How To Train for a Colorado 14er

Over drinks, over brunch, we talk about tackling our first 14er. Problem is, we have a nagging suspicion that it might take a little more than putting down our Bloody Mary and strapping on a backpack. So we went to trusted friend, on all things adventure, Natalie Magee of Yogi Magee Expeditions to get her take on how we can prepare.

Hike a Colorado 14er

So you want to hike a 14er.

At some point almost everyone who lives in Colorado will come to this conclusion and put hiking a peak over 14,000 feet on their “Colorado Bucket-list.” The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative estimates roughly 500,000 people per year climb these mountains which equates to about 77 hikers per mountain, every day. Not everyone who sets out to hike these peaks will make it to the summit and a lot of that has to do with being underprepared and undertrained.

I’ve hiked 42 of the 58 peaks and come across everything from people wearing jeans and carrying a single water bottle, to a 5 year-old being carried on dad’s back. I’ve taken over a dozen people up their first summit and they all had one thing in common – those that trained fared better than those who did not. Training is the difference between a successful summit, one where you’re ready to come back and climb more, and struggling your way to the top.

So how do you train for a 14er?

I asked myself this question when I launched a Summer Adventure Training Camp with my friend Dawnelle Arthur, owner of QiFLowFusion in Denver. We knew we wanted to hike a group up Mount Yale but we wanted to appropriately prepare them to do so. The program we designed consisted of urban boot camps held three times a week that combined strength training with cardio and altitude acclimation. One of our weekly workouts was an outdoor adventure designed to challenge them not only physically but mentally. Our goal was to cross train our group of 9 so they were not only prepared to hike a 14er but also continue their summer of adventure ranging from day hikes to trail runs.

Here’s a list of helpful activities and workouts you can do on your own to prepare you for a journey you’ll never forget.

Hike a Colorado 14er

  1. Spend time at altitude: There’s no prediction for who will get altitude sickness. Signs are usually headache, nausea and being disoriented. The only cure is turning around and going back down the mountain. However, the more time you spend at higher elevation the more red blood cells your body starts to make. The more red blood cells you have the more oxygen your cells will get and the better you’ll feel. Look for hikes like Royal Arch, Green Mountain, Sanitas and South Boulder Peak in Boulder or the Loch Vale and Lake Helene in Rocky Mountain National Park. The Incline in Manitou Springs is a great hike if you’re short on time and you’ll gain 2,000 vertical feet in just a mile. Time yourself and try to keep a consistent pace, taking as few breaks as possible. The more breaks you take the harder it is for your body to get back into the groove.

Hike a Colorado 14er
2. Prepare your quads and knees: Hiking is leg intensive and can be hell on your knees going down. You need to strengthen your quads now to protect your knees so you minimize the risk of injury descending the mountain. At almost every training session I have my clients do step-ups. The higher the step the better so start taking the stairs two at a time. Instead of walking around the block, start doing lunges. If it hurts your knees at first, lunge backwards instead of forwards.

3. Expand your lungs: The better your lung capacity the more oxygen you’ll take in and reduce the risk of muscle cramps. The only way to expand your lungs is through cardio. Trail running is the easiest thing you can do to start and it doesn’t cost a penny. Trail running will also help strengthen your ankles. A favorite of mine is Matthew Winter’s Park up at Red Rocks. Mount Galbraith in Golden makes for an excellent combination of elevation gain and trail running and is easy to access. Maxwell Falls in Evergreen has lots of shade for those hot afternoons as does the Enchanted Forest Trail at Apex Park. Not a fan of running? Try the rowing machine or kettlebell swings.

Hike a Colorado 14er
4. Become accustomed to carrying weight: The first 14er I ever hiked I wore yoga pants, tennis shoes and carried one water bottle. To say I was underprepared would be an understatement. When I summited I saw people pulling sandwiches, candy bars, salami and even beers from their packs. Oh, was I green with envy. I’ve also had hikes where I’ve ran out of water and I vowed to never let that happen to me again. I now carry at least 100 oz of water which weighs roughly 6lbs. It’s easier however, to carry water in your cells than on your back so hydrate prior so you don’t get a dehydration headache or faint. On your endurance day hikes start carrying a backpack with water, snacks, and the classic ten essentials. Notice how you move with weight on your back and modify accordingly.

Hike a Colorado 14er

@taradactyl02 conquers Longs Peak.

Start training today and you’ll be hiking in just 8 weeks of training and feel fully prepared for your adventure. Happy trails friends!

Natalie Magee, of Yogi Magee Expeditionsis a self-proclaimed vampire who spends nights at 38,000 feet as a flight attendant, and days instructing cycle, yoga and barre classes at various studios around Denver. In her “downtime,” she raises her daughter, hikes 14ers (she has 15 left) and  has guided over 20 people up their first 14er. She also operates Yogi Magee Expeditions  which offers yoga adventure retreats. “My greatest pleasure in life comes from introducing others to my passions and pushing them past their physical and mental limits. Hosting retreats has allowed me to explore and travel while making connections with many amazing individuals. Adventure seeking is what motivates me to move every day.” 

Find Yogi Magee on Instagram. Have a question about a Colorado adventure? Put it in the comments and it may be profiled!