Summiting a 14,000 foot peak is no small feat. To us natives, bagging a “14er” as we call them is a right of passage; many of us seeking to one day summit all 54 of these majestic Colorado peaks.
Weekend warriors and veterans alike tend to set the goal of hiking at least one of these Goliaths a year however, many tend to overlook the most important part of preparing for the summit: training!
I am a firm believer in being physically ready to take on any adventure I choose to endeavor and a 14er is no exception. Besides the obvious strain of oxygen deprivation, the body must overcome a variety of obstacles to stand on top of that peak: rocky technical terrain, loose scree fields, full body scrambles, slippery ice and snow, uneven footing, and quad burning descents.
Take time to do at least several training hikes to make sure your body is up to the task so that you can conquer that 14er with energy, enthusiasm and reach the parking lot pain (and injury) free!
Here are several of my favorite “training hikes” in the front range:
This 3ish mile loop is a beautiful hike that entails a 1300+ foot rocky climb. Start on the Ridge trail which will take you to the summit of Mount Sanitas. Take the East ridge trail down which winds through large boulder fields and is quite steep. This 1000 foot, .3 mile descent will test the strength of your quadricep muscles and balance, if you plan on using poles during your 14er summit this would be a good trail to try them out. Next jump onto the Sanitas Valley trail which is basically a 1/2 mile gravel road that takes you back to the parking lot. Feeling ambitious? Repeat the loop another time!
The Manitou Incline
If you haven’t done the incline yet, this is a definite Colorado bucket list item. This old cog railway turned into a hikers delight (or nightmare depending on how you see it) is a great place to train your lungs and legs for the demand of hiking a 14,000 foot peak. And oh yeah, if you are scared of heights, this hike is sure to cure you of that fear. You will gain over 2000 feet in less than a mile on this hellish vertical staircase up a mountain side. When you reach the top, take the trail down the backside of the mountain. It is initially pretty steep with lots of loose gravel, perfect for practicing for the scree sections you will encounter on your 14er. This trail connects with the Barr trail which will bring you back down to the parking lot where you started (3 total miles down).
There is probably not a better trail to practice hiking on super steep, technical terrain than Mount Morrison. This hike rivals the incline in elevation gain over distance, you will gain almost 2000 feet in 1.7 miles with the max grade hitting a whopping 62% (average grade 22%). At some point on your 14er summit, you will encounter scree fields and terrain so steep and rocky you will need to use your upper body to literally scramble up the mountain. Mount Morrison presents an opportunity to practice the skills needed to get up and down these steep scree sections safely.
Alderfer/Three Sisters Park
This park has an abundance of trails ranging from flat gravel paths through meadows of wildflowers to strenuous climbs through technical boulder fields. I recommend the “Sisters trail” loop: Park in the East parking lot and take the “Sisters trail” counter clock-wise. You will gain almost 1000 feet in this 1.2 mile loop, which perfectly mimics the steep inclines and rocky terrain you will encounter towards the top of your 14er summit.
For added mileage and elevation, connect with the Evergreen mnt trail east and complete the loop with a trip to the summit (via Summit trail) to gain another 1000 + feet in elevation or take one of the many connecting trails for a shorter distance adventure.
Bonus points! Starting elevation is 6500 feet so you will get a little higher altitude training here, go red blood cells!
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
This isn’t a hike but walking up and down the stairs at Red Rocks amphitheatre is great training for a 14er summit. Most people think getting to the top of the peak is the greatest physical feat but it is coming down where you are at the greatest risk for injury (ankle sprains, knee injuries and bad falls). Where uphill hiking tests your lungs and muscular endurance, downhill hiking tests your structural system and balance. Stairs are a great way to work on enhancing these systems in a controlled environment.
Park at the trading post and walk up the Trading Post road until you reach a staircase on your right that leads up to the amphitheatre. Take this staircase all the way to the top and then back down again. Repeat for 60-90 minutes. Add a couple of laps up the bleachers to work on larger steps/greater range of motion and down the larger rock steps on the sides.
– Lauren Jones, B.S., ACSM
Do you want to hike a 14er this summer?
Check out our new program which entails a 4 week training plan (strength and cardio workouts you complete on your own), a group training hike and clinic on what to wear, pack, etc and a guided hike of Mount Bierstadt! Learn more HERE.