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Tips and Tricks to Hike a Colorado 14er

Hiking a 14er is one of those things people claim is quintessential Colorado. It’s no easy feat, even the “easier” mountains. However with a good attitude, good weather, and a little will power you’ll make it to the summit. Below is a mega-list of tips and tricks to hiking your first Colorado 14er.

About This Guide to Hiking a 14er

I’ve climbed and hiked well over 40 mountains and when it comes to Colorado’s iconic 14,000-foot peaks, I’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to get to the top. In this guide we’ll cover:

  • When is the best time of year to hike a 14er in Colorado?
  • Steps to prepare for your first 14er hike
  • Tips and tricks for your big summit day
  • What to do if things don’t go to plan
  • Additional planning resources for hiking in Colorado

Caution: Hiking a Colorado 14er is Dangerous Business

First, it is important to understand that climbing any mountain is risky business. People die every year on Colorado’s 14ers. It isn’t that these mountains shouldn’t be hiked, in fact, some of the best hikes in Colorado are hiking a 14er, but do be sure to be prepared and understand what you are getting into.

This isn’t an ordinary hike, but you aren’t climbing Mount Everest either. These tips for hiking a Colorado 14er are designed to get you prepared and organized for your big adventure.

Best 14ers in colorado

When is the Best Time to Hike a Colorado 14er?

Colorado’s 14ers can be hiked and climbed year-round.

However, you shouldn’t attempt to hike in winter or during adverse conditions until you have plenty of experience not only in the mountains but also dealing with winter conditions such as avalanche terrain and long, snow-filled approaches.

Most trailheads to Colorado’s 14ers are inaccessible during the winter months, meaning that you’re hiking distance will be substantially increased and conditions. Trails can get snowed in as early as October and typically winter conditions will last until late July.

On the flip side, in summer, your biggest threat is the Colorado monsoon season. The period from June through August is riddled with fast-moving, dangerous thunderstorms that can easily kill hikers caught above treeline.

Therefore, the best time of year to hike a 14er is extremely early in the morning between the months of July through September. Late August and September usually have the driest weather, but July has the added bonus of high alpine greenery.

One of the best tips for your first 14er is to start early. I’m talking well before the sun rises. Always plan to be off of the summit and below treeline by noon

Steps to Prepare for a 14er Hike

Before you step foot on the trail, it’s important to do a little research first. You’ll want to pick a peak that’s realistic, then do your homework so you understand the route. Here’s a step-by-step guide to prepare for hiking a 14er.

Step One: Pick a Realistic Peak

If you’ve never climbed a mountain before, it is unsafe (and unrealistic) to think that you should march up Capitol Peak or Long’s Peak. Those mountains take a tremendous amount of effort and skill to climb. Sure, the photos look great, but those Colorado 14ers are not for beginners. Instead, pick a peak that is better suited for your ability.

Keep the altitude in mind when preparing for a 14er. Hiking 12 miles in the Colorado Rockies is not comparable to hiking 12 miles on the east coast. Your body works harder at altitude, so if it’s your first time hiking high, tone down the mileage to increase your chance at success.

Pick a Colorado 14er that is either a Class 1 or Class 2 mountain for your first Colorado 14er. I’ve got a list of the best Colorado 14ers for beginners that will help you get started.

(Pssst, I love Grays and Torreys Peak for your first jaunt).

These peaks will give you a good feel for the effort it takes to hike a big peak, but don’t require any special gear or skills. Stay away from Class 3, 4 or 5 routes until you have some experience under your belt.

tips for your first colorado 14er

Step 2: Find 14er Route Information

Next, get to know your route. Beta, a climber term, refers to information about a particular climbing objective. Some routes on mountains are not clearly defined and you wouldn’t want to accidentally end up off the trail or on a tougher route.

Before I hike any 14er, I check out . provides a wealth of accurate knowledge regarding routes, lengths, directions to the trailhead and other pertinent info, there’s even an app (but we will touch on that later)

Pro Tip: Be sure to read trip reports and trail conditions for up to date information. You can find this by clicking “Conditions” on the top menu bar and then clicking on “condition reports.”

Pro Tip: Download Maps and Carry Apps

Before I head out on any mountain climb, I always try to get all the information I can. Hiking a Colorado 14er has the added bonus of having tons of resources at your fingertips. has an app where you can download a route description complete with step-by-step photos to keep you on track.

