Hopefully you’ve enjoyed what I unofficially dubbed Rocky Mountain Week. We’re blessed to be pretty close to North America’s great mountain range and all of the activities that can be had up there during the friendly summer months. I picked Mount Bierstadt and Quandary Peak because I just did them and figured they would be great introductory peaks for people to try if they are new to peak bagging. And then I threw in Wheeler Peak, an oldie but a goodie, just because it offers some really neat backpacking and camping opportunities with some solitude thrown in the mix.
One thing not in the trip reports: some tips on the basics of peak bagging. So here’s some info I got that will help you get the to top, courtesy of Jessica Evett of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, and a few extra tips of my own:
A first-aid kit and proper attire is a must. Moisture-wicking clothes, decent rain gear and solid footwear are advised. Pack the sunscreen and sunglasses and leave cotton clothes at home.
Watch the weather. Summer afternoon thunderstorms are a daily occurrence, and late summer/early fall snows aren’t uncommon. No summit experience is worth being hit by lightning or getting caught in a freak high-altitude snowstorm.
Be sure to let people know where you’re going and when you plan to be back. Even on the “beginner peaks,” bad things can happen. Stuff happens in the high country. If you rolled an ankle, how would you get down? Who would know where you were if someone needed to come get you?
Being prepared is about minimizing risk. If you call out on your cell phone, it’s not like someone is going to be right there to pick you up.
Take care of the peak
The ecosystems of high country are fragile. The higher you go, the more delicate they become.
Pack out any trash. If you don’t need a camp fire, don’t make one. Don’t pick flowers, especially in high altitude areas, where any environmental damage can take decades to repair. And stay on the trail.
Be careful with dogs. If you bring your dog, keep it on a leash. Dogs love to chase wildlife. But animals living in the mountains use the summer to fatten up for the harsh winter months. Exerting the energy needed to escape your playful pup could be the difference between life and death for a marmot or mountain goat in the months that follow. And for the dog’s safety, be sure it is fit enough for the journey and that the terrain is not too challenging. I’ve now seen a couple of instances where people were actually carrying their dogs to the summit when the trail disappeared into a pile of huge boulders. This is nonsense.
Do your homework
Doing a little research on the mountain you plan to conquer is a smart thing. If you’ve never climbed, look for one of the many “walk-up” peaks that don’t require climbing skills. There are numerous resources that have trail maps, gear lists and safety tips.
One last word, this one coming from veteran mountaineer Bill Middlebrook via his Web site, 14ers.com:
”Mountaineering in Colorado can be very dangerous,” he says. “Many people have died on the 14ers. Weather, terrain and other people can put you in a situation where your knowledge and experience will be vital.
”Just because a crowd of people can march to the summit of Quandary Peak on a summer Saturday, it doesn’t mean that they are all safe. Altitude sickness, dehydration and fast-building storms are the most common problems. Get in shape and start early for each trip. I can’t tell you how many times I have been half way down a 14er and passed hikers that were determined to get to the summit — even with huge thunderclouds brewing above.”
Sage words. Be safe and have fun out there, folks.