How to Train for a 14er

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So, you are thinking about hiking a 14er? Well, congrats on deciding to take on this fun challenge. Hiking a 14,000-foot peak is no easy feat, but with the right preparation and mindset, you can reach the summit and feel proud of your accomplishment. In this blog post, we will guide you through our comprehensive training plan on how to train for a 14er, covering everything from understanding the unique challenges of high-altitude hikes, practical tips, and developing a well-rounded training workout tailored to your needs.

Choosing a 14er

Completing a 14er has still been one of the most unique accomplishments I have done, and it will be the same for you. But before you get started with how to train for a 14er you need to know how to choose the right 14er for you to complete. There are really three ways to measure the difficulty of a 14er which is by technicality of the terrain, overall elevation gain, and mileage.

In the following sections, we’ll delve deeper into these and how they will help you pick a 14er:

  • technical terrain
  • elevation gain
  • mileage

Measuring the Terrain Difficulty of the 14er

When choosing a 14er to complete I recommend first looking at the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) this system is critical in determining the difficulty and technicality of the terrain on the 14er. The scale goes from 1 to 5, in which 1 is the easiest and 5 is the hardest and most technical.

For a first time completing a 14er I recommend going for one of the easier 14ers at a Class 1 or Class 2 just so you get comfortable with how it feels to complete a 14er. Also look at 14ers.com and check out their comprehensive list about class difficulty for 14ers.

LevelDescription
Class 1hiking on a trail
Class 2More difficult hiking that may be off-trail. You may also have to put your hands down occasionally to keep your balance. May include a wide range of hiking and a route may have exposure, loose rock, steep scree, etc.
Class 3Has portions of scrambling or un-roped climbing. You must use your hands most of the time to hold the terrain or find your route. This may be caused by a combination of steepness and extreme terrain (large rocks or steep snow).
Class 4Has portions of climbing. Handholds and footholds are required for upward or downward progress. Rope is sometimes used on Class 4 routes because falls can be fatal. The terrain is often steep and dangerous.
Class 5 Technical climbing. The climbing involves the use of rope and belaying. Rock climbing is Class 5. Decimals are added after to increase difficulty of the climb
Yosemite Decimal System

Distance and elevation gain of Pike’s Peak

Elevation Gain

The challenges of elevation gain amplify the difficulty of a 14er hike. As you ascend to higher altitudes, the amount of oxygen available in the air decreases significantly, requiring your body to work harder and use oxygen more efficiently. Climbing at higher elevation can require up to 35% more effort compared to hiking at sea level.

This means that elevation is one of the most important factors to consider when determining the difficulty of a 14er aside from the technicality of the terrain. 14ers that have great spikes in elevation will be very demanding on the body and cardiovascular system. So, I highly recommend using a hiking app like AllTrails, Gaia, or Hiking Project to map the route and look at the elevation across the hike.

Mileage

Mileage can help to figure out the difficulty of the hike as well though I would say is less a factor for 14ers since most are about the same distances. However, it is still an important factor to note. For example, a 14er like Pikes Peak is a Class 1 peak that is 24 miles long with an overall elevation gain of 7600ft.

When looking at the factors you can see that what makes Pikes Peak challenging will be mostly the mileage and the elevation at the very end. But otherwise, the elevation will be fairly spread out across the mileage.

Hiking up Handies Peak

Creating a 14er Training Plan

Completing a 14er requires a comprehensive training regimen with an emphasis on cardiovascular fitness and strength. Following a workout schedule that includes a mix of aerobic endurance workouts, strength training, and training hikes will help you prepare for the challenges of high-altitude hiking.

Cardiovascular Training

Cardiovascular fitness is one of the two main focuses of a 14er training plan and really makes up the bulk of the plan. Specificity is one factor that is strongly emphasized in which I recommend that you do some hiking and walking if you are going to hike a 14er. Probably no surprise there!

Activities like walking on an incline, running, and climbing stairs will help you build the cardiovascular endurance necessary to reach the summit. In addition to these exercises, cross-training with activities like swimming, biking, jogging, or rowing can provide variety and additional benefits to your cardiovascular training.

Strength Training

Strength training makes up the second main focus of the 14er training plan. Having good strength and stability will make you more efficient at climbing hills and will make your body overall more resilient to fatigue.

Focusing on strengthening key muscle groups like the legs and core is essential for a successful 14er hike. Some exercises that can help you build the leg strength needed to tackle challenging hikes at high altitudes include:

  • Squats
  • Deadlift variations
  • Lunges or split squats
  • Step ups
  • Step-downs

In addition to leg exercises, having a strong core can help you stay steady and balanced while conquering a 14er hike. Incorporating core exercises like planks, side planks, and bird dogs into your strength training routine can help you further improve core strength. By incorporating these exercises into your training routine, you’ll be better prepared for your 14er hike.

