By Annie LaFleur
Hiking is a full-body sensory and visceral experience. Your eyes take in the sights of the landscape, you smell mother earth’s raw ground, the whispers of the wind play with your auditory sense, your fingertips touch the trees and leaves that pass you, and sometimes you can even taste the air. Every time I’ve gone hiking, it’s a new experience. New trail.
New sites. New sounds. New feeling. Whether I am waking up at 1:30 in the morning to summit a 14er or a simple trail with my dog, I treasure each time spent in nature. The quote “nature is not a place to visit, it is home” by Gary Synder, rings very true for me. It’s where I feel most grounded and it’s where I feel most at peace.
When climbing a 14er, it’s more mental preparation for me. I trust that my legs will get me to the summit but my mind has to be on point. I like to read about the 14ers I choose to climb before I go so I know what to expect but not too much. I try not to look at pictures so I don’t spoil it and it’s new for me. The basics. Everyone will have different preparations but this is what I like to do leading to the days up to my climb. Hydration. Hydration is so important especially here in Colorado where we are already living at altitude. I drink a little more water than I usually do and the night before, I will drink an electrolyte drink. Fuel. For the day and night before, I like to fuel my body with clean protein and grains. I will usually make brown rice and throw in walnuts and feta cheese with olive oil and salt/pepper. I’ll eat a double portion so that it sustains me for the hike ahead. Hard-boiled eggs, fruit, and nuts are usually my go-to morning breakfast. On my hikes; I like to keep it light, some unsalted peanuts and almonds, a peanut butter wrap in a corn tortilla with honey and bananas. I will have some energy chews for that extra push of energy that you need sometimes. I really like Skratch matcha green tea chews and of course a full water pack. I also will bring an electrolyte drink with me on the trail to have just in case. Always dress in layers. Even when I start in below zero temperatures, my body will heat up pretty quickly and that’s when those layers will come in handy. I recommend spikes and snowshoes for winter hiking and poles regardless of the season. Poles are not only good ergonomically but also to check out loose rocks. I almost always hike with a pack and have a basic first aid kit, a knife, bear spray, napkins, and a bag if you need to go number two, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, and chapstick. I can not stress enough to wear sunscreen and chapstick to protect your skin.
Of the 11 14ers that I summited in 2020, Missouri Mountain, was the one last left a lasting impression on me. Missouri Mountain is a high mountain summit in the Collegiate Peaks of the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains of North America coming in at 14,084 ft in elevation. It is classified as a Class two with considerable exposure. There was an ethereal fog that lasted most of the day which is a rarity in Colorado. The hike starts with switchbacks through thick Colorado forest full of ponderosa pine and aspen trees. You’ll come to Missouri Gulch which is one of the prettiest I’ve seen. I hiked this in late July where all you see is lush green and wildflowers. The climb to the summit is a rocky one, literally. You’ll talus hop, which is one of my favorite things to do until you reach the ridge and you’ll follow the ridge trail right to the summit. Once at the summit, you can see neighboring Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford. At this summit I was barely able to see any views with the fog but it was spectacular like being on a movie set. The conditions couldn’t have been more perfect in my opinion. The rule with 14ers is to try to summit by noon as mountain weather can change very quickly.
Every 14er has a lasting feeling. You know exactly how your body and mind felt during the hike. The amount of physical exertion, the exhilaration of reaching the summit but the best feeling is that you did it. There is a sense of gratitude you have for the mountain you just climbed and for your mind and body getting you there.