Colorado is home to a lot of mountains classified as “fourteeners” (also written as “14ers”). That is these mountains boast elevations of fourteen thousand something feet above sea level. The tallest mountain in Colorado is Mt Elbert at 14,433 feet and the shortest fourteener is Sunshine Peak coming in at 14,001. I have a fantastic view of a fourteener from my home, Pike’s Peak at 14,110. There are also tons of thirteeners as well.
It doesn’t matter whether you hiked a thirteener or a fourteener, they both can be quite difficult to summit. First of all, they aren’t easy! The air is thinner, you’re exposed to high winds, sun, maybe altitude sickness, fluctuating temperatures, thunderstorms, and perhaps all four seasons of weather. And more often than not, the routes to the top collect quite a few miles with steep grades, scree, some scrambling over boulders, and exposure… in addition to snow even during the summer.
As you climb and hike up, your mind plays games (especially if you are beginner) with you, encouraging you to quit and you feel all your muscles at work to include all those involved with breathing. As you near the top, you gain a renewed sense of determination. When you arrive, there is a huge sense of accomplishment. You did it! You are elated! You take in and immerse the view because it’s breathtaking! Maybe look for the geological marker on the summit because that’s kind of fun. Take lots of pictures and maybe video to include one of you holding your summit sign (just make sure you bring your sign back down with you). Meet new friends on top. And you have a snack!
Then it is time to go down. In general, you’d think going down would be easier and of course faster, but on a fourteener, more often than not, you’re dealing with loose rock (talus) and scree. You don’t want to dislodge any rocks because that can quickly turn into a very dangerous situation, both for yourself and for any hikers below. You have to be careful where you step because a miss step will involve a fall. Obviously some falls can have major negative results other than a minor cut or bruise. There is slippery snow and ice even in the summer. Often the loose rock and scree is with you until you reach the tree line around 12,000 feet. On top of this, going down is hard on the knees. Your toes may jam themselves into the front of your shoes which could result into bruised toenails. You’ll feel your knees and toes right away! When you finish, you’ll probably be very excited to see the trailhead parking lot area. After a very long hike, the parking lot is a very welcome site because getting to the summit is optional; returning back to your car is mandatory.
When you reach your car, you’ll want to take off your gear, pull off your hiking boots/shoes, and put flip flops or something else comfy on. Before you sit in your car for the long ride back to where you came from, it is very smart to do some stretching. I highly recommend that you stretch out your quadriceps and calves but also some type of chest expansion. Do each side. Use your car, a big rock, or a tree to assist you as you stretch since you probably won’t feel like balancing.
Nothing fancy about these tried and true stretches!
* Standing Quad Stretch – Pull one foot up and back towards your butt
* Runner’s Calf Stretch – Put hands on car or tree, step back in a lunge and press that heel into the ground
* Hamstring Stretch – Put one foot on your bumper or rock, bend at your hips, and reach towards your extended leg
* Standing Figure Four Stretch (Standing Pigeon) – Put your hand on your car or a tree, bend knee and place ankle on standing leg’s thigh, and lower hips as if you were going to sit. This is for your hips.
* Chest Stretch – Interlace fingers behind your back and bring yourself into a little backbend.
Then get into your car and drive towards the restaurant or pub where you’ll enjoy a celebration feast and maybe an adult beverage.
A day or two after hiking a fourteener, try this restorative yoga sequence to lessen the sensations and muscle soreness!
First of all, you hiked a 14er or a 13er! You don’t need a hot yoga, vinyasa or power yoga class. You need more of a slow flow, restorative, and yin approach. The below flow is slow moving and poses should be held for a few breaths.
1. Start standing in MOUNTAIN POSE. Find a deep equal ratio breath that will evolve into Ujjayi breath.
2. Inhale, lift those arms overhead for EXTENDED MOUNTAIN. Exhale TWIST right extending arms out to the front and back of the room. Inhale EXTENDED MOUNTAIN. Exhale TWIST left. Inhale back to EXTENDED MOUNTAIN. Interlace fingers, exhale SIDE BEND right. Inhale up. Exhale SIDE BEND Left. You can repeat a few times.
3. Inhale EXTENDED MOUNTAIN. Place palms together and as you exhale, slide hands to heart for ANJALI MUDRA. Next, place hands on backs of hips as if you were sliding hands in pockets. Soft, gentle BACKBEND, inhale. Exhale to MOUNTAIN. Inhale to EXTENDED MOUNTAIN. Exhale swan dive into FORWARD FOLD. You can use blocks and either way keep knees soft so hands are grounded into the mat or blocks. Stay here for a few moments. Inhale HALF LIFT. Exhale FORWARD FOLD. Do a few of these.
4. Stay in HALF LIFT, bend knees a lot and allow your torso to come to be fully supported on your thighs. Allow your arms to RAG DOLL. If you like it better, you can place your hands in the crooks of your elbows. Gently sway side to side staying supported on your thighs the whole time. Come back to center and place hands on mat or blocks for FORWARD FOLD.
5. Step back into DOWNWARD FACING DOG. Let your heels sink down. This should feel good after hiking. Peddle your feet for WALK THE DOG. Linger in one side as long as you like. Then return to DOWNWARD FACING DOG.
6. Shift forward into PLANK (your variation). Exhale into CHATURANGA to your belly. Use two yoga eggs or one block and push them into your sternum for a SUPPORTED SPINX POSE. Allow the butt to soften with legs hip distance apart. Stay here for a moment.
