What is a 14er?
14ers are mountains with summits over 14,000 feet. Colorado has 58 of these 14ers scattered throughout the state. So far, I’ve climbed three. Mount Sherman was my third 14er. Believe it or not, hiking 14ers is a very popular summer activity in Colorado. People drive up from Denver to the Rocky mountains to do these early morning, long hikes.
How hard is it?
There isn’t a 14er trail that will every be listed as easy. I believe all of them (at least the ones I’ve looked up) are listed as “strenuous hikes”. Some are harder than others, with a few requiring actual climbing gear to reach the summit. Others, like Mount Sherman require only moderate physical ability and hiking shoes. To sum it up, it’s hard, but oh so worth it!
Is it safe to hike a 14er?
If you are smart about, it is very safe. I highly recommend, as with any outdoor activity, you go in a group. We had a group of 9 humans and 2 dogs for our Mount Sherman hike. If don’t live at altitude, it is important to adjust to elevation before trying to make the climb.
I recommend spending at least two days in Denver before heading up to higher elevation to try conquering a 14er. We live in Denver, which sits at 5,280 feet above sea level, so we are used to life at a higher elevation. Because of the altitude we live at, we actually produce more red blood cells than those at sea level. Red blood cells carry oxygen which is needed since air is thinner at elevation. Red blood cells take a full 90 days to develop so it takes a full 3 months to completely adjust to elevation. The trailhead for most 14ers starts at above 10,000 feet. The trailhead for Mount Sherman begins at around 11,000 feet.
For those with heart or lung conditions, check with your doctor prior to doing the hike. Air is thinner up here and can trigger some conditions. Also, once you get to a certain elevation, you will notice that every body part feels heavier. Generally my legs feel like they are dragging sand bags after 13,000 feet. Slow and steady is the way to make the climb. I concentrate on one step after the other.
Also, make sure to start early. I recommend starting the hike before 7am. You want to be off the summit before noon. Colorado weather, especially in the mountains, can be unpredictable. Storms (both rain and snow) tend to roll in during the early afternoon, from noon on. Colorado is home ot the most lightning strikes per year. The summits of all the 14ers are rock faces, which are prime locations for lightning strikes. We started at our hike around 730am (later than we wanted). It took us around 2 hours to reach the summit. It was bright blue, clear skies at the top. Our hike down took another two hours. After we reached our car, the rain started to fall and then turned to snow. Yep, snow in August in Colorado is a real thing!
How do I get to Mount Sherman?
We chose to stay in Fairplay, Colorado the night before our hike, however it is possible to leave from Denver. Either way involves taking Highway South 285 towards Buena Vista. Fairplay is the last main town on Highway 285 before the turn-off to Mount Sherman. Once in Fairplay, you’ll pass a closed down Pizza Hut and the South Park Fire and Rescue on your right before you hit the turn-off for Highway 18. Follow Highway 18’s signs for Mount Sherman. They are large, brown signs that can’t be missed. It’ll be a 20-30 minutes drive on a gravely, bumpy road. The road put me right to sleep on the way to the trailhead. Luckily, I wasn’t driving.
The trailhead is very well marked and there will most likely be a line of cars parked near the trailhead. At the base of the trailhead, there are several old mining buildings still standing, as well as an entrance to an old mine. A tiny creek also flows next to the trailhead.
What should I bring for the hike?
- Colorado weather is famously unpredictable. The weather at the base is always much warmer than the summit. Remember 14,000 feet is about the same height that skydivers jump from for tandem jumps! That’s the elevation you will end your hike at, so be bundled up! I wore a long sleeve wicking shirt and fleece for the majority of the hike. In my backpack, I had a light fleece jacket and rain jacket in my pack. I always bring a hat for the summit too since my ears get cold.
- A backpack!
- This is a necessity for carrying water and snacks. It also comes in handy for adding and subtracting layers!
- Hiking shoes.
- Sandals will not work. Tennis shoes aren’t the best shoes for hiking either as the hike up to the summit is full of uneven rocks with jagged edges. I recommend Teva hiking shoes. I’ve had mine for 5 years and they still work great on hikes. Waterproof is also the way to go with the unpredictable weather.
- Hiking Poles.
- Every hill you climbed on the way up, you will have to traverse on the way down. Your knees will thank you if you use hiking poles. I didn’t use hiking poles on my first 14er and my knees felt it. I used poles on my last two and noticed a huge difference. You’ll also be able to descend way faster than those without poles. It’s a ton of loose rocks so the poles help stabilize everything for the climb down.
- Water and Snacks
- Staying hydrated is one of the most important things you can do on a hike. Drink enough so that you never feel thirsty. Bring snacks that are easy to carry and will provide calories and energy. Stop as often as needed to drink and have a quick snack. We brought almonds, beef jerky, and trail mix for the hike. Plus we carried a Camelback filled with water.
- Sunglasses and Sunscreen
- It can get mighty bright in a state that sees 300 days of sunshine per year. And at 14,000 feet, you’re closer to the sun than at sea level. Protect skin and eyes!
- Beer for the top!
- Nothing like a celebratory drink at the top! This time it was Eddyline Pale Ale.
What makes the view so great?
It’s 360 degrees of uninterrupted beauty. People pay money to travel to the tops of buildings like the Empire State Building, Space Needle, and Burj Khalifa to get views like this. And this view is higher than all of them combined. There’s also no smog or city noise. It’s clear, calm, and quiet except for the sounds of birds and the wind.
Is it really free?
Yep. There is no entrance fee to climb a 14er and no cost for parking. The trailheads for 14ers like Mount Sherman are on public Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. There only things needed are fuel to reach the trailhead (we carpooled!), water (free!), and snacks (which we already had at home and our friends brought some too). We’ve been hiking for many years so we already owned all the gear needed for the hike. The beer is optional, but recommended (such as a pale ale or IPA).