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When my son Logan was nine years old, he tackled his first fourteener. Although it was a struggle for him most of the way up, when he stumbled, exhausted, onto the summit of Mount Sherman, an enormous smile lit up his entire face. “The fact that I met with challenges along the way, and I overcame barriers that seemed impossible at the time, gave me a sense of elation once I got to the summit,” Logan, now 14, tells me about that day.
Many people think that hiking up Colorado’s fourteeners is an adult activity. But there are a number of the 54 peaks that, under the right conditions, are suitable for children, even elementary-age kids. Here are some tips from kids (and adults) who have reached the summit time and again to help get your little ones on the trail and up the peak—and enjoy the experience together.
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Carefully select your summit.
Regardless of your age, the best Fourteeners to start with are Mount Sherman, Quandary Peak, and Mount Bierstadt. These three peaks have less vertical rise and are Class 1 or 2, meaning that in dry conditions, you’ll be on a clear trail but may need to occasionally put a hand down to keep your balance. Davis, who just turned 10, first climbed Mount Bierstadt at age six. “What motivated me was my dad, who has climbed them all. I really wanted to get up there and see what it was like,” he says. Davis has already climbed 26 and plans to attempt at least half a dozen more this year.
Complete some practice hikes.
To build endurance, test out equipment, and help your kids mentally prepare. It’s important to complete several stout practice hikes in the weeks before you try a fourteener. One week before attempting Mount Bierstadt, Davis and his dad, Rob, climbed Boulder’s Bear Peak, which has close to the same vertical rise.
Know what to pack.
“You must not go unprepared; the weather can turn on you at any time,” says Logan, who at time of writing has summited 23 fourteeners. Rain gear and warm fleece or polypro layers are must-haves, along with properly fitting shoes broken in ahead of time. Davis and his dad also each take along a hat, sunscreen, gloves, a map, a first-aid kit, sunglasses, extra socks, one pair of adjustable hiking poles, and a camera.
Frequent rest stops with appealing snacks are especially important for kids. “Bring plenty of water and especially good snacks, not that disgustingly healthy trail mix,” jokes Logan. Davis enjoys snack bars, peanut butter and almond butter packets, and—unlike my kids—tinned sardines. Hydration is just as important, and adults need to be aware that children often forget to drink. Davis and his dad both carry Camelbacks, and Logan brings along an extra water bottle for mixing up lemonade or Gatorade mix.
Bring a fuzzy friend.
There’s nothing like a soft friend to lift your child’s spirits if he or she is getting tired. “Don’t forget to throw in a stuffed animal or two—something to hug,” says Logan. My daughter, who climbed her first fourteener at age eight, usually hiked with a pack full of stuffies, regularly alternating which one rode in the outer pocket of her pint-sized pack.
“An early start is essential,” says Logan. “I don’t mean 8 a.m., but an ungodly hour like 4 or 5.” Kids move more slowly than adults and require more rest stops. Maximize your chances of avoiding afternoon buildup with a headlamp start, and check the weather forecast, as well as recent access and trail conditions, before you go.
Follow your child’s lead.
One important trick Rob has learned is to let Davis take the lead so that he can find his own rhythm. “Most of the time I usually go first, so I can set the pace,” says Davis. “If I push him too hard at the beginning,” Rob adds, “it doesn’t set a good tone.” Rob also lets his son rests whenever he wants. “Letting Davis manage the pace helps him a lot, especially in the morning,” Rob says.
Don’t hesitate to turn around.
If the weather turns ugly or your child is simply too tired, don’t hesitate to turn around—the mountain will still be there for a later attempt. Logan has had to turn back on several fourteeners. “All three times there were high winds with bad weather,” he says. “It was extremely disappointing in the moment, but in the long run it has motivated me even more.”
Never forget: it’s all about having fun.
The number-one rule is to remember to have fun! Yummy snacks, singing songs, tongue twisters, snapping crazy photos, and post-hike treats can all help make your child’s first fourteeners pleasurable experiences they’ll want to repeat. “I think the climb itself is a reward, but so is ice cream!” says Davis.
In Their Words…
What do kids get out of the experience? “Why should you take your kids on a fourteener? They’ll have a positive experience, a chance to interact with the land, a sense of pride and accomplishment, and a chance to learn that they can escape electronics. A year’s worth of school couldn’t teach them that much.” —Logan, age 14
What do parents get out of the experience? “I wanted to spend time with my son and share the mountains, which I’m very deeply connected to. I wanted Davis to also experience what I’ve had so much joy experiencing. I’m very lucky that I’ve had someone to climb fourteeners with.” —Rob, age 43