I had been hearing people talk about doing “14ers” for several years and my interest grew over the years. Although I previously mentioned we have mountains in Texas, we don’t have any 14ers. Colorado is the closest, and one of the best places for a variety of 14er experiences. A few years back I had the opportunity to take my son on our first backpacking trip, and ultimately our first 14er.
The trip was with a group consisting of teenagers and adults. We were to be guided by a group of twenty-somethings who spent their summers taking groups like us up and down the mountains in an area between Buena Vista and Leadville. Our group would get to summit Mt. Elbert, the tallest mountain in Colorado and second tallest in the US at 14,440 feet. It had been some time since I had done any exercise routines, so I knew I’d better get started early for this trip. I later came to appreciate two pieces of advice I received for altitude management: start taking antacids and aspirin a month ahead of the trip to help combat gas buildup and blood thinning in the higher altitudes.
Upon our arrival, we were given our backpacks, sleeping gear, tents, cooking utensils and food for the five-day journey. We trekked through the woods and up a couple thousand feet in elevation to slowly acclimate ourselves to the thinning air. This also allowed us to get used to the heavy packs, as well as the process of processing clean water cycles to stay hydrated. A side note, I learned quickly that taking in water at elevation requires much more diligence and volume than at our typical lowland elevations in Texas. Our first night was cool and crisp, but very comfortable.
After enjoying a beautiful mountain morning and some breakfast, we broke camp and headed up to the tree line at around 11,000 feet. This out of shape dad was glad he got in some exercise, as the heavy backpack and steep climb was having its impact. We made our destination for the next couple of nights and set up camp. The mountain scenery is a wonderful experience, but one thing surprised most of us at this altitude and temperature. Mosquitos were rampant! This was the most unexpected event of the trip. We had no warning and never thought to ask about these little demons. We all hoped we had left them behind in Texas for this trip, but they were alive, well and hungry. Anyway, we managed with what repellant we had. Day two and three were primarily spent acclimating to the elevation, exploring around the area, and preparing for our early morning summit on Day 4.
On Day 4, we awoke well before dawn in an effort to make to summit and watch the sunrise. The sound of rain was not what we wanted to hear that early in the morning, but we all drug ourselves out and headed up the mountain hoping it would clear before we got to the top. Our prayers were answered shortly after heading out as the clouds dispersed and we hit the top of Mt. Elbert. The scene was unparalleled with the sun peaking over the horizon and showing us the majestic expanse of the Rocky Mountains.
It was a great trip, made better by the fact I got to do it with my son. Hopefully, we’ll get to go back and do some more in the future. We had always loved camping, but this trip took it to another level and really piqued my interest in doing more hiking and backpacking in the future. I just have to save up for the right gear, get back to exercising, and get out on the trail.
I’d love to hear from anyone out there who has had 14er experience and are there any favorites.