7. Remove the eggs or block and slide up into ALL FOURS. Slowly pursue a few CAT and COWS. Come back into ALL FOURS and find THREAD THE NEEDLE. Do each side and don’t rush. When finished, sink back into CHILD’S POSE.
8. Come out of CHILD’S POSE and find DOWNWARD FACING DOG. Lift your Right leg to the ceiling for THREE LEGGED DOWNWARD FACING DOG. If you’d like, bend your right knee and STACK YOUR HIPS for a gentle hip opener. Square up your hips and bring the right foot between your hands, drop your left knee onto your mat for a KNEELING LUNGE. From here, lift your left arm overhead, rotate your torso towards the left and then reach over your body. Undo your reach and rotation. Place your hands on the mat, framing your foot. Option to lift left knee and to come up on ball of foot. Twist torso into forward leg. Right hand can stay on right thigh or reach up towards the ceiling for DRAGONFLY TWIST. Come back into your lunge, step back into DOWNWARD FACING DOG again and do the other side.
9. If you are feel OK, add this next part in. If not, skip it and move onto step 10. From DOWNWARD FACING DOG, lift right leg up for THREE LEGGED DOWNWARD FACING DOG. Draw that knee into the chest and place the foot between the hands. Step in a little with your left foot and place it firmly on the mat with all four corners grounded. Orient your toes forward, allow hips to square, and place hands on hips. Hinge forward at the hips and as you exhale sink as deep into the pose as you feel comfortable for PYRAMID. Stay folded for as long as you like. Inhale lift your torso up, step back with your left foot to find a WARRIOR I stance. Inhale your arms up towards the sky. Then as you exhale, bring them behind your back, and interlace fingers. Inhale lift the chest and pull your knuckles down towards the mat. Exhale, forward fold, keeping hands interlaced. You can keep arms on your back or perhaps lift them slightly off your back but still keeping fingers interlaced. Sink head down towards your mat and keep your shoulders on inside of your forward knee for HUMBLE WARRIOR. Inhale brings you up and undo your hands. Exhale, cartwheel back to your mat and step back into DOWNWARD FACING DOG. Do your other side.
10. Inhale, look towards your hands, exhale walk towards them to find FORWARD FOLD. Inhale HALFWAY LIFT. Exhale back to FORWARD FOLD. Inhale reverse swan dive up into MOUNTAIN POSE.
11. Find a wall and stand facing the wall about arm’s distance away. From here, using the wall find DANCER’S POSE. Pull your heel up towards your hips and if you feel OK, slide supporting hand up the wall as you fold your body forward. Hold. Then with the same leg as you come out of dancer’s pose, place your ankle on your supporting thigh for FIGURE FOUR. Start to walk your hands down the wall as you start to sit turning this into SUPPORTED STANDING PIGEON. Do the other side.
12. Come away from the wall. Straddle your legs out just past shoulder distance. Orient your feet forward and place hands on your hips. Fold down and place hands under shoulders for WIDE FORWARD FOLD. Linger here. Then when ready, walk your hands backward till your fingers are in line with your heals. Flip your hands around so you fingers are pointing behind you. Flatten palms into your mat. Gently put body weight into the balls of your feet. Linger here. To get out, even out your body weight into your foot, flip your hands around, and walk them back under your shoulders. Place your left hand under your face, lift right arm out to the side and gently TWIST. To increase your range of motion, bend your opposite knee. Untwist and return hand to mat. Do the other side. When done, place hands in your hip crease and hinge up. Step together.
Now, let’s slow down even more and a restorative approach.
13. Prep for LEGS UP THE WALL. Put a folded blanket next to the wall. Orient yourself on the blanket and drift your legs up the wall. It doesn’t matter if your hips are flush with the wall or several inches away. Stay here for as long as you’d like. This is perfect for any swelling in the ankles or feet that might have occurred by just being on your feet all day long hiking (not because of an injury).
14. Come out of LEGS UP THE WALL POSE gently. Keep your blanket as a pillow for your head. Grab two blocks or two eggs. Lay on your back for CONSTRUCTIVE REST POSE. Place your feet on the blocks or eggs allow them to be at a slight angle that aligns with your feet. Knock your knees together. Place your fingers to include thumbs on the soft part of your belly for PEACEFUL LAKE POSE. Imagine your knees as the fourteener you recently hiked and your belly is a peaceful alpine lake where all ten fingers are little boats floating on tranquil waters. Allow your breath to soften so your boats don’t have turbulence. Find your natural rhythm of breath. Perhaps you close or soften your eyes. Stay here a while.
15. When you are ready, slowly come into a comfortable seated position. Find GARUDA MUDRA. Imagine the majestic eagle that sores the mountains; kind of like you. Give yourself an embrace and thank your body for the journey it just took. Find ANJALI MUDRA and close your practice.
Hopefully, you feel a lot better after this restorative slow flow sequence. It is not meant to be power yoga or a vinyasa, but rather more of a slow flow, gentle sequence! After all, you just hiked a fourteener. Maybe sooner rather than later, you just might be inclined to hike another, after all hiking a fourteener can be quite contagious. Colorado has 58 to hike, explore, and climb.
Perhaps, I’ll see you on a summit sometime.
Visit Eighteenth Element Yoga and practice with me.