Remember to download your specific route to your phone before you hit the trail. Also, be sure to use a GPS app to map out your route and have it available for your big hike. Lastly, always carry a paper backup, since batteries die!

Step 3: Check the weather

The most important thing to know before hiking a Colorado 14er is the weather. It is extremely dangerous to be on any peak when there is a risk of storms. Think about it. Lightning strikes the highest point. When you are on a mountain there are no trees to protect you. You become the highest point in a field of rocks.

Therefore, you want to be below treeline well before a storm. During the summer months, storms roll in quickly and strike without warning. Know the weather before you go and check the National Weather Service. You can get pinpoint weather by entering the peak name in the search bar (be sure to double-check the map to make sure you’re in the correct location).

Next, examine the hourly weather charts on the right of the written weather descriptions. You can click on those and get up-to-date info on storm predictions, wind speeds, temperatures and more. If the storm threat is real, stay home.

Be sure to continue to check weather conditions up until the day you leave.

hike a 14er

Pro Planning Tip

A good rule of thumb is to plan to be off of the summit before noon. Take note of which direction you are hiking, keeping in mind that weather patterns in Colorado tend to move from west to east. Sometimes clouds can be building beyond the summit and you can’t see them. I take this tip one step further and aim to be at treeline (where the trees start to grow again) by noon.

Step 4: Know Your Speed

Now that you know which Colorado 14er you want to hike and the weather looks good, how do you plan when to leave? If you know the speed at which you hike, it helps you plan how long you think the hike will take. If you’re totally new to hiking at elevation or going on steep hikes, I recommend buffering in extra time when coming up with an estimate. Here are two simple rules to calculate your hiking speed:

  • Most hikers move at approximately two miles an hour
  • The average hiker can gain 1,000 feet of elevation in an hour
  • Don’t forget to account for breaks, especially if you’re new to hiking 14ers

Let’s take an example. Mt Bierstadt is a seven-mile hike with 2,850 feet of gain. If you look at a topographical map, you’ll see that the first mile and a half of the hike are relatively mellow, with little gain. That portion should take the average hiker around 45 minutes.

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Then the next two miles are fairly steep, with plenty of switchbacks and grueling elevation gains. Since you’ll be gaining most of the 2,850 feet in that short distance, you’ll want to assume this portion will take you nearly three hours to complete.

Factor in a few extra breaks and time for some summit selfies and you’re looking at an estimated four and a half hours until you reach the summit. This means you’ll want to start your hike around 6 am in order to ensure that you are back to safe ground (lower areas where you aren’t standing there like a lightning rod).

Step 5: Set a Turn Around Time

Climbing and hiking any mountain isn’t always cut and dry. Things pop up, you get off-route, you take extra breaks, the altitude weighs you down, any number of things can happen. In order to ensure you stay safe and don’t get too carried away with summit dreams, set a turn around time before you even leave for the trailhead. Decide on a time by which if you do not make it to the top, you turn around, no matter what! Summits are deceiving, and often times you can look like you’re close, but be a far ways away. Always stick to your turn around time in the mountains so you don’t get caught in a storm or end up spending the night in the alpine unprepared.

How to Train for Your Colorado 14er

Next, train for your first Colorado 14er. Start a training program eight weeks before your big 14er hike. Carve out an hour, three times a week to get on a treadmill or Stairmaster with a weighted pack. You’ll also want to do plenty of squats and lunges so you’ll have strong hips and hammies for the descent.

For more on training for a big hike, see this five-step hiking training plan.

Packing for a Hiking a 14er

For my first 14er, I hiked Mt Bierstadt without gloves. That was utterly stupid. Temperatures at the summit were near freezing and the wind was blowing at 40+MPH. It was a miserable experience for my hands.

People aren’t normally thinking about cold weather things in the middle of July – I certainly wasn’t. Dress in layers (don’t wear cotton), wear appropriate footwear built to handle the terrain, bring sun protection, snacks, plenty of water, moleskin for blisters, and definitely pack a warm hat and gloves. Please pack out your trash to keep the place clean for those after you.

For a comprehensive packing list, see my post on what to pack for your mountain climb.

best colorado 14ers

Tips for Hiking a 14er

Now that you know how to plan your first 14er hike and what to bring along, you’ll need a few handy hacks for your big summit day. These tips for your first 14er are aimed at helping you fight through the suffer-fest that is hiking and climbing a Colorado 14er.

