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Map reading for mountain climbing.

How to plan to climb a 14er

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Any trip into the backcountry starts with a plan, especially climbing a 14er, whether it’s where to park, how to get there, what the weather will be like. But it’s fair to say that for an extended hike into a remote area, even more care should be taken.

Here is how we do it, and like many modern adventures it starts online:

1) Trip reports

People love to post their adventures on blogs, websites and social media, so often a little clever searching will bring up detailed trip reports of what people encountered on their excursions, especially climbing a 14er, which is something many people are proud of.  This is a readily available source of information and good opportunity to get a feel for what you’re getting into.

2) Weather planner

In the Rocky Mountains it can snow in July and hit 60 in January, so it’s a good idea to check the weather every chance you get before setting foot out the door. And, be very aware of lightning. The rule of thumb for summer is generally off the summit by noon. This may ease up in other seasons but lightning is a very real and present danger in the mountains.

Take our advice: Check every weather outlook you can.

Many prominent summits, like Handies Peak, will have detailed forecasts and even site pages specific to them.

3) The map quest

Search for topographical maps that have elevation profiles and slope angles to get an idea of the terrain you’ll be traveling though. Your local outdoor shop should have a selection of maps and may even have individual quadrants with greater detail of the area you are interested in. A good, old fashioned map and compass, and knowing how to effectively use it, is also a must-have when traveling into the backcountry. Those cellphone batteries don’t last forever.

4) Pack accordingly

Make sure you are carrying more water than you’ll need, and pack a few extra layers just in case, like an extra rain shell or wind breaker, down or insulating jacket, hat and a pair of gloves. Even on the warmest days of summer, when climbing a 14er storms can move in and drop temperatures drastically.

Also, throw in some quick calories. Energy bars and fruit are easy to digest and good for a boost later in the day.

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