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This Month's Magazine

Fastpacking On the High Peaks

Erik Schlimmer tells the story of how he learned to fastpack the Adirondacks, a grueling 110 miles and 19,000 vertical feet of climbing, in five days with only 11 pounds on his back.

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Stay Cool

As I write this letter there is a scalding heat wave causing record highs in the Northeast.

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Tour Reading

Get in a Tour de France state of mind with some new cycling books.

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Speed Demons

Don’t let these common mistakes sabotage your training or your goals.

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Fourteener Fame

Written by: Julie Kailus
Posted: Thursday, 26 July 2007
(0 votes)
Coloradans who have summited all 54 of the state’s highest peaks.

Colorado is home to an elite group of mountaineers—those who have climbed all 54 14,000-foot peaks in the state. How and why they meet the challenge varies greatly. For some it’s maneuvering through rough terrain or the spiritual summit tag that they will carry with them forever. For others, experiencing raw beauty and mastering climbing skills pushes them to the finish lines. No matter what the motivation, these mountain masters have something to teach us—about realizing what’s possible in the outdoors and finding that spark that lies within.

The Young Gal

Mountaineering, it seems, is a sport for old sages with years of experience to guide each footstep. Not so for Sarah Thompson (above on Little Bear), 29, the youngest known female to climb all of Colorado’s 14ers, not to mention 189 of the state’s 13ers. The mission began by accident after the self-professed couch potato took an enlightening hike in Arapahoe National Forest in 2000. “Climbing 14ers seemed to be the thing people were doing, so I jumped on the bandwagon,” says Thompson. “When I was young I was always outdoors going on adventures in the woods, so I was just getting back to what I loved doing but had forgotten.”

Learning to climb with intent and preparedness, Thompson can only recall one scary mistake on her 14er adventures. It took place on Labor Day weekend 2004, when the brilliant aprčs-storm sunshine proved too tempting. Thompson and her climbing partner ditched their sunglasses and headed to the snowy summits of Redcloud and, aptly named, Sunshine peaks outside Lake City. After camping in the car following the summit tags, Thompson awoke and “looked at the clock on the dash and it blinded me!” Suffering all night, while constant blinking tore her corneas, Thompson and her partner, who was experiencing a similar fate, somehow steered their way to the Gunnison emergency room. “We got a bunch of Vicodin which didn’t really help but put us in a slightly better mood,” laughs Thompson. Luckily, there was no permanent damage, but Thompson learned her lesson the hard way.

Thompson isn’t afraid to speak her mind, most notably about the dangers of mountaineering in the digital age. “Lately I’ve been seeing a disturbing problem that had not been visible to me before,” she says. Some free online mountaineering forums, while enjoying tremendous membership growth and often doing an excellent job of helping new climbers meet partners and plan trips, are also “giving relative newbies a dangerously warped sense of mountain climbing reality.” She says a common misconception is that climbing all of the 14ers makes you an experienced mountaineer and also qualifies the advice of that climber to be taken without question. “I’ve seen bad advice being given and readily accepted.”

The Quiet Climber

Today Steve Hoffmeyer, 56, might be more famous for his online mountaineering magazine and community, 14erWorld.com, than for the fact that he’s quietly tucked all of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks under his belt—in fact, summiting each one more than twice and some over 30 times.

It all started when a friend urged Hoffmeyer to take time off from training for the New York City Marathon and climb Mount Princeton. It turns out that his first 14er, which the late-bloomer scaled just shy of his 40th birthday, also constituted one of his scariest mountaineering moments. “Reaching the summit alone in a lightning storm was one of the most dangerous mountaineering experiences I have ever had,” he says. “But when the clouds dispersed a half-hour later and I gazed at the beauty of the mountains as I had never seen them before, I had something akin to a spiritual experience.”

While summiting his inaugural 14er may have proved analogous to a Zen moment for Hoffmeyer, he doesn’t consider “racing” up 14ers exactly unethical. “I think a large percentage of 14er climbers like to challenge themselves, or their friends, by seeing how fast they can summit,” he says. “People are entitled to enjoy the mountains in different ways as long as they don’t ruin it for others. I like it both slow and fast. The mountains are my health club and I enjoy the workouts, but I also enjoy stopping to photograph the wildflowers, wildlife and mountain views.”

Interestingly enough, one of Hoffmeyer’s greatest achievements in mountaineering may be founding a website for which he traded a high-powered job and face-paced lifestyle. Attracting a select membership, the subscription-based 14erWorld.com stands in good company. According to Hoffmeyer, more than 25 percent of the site’s members have already finished the 14ers and have gone on to climb “Colorado’s Highest 100” as well as the other Colorado peak lists; 10 have finished all 583 ranked Colorado 13ers; and five are Colorado guide book authors.