One of my most consistent vacations each year is to take a week off and spend it in the Colorado mountains. I lived there for a while as both a child and adult and still have several friends who live in the state, so it’s a convenient way to visit people and get some fun in at the same time. I typically go there in the winter with my snowboard, but I had been doing this same trip for so many years that it started to become monotonous. This year I decided to go in the summertime and take Mrs. Lite Adventurer with me who had never been to Colorado.
The centerpiece of this vacation was a planned hike up to the top of Mount Evans. As explained in my photo essay post last week, Mt Evans is one of 53 Fourteeners (mountains with a peak above 14,000 feet) in Colorado and is the closest and most convenient one to access from Denver. I have some experience with these mountains and have so far climbed about a third of them, but Mrs. Lite has never attempted a hike at this altitude, so I purposely picked a mountain that was relatively easy compared to the other 14ers.
Due to the ever present risk of afternoon storms, these hikes should be started early in the day, so we decided to stay at a hotel in the nearest town rather than drive through Denver’s rush hour traffic on a Wednesday morning. The most convenient place to stay that doesn’t involve camping is a tiny mountain town called Idaho Springs which is just off highway 70 about 30 miles west of downtown Denver. There aren’t any hotel chains here, so I did some research and settled on a place called JC Suites. This is a small 2 story motel conveniently located on the eastern side of Idaho Springs and a short drive away from the trailhead of Mt Evans. Here are some photos of the place:
During our one night stay, JC Suites was clean, comfortable, and priced right. A few gas stations are nearby, as well as a Safeway grocery store and several restaurants. The night before our big hike, we got some excellent take out sandwiches at Smokin Yard’s BBQ right across the street. Overall I was very impressed and would stay here again if the opportunity came up.
As for the hike itself, if you’re the adventurous type and are in good shape, I highly recommend you try hiking a fourteener at least once in your life. Mt Evans is a good one for beginners, as are nearby peaks Bierstadt, Grays, and Torreys.
Some helpful tips if you decide to attempt one of these massive hills:
- Use 14ers.com as your research headquarters. At that site, you can find general information, maps, recent trip reports, and more. The route description and map section is especially important, and I recommend printing out a paper copy of the topographic trail map including all the photos to take with you to minimize your risk of getting lost (it’s happened to me before).
- Get an early start. The goal is to be at the top of the mountain around 11 AM. Afternoon thunderstorms in the higher elevations can suddenly appear out of nowhere, so by the time noon hits, you want to be well on your way down the hill.
- Check the weather. If there’s a chance of rain, save the hike for another day. Scrambling around on wet rock is a recipe for disaster.
- July and August are ideal months for these hikes. Most of the snow should be melted and it’s relatively warm on the trail.
- Being fit is more important than the gear you have. I don’t care how awesome and expensive your new hiking boots are: if you’re not in good cardiovascular shape, you won’t make it. Know yourself; if you can’t make it up 10 flights of stairs without passing out, consider a different activity.
- Good, comfortable shoes with decent tread on the bottom are important. Don’t buy a new pair right before the hike unless you want the worst case of blisters you’ve ever had. They don’t have to be hiking boots. On our recent hike I wore my Brooks Cascadia trail runners and they were more than enough. On the topic of your feet, wear decent socks and take an extra pair in case you run into snow and your feet get wet.
- Take lots of water. I usually carry a liter and a half for myself on the trail and leave another liter or so in the car.
- Take a little bit of food. You probably won’t be hungry during the hike, but it’s useful to have some dense foods like nuts, candy bars, rice krispies treats, or jelly beans in case you start running out of gas. I typically eat a huge breakfast in the morning, a small snack at the summit of the mountain, and a huge dinner after.
- Tell someone where you’re going. People occasionally die on these trails, and the mountains are out in the wilderness where there’s no cell phone service.
- Take some long sleeved layers. It can get cold and windy, even in the middle of summer. A warm sweatshirt is usually sufficient.
- Sunscreen every single exposed part of your body. On this recent trip, I didn’t sunscreen my eyelids and they got sunburned. At 14,000 feet with no humidity or shade, the sun will bake you rather quickly. Also, don’t forget some SPF chapstick so your lips don’t burn.
Thanks for reading, and good luck if you decide to try one of these mountains for the first time!