1. Before Hiking a 14er, Give Your Body Time to Acclimatize

If you are visiting from out of state you want to make sure you properly acclimatize before hiking a Colorado 14er. Give yourself a day or two after arriving in Colorado to get used to the thin air. Go on a short training hike a day or two before climbing a 14er and drink plenty of water. Avoid alcohol and let your body adjust to the thin air. Going straight from Denver to above 14,000 feet is a lot to ask of your body, even if you live here. Expect to feel the effects of altitude and plan accordingly.

2. Get There Before the Sun Comes Up

Climbing and hiking mountains is all about the early wake-up calls. Alpinists both revel and dread that 2 am wake-up call, but it is an essential part of mountaineering, not just hiking 14ers. There are several important reasons to wake up early. The most important one is safety. Simply put, morning is a safer time to be in the mountains. The snow is more stable, storms haven’t rolled in yet, and it’s good practice to start before the sun.

Secondly, beginner Colorado 14ers are some of the most popular trailheads in the country. Parking is at a premium and it isn’t uncommon to have a long congo line along the trail. This can be frustrating if you move at a quicker pace or have to constantly stop and wait for people. Typically I’ll time my hike so that I am on the summit for sunrise. It’s a thrilling feeling to see the shadow of the mountain you are standing on dominating the landscape. So set that early alarm and get up early to enjoy the alpenglow. You can nap when you get home.

4. Take Lots of Breaks on Your 14er Hike

One big mistake new mountaineers make is trying to go for the all-time Strava record. Slow down. Take your time. The air is thin up there and it’s totally normal to go at a slower pace. If you’re struggling physically slow down. Don’t go for the fastest time. The point is to challenge yourself and enjoy yourself. There have been times on the trail when I’ve been so beat tired and I just tell myself “I can’t.” I’ll stop, catch my breath, get going again and find myself in the same place mentally. To break through those moments I slow my pace down. Everyone has their own way of “tuning in.” I count to five one time for each breath and just repeat. Sometimes my feet are at a mere shuffle but I’m still moving forward.

5. Protect Your Phone Batteries

Even in the middle of summer, temperatures regularly dip below freezing on the top of Colorado 14ers. If you’re using your phone for navigation, your batteries will quickly drain. Here are a few quick tips to get the most out of your battery life.

  • Keep your phone in your chest pocket or an interior pocket. Your core is your natural oven, so keeping your batteries close to your core will keep them from succumbing to the cold
  • Keep your phone in airplane mode with location services turned off. Do both of these things so your phone isn’t searching for satellites or cell towers. You can switch your location services on if you need to check your GPS really quick, but don’t forget to turn it off again.
  • Put your phone on low-power mode if you have it.
  • Carry a small, portable battery pack.

6. It’s Okay to Turn Around

Every mountaineer has turned around on a peak or two…or ten. In fact, it is super common not to make it to the summit. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to turn around. Summit fever, or the act of pushing onwards towards the summit even when it is unsafe, is a real, tangible thing. Remember: no mountain is worth your life. Take pride in your botched summits, at least you got outside that day!

hiking a 14er

For more about mental training for mountain climbing, check out these posts

7. Always Look Behind You

Part of climbing a 14er is understanding a few navigation tricks. Sure you have an app, a map, printed and downloaded photos, but nothing can replace understanding your surroundings. When you’re in the middle of the uphill grind, it’s easy to get caught up in forward momentum. But don’t forget to stop and take note of what is behind you! This will help you navigate the descent. Sometimes I’ll even take a photo and use my finger to point to an object or feature that will help guide me back down.

8. Set Small Goals and Listen to Your Body

Hiking a beginner 14er is essentially one grueling activity. It can get tough to keep going when your legs are tired and you are out of breath. One trick to push through the grind is to set small goals for yourself.

When it gets extremely tough or I feel like giving up I will find something, maybe a trail marker or a strange-looking rock 20-100 feet in front of me and I say to myself “I will walk to that rock.” Suddenly, I’m at that rock and I will pick another. Before you know it you’ve made progress. As with anything in life start small and big things happen.

