Out of the car, onto the mountain

Guidebook author James Dziezynski makes the most of Colorado’s mountains and highways

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James Dziezynski on the summit of 13,130’ Mount Eva with his dogs, Mystic and Fremont.
Courtesy of James Dziezynski

If Aristotle was right, and the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts, then James Dziezynski hit the nail on the head with his new book.

Dziezynski, an avid outdoorsman, dog-lover and Boulder local, is the author of Best Summit Hikes Denver to Vail (Wilderness Press 2016), a new guidebook documenting almost 100 hikes along the highly trafficked stretch of I-70.

“Despite having passed by the mountains along the I-70 corridor hundreds of times,” Dziezynski says, “It rarely occurred to me that nearly all of them could be hiked.”

For years Dziezynski had used I-70 as a way to get to other mountains throughout the state. He hadn’t considered the possibility that the pavement could lead him to quality hikes much closer to home.

“I assumed for a long time that the hikes [off the highway between Denver and Vail] were either boring or on private land. Thankfully, I was wrong on both accounts.”

Dziezynski, originally from Connecticut, moved to Boulder in the early 1990s after attending a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) mountaineering course. His hope was to expand his love for adventure and aptitude for writing. Now, more than 20 years later, Dziezynski still spends all his free time researching, traversing and writing about the outdoors.

“I don’t necessarily reject the trappings of the frontcountry,” he says. “But I do find the fatigue of enduring the endless, empty rhetoric of society — political, religious, nationalist, you name it — much more draining than the satisfying fatigue of a day well spent in the mountains.

Aside from freelancing, he’s a senior editor at RootsRated.com, a contributing editor at Elevation Outdoors Magazine and a contributing writer to Outside, Backpacker, National Geographic Adventure, among other publications, including Boulder Weekly.

In 2003, Dziezynski wrapped up Colorado’s 14ers, and this year he’s approaching 850 unique summits in the Centennial State, aiming to reach 1,000 within the next two or three years. But in the end, he laments, As much as I enjoy hiking, I was really getting worn out from the driving.”

To solve this problem, and potentially help others gunning to hike but unable to dedicate superfluous driving time, Dziezynski decided to produce a guidebook filled with easily accessible and near-proximity hikes. In total, he spent three years on the project, hiking, documenting and vetting all 95 summits in the book.

On the way up Kelso Ridge, to the top of 14,267’ Torreys Peak.Courtesy of James Dziezynski
On the way up Kelso Ridge, to the top of 14,267’ Torreys Peak.

I-70, which begins at a Park & Ride outside Baltimore, Maryland, loosely traces the historic National Road that served as a main artery for 1800s settlers heading west. Originally I-70 terminated in Denver before connecting to other highways circumventing the intimidating Continental Divide to the west. Eventually, in the early 1900s, roads were engineered to cross the rugged, high-altitude mountains. But it wasn’t until 1955 that, with help from Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway initiative, Colorado and Utah successfully lobbied Congress to extend the full highway service further west. Now I-70 ends in Cove Fort, Utah, and it links the important metropolitan areas of the Front Range and Wasatch Front.

Continuing I-70 through the mountains and toward Utah helped spur life to central and western Colorado by connecting the more rural parts of the state to the economic hotspots just east of the mountains. The highway proved a conduit for not only exploring new recreation areas, but also contributed to the conception of new towns. Vail, which wasn’t officially established until 1966, owes its livelihood directly to I-70, the only entry and exit portals.

The Best Summit Hikes Denver to Vail covers the first 97 miles of the western extension, all within a two-hour drive from the Denver metro area. In order to maximize accessibility, Dziezynski narrowed his selection to include only trailheads within 10 miles of the highway. Classic hikes such as Torrey’s Peak and Peak 1 are detailed in the book, as well as more secluded areas like Mount Solitude and Silver Plume Mountain.

Dziezynski prides himself in how readable the guidebook is. “I respect the fact my audience is busy; they may only have one day a week, or less, to be in the mountains. It’s my responsibility to set them up for the best possible day,” he says.

“He’s just a storyteller through and through,” says Tanya Sylvan, Dziezynski’s publicist at the Wilderness Press. The Best Summit Hikes Denver to Vail is the second book Dziezynki has published with the Wilderness Press. The success of his first guidebook, The Best Summit Hikes in Colorado, led to a second edition release in 2012.

Dziezynski hiked and tracked all of the summits included in the book, some of which he hiked up to 20 times, plus another two dozen that didn’t make the cut. “The only ones I left out were either technical routes, on private land, or were too small to be considered mountains,” he says.

In addition to researching and writing about the hikes, he also managed the GPS work, took photos and aided in some map creation. Aside from consulting some trusted colleagues and friends in the Colorado Mountain Club, the research was orchestrated by Dziezynski as a one-man show, plus the help of his dogs.

“I feel the greatest joy in the mountains when hiking with my dogs,” he says.

Dziezynski explicitly worked with his publisher to keep the price low at $10.

“My hope is that that helps it get into the hands of hikers who have always wondered what those I-70 corridor peaks are all about. It’s a great book to keep in the glovebox and reference when you’re stuck in I-70 traffic!”