Children's Hospital Colorado

What Age Can My Child Start Hiking Fourteeners?

Many parents certainly would not let their child climb Mt. Everest. But they may have to decide, especially in Colorado, when to allow their child to hike fourteeners — a common term for mountains that are 14,000 feet or taller. This leads to the question of whether children are mature enough for such a feat, which has known risks.

How early is too early for kids to hike fourteeners?

As parents know, all children mature at different rates. Many children are exposed to technical climbing in their elementary years while some are not exposed to basic mountaineering until they are in their late teenage years, if at all. Parental teaching and exposure to the sport plays a major role in the knowledge and maturity of young mountaineers. So, it’s difficult to recommend a specific age for when a young climber should attempt their first fourteener. However, you can help prepare your child if they are interested in hiking a fourteener in the future.

How can you help your child prepare for a fourteener?

    1. Have your child safely work up to a fourteener.
      Your child should begin with easy, low-elevation hikes and progress up to higher elevations. After they have progressed to higher elevations, then they can begin with lower-difficulty fourteeners. Examples of fourteeners to start with are Grays Peak, Torreys Peak, Mount Sherman, Quandary Peak and Mount Bierstadt.
    2. Teach your child about hiking preparation and safety.
      Children and teenagers attempting fourteeners should be knowledgeable about proper nutrition, hydration, appropriate start times, weather, overexertion, pacing, equipment, clothing and appropriate turnaround times. Summiting by noon helps hikers avoid the potential for lightning strikes and wet avalanches that have claimed the lives of climbers in the spring months in Colorado. The mountains are unforgiving, and many people underestimate the true dangers of the mountains in our backyard.
    3. Be aware of acute mountain sickness symptoms and prevention.
      Although many of us may think children are more susceptible to a high-altitude illness, such as acute mountain sickness (AMS) or high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), children are not more likely to develop these illnesses. However, parents should be aware of AMS and the most common symptoms that may occur in their young climbers. These symptoms include:
      • Headache
      • Refusal to eat
      • Fatigue
      • Trouble sleeping
      • Nausea or vomiting
      • Dizziness
      • Weakness

      According to the Institute for Altitude Medicine, the same principles for prevention of AMS in adults apply to children:

      • Slow ascent, meaning that children traveling to Colorado should spend a night in Denver or at an intermediate altitude to significantly reduce their chance of AMS
      • Restrict activity on the first day or two upon arrival to increased
      • Ibuprofen or Tylenol to prevent headaches
      Children may also take Diamox at a dose of 3 to 5 mg/kg per day to prevent AMS

      Most young climbers of fourteeners will not experience AMS or a life-threatening situation, but they should be knowledgeable and prepared in the mountains.

Ultimately, you know your child and their hiking ability best. And you are most concerned about their safety. Trust your instinct and knowledge of their skills and don’t be afraid to turn around before reaching the summit if you feel unsafe.

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