Saving the Fourteeners

By Alan Spriggs

I didn’t start out trying to climb the fourteeners. Like many folks I know, when I first moved to Colorado in in 1985 I just wanted to explore
this incredible state. Every valley, every basin, every mountain range beckoned with tantalizing views. It was only natural that I should continue to climb higher. And that meant summiting peaks— peaks over 14,000 feet.

It was on one of my early climbs that I first encountered a strange breed of hiker. They came to the top, signed in, and quickly left for the TT_Winter2010 Saving 14ers 3next peak. I was baffled and, I must admit, a bit offended. They didn’t even stop to enjoy the view! How could they? Didn’t they realize this was hallowed ground? It seemed sacrilegious.I made a vow to myself: I would purposely split up groups of fourteeners and climb them one at a time. I would come back in different years and in different seasons and from different angles. And I would spend as much time on top as I could, soaking in the views. These early vows provided me with some of my most memorable climbs: a ski climb of Mt. Elbert in two feet of powder; a Fourth of July climb of Mt. Sneffels; a cooked breakfast on top of San Luis Peak.

Not many people understood. When asked why we climbed Mt. Wilson and not El Diente, my climbing partner shrugged her shoulders and said, “He’s saving them.” Like most of my friends, she started the peaks long after I did and finished long before. But I will never forget the climb of El Diente and the lazy soak in Dunton Hot Springs a year later. Nor will I forget the five trips to the Blanca Massif, the two-hour naps on top of La Plata and South Maroon, and the summers I took off to backpack the Continental Divide Trail and catch peaks along the way.

As the years wore on, though, I noticed a struggle. I found myself more and more focused on finishing the peaks. And I discovered that I, too, was capable of alienating others in my quest for the summit. Had I become a peak bagger? Was I just like one of them? When I stepped foot on the summit of Wetterhorn Peak in July of 2005, a wave of jubilation swept over me. After twenty years I had done it. I climbed the 14ers! Or perhaps, suggested another voice inside of me, I had simply run out of peaks to save.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2010 Issue (1005) of Trail & Timberline

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