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Engearment’s Eliza Lockhart on Mt. Sneffels

Everybody has a personal Everest.

According to renowned mountaineer and writer Gerry Roach, since most people will never climb the real Everest (29,029’), their “Everest” becomes a list of peaks. Therefore, Colorado’s 14ers becomes “an obvious choice to embrace,” he said.

Why 14ers? Why not any other of Colorado’s hundreds of towering mountains? Being able to hike all of Colorado’s 14ers is an attainable goal.

“Climbing all of Colorado’s Fourteeners is a goal that many people can embrace. Whereas, Colorado has 637 ranked peaks over 13,000 feet- the list is too long,” he continued.

Compared to other states that have 14ers such as California (13) and Washington (2), the Centennial State has 14ers galore (while there are 58 mountains over 14,000’, only 53 are hard ranked). 

“Two-thirds of Colorado’s 14ers are walk ups, so it makes sense that Colorado is the destination for mortals to achieve their high altitude dreams,” explained Roach.

For generations, Colorado’s highest peaks have held a certain allure that captures the imagination and taps into our collective wanderlust. 

Inspiring poems (“The Cross of Snow” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow), songs (“America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates), photographs (Ansel Adams photographing Long’s Peak), and folk legends (“The Angel of Shavano”) Colorado’s 14ers have their own storied history.

On Thursday, August 22, Roach will be joined by 14er experts Alex Dean (COTREX), Jeff Golden (Colorado Mountain Club) at The 14er Mindset event at Arc’teryx Denver

Whether you are a curious novice, or an experienced hiker wanting to level up and tackle more difficult peaks in a higher classification, this special evening begins at 7 PM and is for anyone who is interested in Colorado’s 14ers. 

For a $10 donation (proceeds benefit non profit organizations Colorado Mountain Club and Always Choose Adventures), the event will include giveaways, prizes, and informative talks on how to be physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared to hike any 14er.

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Engearment’s Cai Rickards on Mt. Massive

Engearment recently had a chance to talk to Roach, the author of the classic guide book, Colorado’s 14ers: From Hikes to Climbs (MSRP $29.95). Now in its third edition (a fourth edition is in the works), the comprehensive tome is THE book to anyone interested in the Centennial State’s most famous mountains. The updated version includes GPS coordinates, route details, new descriptions, and revised topographic maps.

Despite the rich detail provided in Colorado’s 14ers, Roach is quick to point out that it is a guide book, not an instructional manual telling people how or why to go. In other words, the function of a guide book is to inform people where to go, not to inspire.

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Engearment’s Kate Agathon at Red Cloud Peak

“Climbing a 14er is hard work, and there are risks involved. People make their own decisions about what to climb and when to climb,” said Roach.

Additionally, he rejects the notion that the popularity of Colorado’s 14ers has played a significant role in the uptick in traffic on mountain trails, or that he was ahead of his time in predicting the growing interest in the state’s tallest mountains.

Rather, he suggests that it was fortuitous happenstance his guidebook was published at a time when interest in hiking Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks had just begun to spike. 

Colorado’s 14ers was simply another next step in Roach’s center-out program of writing guidebooks. One of its most distinguishing traits is that it was written entirely from his solo experiences; a journey that took him “a leisurely 20 years.” 

For Roach, it was extremely important that a committee was not involved in the guidebook’s development. He wanted wanted to ensure that route descriptions were accurate. Accuracy could only be guaranteed if he tried the routes himself.

Roach summited his first Colorado 14ers -Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert- in the summer of 1957. He had the peaks to himself.

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Garrett Akol dropping in off Mt. Lincoln (photo credit: Aaron Rose)

Despite the entirety of the guidebook’s content based on his solo experiences, it was not intended to be a narrative delving into the existential questions of how and why. 

Interestingly, Roach’s narrative books that do explore the how and why are not strong sellers.

“If I could really create demand, that would be great. I would sell the answers. However, the truth lies elsewhere,” he said. 

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Engearment on Capitol Peak

Roach does not write for fan-service. 

“Many people today are keen on dragging down every beautiful thing out there. I will not service those people,” he said adamantly.

Although the 14er guidebook is considered a classic by many, sales have fallen over the last 15 years. He attributes it to an abundance of information available to hikers, and also a decline in the purchase of paper books.

One of Colorado’s 14ers most distinguishing traits is that it was written entirely from his solo experiences; a journey that took him “a leisurely 20 years.” 

For Roach, it was extremely important that a committee was not involved in the guidebook’s development. He wanted wanted to ensure that route descriptions were accurate. Accuracy could only be guaranteed if he tried the routes himself.

What are some of his favorite Colorado 14ers? Roach lists Handies Peak (due to being surrounded by mountains), Windom Peak (because New Mexico’s famed Ship Rock is visible), and finally, Longs Peak (his favorite) for sentimental reasons as he grew up climbing rock routes along its east face.

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Engearment’s Drew Thayer on Long’s Peak (photo credit Andrew Megas-Russell)

In recent years, management of Colorado’s open spaces has undergone changes. Permits are now required for Hanging Lake and Conundrum Hot Springs, two of the state’s most popular attractions. Furthermore, in the fall of 2019, dispersed camping in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests will be shifted to a designated camping system in the Crested Butte area.

According to the Denver Post, an estimated 260,000 people flock to Colorado’s 14ers each year. Are Colorado’s most popular wild spaces in danger of being overrun with people? 

“If we were actually ‘loving the mountains to death’, Colorado would look like Kansas,” said Roach.

Seeing more hikers on 14er trail is a welcome sight for him. Why? The enduring popularity of Colorado’s 14ers by hikers deters outside interests that would do long lasting environmental damage.

In the face of environmental changes, Roach maintains that mountains are more important than ever before. It’s not the list of peaks to tick off, it’s the love.

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Engearment’s Evan Green and friends on Mt. Sneffels

Roach endorses organizations that encourage people to get outside; particularly the non profit, Always Choose Adventures, started by Chantelle Shoaee.

When I see 100 people marching up the Grays Peak Trail, I cheer.  That is a loving user group, drawn upwards by the majesty of the mountain. Without a loving user group, other interests would take over and really destroy the mountains,” Roach maintained.

“More hikers on a trail does not really change a mountain. The mountains were here before humanity was, and they will be here long after humanity vanishes. They are easy places for people to really connect with raw nature. If we do not better understand nature, we only hasten our demise,” he finished.

His advice for people interested in hiking 14ers? Don’t fall down.

The 14er Mindset will take place August 22 from 7 to 9 PM at Arc’teryx Denver, located at 250 Columbine Street, Suite 110, Denver, CO 80206. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased here.

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Gerry Roach is a world-class mountaineer and writer. Thirty years after making it to the top of his first mountain, he summited Mt. Everest in 1983. He went on to become the second person to climb the highest peak on each of the seven continents in 1985. In over 50 years of mountaineering that span 6 different calendar decades, Roach has climbed in dozens of states and countries. He has been on sixteen Alaskan expeditions, ten Andean expeditions, and seven Himalayan expeditions, including first ascents in the kingdom of Bhutan. In 1997, he summited 26,360-foot Gasherbrum II in the Karakorum. In 2000, Roach became the first person to climb the ten highest peaks in North America. In 2003, he became the first person to climb every major peak over 16,000 feet in North America. He is a proud member of the American Alpine Club.

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Mountaineer and writer Gerry Roach at the summit of Mt. Everest, May 7, 1983

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