At peace at 14,000 feet

Photo by Robert White


Some climbers are content with reaching one summit. Others aren’t satisfied until they’ve been atop them all. Those veteran climbers remain an elite group. And they have stories to tell:

8-year-old kicks off his shoes

“Mount Elbert was my first fourteener, when I was 8. I don’t remember it very well but remember enjoying it. As a kid I hated wearing shoes and only did when I had to. My shoes were hurting me on Mount Elbert, so I hiked part of the time barefoot.” — Rob Lucas

Injury couldn’t stop this couple

“Cindy and I met climbing the most remote fourteeners in Colorado — the rest is history. But on one of our first climbs together (we weren’t even dating yet), at the very start of Pyramid Peak, Cindy was putting on her day pack, slipped on a wet tree root, which caused her to trip over a rock, and she flew forward, doing a headplant on a bigger rock. I bandaged her up; she then proceeded to climb and summit, getting five to six stitches in her head later that evening at the local hospital.” — Robert Gillette

Miscalculation causes scare

“Doing clock math at 14,000 feet is not my strong suit. We did a winter climb of Humboldt. It involved a long snowshoe in and a climb up the windswept south face. We got to the top at about 1400 hours (I keep my watch on military time). My partner asked me the time, I looked and said, ‘Four o’clock.’ This worried both of us because the sun would be going down shortly. I was definitely oxygen-depleted. We started to think about a survival camp, then we looked up, then at our watches again, it was only 2 o’clock. In those two hours we got down off the talus, glissaded down a snow chute and into the trees, where headlamps give a lot of depth to your vision. We were safe. But I made the same mistake three years later on Aconcagua. Some people never learn.” — Al Coxe

Looking down on a fly-by

“In August of 2002, I had summited Mount Sneffels with my friend Bill. There were about 20 of us on top lounging in the sun when we heard a distant rumble, like thunder. But there were no clouds. It was gradually getting louder. Suddenly, a guy screamed,

‘Look, over there!’ as he pointed to the south. Coming up the valley, straight at us at eye level, were three F-16 fighters. When they were about a half-mile away, they split and went by us on either side, just below eye level. I could see the pilot’s face! It was soooo coooool!! As they flew away, Bill commented, ‘When was the last time you looked down on a fly-by?’” — Bud Gerathy

Words of advice

“The weather can change extremely quickly, so it’s important to be prepared with warm layers and rain gear no matter how it looks at the start or what’s forecast. I’ve been snowed on every month of the year while mountain climbing in Colorado.” — Rob Lucas “Take a look at all the literature that is available so you know the character of the mountain and have a good safe trip.” — Conrad Lapp “They are all hard; it’s just some are harder than others.” — Gay Hatcher “Be patient! The mountains have been there a long time and won’t be going anywhere soon. Be safe, be prepared, turn back when things aren’t going your way, regardless of how high or how close you are to the summit. Enjoy the journey and the accomplishment.” — Rob Ladewig

“Start with the easy ones.” — Fred Baxter “Be prepared with enough gear — water, food, proper clothing, flashlight or headlamp and first-aid kit; heed the signs of bad weather moving in; and climb for aesthetic reasons (beautiful scenery, being outdoors, etc.) rather than just for another summit count.” — Bob and Cindy Gillette “Don’t take yourself too seriously, and don’t fail to take the mountain serious enough.” — Josh Friesema “Get some basic rock climbing training. Your confidence when facing the Capitol knife edge, the green rock on Pyramid, the summit block on Sunlight will get you past the pucker factor.” — Al Coxe “Route finding is much better now with GPS. Even so, you have to accept a wrong turn or a missed trail as part of the deal. Everybody does it. Don’t get upset, just get back on track and keep going.” — Bud Gerathy “Respect the exposures, pray a lot and give thanks to God for fellow climbers and for each climb — even the aborts.” — Jim Strub “Start early, take lots of pictures and take classes through the Colorado Mountain Club.” — Mike Silvestro (c) 2011, The Gazette (Colorado Springs) —MCT