Colorado locals joke that people come visit for the winter but stay for the summers. I have been tempted to stay many times before. Hiking in Colorado is one of my favorite activities because of the landscape and views. I also enjoy it because of how it challenges me physically, emotionally, and mentally.
I experienced my most recent challenge during a recent visit to Vail, a ski town in the mountains west of Denver. On that trip, I hiked to the summit of 13,206-foot Homestake Peak—the first time I ever have bagged what locals call a “Thirteener.”
I have had plenty of hiking experience over the years, but this particular adventure outside of Denver really served to test my determination, self-confidence, and strength. Along the way, both from guides and from my own experience, I learned some valuable pointers for hiking tall mountains. Here are some of those tips.
Start your hike in comfort
There is something to be said about pampering oneself before a challenge; it is important to be in a place where you can rest, relax your nerves, and mentally prepare yourself for the days ahead.
Viewfinder tip: Mountain sun is stronger than you think. Remember to wear sunscreen and drink lots of water.
Before my Homestake hike, I did this by staying in one of the luxury vacation rentals at Solaris Residences. The large apartment overlooking the center of Vail village was within walking distance from restaurants, shops, and many hiking trails. During the course of my stay, I enjoyed the indoor pool and sports facility with its own bowling alley.
Solaris also is within walking distance from Vail Vitality Center, which offers excursions on which you can warm up for your hike. The center also offers spa treatments. I recommend scheduling a spa treatment before and after your hike, but if you can only schedule one, try the herbal poultice massage afterward. This treatment is great for relieving soreness and tension.
Do a training hike
Ideally, you should give yourself a couple of days to acclimatize to the change in altitude before bagging a Thirteener. You also want to take some practice hikes. As I geared up for my Homestake summit, I went out on a warm-up with Ellen Miller, a cardio coach and high altitude training specialist at the Vail Vitality Center. Ellen has summited Mount Everest from both Nepal and Tibet, and has climbed four of the tallest mountains in the Himalayas. She was a great coach for my pre-summit hikes.
Go with the pros
It is never a good idea to take on a challenging hike alone. During my visit, we opted for expert guides to lead the way.
We chose Paragon Guides, and we chose do to the trek with llamas to help carry gear, food, and other essentials. The llamas escorted us to the 10th Mountain Division Hut, a former resting spot of the U.S. Army soldiers who trained during World War II at Camp Hale in central Colorado. We spent one night in the hut (though many guided trips can take anywhere from 3-6 days).
Before this wonderful tromp, I never had witnessed the natural beauty of alpine hiking. The scenery served as a wonderful distraction from the reality that I was among a group of more competent hikers. Sometimes I struggled to breathe if I too fast. Sometimes I think others in my group weren’t sure I’d make it. When I wanted to ignore these distractions, I would stop, look around, and quite literally smell the flowers. The beauty kept me going.
Know yourself. Trust yourself.
I am a true believer in that we have to approach each challenge in life realistically. For me, on the hike, that meant embracing the possibility of not making it. It also meant trusting the guides. Their top priority was my safety; I had to acknowledge that they were able to read me better than I might have been able to read myself.
Believe in your potential
That said, let me be clear: There is nothing wrong with trusting yourself and your own abilities as well. At one part of the hike, I had to separate from my group (if you are the slowest in your group this will most likely be necessary for you, too). At this point I’m sure nobody thought I would make it to the top. But I knew I could. And I did. It was one of the most rewarding and validating moments of my life.
I recommend celebrating your accomplishment whether you made it to the peak or not. I learned a lot about myself long before I reached that summit, and going through this process alone was cause to party. In my case, back in Vail Village, we celebrated with dinner at Matsuhisa, a Japanese restaurant from Chef Nobu Matsuhisa. After a full day on the mountain, I was able to enjoy servings of the Junmai Dai-Ginjo cold sake, as well as mouth-watering beef sashimi, Lobster with Spicy Garlic Sauce, and Salmon Filet with Wasabi Pepper. As I ate and recounted the day with friends, it was great to smile about the accomplishment we all had just achieved.
What travel adventures do you enjoy taking on?