Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hiking with Children

Everybody wants to share their favorite activities with their kids. Children love the outdoors and they are very active. Hiking is an excellent outdoor activity for people of all ages. Spending time outdoors as a family not only pulls the family closer together, but is also a great time to teach your kids about nature, respecting the environment, and supporting an active lifestyle.

To make sure your hike is a success and fun for all involved be sure to start out with short hikes and slowly build up their conditioning and endurance. Hikes should to be fun, not forced and upsetting. Adjust your pace so the child isn't pushed too hard.

Make sure they have the proper shoes and clothing for the conditions. Leave plenty of time for your hike. Be prepared to make many stops as kids love to examine and explore everything they see. Plan hikes to a destination such as a lake, waterfall, summit, boulder field, etc. It is always better to have a destination to look forward to instead of just hiking out into the woods and turning around.

Look for wildlife, bugs, footprints, and different plants. I like to have discussions with my kids about what kind of animals we might see. We usually get into discussions about what those animals eat and where they sleep. It is a great learning experience for the children. Be sure to teach them Leave No Trace Ethics and to respect nature and other people.

Bring plenty of water and snacks and don't forget the first aid kit for those unexpected accidents.

Most importantly make the hike fun. Play games such as I Spy or have a scavenger hunt. Be creative and use your imagination and enjoy this special time with your children. They will enjoy spending time in nature with you and you make make memories they will never forget.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Recommended Colorado Guide Books

I love maps. I don't know what it is but I can sit and look at a map for hours studying the terrain, seeing how far away the next peak is, and planning future hikes. I also like to check out guide books. I figured I would post a few of my favorites here for you to check out.

The books on my bookshelf with the most wear and tear are...
Colorado's Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs by Gerry Roach
Colorado's Thirteeners: From Hikes to Climbs by Gerry Roach
Colorado Scrambles: A Guide to 50 Select Climbs in Colorado's Mountains Guide Book
by Dave Cooper
Rocky Mountain National Park: The Complete Hiking Guide by Lisa Foster

There are many others out there but Gerry Roach has a way of covering all of the major routes on the 13ers and 14ers without boring you with too much information. The Colorado Scramblers book picks some of the coolest routes on some amazing mountains as well as some great climbs on some mountains that otherwise would be boring (ex. North Ridge on Quandary). And Lisa Foster truly has developed the first 'Complete' guide to climbing the peaks in RMNP.

Check them out and let me know what you think. Feel free to post other favorites in the comments section.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Colorado Fourteeners Initiative

The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) was founded in 1994 by the USDA Forest Service. The mission of this organization is to preserve the 14,000 foot Colorado Peaks through education and stewardship. With the help of the U.S. Forest Service, CFI has completed impact studies on all of Colorado’s 54 Fourteeners. By examining damage to resources, rate of change, impacts on sensitive species, and U.S. Forest Service priorities at the district level, CFI recognized 35 peaks for priority action. Thus far, CFI has conducted trail restoration and other work on 18 Colorado Fourteeners.

With the increased use of the current trails due to the popularity of hiking 14ers the work of CFI has become more and more necessary. I believe strongly in preserving the open area that we all love. It is possible to love a place to death through over use. It is important that we all practice the Leave No Trace principles and even pitch in with helping CFI with their efforts. They accept cash donations and volunteer time. Spending a day of repairing a trail is the ultimate way to give back.

For more information on the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative check out their website here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lily Lake- Family Hike Near Estes Park

Looking for a nice family hike near Estes Park? Lily lake is the place. Lily lake is a small lake surrounded by many beautiful sites. The lake is situated right off of Colorado Highway 7 about 7 miles south of the town of Estes Park. Lily Mountain, pictured above, makes a beautiful back drop for family photos. You also will have awesome views of Twin Sister's Peak, Estes Cone, Mount Meeker, and Long's Peak.

The short trail around the lake is easy for all ages and is even suitable for a stroller. If you are looking for something longer or harder, the Twin Sisters Trail head is across the street and the Lilly Mountain Trail is 1/4 mile north.

Another nice thing about Lily Lake is that you do not have to have a National Park Pass ($25) to access the trail. I do suggest you visit Rocky Mountain National Park but this lake is a gem located outside the National Park Fee Area.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Goals/ Lists

You should have goals in all parts of your life including climbing and mountaineering. Sure it is fun to climb leisurely and just do a peak here or there, but having a goal and a list to check off makes it even more fun.

