Best of 2015: Breckenridge resident halfway through hula-hooping on top of all Colorado’s 14ers
January 3, 2016
Editor's note: This article first appeared in the July 19 edition of the Summit Daily News. Not to spoil anything, but Kresge successfully completed his challenge in October after summiting 58 Colorado 14ers. Read the final story online at http://www.summitdaily.com.
A few months back, Bill Kresge asked his boss for two months vacation to climb and hula-hoop on the summit of every 14er in Colorado.
And his boss said yes.
"I just kind of winged it and took a chance," laughed Kresge, a 23-year-old Pennsylvania native who looks like the sort of bearded mountain man you'd expect to climb 56 mountains in two months. He's just not the sort you'd expect to then shake his moneymaker at the top, if there were a sort for that kind of thing.
"I really don't know why I went with the hula hoop," Kresge told me from a campsite outside of Buena Vista, his unofficial base camp for the second and third week of the hula-hoop quest. "It just came to me: Pair a hula-hoop with the 14ers."
Kresge called me around 4 p.m. on July 15, shortly after returning to his Chevy Cavalier (and cell phone service) following his first attempt of Missouri Mountain, one of the shortest 14ers at 14,067 feet and one of the mellowest in the Sawatch Range.
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Around 1 p.m. the storm clouds started rolling in, and as he's learned while summiting 22 peaks since early July, when the sky turns a nasty shade of grayish-blue it's time to turn around — no matter how close you think you are.
"Now I have to go back up a bunch of switchbacks, which I don't really want to deal with, not at all," said Kresge, who returned July 16 and made it to the summit with collapsible hula-hoop in tow. "The biggest thing I would tell anyone is you have to know your limits. When you're by yourself, don't take the risks that aren't necessary. Safety is always a priority — you want to live to see the next day."
A GoPro, a hula-hoop and a beer bong
Oddly enough — or maybe not odd at all — Kresge had never tempted a 14,000-foot peak until he moved to Colorado two years ago, when he climbed another walk-in-the-park style mountain, his new hometown 14er of Quandary Peak.
But he's always been something of an adrenaline junkie, he says, like when he and a friend tied a hang glider to the back of a truck and towed each other through empty fields.
Quandary was his introduction to 14ers, but Mount Sneffels outside of Telluride was the test site for mountaintop hula hooping. The Class 2 hike is found in the San Juan Range and measures just 6 miles round-trip, leading to a moderate 14er at 14,150 feet.
"That was the first one I did ever, and when I was done I thought, 'Man, this could be a thing,'" Kresge said. "I don't think anyone has ever done this before."
And so, the idea was born. Kresge has no background in hula hooping — he wasn't some kind of circus sideshow in a past life — but when thousands of fellow climbers have summited every 14er in the book, it only felt natural to venture off the beaten path and, well, cap his climb with jubilant hip shaking. His routine is always the same: Reach the top, assemble the hula-hoop, attach a GoPro to the end of a wooden selfie stick and twirl for 10 seconds, all to collect footage for a YouTube supercut when summer ends.
And then there's the chocolate.
"I always keep Tootsie Rolls in my bag," Kresge said. "Once you get to the top, just the littlest piece of chocolate is rewarding. Any kind of candy is fantastic. You just crave that, or at least I do."
Tootsie Rolls aside, the key to it all is the hula-hoop. When he's not trekking up 14ers, Kresge works for Wieronski Plumbing and Heating in Frisco. He's a handyman by nature and trade, so rather than shimmy up 14ers with a store-bought hoop, he crafted a collapsible model from PVC pipe. Fellow hikers have assumed it's everything from a skinny lawn chair to a piece of homemade climbing gear, but more often than not, he only gets one question: "Is that a beer bong?"
Along with the hula-hoop/beer bong, Kresge never leaves camp without his trailhead bible, "Colorado 14ers, third edition" by Boulder-based mountaineer Gerry Roach.
"I live by that book," Kresge said. "Anytime I get into a situation I pull that out, read it through, and it almost always points me in the right direction."
According to the guide, Colorado is home to 56 "true" 14ers — not 59 as are listed on the popular website http://www.14ers.com — and so Kresge's two-month venture will end with 56 peaks. (Even Roach changes the number of 14ers from edition to edition, beginning with 54 in 1992.)
At a pace of one per day, Kresge has just six cushion days to make up for lost time or unexpected detours, like turning around on Missouri Mountain. Mother Nature has been his best ally and toughest foe, beginning with his first ascent of Longs Peak in mid-July. He was still thirsty to start with one of the longest, toughest non-technical 14ers. Shortly after summiting late in the afternoon — it was lonely on top, he remembers — he came across a fellow hiker who was injured. Kresge couldn't do much more than call for search and rescue: A storm was on the horizon, and he was exhausted after nearly six hours of one-way climbing.
"Starting off with that was a little intimidating," Kresge remembered. "I couldn't carry him down on my back or anything. It was just one of those situations when you wonder, 'What can I do?'"
Then there was the time he took a wrong turn on Mount Shavano, a 14,229-foot peak in the Sawatch Range. It's a relatively easy Class 2, but he didn't realize the mistake until a mile or two down the wrong trail fork. That meant another half-hour of hiking just to correct his course, and by then, Mother Nature had again reared her fickle head.
"I got stuck in the middle of a storm and I never want to be in that kind of position again," Kresge said. "You're worried about the rain and the lightning and everything else. I remember being out on Longs near the end and feeling the static electricity, that buzz in the air, and that's a sure sign of lightning."
The hula-hoop might be Kresge's claim to fame — he has a world record application pending through Guinness — but he's learned countless tiny lessons while chasing the great hoop in the sky, like the importance of planning ahead. His Chevy Cavalier is rigged with a handmade roof rack, but it still can't handle the four-wheel-drive roads that lead to most trailheads. Hiking from pavement could add 3 or 4 miles to his route each day, so he now travels to a peak the night before, backpacks to the trailhead and camps until dawn, Mother Nature permitting.
By now, with 22 of 56 14ers accounted for, Kresge has fallen into a comfortable rhythm. He conquered Missouri with his second try on July 17 and easily completed nearby La Plata the next day. He's covered a total of 60,000 vertical feet and more than 135 miles of trail, and with more than a month remaining he's confident his hula-hoop will make it to the top of every peak in time for the first day of work on Sept. 16.
"It's kind of like running a marathon every day," Kresge told me before heading back to camp and out of cell phone range. "It's almost a whirlwind, between avoiding storms, waking up early, tearing down camp and living in the back of my Cavalier. But it has just been too cool to go through this. Even if it's not a world record, it's still a cool thing to tell people about."
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