After weathering tent pole-breaking winds and a mostly sleepless night at 14,443 feet on the summit of Mount Elbert, Jon Kedrowski and Chris Tomer awoke to an idea: Could they sleep on the summits of every 14er in the state?
“We were just sort of training that day, and we said, can we do this 55 more times? Is there room on the 14ers for this? Can we do it in just one summer?” Tomer says. “We kind of both are just dreamers in the sense of we come up with these big ideas and just see if we can do it.”
The two were roommates at Valparaiso University and have been hiking together in Colorado for more than a decade. Kedrowski completed all the 14ers while growing up in Colorado, and had started to wonder about new ways to experience them.
“When I was climbing mountains, basically for training, I started sleeping on a couple to prepare myself for going overseas … and I noticed there was always a little rock shelter, a little spot where you could maybe set up a tent,” he says. “So that was kind of how I decided, I think you could probably camp on all of them.”
When you’ve summitted peaks like Russia’s Mount Elbrus (18,356 feet), Chile’s Aconcagua (22,841 feet) and Nepal’s Mount Everest (29,029 feet), it makes sense that you would have to do something new to keep 14ers from losing their ability to intimidate.
Kedrowski started the project on June 23, 2011, and went until Sept. 28. Although there are only 55 mountains over 14,000 feet tall in Colorado, the attempt to sleep on all of them had Kedrowski climbing the equivalent of 73 14ers to catch the right conditions. Tomer completed about 12 of them with him. His work schedule allowed for less time away than Kedrowski, who was an assistant professor at Central Washington University-Ellensburg and could spend his summer off in Colorado.
Kedrowski started on easier 14ers, like Missouri and Torreys, before taking on Little Bear and Capitol, which he says were the two most difficult ones. Tomer says he made a point of coming along for the more challenging peaks. Sometimes, Kedrowski says, he would have linked five or six peaks and Tomer’s presence provided a helpful spark.
Kedrowski on the summit of North Maroon | Photo by Chris Tomer
The conventional wisdom is to start for the summit of a 14er before dawn and be off the peak before afternoon storms roll in.
“It’s tough to wrap your head around the idea that we weren’t climbing in the mornings, we were climbing in the afternoons, in the afternoon storms, and you know lightning is the number one weather killer in Colorado, and that was the one thing we had to do,” Tomer says. “To make the summit in time for sunset we had to climb through the storms.”
When Tomer couldn’t come along to help read clouds and weather patterns, Kedrowski would call and ask for updates about weather systems he could see. Tomer, a meteorologist on Denver’s KDVR Fox-31 and KWGN Channel 2, would zoom in on the weather radar and coach Kedrowski on when to go up, when to wait and when to run for lower ground.
“There were a lot of times I’d sit up there and could watch the storm go by at eye level and lightning within a couple miles, but I knew it wasn’t going to hit me,” Kedrowski says.
Mountain storms maintain some of their unpredictability, though, and Kedrowski just escaped a lightning strike at the top of Mount Harvard that left his tent with holes in it and his headlamp charred. The storm did clear, though, and he spent the night there.
“It was difficult, but I felt like we took calculated risks during the project,” Kedrowski says.
For all the hikers’ searching for windows of nice weather, 14ers have a mind of their own — and a climate of their own, too.
“Once you’re up there, it’s cold, and once the sun goes down it gets cold fast, it’s windy, and a number of times I remember waking up to fog, freezing fog or wind or even some snow flurries,” Tomer says. “It’s a different world weather-wise up there.”
They packed light, often leaving stoves behind in favor of taking food like a pizza ordered along the way.
While Kedrowski was on Little Bear, the food stash in his truck was raided by a bear. It tore up some blankets, threw peanut butter pretzels and gummy bears all over the interior and left a trail of gummy bears into the woods — but not a trace remained of a Costco-sized bag of powered protein drink mix.
They’ve written the experiences up in a book, Sleeping on the Summits, and will be presenting that book at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 7 at REI, 8 p.m. Sept. 20 at Neptune and later this fall at the Boulder Book Store.