9. Getting to the Top is Half the Battle

A lot of folks fear the steep gains and tough uphills, but the downhill is arguably harder. In fact, most accidents in mountaineering happen on the way down.

You are tired, your body is fatigued, you’ve reached your perceived goal, and you’re no longer fighting gravity. However, a misstep on the downhill can cause a painfully twisted ankle or worse. Many people slip and fall, get lost, or put too much wear and tear on their bodies during the descent. Listen to your body and remember, if you’re too exhausted to continue or you are thinking about pushing through something such as a minor injury, you still have to get back down the mountain.

Save energy, focus, and concertation for the downhill. Whenever I reach the summit I congratulate myself for making it halfway. Keep your mental game sharp and take care to hike with the same intention downhill as you did uphill.

Pro Tip: Dog-Friendly Colorado 14ers

Bringing your dog on a Colorado 14er is a personal choice. Nina, my 12-year-old adventure mutt has summited a few mountains. However, Class 3 terrain is no place for an animal. People have abandoned their dogs in sketchy situations on Colorado 14ers and it is always a sad story.

The rocky terrain can be particularly rough on their paws, so be sure to have paw protection. Also, many of these trails are quite crowded, and you’ll need to keep your pet on a leash. Depending on the route, this can be dangerous for both you and your dog. Keep this in mind when deciding if taking Fido on your 14er hike is right for you.

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Tips for your first fourteener

Now you’re armed and ready to hike your first 14er. Colorado 14ers are a state icon, and hiking a 14er is an incredible experience. Be prepared for a 14er and enjoy the challenge!

Hiking at Altitude: Tips for Acclimatization

High-mountain trekking is what dreams are made of: the jagged peaks, rumbling glaciers, and crisp mountain air transport you to another world. The alpine wonderlands of Peru and Nepal draw hikers from all over the world. Massive volcanoes, such as Kilimanjaro and Denali, send out their siren calls to adventure-seekers. Many of these classic treks start in towns or villages at high elevations. You may reach elevations over 15,000 feet. Even hiking destinations such as Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado or Everest Base Camp in Nepal will have you standing at over 13,000 feet.

If you plan to climb and sleep above 8,000 feet, it is important for you to acclimatize. Once you arrive at your destination, spend time at high-elevations before attempting any serious trekking. While the acclimatization process can delay your hiking plans, it is crucial to allow your body to adjust to the new environment. Take a few days once you arrive at your destination to acclimatize. Go on shorter day hikes, walk around colorful cities, check out a local museum, or taste the country’s cuisine. Integrate “acclimatization days” into your trip itinerary. These pre-planned days will help you stay on track.

What is Acclimatization?

Acclimatization is the process that occurs when your body adjusts to a change in your environment. These physiological adaptations happen gradually, as your body responds to external stimuli. When we are talking about acclimatization, we are talking about high altitude adaptations necessary for you to perform well and stay healthy. If you are planning to travel to a high-altitude destination, give yourself multiple days to rest and perform light activity before your trip.

When you’re hiking at high elevations (over 8,000 feet), it is essential to acclimatize—or become adjusted to the new environment—before you start exerting much energy. You should be gaining altitude at a speed that your body can handle. This speed will differ for everybody. As you reach high elevations, air pressure drops. Oxygen molecules have more room to spread out in the air. With each breath you take in, you’ll be receiving less oxygen than you would at sea level.

Your body will sense the drop in pressure and try to compensate. Breathing becomes labored; your heart thumps rapidly. Your body works tirelessly to produce more red blood cells to deliver the oxygen around your body. But all this takes work—hard work. And if you add in heavy exercise, your body will quickly become overworked and exhausted. It will go into survival mode, suppressing any less-essential bodily functions (such as food digestion).

If you don’t take time to acclimatize before a hiking trip properly, you’ll be at higher risk for altitude sickness. Generally, this happens when a hiker or climber travels too high too fast. However, if you slow down and allow yourself to adjust, you’ll reduce your chance of getting altitude sickness. You will undergo the physiological changes necessary to support the decreased oxygen intake.

The “acclimatization line” will change for each person. Generally, symptoms don’t present below 8,000 or 9,000 feet. The higher in elevation you go, the greater the risk. Acclimatization is a slow and necessary process that takes time: altitude sickness does not discriminate by fitness, age, or experience level.

Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness results when your body isn’t getting sufficient oxygen due to different conditions at high altitudes. While the percentage of oxygen in the air remains the same across elevations, the barometric pressure changes. Oxygen molecules have more room to spread out, so you’re taking in less oxygen with each breath. And as you travel higher, the pressure drops and the problem worsens.

Altitude sicknesses do not discriminate. It can hit people of any fitness level, age, or experience level. Even if you’ve been to high altitude without problems, there is no guarantee you won’t experience symptoms of altitude sickness the next time. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), HAPE, and HACE—all types of altitude sickness—have varying degrees of severity. We’ll cover each one in detail and take a look at the symptoms so you can stay vigilant when traveling to high elevation zones.

Acute Mountain Sickness

Acute Mountain Sickness, which occurs at around 8,000″ and higher, is the most common type of altitude sickness. Mild symptoms include a throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea/vomiting, fatigue, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping. These symptoms may get worse with heavy exercise and will subside at rest. AMS may worsen at the end of the day, as your respiratory rate slows, and your oxygen intake decreases.


For mild AMS, these symptoms subside within 2 – 4 days of arriving at altitude as your body acclimatizes. If you’re experiencing even mild AMS, you need to take it easy and not gain additional elevation. Descend to sleep lower than the altitude at which you are hiking, if possible. If your symptoms remain mild, you may continue to ascend while monitoring yourself for worsening symptoms.

Even if you’re only displaying mild symptoms, be sure to communicate with your hiking party and monitor your symptoms. Whether you are on a guided trip or a personal excursion, keep your travel mates informed of how you’re feeling. The backcountry is no place to “tough it out.”

Moderate/Severe Acute Mountain Sickness

While AMS is common in the mountains, it can lead to serious problems if you don’t take adequate time to adjust. Moderate AMS symptoms include a headache that does not improve with pain medication, poor coordination (ataxia), increased weakness, and nausea/vomiting. At this point, your activity would be impacted, and you must descend until conditions improve. Wait at least 24 hours at a lower altitude to see improvements before attempting to ascend further.

If you experience shortness of breath at rest, or the inability to walk on your own, your acute mountain sickness has taken a turn for the worse, and you’ve pushed your body too far. A rapid descent to lower elevations is critical, so you don’t risk your AMS turning into HAPE.

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) is a life-threatening form of altitude sickness that results from a buildup of fluid in the lungs. This buildup prevents proper oxygen exchange, putting the body in a hypoxic (oxygen-deficient) state. It is rare, especially when hikers and climbers are acclimatized and frequently monitoring mild AMS symptoms. Usually, HAPE occurs at elevations over 11,000 feet but has been experienced as low as 8,000 feet.


Symptoms of HAPE include shortness of breath at rest, a dry cough, chest tightness, and a feeling of suffocation at night, in addition to other AMS symptoms. These symptoms often don’t present until at least two days spent at elevation. It is often a progression of AMS but can occur without AMS symptoms.

Treatment and Prevention

Monitor your recovery time after exertion. If you’re experiencing prolonged recovery time after your activities, consider descending to lower altitudes. Prevention is the best treatment for HAPE, which occurs after a rapid ascent at elevation.

HAPE requires medical treatment beyond what is available in the backcountry. It requires immediate descent and a rapid evacuation.

High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) is brain swelling resulting from leakage of fluid into the brain. This is the rarest form of altitude sickness, but the most severe. It generally occurs after two days or more spent at elevations over 13,000 feet but has been reported as low as 8,000 feet.


Symptoms for HACE include decreased coordination (ataxia), disorientation and confusion, memory loss, irritability, and a severe headache. Ataxia can also result from other conditions such as dehydration, hypothermia, and hypoglycemia, so take precautions to prevent these conditions from forming.


Most cases develop as a progression of AMS, which we’ve discussed above. If a mild case of altitude sickness starts to display more severely, take precautions and descend before it advances.

HACE requires immediate descent of at least 3500 feet or until symptoms improve. Anyone experiencing HACE should exert minimal activity, so must be accompanied when descending. HACE patients must be evacuated so they can receive professional medical care in a hospital.

Acclimatization Tips

When Do You Need to Acclimatize?

Anybody traveling to and sleeping at elevations of 8,000 feet and higher should acclimatize before attempting strenuous exercise. The higher you’re going, the more necessary acclimatization is, especially when you surpass 11,000 feet.

