is a great way to prepare.

- Don't be surprised if you have to take it very slow on your first time times at this high of elevation.


ALTITUDE SICKNESS

Everyone is affected by altitude differently; some people are affected worse than others and it varies at what altitude it affects people at. The best way to resolve symptoms of altitude sickness is to get to lower elevations as quickly as possible.

- Signs of altitude sickness in humans: headache, feeling sickness, dizziness, over tiredness, loss of appetite, extreme shortness of breath even when stopped, vomiting, feeling lightheaded

- Signs of altitude sickness in dogs: shortness of breath, excessive panting, drooling, bleeding from the nose, pale gums, swelling of face or limbs, collapsing.



I am always happy to answer questions about hiking or preparing to hike with dogs! Check out the helpful links below for many of the resources referenced in this blog!




HELPFUL LINKS


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