By Staff Sgt. Robert Cloys
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
Roughly 70 miles, as the crow flies, from Pikes Peak, a familiar 14,000-plus-foot elevation mountain near Colorado Springs lies another “14er” northwest of the town of Alma, Colo. Mount Democrat, one of 54 Colorado mountains classified as “14ers,” actually tops Pikes Peak by a small amount in collective height standing tall at 14,148 feet.
The fitness center here has led groups of Schriever members up other area “14ers” including Pikes Peak, Mount Harvard and Mount Quandary. On Sept. 28, the center intends to add Mount Democrat to its list.
Hiking a mountain with an elevation that surpasses the 14,000-foot mark isn’t for everyone. Those interested in taking on the challenge should be in top physical shape for several reasons.
“We only go as fast as the slowest person,” said Seth Cannello, Schriever fitness center director. “If someone is really slow, it holds the group back.”
Hikers tend to slow down at elevations as high as Mount Democrat, because pressure in the air is relatively low and leads to less oxygen making its way into the lungs.
A too slow trek up a mountain may lead to weather concerns once hikers reach the top. Often lightning is frequent in the late afternoon at these elevations. Because of this, a strict eight-hour time limit has been imposed on the ascent.
“We leave here at 5 o’clock in the morning,” said Cannello. “If we don’t set time limits it could be an extremely long day. Most ‘14ers’ are several hours away from Colorado Springs.”
Tech. Sgt. Mike Kitchen, 50th Operations Support Squadron, has hiked several “14ers” in the past.
“In August 2010, my dog, Cricket, and I joined the Health and Wellness Center team to tackle Quandary Peak. At 14,265 feet, Quandary Peak is the highest peak in the Tenmile Range and the 13th highest peak in Colorado. It was a long hike,” said Kitchen. “Hiking a ‘14er’ isn’t something to be taken lightly. But reaching the top of your first ‘14er’ is something you’ll remember for a long time.”
Kitchen also added that the way you pack when hiking a “14er” is one of many keys to success.
“The trick is packing enough stuff to be prepared but not too much to weigh you down. I use a CamelBak backpack with three liter bladder and carry some high calorie snacks and a lunch. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are great hiking fuel,” he said. “Depending on the weather, I’ll wear a T-shirt and a pair of shorts and bring a hooded sweatshirt, windpants and windbreaker. Comfortable shoes are key. I go with trail running sneaks for light-weight, comfort and traction.”
Regardless of skill level, “14ers” are worth the research and preparation required.
Cannello encouraged Schriever members to try at least one “14er” during their tour here by working their way up slowly in altitude and distance.
“It is hard to put into words the beauty at the top of a ‘14er,’ and pictures don’t do it justice. You feel like you are on top of the world. You also have a feeling of accomplishment when you finally make a ‘14er’ summit,” he said. “We generally host the hikes in August, so if people can’t make this trip, look for it next year and start training today.”
Registration for the hike is open, and will continue until Sept. 27. For more information or to sign up, contact Cannello at 567-6658.