Adventure 2017: John Peretz — The 100 14er man
March 29, 2017
In a town full of Olympians and super athletes, I have a confession to make — I’m not one of them. But I've been fortunate enough to have summited all 58 of our beautiful Colorado 14ers and have bagged over 100 in all.
It started on a quick getaway weekend eight years ago when I thought I'd hike Quandary, 10 minutes out of Breckenridge. I looked at the route and did some quick calculations: If I hike a 15-minute mile, the 7-mile round trip starting at 10,850 feet should take less than two hours — or so I thought.
An hour in, not even halfway to the summit, reality hit. Making it to the top of a Colorado 14er is different from just hiking around town. And that's when I realized this was going to be a five-hour journey. The next year I did Grays and Torreys, two 14ers that you can do in one day. The following summer, I didn't do any.
Getting on a roll
In 2011, I saw a Facebook photo of local Reall Colbenson on top of Mount Princeton waving an American flag on the Fourth of July. I thought to myself, "I have to do more of these." And so the journey began. That year, I climbed 15 more 14ers, for a total of 18. The next year, I made it to 33, and the following season I ran my total to 45, leaving the hardest ones for last. Finally, in year seven (2014), I reached my goal of summiting all 58 of the Colorado 14ers, finishing on Aspen's North Maroon on a beautiful midweek fall day.
The reunion tour
While I thought I was done, I found myself daydreaming of the beauty and exhilaration of hiking at altitude. So I cherry-picked my favorites for a “reunion tour” of sorts, and now I have over 100 14ers under my belt. When I first started, my goal wasn't to finish them all, and I didn't think I could handle the hardest ones. But as I gathered more experience and confidence, it became a reality.
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You don't have to be a super athlete
There's no special talent or mountaineering skills required to do the vast majority of the 14ers — just determination, perseverance and time. You should be with an experienced group when you do the hardest Class 4 climbs. My friend Jon Kedrowski, who has summited Everest, was my go-to guy on five of the toughest. His book "Sleeping on the Summits" is a fascinating read of his quest to sleep on top of every Colorado 14er.
Train before you go
Never underestimate a 14er. I’ve been up the easiest of them (Mount Sherman) with people who thought it was the toughest hike of their lives. And outside of a few easy ones, they’re all a significant undertaking. Don’t make a Colorado 14er your first hike of the season and make sure you include elevation gain in your training.
Start early to mitigate weather risks
Start early. Summer brings a monsoon pattern, with violent thunderstorms that can begin before noon, and the exposure above tree line is huge. I often start hiking at 4 a.m. (or even earlier) so I can be off the mountain by the time the storms roll in. I’ve never being weathered out of a summit, but starting early and knowing the weather forecast contributed to that luck. And nothing compares to a sunrise on a Colorado 14er. The soft pink, orange and blue colors appear like cotton candy out of the sky.
On most of the Front Range mountains, and the Collegiate 14ers, cell service can be available at the summit but often not on the way up or down. On the more remote 14ers, cell coverage is spotty or nonexistent. I wasn’t able to call my wife one time on a two-day adventure near Lake City, and she called the Sheriff’s Department, an embarrassing and unnecessary event.
You don't want to over pack, but my daypack includes some key items, like the 10 essentials (Google it). I also have a compact SteriPEN UV water treatment wand that's very compact, as well as a small bivy sack, bandages, extra batteries for a headlamp and high-energy food like honey. I’ve never gotten stranded overnight, but I came close on the Mount Harvard-Mount Columbia combo when I got lost and made it out at twilight.
Climb on weekdays if you can
I usually didn’t have that luxury, but the busier 14ers attract so many people that it's like ants at a picnic from a distance. On a recent hike up the Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln and Bross quadruple peak climb, I kept looking for Moses coming off the mountain with his followers. All the more reason to start early, and when possible, do a counterclockwise climb from what everyone else is doing.
Choose your climbing partners carefully
A 14er is not the best time for a first hike together. If you’re faster or slower than your partners, it’s not going to be as much fun. I learned this the hard way on a hike for charity. The organizer gathered a group of 19 people to climb Longs Peak, consisting of four younger college athletes from Minnesota, five hikers in the 65-plus age group, and the rest of us in the middle. But half of our group never made the summit, some due to altitude sickness, the others because of fitness levels. The last two climbers took 22 hours to get back to the trailhead, delaying everyone and pissing off the Go Alpine shuttle driver. It was the worst climb I’ve had.
Camp at the trailhead
I started doing most of the 14ers by leaving Steamboat very, very early and driving to the trailhead. I've since found it much easier to leave the evening before, and camp at the trailhead. If you can sleep in an SUV or truck, even better, since you don't have to worry about a tent.
The fun really is in the journey
What I cherish most isn't checking peaks off the list, but the fabulous places, nooks and crannies, small towns, great friends and microbreweries discovered in the journey. Colorado is a fabulous state, and our 14ers stand as sentinels, guarding our high country.