The most common list to finish is the 14ers. There are between 52 and 59 total 14ers depending on how you classify them. Most people consider there to be 54 true 14ers in Colorado. You can find a list of them here. Some have climbed them all in a summer or in a lifetime. Whatever works for you.

Then there is the top 100 peaks in Colorado. The top 100 ranked peaks are basically all peaks over 13,800. Choosing to do the top 100 instead of just the 14ers gets you up on some awesome high 13ers.

A few people have climbed all of the 13ers. There are 584 ranked 13ers. Making a total of 637 peaks over 13,00o feet.

Then there are the county high points. These range from getting out of your car at an intersection in Denver to some gnarly peaks. But it is fun to climb the highest point in all 64 counties.

Then of course you can break it down county by county and try to climb the ranked peaks in each county.

Choose what works for you. Many start with the 14ers and work their way down as far as they can. The important thing is to have fun. So get out there and start checking them off.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Peak Bagging

What is it about peak bagging? Some of us just get the fever and can't stop and others just don't get it. What is it that does it for you?

I personally have always loved spending time outdoors and have enjoyed hiking, biking, kayaking, and a number of other outdoor sports. Hiking in the Rocky Mountains is amazing and is something I have enjoyed since I was a child. But something inside of me changed once I first started summiting peaks.

I love maps, playing with a GPS, and reading guide books. There is just something about the journey and the need for a well planned strategy to get to the summit.

I also love the route finding. I love trying to decide which way looks best. I don't always pick the easiest route. I occasionally find myself crawling up a scree field knowing that I made a mistake. But that is part of the fun.

Standing on top of a mountain that I have climbed under my own power is priceless. The views are breathtaking and the sense of accomplishment is worth the effort.

The check on my checklist feels good but is such a small part of the overall experience. I love climbing peaks for everything mentioned above, but mostly for the solitude, the physical test, and the sense of accomplishment.

That's why I climb mountains. What about you?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hiking Gear

Here is a list of necessary gear needed for hiking mountains. This list is intended for day hikes during the summer months. This is the stuff I generally wouldn't leave without. You can always bring more but I try to keep my pack weight to a minimum. I try to only carry what I will need without putting myself at risk if something doesn't quite go as planned.

1. Map, compass, and/or GPS
2. Sunscreen, sunglasses, and sun hat.
3. Sturdy yet comfortable hiking shoes with a good sock
4. A wind breaker
5. A rain jacket and maybe rain pants
6. Winter hat and gloves
7. Plenty of Water
8. Extra food
9. Hiking Poles
10. Layers (T-shirt, long sleeve shirts, fleece, shell)
11. First Aid Kit
12. Camera

Remember that you are entering a high alpine environment. You should be ready for high winds, rain, and lots of sunshine. The weather changes quickly and you will need layers to stay comfortable. Sunscreen and sunglasses are a must, you will get burned. Don't underestimate the amount of water you will need. Be smart, be safe, and have fun.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Colorado Front Range

The Front Range stretches over 175 miles from the Colorado/ Wyoming border to west of Pueblo in southern Colorado. The Front Range jets out of the plains and creates a dramatic change in scenery for travelers out of the Midwest. The city of Denver as well as many other cities and towns from Fort Collins to Pueblo a situated at the base of these mountains.

There are 6 14ers located in the Front Range. Due to Colorado's population distribution along the Front Range, these peaks see the most traffic and can be very busy on any summer weekend. These peaks are all easily accessible from I-25 or I-70 making them great peaks for visitors to climb also.

The Front Range Peaks include Long's Peak (14,255), Grays Peak (14,270), Torreys Peak (14,267), Mount Evans (14,264), Mount Bierstadt (14,060), and Pikes Peak (14,110).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hiking Alone vs. Having a Partner

Personally I do hike alone from time to time. I actually enjoy it. The time alone in the wilderness just seems to feed my soul and recharge my batteries. However, I only do this on terrain that I am comfortable with. I know my skills and I wouldn't go on a long scramble alone. This being said, it is always a good idea to have a partner.

Being in the wilderness puts yourself susceptible to certain risks. It is always safer to have a partner to help out in case something does go wrong. It really doesn't take much to sprain an ankle on loose rock or have something worse happen. Besides, a companion is always fun to chat with. I always seem to learn fascinating things about people when in the wilderness. There is none of that city B.S. People tend to open up and be real in the mountains.

