COLORADO — Welcome to Colorado, land of mesas, plains, rivers, sand dunes and most importantly: 53 — depending on who you talk to — 14,000-foot mountains.
Here in the Centennial State, we call those 14ers, and they're both a badge of honor and a daunting challenge for those who climb them. That number amounts to thousands each year from around the globe.
They aren't Mount Everest, but don't get us wrong: they're dangerous and claim dozens of lives each year. For those embarking upon a routine summer journey, tips may not be needed, but with Colorado's swelling population, there will be many newcomers on the trails this year.
For those who are inexperienced, a few key tips could help turn a challenging experience into an incredible one, rather than one which you suffer through.
1.) Take it slow, choose one of Colorado's less taxing peaks to summit first.
Colorado's easier peaks include Mount Bierstadt, Grays Peak, Quandary Peak and Torreys Peak are a few choices that will be less taxing and dangerous, all while getting your legs primed for mountaineering.
A solid tip from experienced hikers is choosing mountains that allow you a slight head start, and a hike of only about 3,000 feet in elevation.
2.) Gear up appropriately.
You're going to need water, a lot of it. But that's not all. Don't be caught on the trails wearing flip flops, in shorts. You'll quickly be turned around by more experienced hikers who recommend you change.
Bring a large backpack with space for a change of socks, a pair of shorts (you probably should start in pants since it gets cold at the top) and a first aid kit.
Don't forget a hat, sunglasses and other creature comforts.
3.) Fuel your body.
Drink water ahead of time, don't drink alcohol the night before, eat a good meal before you hit the trails. In addition, you will burn thousands of calories on your hike. Ensure you bring high-protein snacks like peanuts, granola bars and maybe even a sandwich. (Did we mention it's beautiful at the top of a mountain? Picnic time!)
Part of fueling your body is giving it the rest it needs. Be sure to take rests when your body is telling you it needs a break.
4.) Hike in pairs, or groups.
It can't hurt to hike with a friend, especially one who has summited a 14er in the past. Consider taking one along on your first journey to the top both for the company and their experience.
Even on the least dangerous of hikes, disaster can strike at any point. A small fall could lead to cuts, bruises or a broken leg and a hiking partner can help rescue you in a pinch.
5.) Start your hike early in order to finish early.
Not only will it help if you plan on parking in a busy area — have we mentioned Colorado is slightly crowded — but you'll be surprised at the number of hours it takes to get to the top, and you don't want to be anywhere near the top when the sun sets.
Starting early can also help you keep your energy up throughout the day.
6.) Hitting the summit is only making it halfway there.
Realize that your ultimate goal is the top of the mountain, but you can't paraglide down. We recommend taking your time on the way down, as your body will have consumed a great deal of energy on the way back up.
If you're wondering if it's easier to get back down: it's not.
7.) Enjoy the time, know it's worth the journey.
We don't recommend you journey up a 14er unless you have your mind in the right place and are completely prepared for how difficult it will be.
With that in mind, getting to the top of one of these beautiful mountains can be something of a spiritual experience, and entirely worth the effort.
Enjoy every step and wear the 14er badge as one of honor!
BONUS: Use extra space in your pack for unmentionables.
Experienced mountaineers at Denver7 recommend bringing toilet paper, among other unmentionables just in case nature calls. On a multi-hour hike, there's a great chance it will.