Respecting the Fourteeners: How to Be Prepared for the Climb

Jenah MacGrain | ClimbingClimbing | Featured ArticleFeatured Article


Knife’s Edge, Capitol Peak. Image: Matador Network

After a record number of deaths last summer on the Colorado Fourteeners, many believe that climbers are under prepared for their trips and are disrespecting the mountains. Capitol Peak, one of the more difficult 14ers, saw five deaths in just six weeks in 2017. The Peak had only four reported deaths in the decade prior.

Lou Dawson of, a back country skiing blog, believes that respecting the mountains involves full preparation, in regards to both gear and knowledge. Preparations that Dawson believes are critically important to every climber to know in an emergency, going beyond physical conditioning, are listed below.

      Safety for Peak Climbing:

  • Learn how to use your GPS app when there is no data connection in an emergency
  • Learn first aid and carry first aid supplies
  • Learn to start a fire with damp wood and one match
  • Learn how to contact authorities effectively in an emergency
  • Plan a gradual escalation in climbing goals, and begin climbing with guides or friends
  • Take courses, attend seminars, read online blogs and articles


Four of Colorado’s 14ers. Image: 14er Art

The Aspen Sojourner published an “everything you need to know” guide, stating that a climber must have experience summiting mountains, be aware of no-fall zones, have knowledge of route-finding, know the signs of altitude sickness, and much more. Aspen Expeditions and Aspen Alpine Guides offer guided trips up Colorado’s 14ers.


Image: Aspen Sojourner

Popular guidebooks for climbing Colorado’s 14ers:

  •  Colorado Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs by Gerry Roach
  • The Colorado 14ers: The Standard Routes by Colorado Mountain Club
  • Dawson’s Guides to Colorado’s Fourteeners by Lou Dawson

A new “awareness campaign” is being put into action by many public and private Colorado organizations. They hope to target Colorado peak climbers and create a culture of safety, preparation, and respect.

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4 thoughts on “Respecting the Fourteeners: How to Be Prepared for the Climb

  1. I am dumbfounded that the first suggestion on how to safely climb a fourteener is “learn how to use your gps”

    This unbelievable statement is exactly the problem!
    How about “learn to climb safely” or
    “maintain proper fitness “ or “ recognize hazards”
    “ learn how to read a map”
    Is this where mountaineering has gone?
    Using your gps to be safe? As if it is going to help you climb a 3rd-4th class ridge?
    The ignorance of this statement demonstrates a complete lack of experience and understanding of mountaineering by the author and only puts more inexperienced armchair mountaineers at risk.
    What a horrrible article.

    1. Hi Adam,
      Stating the need to learn to effectively use GPS is in reference to being able to use it to help emergency personnel locate you in an emergency. Recognizing hazards, being aware of surroundings, and maintaining proper fitness are all stated in the article. Attending seminars, reading, etc is a suggestion for climbers to learn about safety, reading maps, and other necessities.
      The list was pulled from Lou Dawson, who is an extremely experienced climber. These are suggestions for remaining safe in an emergency, not taking away from all other preparations that need to be made.
      I hope this has clarified the point of the article.

      1. The point is , avoid an emergency in the first place by learning how to climb in the mountains and building on experience not relying on electronics!
        Another point is be self reliant, not ready to press a button and call rescuers! What about self rescue? What about putting rescuers at risk because you are relying on technology to get you out of a situation you should never have been in due to lack of experience. I am still shocked at how this article demonstrates a complete departure from what mountaineering is all about.
        By promoting reliance on an “app” , even for rescue purposes, you are only giving the in-experienced the idea that they are should rely on technology and other people to get them out of trouble.
        Start with the basics. It’s not a video game.

    2. Great points, Adam.

      These tips are to aid ‘climbers’ when they go into the high mts of CO. The idea being: when you do go climb these big peak, please bring these rescue aids.

      This is not a ‘how to mountain climb’ piece. Rather a ‘what to bring if you do go mountain climbing’ piece.

      If one isn’t sure how to climb these mountains, please refer to the guide services mentioned here. Hiring a guide is an amazingly rewarding experience where you can learn a ton from a mountain professional.


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