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Training and resiliency help beginner summit first fourteener

By Joshua Pilkington

Of the 96 peaks in the nation that meet or exceed 14,000 feet, 53 of them are in Colorado, begging the questions: how difficult is it to summit a fourteener and how has no professional team in Colorado taken the obvious name of the Colorado 14ers? Though the latter is a discussion left for another day – and a different section – the former is one we can answer.

“There are essentially four classes of fourteeners in Colorado,” said Jackie Wilson, 28, an avid hiker who has been embracing Colorado’s mountains since moving to the Centennial State after graduating college in 2007. “The main peaks along the Front Range, which is where most beginning hikers tend to go to get in their first fourteener, are mostly Class 1 or 2. While the southern mountain ranges like Sangre de Cristo and San Juan have a lot of tough Class 3s and some Class 4s.”

Classes 1 and 2 are easier terrains consisting of mostly good trails with the possibility of snow and some off-road trails. Class 3 hikes are more technical requiring the use of hands to hold the terrain and find the route. Steepness and extreme terrain are common on Class 3 hikes. Class 4 requires the use of rope as falls can be fatal. The terrain is often steep and dangerous. A Class 5 difficulty rating exists, though there are no fourteeners in Colorado with the rating.

Wilson, like most hikers, didn’t just jump out of bed and start climbing.

“I was dating a guy at the time that was part of a hiking group and they gave me some workouts to try to get in shape to summit Grays Peak, which I decided would be my first fourteener,” she said. “I came from the Midwest and four years of college and elliptical machines didn’t do much to keep me in shape.”

Her training included a combination of cardiovascular exercises, strength training and flexibility workouts.

“At first it was all pretty difficult,” Wilson said. “Most of the cardio for me was biking or jogging, which are two things I hadn’t done in a while, so there were several days I just felt like quitting.”

Resiliency set in, however, as Wilson kept her eye on her goal of summiting Grays Peak. She added that the help she got from friends also helped her along.

“I think it’s easier to do almost anything with a group rather than by yourself,” Wilson said of her training group. “You can be in a band, working on a project, training for a marathon, whatever, when you have people there to get you through those ‘why the heck am I doing this?’ moments, it makes it that much easier.”

Wilson said she also did several training hikes in the weeks leading up to her main hike.

“We would throw on packs weighing anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds and do some training hikes mostly around the Front Range,” she said. “It was actually one of my favorite parts of the training, because I got to see the mountains and get a feel for what I was up against.”

Wilson added that the training hikes were necessary in keeping her humble.

“I think it was my second training hike where we went up to Estes Park and did a 6-mile hike that had about 2,300 elevation gain that I realized why I was doing training hikes,” she said. “My training on the ground had gotten pretty easy and I started thinking, ‘I can go out and summit Grays today.’ After that 6-mile hike with a 30 pound pack and over 2,000 feet elevation gain, I knew I had a long way to go.”

That day did come, however, only a couple of months later and Wilson has been attacking Colorado’s fourteeners ever since.

“Honestly, I don’t know of a better way to get to know the state,” she said. “You travel to all the mountain ranges and almost every range has at least a class 2 hike that is manageable for beginners. It’s great.”

For a full list of Colorado’s fourteeners including maps, page links and routes visit





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