If you don't have a friend who is into hiking mountains there are many other ways to get in touch with others who share your love for the mountains. Post a message on14ers.com or any other online place where fellow climbers hang out. Chances are you will find someone into hiking with you. Or ask around the local outdoor store. They may have ideas about local people who are looking to hook up for a hike.

Check it out and stay safe.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Risks and Dangers of Hiking Mountains

Overall mountain climbing is not a very dangerous sport. Thousands of people climb one or more of the Colorado 14ers each year with no problems. However, it is also important to point out that people do die each year in the Colorado back country. Death and serious injury can be caused by lightning, exposure to the elements, and falling from rocks and ledges.

While I don't consider climbing a 14,000 foot peak to be putting my life at risk, it is important to understand the risks that are involved. You may encounter a bear or mountain lion but the chance of being attacked by an animal in the Colorado wilderness is much less likely than people in the city would like to believe.

Lightning is a serious risk. Being up above the tree line makes you susceptible to being struck directly by lightning. Lightning kills people each year in Colorado and a direct hit is almost always fatal. The best advice to avoid being caught in a lightning storm is to start early. Thunderstorms roll in in the afternoons. It is best to summit in the morning and be headed down shortly after noon. Also, it is important to keep an eye on the clouds. If a storm is moving in get down. Anytime you see lightning or hear thunder it is important to get down to lower elevation immediately. There is too much risk in standing on top of a 14er in a thunderstorm.

Exposure to the elements takes lives every year too. Usually this happens when someone becomes lost in the wilderness and is forced to spend the night outside. Often day hikers with light jackets get caught out all night without a sleeping bag or jacket warm enough for the freezing night temperatures. Obviously, you can carry a sleeping bag and tent with you on every hike. The key is to know where you are, where you are going, and make sure someone knows where you went if you don't make it out. Bring a map and know how to read it. I always study the map the night before so I know what other mountains are around the one I'm climbing. This gives me the ability to recognize mountain features and keep me headed in the right direction. GPS unit are also very helpful but be sure to have plenty of batteries.

Falls from rocks and ledges. People die every year in the Colorado back country from slipping off rocks. If you are rock climbing know the dangers and bring a rope. If you are hiking, don't climb a rock. Some scrambling is fun but know what you are doing and don't put yourself at risk.

Be smart out there. Don't get yourself into more than you can handle and know when to turn around.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace (LNT) Center for Outdoor Ethics is a national and international designed to help outdoor enthusiasts reduce their impact on the environment while they are hiking, camping, or doing any other activity in the outdoors. The program promotes responsible use of recreational site and educates lovers of the outdoors to make conscious decisions when pursuing their passions. It is not a set of rules and regulations but an overall awareness program for those that enjoy the outdoors.

There are seven principles in the LNT program:
1. Plan ahead and prepare
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
4. Leave what you find
5. Minimize Campfire impacts
6. Respect Wildlife
7. Be Considerate of other visitors

You can find out more details about these 7 principles at the LNT site. I recommend you make yourself away of these principles so you can reduce your impact on these wonderful areas so that other, including your children and grandchildren can enjoy them in the same beautiful state that you have.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Altitude Sickness

Altitude Sickness also known as Acute Mountain Sickness is an illness that can affect hikers, climbers, skiers, and travelers. The symptoms of Altitude Sickness occur at high Altitudes generally above 8,000 feet above sea level.

The sickness is caused by a combination of reduced air pressure and lower oxygen concentration present at high altitude. Seriousness can range from very mild headaches to life threatening. The risk increases with the speed in which the individual has gained the elevation. It is generally recommended the someone from sea level not fly into Colorado and climb a 14ers the first day. You can reduce your risk by spending a night in a high elevation town before reaching 14,000 feet. It is a good idea to do a little hiking at elevations above 8,000 feet before you try a higher climb. You should also drink lots of liquids, avoid alcohol, and eat regular meals to reduce your risk.

Symptoms of a mild case include:
Difficulty sleeping
Dizziness or light-headedness
Loss of appetite
Nausea or vomiting
Increased heart rate
Shortness of breath with exertion

Symptoms associated with severe altitude sickness include:
Bluish discoloration of the skin
Chest tightness or congestion
Coughing up blood
Decreased consciousness or withdrawal from social interaction
Gray or pale complexion
Inability to walk in a straight line, or to walk at all
Shortness of breath at rest

The best thing you can do if you or someone in your party is experiencing Altitude sickness is to get down to a lower elevation. If you are hiking turn around and lose as much elevation as possible. If you have bottled oxygen available use it.