Risk Factors

  • If you’ve experienced AMS before, you are likely to again. Give extra priority to acclimatization.
  • If you have pre-existing health conditions, consult your healthcare provider. Take extra precautions if you have cardiac or pulmonary issues or low/high red blood cell counts.
  • If you live at sea level, you are at greater risk than those living at higher elevations.

The First Step: Prevention

Prevention is the most powerful tool you have to stop altitude sickness.

  • Prior to your trip, stay hydrated and well-fueled. Start hydrating 2-3 days before you arrive at your destination.
  • Train before your trek. Increase your cardiovascular capacity with interval training. Train at a high-level so that when you show up, you won’t be exerting yourself at your maximum. If you’re able, train at high elevation.
  • Avoid alcohol as much as possible.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise for 2 – 3 days after arriving at elevation.
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Slow Down, Take It Easy

Taking incremental steps to acclimate will put your body in the best position to adjust to its new environment. Slow down, enjoy your journey, and don’t rush the process.

  • Arrive early and give yourself multiple days to adjust before your hike or climb begins. Take this opportunity to participate in a city tour, visit a museum, or go on lower-elevation day hikes.
  • Build up your exercise intensity; keep it light during the first few days at higher altitudes.
  • Slow down, both physically and mentally. Set a slower hiking pace than you normally do, and take breaks more frequently.
  • Keep your expectations reasonable: your peak fitness at home will be different than your high-altitude performance.
  • Climb high, sleep low. We recommend a 3000-foot difference, when possible. If you climb to 15,000 that day, sleep at 12,000.
  • If you go above 10,000 feet, only increase your sleeping elevation by 1,000 feet per day.
  • Check-in with yourself and others. Often, high-altitude hiking involves a higher investment. This includes international travel, advance trip plans, and other logistics. Problems at high-altitude tend to arise from poor decision-making, rather than a sudden onset of symptoms.

Maintaining your Health and Hydration

If you keep your body in well-fueled and hydrated, you will create the best chance for proper acclimatization.

  • Eat a high-carbohydrate diet at higher altitudes (especially over 12,000 feet). This fast-burning energy is easier for your body to digest. Additionally, carbs utilize less oxygen to break down than fats. No matter what your diet consists of, bring foods that you will enjoy eating. Your body will be working harder and need more calories than usual.
  • Avoid alcohol, sleeping pills, and narcotics, which decrease your respiratory rate. If your respiratory rate falls, your body will take in less oxygen.
  • Keep your ears exposed while you’re hiking unless the weather is unbearable—they are good receptors of air pressure.
  • Stay hydrated. Add electrolyte mix to your water to supplement.
  • Regulate your body temperature to preserve energy. If you sweat or get rained on, change into dry clothes as soon as you get to camp.
  • Don’t sleep during the day. Keep your body moving lightly throughout the day. When you arrive at camp, resist the urge to hunker down in your tent.
  • Cover your skin during the peak daylight hours, and wear sunscreen—you’ll be encountering much more UV radiation than at sea level.


The best treatment for any altitude sickness is immediate descent (and supplemental oxygen). However, with the help of your healthcare provider, you can determine if medication to help acclimatize is necessary for you.

  • Diamox – This medication is not a cure and does not prevent AMS in everyone. However, some travelers opt to take 125mg twice a day (for adults) to prevent altitude sickness. If you do choose Diamox, start your dose the day before ascent and continue until 24-48 hours after you reach your highest elevation. If you take it after the onset of symptoms, take a 250mg dose and continue until a day after your symptoms clear.
  • Dexamethasone is another medication associated with altitude sickness. It is often carried by mountain guides as a treatment for severe AMS, HAPE, or HACE. Dexamethasone should not be used for acclimatization. It is used to reduce symptoms long enough for climbers to descend to lower elevations. It is not recommended except under extreme conditions.

Hike at High Altitudes with a Guide

You shouldn’t skip high-altitude destinations just because you are concerned about acclimatization. Hiking with a guiding company is a great way to ensure that you take the time to acclimate and have first-aid trained professional guides who understand the symptoms of altitude sickness. Wildland Trekking offers guided backpacking trips and portered treks in high-altitude destinations such as Peru, Nepal, Ecuador, and Kilimanjaro. In many international trips, we build in acclimatization days full of activities so that your body will be prepared when we hit the trail! These trips are a stress-free, exciting way to hike at high elevations. The tour company handles permits, gear, transportation, meals, and provides a professional guide so you can focus 100% on enjoying your adventure.

Wildland Trekking Hiking Adventures

As the world’s premier hiking and trekking company, Wildland believes in connecting people to fantastic environments in amazing ways. Wildland Trekking Company offers an array of incredible hiking and trekking experiences in 9 states and 11 countries. Read more about our world-class destinations.

To learn more about our guided backpacking trips and all of our award-winning hiking vacations, please visit our website or connect with one of our Adventure Consultants: 800-715-HIKE.


A stopover in Denver before heading to the mountains could reduce chances of getting altitude sickness by up to 50 percent

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It’s the perfectly planned trip to Colorado, including skiing in the mountains and tours of local breweries. But then a headache creeps in, nausea ruins the beer and it’s impossible to sleep. That’s the curse of altitude sickness.

Dr. Ben Honigman, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said 25 to 30 percent of visitors heading to the mountains get acute mountain sickness. The risk is lower for trips to Denver, where only 8 to 10 percent visitors get the ailment.

But don’t let a little thing like altitude sickness get in the way of Colorado’s beautiful scenery, excellent slopes and delightful beer.

Honigman shared his knowledge on when people are likely to get altitude sickness and tips for how to avoid it:

Symptoms of altitude sickness

Symptoms include headache, nausea, fatigue and trouble sleeping due to a lack of available oxygen. Typically ibuprofen, Tylenol or aspirin can help with headaches. Honigman said it takes about 24 to 36 hours to acclimate.

People with persistent headaches, loss of appetite, vomiting and continued lack of sleep by the second night should seek medical attention.

Being short of breath while sitting during the second or third day may be a sign of high altitude pulmonary edema, where water is in the lungs. This is rare, though, affecting only 1 or 2 percent of people going to the mountains. Honigman said it’s highly preventable if someone seeks help immediately.

Who gets altitude sickness

Altitude sickness can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, physical fitness or previous experience with altitude. Even someone who lives in Denver can get sick when traveling to the mountains. Physically fit people are more likely to exert themselves, though, leading to increased chances of altitude sickness.

Ways to curb altitude sickness

The Altitude Research Center at CU’s Anschutz Medical Campus recommends avoiding alcohol and salty foods. Instead, Honigman advised people to drink moderately more water than usual. This also helps visitors adjust to Colorado’s dry climate. He recommended taking a day to acclimate at a lower elevation and rest before hitting the slopes.

How high?

Altitude sickness typically kicks in at elevations around 7,500 to 8,000 feet. In Colorado, areas with this altitude include Idaho Springs and almost all ski counties.

“The issue for most people is not that they go up and have a ski day,” Honigman said. “The issue for most people is they end up sleeping at an 8,000 to 10,000 (feet) range.”

When people sleep, their breathing patterns are much slower, which lets in even less oxygen exacerbating the altitude’s effect, Honigman said.

Good idea or bad idea? Jumping from sea level to the top of Mount Elbert, the tallest mountain in Colorado

Bad idea. The Altitude Research Center suggests starting by taking a day at a modest altitude that’s between 5,000 and 6,000 feet, such as Denver. Honigman said people who stay a night in Denver reduce their chances of getting altitude sickness by anywhere from 25 to 50 percent. Spend two nights in Denver and chances are good travelers will not experience altitude sickness.

Medicines or herbs that can help

Worried visitors can visit a doctor before travel for a prescription for Diamox, which can reduce a person’s chances for altitude sickness by about 80 to 90 percent, Honigman said. Some studies also suggest that Gingko Biloba can help decrease symptoms, according to the center.

Scientific nitpicking

There’s not actually less oxygen at high elevation, Honigman said. Regardless of the altitude, there is always 21 percent oxygen in the air. The real difference is the amount of pressure pushing the oxygen into a person’s lungs.

UPDATE 9/9/2017: This story has been updated to reflect that people should not drink excessive amounts of water.


Danika Worthington | Digital Strategist — The Denver Post

Danika Worthington is a digital strategist for The Know and The KNow Outdoors, a position she has held since 2018. She started at The Denver Post as a breaking and general assignment reporter in 2016.

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