“Climbing my first 14er was one of the hardest but most amazing outdoor experiences of my life!”
I got it in my head that I wanted to finish a Colorado 14er but honestly thought I wouldn’t be able to make it happen any time in the near future. I live several hours away & it was going to require lots of logistical planning with kids & work. But, my mom offered to keep the kids for a week & so my husband & I decided to go for it at the beginning of August 2019. It was an incredible experience & one we plan to repeat!
We did a ton of research on which fourteener to tackle for beginner’s, what to wear & what to pack. After reading lots & lots of websites, it was pretty clear Gray’s & Torrey’s Peaks would be the best one for first timers. Gray’s & Torrey’s Peak is a 7.9 mile very very heavily trafficked out & back trail located near Dillon, Colorado. We rented a condo in Keystone which was about 50 minutes from the trailhead & drove over there. We said the next time, we would like to camp at the trailhead so we can avoid a 3:30 AM alarm for our 5 AM start time.
This trail didn’t require any climbing experience beyond being in decent shape, it was a straightforward hike on a very clear trail, & there are a TON of people who will be hiking with you. Get ready for those switchbacks though! I thought I was going to be disappointed by the crowds, but since this was my first major hiking experience in Colorado I enjoyed being with other hikers. Plus, we met some really awesome people of all ages who were all hiking their first 14er & it really was like we were all in this awesome adventure together. We cheered for each other & were excited when we all finished. I loved it!
Getting to the trail at Gray’s & Torrey’s Peak: Everything we read recommended a high clearance vehicle & 4WD if you can swing it. They weren’t wrong! We drove my mother in law’s Acura MDX to the trailhead & it did great! We got there at 4:47 AM & we were NOT the first ones there. In fact, the parking lot was already starting to fill up. So when you read in other trail reviews “the earlier you’re there the better”, they mean it. This is for parking so you don’t have to walk a further distance to the trailhead when you’re already going to be doing a grueling hike BUT it’s also because of the weather.
We watched the weather & ended up hiking on a day where the chances of rain at the summit were extremely low. But everything we read AND all the fellow hikers we talked to all told us that lightening storms are very common in the mountains & the last place we would want to be was at the summit above treeline & get stuck in a storm. The sooner you start the better so you’re down the trail before 12-1 PM.
What I wore: Waterproof boots, Smartwool socks, my Wonder Woman workout leggings, a synthetic tank & long sleeve shirt, my very old Northface jacket, winter hat & gloves.
Boots & Socks: I wore waterproof boots so I could stomp through streams without worrying about how to dodge the water. It was already a strenuous hike, the last thing I mentally wanted to be doing was checking where to walk. That being said, I watched plenty of people hike that day in their tennis shoes or a lighter weight trail shoe. I don’t hike anywhere without my wool socks, I recommend grabbing a pair. If you aren’t going to wear waterproof shoes then maybe grab an extra pair for your pack so you can change them if they get wet.
Leggings: I was trying to keep this trip as inexpensive as possible so I went with a lot of what I already had. I packed my workout leggings because they’re synthetic & moisture wicking. I saw plenty of people who hiked in shorts that day. I kept wanting to ask them if they were freezing. Ha! The southern woman in me was not about to put on anything but my leggings. We started the trailhead on August 6 at 5:00 AM & the temperature was 37 degrees when we started hiking & 47 with a wind chill at the summit. Judge your temps the best on if you would want to start out in shorts or not.
Shirts: I wore a synthetic tank that is also a workout shirt I wear to the gym regularly. I also purchased a synthetic long sleeve shirt from Walmart.com for a whopping $8.00. There may be outdoor enthusiasts who would tell you I need a fancier brand or it needs to come from an outdoor store, but this shirt worked perfectly.
Coat: You’ll see in my photo, I wore my green Northface jacket. It’s an 11 year old Christmas gift, but it’s wicked warm for a jacket that looks like it won’t do much. I did wear it when I started out & shed it after a bit of walking because I warmed up. But when I would take breaks I would get cold again, so I would put it back on while I rested. Once I got to the top, I wore it the entire time I was up there. Todd wore a t-shirt & a Northface rain jacket the entire time he hiked.
Hats/Gloves/Sunglasses: I switched back & forth between my winter cap & my LivNativ Arkansas ball cap. I wore the winter hat at the summit for sure because my ears were cold. But for the majority of the hike, I wore the LivNativ hat for sun protection. Gloves & sunglasses are pretty self-explanatory. 🙂
What was in our bag: We read extensively on what we needed to pack in our bags & I would love to tell you we got it all right with all the resources we had at our fingertips. But alas, the best way to learn something is from experiencing it yourself & we learned a lot. Also, I’m going to tell what I would take in my bag the NEXT time I hike a 14er instead of what we actually took with us. Our packs were waaaay too heavy & because of the extra weight it prevented us from making it over to Torrey’s because we were both over carrying our bags.
- 3 liters of water each. Todd used up all of his & I had some left over.
- Food: We did not take enough & I was starving by the time we were finished. We took pretzels & trail mix to the summit with us & had peanut butter & jelly sandwiches with bananas & chips waiting for us at the car in an ice chest. There were plenty of people who had sandwiches in their packs to eat at the summit & I so wish I had thought to do that. A high carb & protein “meal” will be in my pack for me to eat at the summit the next time I go up a 14er.
- Headlamps: hiking in the dark = you need these.
- Light sticks: We had Ozark Trail LED light sticks we bought for cheap to clip on our bags so we could spot each other in the dark if we got separated. These are optional, but I did like being able to see Todd’s red glow (I had purple) when we were in the pitch black.
- First Aid Kit
- 3 feet of duck tape (it works for anything!)
- Sunscreen: the sun will get you! Especially once you’re beyond the treeline.
- Hand Sanitizer/Toilet Paper/Kula Cloth
- Trash bag: Remember, whatever you pack in, you must pack out.
Restroom: No one ever talks about this online when hiking, so ladies I’m going to help you out. There’s a bathroom at the trailhead & then once you’re hiking there are some great bushes before you leave vegetation for when you need to go. Once you’re beyond the bushes, you will be able to find some pretty large boulders to hide behind. And then at the summit, well, either hold it or you can catch a private moment to relieve yourself. 🙂 I know for people who are just starting out hiking, the bathroom is something that NEVER comes up. So, you will be using the restroom on the trail, plan for it! Ha!
At the time, I only had some biodegradable wipes which I used & packed in a trash sack. Since then, I have purchased a Kula Cloth for using for peeing. This cloth is going to change my daughter’s & my hiking life (I have one for me & one for her.) Check it out for sure! Read up on your Leave No Trace principals for using the restroom, but don’t ever go near a water source.
If you are looking for the most amazing view of your life, one of the hardest but most fulfilling experiences of your life & you are prepared to physically challenge yourself in a way you have never done before, then attempting your first 14er in a must! It was one of the most awe inspiring moments of my entire life, I will do this over & over & over again.
**Please keep in mind, any recommendations I’m making is based off of my experience on Gray’s Peak in August. I can’t speak to what you will need for other 14ers or during other seasons, but I plan to find out by climbing as many as I can!