Looking down at Sloan Lake

14er Training Plan

Formulating a customized 14er training plan entails that you first evaluate your current fitness level and then consider what days you will be able to work out. An optimal training timeline for a 14er varies depending on your starting fitness level, but at least 8 – 12 weeks is a great starting point for most. For those starting from a lower fitness level, 12-16 weeks or longer may be necessary for optimal results.

The sample workout could be used for 4 weeks and then progressed for another 4 weeks and so on. By increasing the load of weight in the strength workouts and increasing the amount of time for cardio.

DayActivity
Monday Upper Body Strength + 30 Minute Walk
Tuesday 30- 60-minute Hilly walk
WednesdayLower Body Strength
Thursday30 -60-minute Hilly walk
Friday Full Body Strength
SaturdayRest
Sunday Long Hike
Sample Week

Cardio Training

Focus on doing at least 3 -4 cardiovascular workouts. I recommend doing 2-3 shorter cardio workouts about 30 to 60 minutes and one longer workout a week. I recommend making the longer workout a hiking simulation where you simulate the same distance that you will be hiking when you do the 14er. If you have elevation try to do your long hike in elevation starting at about 1/4th of the elevation progressing to about 1/2 of the total elevation by the end of the training plan.

Strength Training

I recommend doing 2-3 weight training sessions per week, focusing on your upper body, lower body, and doing a short core workout in the beginning. On your longer cardio session I recommend wearing your backpack and eventually adding weight to it till to simulate what you will be carrying out on the trail.

I would start with weighted long training hikes towards the last 4-6 weeks of your training regimen going from 5 pounds adding 5 more till you reach about 15 pounds. If you are backpacking, then add weight till you reach 30 pounds.

The Peak of Handies

How to Train for 14ers at Sea Level

If you are worried about how to train for a 14er at sea level then we have you covered. A 14er can easily be completed even if you live at lower elevation. Similar to my plan above before you get started first evaluate your current fitness level and then consider what days you will be able to work out.

An optimal training timeline for a 14er varies depending on your starting fitness level, but at least 8 – 12 weeks is a great starting point for most. I think 12 weeks is a sweet spot. For those starting from a lower fitness level, 12-16 weeks or longer may be necessary for optimal results.

The sample workout could be used for 4 weeks and then progressed for another 4 weeks and so on. By increasing the load of weight in the strength workouts and increasing the amount of time for cardio.

DayActivity
Monday Upper Body Strength + 30 Minute Stair Climb
Tuesday 30- 60-minute walk
WednesdayLower Body Strength
Thursday30 -60-minute walk (Hill Intervals on a Treadmill)
Friday Full Body Strength
SaturdayRest
Sunday Long Hike
Sample Week

Cardio Training

Focus on doing at least 3 -4 cardiovascular workouts. I recommend doing 2-3 shorter cardio workouts about 30 to 60 minutes and one longer workout a week. I recommend making the longer workout a hiking simulation where you simulate the same distance that you will be hiking when you do the 14er and do it on a hilly trail.

If you have no access to hilly terrain, I recommend using the stair climber to help simulate hilly terrain. In addition, to a treadmill, put a backpack on, and manipulate the incline at 5% to 15% at about 3-5 mph. If your treadmill has an interval setting that can be a fun but challenging way to change it up and simulate hilly terrain.

Strength Training

I recommend doing 2-3 full body weight training sessions per week, focusing on your upper body, lower body, and doing a short core workout in the beginning. On your longer cardio session I recommend wearing your backpack and eventually adding weight to it till to simulate what you will be carrying out on the trail.

I would start with weighted long hikes towards the last 4-6 weeks of your training regimen going from 5 pounds adding 5 more till you reach about 15 pounds. If you are backpacking, then add weight till you reach 30 pounds.

Hiking down Handies Peak

Tips for How to Train for a 14er

Remembering some practical tips is key to ensuring success in your 14er training. These include proper nutrition and hydration, selecting the right gear and equipment, and mental preparation.

Scheduling Workouts and Progression

I recommend organizing your workout routine for what will work for your schedule. The sample workouts are only samples and days can be moved around some. I do recommend not doing more than 2 weight days back-to-back. Also, if 3 weight workouts are too much drop down to 2 workouts. Remember consistency and progressive overload are key to any successful workout plan.

If you cannot follow the plan consistently it will not benefit you as much. Make sure to make the plan work for you and then gradually increase the duration and intensity of your cardio training and strength workouts every 4 weeks. Don’t forget to include rest days, allowing your body to recover and prevent overtraining.

Monitoring your progress during your training plan is paramount to secure optimal results and make adjustments as needed. Set SMART goals and track your progress in cardiovascular endurance, strength, and hiking ability.

Pouring electrolytes into a bottle

Nutrition and Hydration

Maintaining proper nutrition and hydration is fundamental for high altitude hikes. Consuming a balanced diet and drinking enough water during your training and the hike itself will help you perform at your best. Here are some tips for nutrition and hydration during high altitude hikes:

  • Eat energizing foods high in carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, to provide sustained energy and help you avoid altitude sickness.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking enough water and consuming foods rich in electrolytes, such as bananas and nuts.
  • Include high-protein foods like lean meats, beans, and nuts in your diet for muscle recovery and repair.

By following these tips, you can ensure that you have the necessary fuel and hydration for a successful hike.

Be on the lookout for signs of dehydration at high altitudes, such as:

  • thirst
  • dry mouth
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • headaches
  • confusion
  • crankiness
  • dark-colored urine

Proper nutrition and hydration are crucial for preventing injury and maximizing your performance during a 14er hike.

Hiking down Handies Peak

Gear and Equipment

Choosing the right gear and equipment significantly contributes to safety, comfort, and efficiency during a 14er. I highly recommend using the 10 essentials as a base guide for what to bring and trekking poles are an absolute life saver especially when hiking down they will save your knees and back. Here are some important items I would first consider bringing:

  • Waterproof shell/jacket
  • Insulation Jacket
  • Hiking pants or shorts
  • Hiking boots or shoes
  • Hiking socks
  • Daypack or backpack
  • Trekking Poles

Choosing clothing that can be easily layered and dries quickly is essential for maximum comfort. It is also important to avoid cotton clothing for optimal performance. Selecting the perfect backpack for a 14er hike involves considering factors such as:

  • Size
  • Fit
  • Durability
  • Capacity
  • Comfort

Mental Preparation

Mental preparation holds equal importance to physical preparation in the conquest of a 14er. Some techniques that can help you build your mental strength include:

  • Visualization
  • Positive self-talk
  • Goal-setting
  • Managing fear and anxiety

With the right mental preparation, you can boost your confidence, sharpen your decision-making, and reach your peak performance on the mountain.

Setting realistic training goals and expectations, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, developing mental resilience and determination, and practicing positive self-talk and visualization techniques can help you stay motivated and mentally prepared throughout your 14er training.

Sitting at the summit of Handies

Acclimatization and Pre-Hike Strategies

Acclimatization and pre-hike strategies are fundamental to the success of a 14er hike. These strategies involve gradual acclimatization, shorter hikes and climbs, and rest and recovery.

In the following subsections, we’ll discuss these strategies in more detail, and how they can help you prepare for your next 14er.

Gradual Acclimatization

Gradually acclimatizing to high altitudes is one helpful way to mitigate the risk of altitude sickness and enhance overall performance during a 14er hike. Here are some tips to help your body adjust to the reduced oxygen levels:

  1. Spend a few days at high altitude before attempting a 14er hike.
  2. Gradually increase your activity level during your acclimatization period.
  3. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  4. Engage in short hikes or activities in the surrounding areas to help your body adjust to the altitude.

By following these tips, you can reduce the risk of altitude sickness and have a more enjoyable and successful 14er hike. Giving yourself at least a couple of days to acclimate before the hike is also a great idea to ensure a successful and rewarding experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to prepare for a 14er?

It’s recommended to prepare for a 14er by training two to four months prior with focus on endurance and strength training.

What exercises should I do to prepare for a 14er?

Strengthen your legs with squats, lunges, and step-ups and train your core with planks and sit-ups. Include weight training at least three times a week for optimal preparation to climb your first 14er.

How fit do you have to be to do a 14er?

You need a combination of cardiovascular fitness and strength to tackle a 14er comfortably. Performing weight training at least three times a week and incorporate cardiovascular endurance and core exercises are a good way to optimize your ability to reach the summit.

What are some good shorter hikes to help me prepare for a 14er?

Start your 14er journey with easier hikes like Handies Peak. Mt. Bross, Huron Peak, Mt. Sherman, and Quandary Peak to help you get ready.

What are some signs of dehydration at high altitudes?

Dehydration at high altitudes is usually accompanied by thirst, dry mouth, dizziness, weakness, headaches, confusion, crankiness, and dark-colored urine, so stay hydrated with a mix of water and electrolytes to replenish your body. And also, be able to recognize the signs and symptoms.

Final Thoughts

Preparing for a 14er will require some dedication, physical conditioning, and planning. As we’ve explored in this article, the key to a successful ascent lies in a gradual and consistent training regimen that addresses both cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength. From acclimatization hikes to targeted workouts, every step of the training process contributes to your ability to conquer your next 14er. If you have any questions about how to train for a 14er please let us know!

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