“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
— Edmund Hillary
Hiking is my favorite form of recreational activity. It is a kickbutt, muscle-building, calorie-building, endurance fest. But hiking is so much more than a challenging workout. It is a moving meditation, an activity that enlivens and inspires. It lets us interact with the natural world around us and bask in the refreshing vigor of mountain air and awe-inspiring scenery. After going on a hike, I feel accomplished and satisfied in a way that no other exercise comes close to touching. Through hiking, I discovered personal strength and willpower I didn’t even realize I possessed! For those who are interested, I’ve assembled some tips to help you start your own journey to the summit!
My hiking tips:
Prepare, prepare, prepare! Study your route at least a week beforehand. This becomes even more important if you’re doing cairn hiking (when the trail fades out and hikers must follow a series of stacked rock piles to the summit). Carry a guidebook detailing your route. If you have a GPS, bring it along and use it! Check out a website that shows detailed pictures of the route you plan on attempting. My favorites are: 14ers.com (provides fantastic information about routes up the Colorado 14ers) and summitpost.org (provides information about mountains and hikes across the United States and the rest of the world; not limited to Colorado).
Always check the weather before you head out in the morning. Bring appropriate gear. Don’t be afraid to cancel if it looks really terrible. The mountains (or path) will always be there. You, on the other hand, might not if you gamble on the weather.
Start early. This is particularly important for hikers attempting summits in the Western United States. Colorado is especially notorious for afternoon thunderstorms in the summer. To avoid these and the lightning that accompanies them, you want to have make it to the summit by 10 or 11AM at the latest. Depending on the length of your route, this may require a predawn start. Be sure to watch the skies during your hike. Sometimes, storms can move in earlier than anticipated. If you think the clouds are beginning to build, they probably are. A storm can emerge from a completely clear sky in less than 30 minutes in Colorado, so just make sure you are aware of your surroudings.
- Bring enough food and water. Seriously. Don’t even mess with this one. Bring more than you’ll think you need, and just think of the extra weight as a bonus strength workout for your back. I like to carry an entire 2L camelback in my daypack along with one or two filled 1L nalgenes on a 14er hike (the average 14er hike is a 9 to 10 mile roundtrip affair with anywhere between 3500 and 4500 vertical elevation gain). Obviously, a less intense hike won’t require you to carry as much water. Use your best judgment. Foodwise, I carry a summit sandwich (usually a PB&J), an extra sandwich (perhaps another PB&J or a ham and cheese on wheat), trail mix, and multiple larabars or lunabars. Focus on portable, energy-dense foods.
- Wear LOTS of sunscreen. More than you think you need, especially when hiking at the higher elevations out West (don’t think you can skimp if you do most of your hiking on the East Coast!). Sunburns suck, and skin cancer sucks even more, so try to use a broad spectrum UVA/UVB sweat and waterproof brand for superior skin protection. 🙂 Don’t forget to reapply every two hours or so. You might also want to wear a hat made of a breathable, wicking fabric.
- Don’t be afraid to turn around. This is a big one. There is no shame in not summitting. I repeat, there is no shame in not summitting! It is very easy to fall into the trap of summit fever, but don’t let that urge to “conquer the mountain” persuade you otherwise. I have bailed on several summit attempts due to potentially precarious weather, and I have not regretted any of these decisions. Again, the mountain will always be there for another day.
- Stop and smell the roses. It’s easy to get caught up in the physical grind of a hike, but remember to stop every now and then to take in the scenery. Laugh, have fun, and enjoy your escape from the daily grind!
Here is a list of the mountains I’ve climbed and hikes I’ve undertaken over the past four years: