On Saturday, Jeff, Ashley, and I (Kirsten) set out at 5 am to conquer Grays Peak in Arapaho National Park, an 8 mile trail round trip. The peak sits at 14,278 vertical feet, atop multiple, winding switchbacks and rocky trails. The scenery is beautiful, and ended up being perfect for Ashley and I’s first “14er”. Luckily, we had Jeff there for support – this was his 3rd 14er since moving to Colorado one year ago!
Grays Peak is ranked 9th of the 54 Colorado 14ers, and is considered a Class 1 difficulty. This is a great peak for beginners with an extra challenge (if you’re up for it) with Torrey’s being the neighboring peak. From the top of Grays, you can slide on down and back up to Torreys to hit two peaks in one afternoon- both are “14ers” as both peaks are above 14,000 vertical feet. Because of the weather, we did not make it to Torreys, but look forward to going back and trying it before the end of summer!
What I learned on my first 14er:
- Start earlier so that more breaks can be taken, and more time can be spent at the top! It’s important to check out the weather conditions before going, and make sure to pay attention to the clouds while on the hike. Listen to what the weather is telling you!
- Bring two liters of water, minimum. Staying hydrated is going to battle the altitude sickness that many experience while climbing and hiking 14ers. Gaining 4,000 feet in the span of a few hours can be rough on the body – treat it well!
- Buy and bring poles. Not only will you burn more calories, you will also see less harsh impact on your bones and joints. Jeff let me borrow his the entire hike, which was a life saver!
- Dress in layers. I went with long-legged, thick yoga pants, a tank top, a short-sleeved shirt, a hoodie, and a light rain coat. I also had an extra long-sleeved shirt in my backpack just in case! If you’re too warm, take it off and stuff it in your backpack. Too cold? Bundle up. At that high of altitude, the weather changes quickly and often.
- SUNSCREEN, SUNSCREEN, SUNSCREEN. Protect your skin with sunscreen as there isn’t shade past the treeline. Set an alarm on your phone for every 30 minutes to lather up again. Don’t forget your scalp and ears – my scalp hates me right now as I type this.
- FOOD: Bring at least a salty snack and a carb snack. As you slam those 2 whole liters of water, the salt in your body needs to be replenished. I brought Gardetto’s and ended up eating half of the bag. I also brought some dried cranberry trail mix with seeds and yogurt raisins mixed. Lastly, I brought a few Cliff Bars to regenerate with. A lot of hikers on the trail brought sandwiches and ate them at the top. I saw a few with some fine Colorado Craft brews also!
- Slow and steady wins the race. Know your limits and know your pace – it’s okay to take more breaks, just make sure the weather is permitting and you have time to do so. Don’t overdo it and hurt yourself- that’s silly. You can count your steps to decide how often to break and keep yourself on pace. For example, I would count 60 steps and see if I needed a 10 second break; if I didn’t need a break after 60 steps, I would count 60 more and again gauge where I was.
In two weeks, we are looking forward to conquering Mt. Elbert for Steve’s first 14er. This is also in preparation for the Colorado 54 event for Clean Water where we will ascend Mount Democrat and hopefully 3 other neighboring peaks! The rush you feel when completing something this strenuous is amazing, and incredibly addicting.
Climbing Grays Peak was the hardest thing I’ve ever physically done to my body. I have been told that there are no actual “EASY” 14ers. Many websites and personalities will rank them, but because of the stress level that you are causing your body, it’s important to be safe and research before you go: research the hike, good shoes, the weather, poles, timing of sunrise and sunset, etc. Also make sure you go with someone, or in a group. If this isn’t possible, take a screenshot of the map you followed in on your phone and send it to someone. Hiking in general can be dangerous – imagine the possibilities at 13,000 feet with no support and terrible weather!
Check out rankings and tons of other helpful information about 14ers here.