The altitude affects everyone differently. Some people get sick right away and others never notice the difference. The key is to drink lots of water and be aware of how you and others in your group are feeling. Don't push on when you aren't feeling well. You don't want to put yourself at risk. Be smart. The mountain will be there tomorrow after you have acclimated.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Rating System

How hard is this mountain to climb? How do these two peaks compare in difficulty?

Difficulty is such a subjective matter. It depends on the skills of the climber. Something that seems very easy to one person may be nearly impossible to another less experience hiker. When someone talks about how easy or hard something is it is important to consider the differences in ability and experience.

The generally accepted rating system in the climbing community is known as the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS). A rating for a route has four parts: Grade, Class, Snow Steepness, and Length. Snow Steepness and Length are pretty self explanatory so I will focus on Grade and Class in this post. Grade rates the overall difficulty of the entire route while Class rates the hardest part of the route.

Grade is expressed in roman numerals from I to VII. The higher the number the harder the overall route. For example a Grade I is a short day hike up to 3,000 feet of elevation gain and little or no technical climbing. A Grade II is a Day Hike with over 3,000 feet of elevation gained and possibly some technical climbing required. A Grade III is a long day climb with over 6,000 feet gained, a fair amount of technical climbing required or a considerable amount of scrambling possibly with some exposure. A Grade IV is a very long day. It would require a great deal of elevation gain and/or considerable technical climbing and scrambling.

Class is classified by numbers 1 through 5.14. Classes 1 to 4 are rated in whole numbers only. At 5 a decimal place is used to denote each bit of increased difficulty. Class 1 is hiking on a defined trail or or in open country which is as easy as hiking on a trail. Class 2 is hiking off the trail usually requiring some bushwhacking or climbing on a talus slope. In Class 2 you are not yet using your hands. Class 3 is the easiest category of climbing. People generally call Class 3 climbing 'scrambling'. You are now using basic climbing including the use of your hands. Class 4 is for even more climbing. Not only are you using your hands but you may have to search for and select handholds. You are using your upper body to continuing gaining elevation not just your legs. Class 5 is technical climbing. Most people prefer to use a rope as exposure is present. You are not not hiking but definitely climbing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Easiest 14ers Near the Front Range

One of the most common questions on message boards is always: What is the easiest 14er? Or Which 14er is a good first climb for a beginner? Or What 14er is close to Denver?

The two 14ers that I suggest a beginner start with to get a taste of altitude on their first 14er hike is Quandary or Bierstadt.

The Quandary standard route up the east ridge is a nice hike. It is a semi gradual slope all the way up the ridge to the top. You can follow a trail (and often a line of people) all the way to the summit. The trail head is located south of Breckenridge just off of highway 9. More info available here.

Mount Bierstadt is an easy climb from the West Slopes accessible from Guanella Pass. This is a nice easy hike with no exposure. The trail is good and the terrain is easy for most beginners. The trail head is on Guanella Pass Road south of Georgetown. More info available here.

I would suggest either of these two to get a taste of climbing Fourteeners. Other easy peaks include Mount Sherman, Mount Elbert, Handies Peak, Grays, and Torreys.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Hiking Poles

Are Hiking Poles useful and worth them money? Absolutely.

When I first started hiking I noticed a lot of people using hiking poles. I thought it was just a phase. I thought these were just one more thing that people bought just to feel like they were real hikers. When I hiked my first 14er, my friend had brought poles with him. He was a few years older than me so I teased him about needing a cane to get up the hill. But I tried them out and I actually saw a big advantage in using them.

Some of the advantages of using hiking poles is that they help you keep good balance and posture. Many people begin to lean forward after hours of hiking especially with a heavy backpack. The poles keep you standing straight and keep you away from aggravating back ache.

The poles are also very helpful on loose gravel to help support you when your feet slip out from under you. They also come in very handy when rock hopping through talus and small boulders. By using the poles you can keep your balance. They are like hand extensions to help you climb down from one boulder to another (not rock climbing, just light scrambling).

Some people even like having poles in their hands to feel save in case of an attack by human or animal in the wild. They give you something easily available to scare off any critters or the rare human attack.

I never hike without them. They are a very valuable addition to my necessary gear. I highly recommend you purchase poles. There are poles of all price ranges and honestly the functionality doesn't change much so a lower end pole may be all you need to get started.