How to Train for Climbing a Fourteener

How to Train for Climbing a FourteenerClimbing a fourteener, or a mountain peak with an altitude exceeding 14,000 feet, is a great but achievable physical challenge. Fourteeners vary in how difficult they are to climb, but they should all be considered at least somewhat treacherous. Respect the mountain, take some time to train and prepare your mind and body, and when the journey is over you'll experience a terrific sense of accomplishment.


Difficulty: Challenging

Step 1
Start ahead of time. Climbing a fourteener requires both strength and aerobic fitness. Start your training program three months before your climb if you are already in pretty good shape (for example, you can run three miles in 30 minutes or less). If you are in worse shape, you may need to train for six months or longer.
Step 2
Follow a general, full-body weight training program. For climbing or hiking, it is best to improve strength in all major muscle groups. Hit the gym for 30 minutes or more three times per week, or buy and use a set of dumbbells and some weight training DVDs.
Step 3
Get serious about aerobic training. You need muscle strength and stamina to haul your body and gear up the mountain, and those muscles need lots of oxygen. Every kind of aerobic training, whether it is running, cycling, vigorous walking, the elliptical machine, the stair stepper or whatever, is designed to improve the capacity of the heart, lungs and blood vessels to deliver oxygen to the muscles. To improve aerobic fitness, exercise at 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate (defined as 220 minus your age), for at least 20 minutes three times per week.
Step 4
Improve your VO2 max. VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen, in milliliters, your body can use in one minute. You can have your VO2 max measured at many gyms, but that isn't necessary. Any kind of aerobic conditioning will improve VO2 max, especially for the unfit. If you are already in good aerobic shape, you can improve your VO2 max by adding short burst of intensity, or intervals, to your workout. During your regular aerobic workout, increase intensity so your heart rate is at 80 to 95 percent of its maximum for one to 10 minutes. At this level of intensity, you will feel your heart pounding and will be gasping for breath. Although interval training is safe and beneficial for most people, proceed with caution. Check with a doctor before starting intense interval training.
Step 5
Add hills. Adding hills is one of the best ways to build heart-pounding intervals into running, walking and cycling workouts. In preparing to climb a fourteener, you are essentially getting ready to climb a really big hill, so it makes sense to build smaller hills into your training routine.
Step 6
Plan some longer training sessions. Regular workouts don't need to be long to be effective. However, since climbing a fourteener will take anywhere from four hours to two days, depending on the mountain and route, you need to plan some workouts of several hours during your training period. Go on a few runs of an hour or more, or try mountain biking or hiking for three hours or more.
Step 7
Try yoga. As you step up your weight training and aerobics training and add some practice outdoor excursions, you'll be putting a lot of strain on your joints and muscles. Yoga offers a unique combination of stretching and strengthening that improves flexibility and increases lubrication in stressed joints. One yoga class per week is enough for most people to see a benefit.
Step 8
Know your mountain. Many of the fourteeners are relatively simple to climb, but they all include hazards, such as cliffs, snow fields and short periods of scrambling. More advanced fourteeners require rock climbing skills and equipment. Research routes and typical weather patterns so you'll know what gear and clothing to bring.
Step 9
Get educated about altitude. As altitude increases, air pressure decreases, resulting in less oxygen available with each breath. The relative lack of oxygen can cause altitude sickness, especially at altitudes above 8,000 feet. Symptoms of mild altitude sickness include, nausea, headache, lack of appetite, fatigue and dizziness. More severe forms of altitude sickness are High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), which can be fatal. Everyone attempting to climb a fourteener should go with a group, and everyone in the group should know the symptoms of severe altitude sickness. Sometimes the mental confusion associated with altitude sickness causes victims to isolate themselves from others, so it is important for people in the group to keep their eyes on each other.
Step 10
Rest up, fuel up and get acclimatized. To have your best experience climbing a fourteener, spend a couple of days at a high altitude near your climbing destination getting used to the thinner air. Eat plenty of healthy food, drink plenty of water, and don't exert yourself too much, especially in the first 24 hours. Truthfully, there is not much someone from a low altitude can do to prepare in advance for exertion at a high altitude. The complicated measures used by professional athletes and extreme climbers (hypoxic altitude tents, live high-train low regimens, among others) are too expensive and time-consuming for the casual mountaineer. However, staying well fed and well hydrated, avoiding alcohol and resting can help. Some people can also benefit from taking ibuprofen to counteract altitude-induced inflammation and headaches, or antacids to counteract the low blood pH caused by lack of oxygen.

Tips & Warnings

Prolonged hiking puts a lot of stress on the low back, hips, knees and ankles and can easily aggravate a vulnerable body part, such as a knee affected by an old football or skiing injury. Go on some practice hikes to see how the old injury reacts. On longer hikes, use an appropriate brace and consider bringing a walking stick.

Article Written By Marsha Maxwell

Marsha Maxwell has been a professional writer and editor for since 1988. Her work has appeared in "The Valley Journals," "Classical Singer," "NetWare Connection" and Trails. She also teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. Maxwell has a Master of Arts in English from the University of Chicago.

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