‘The journey itself was so big and so vast’: Breckenridge’s Christopher Fisher bags 59 of Colorado’s 14ers over the winter season
Summit County resident sets new fastest known time record
Frostbite, fragile avalanche fall zones and variable Colorado weather conditions are just some of the things sponsored mountain endurance athlete and Breckenridge resident Christopher Fisher faced while on a mission to climb 59 of Colorado’s 14ers in a single winter season.
Fisher was inspired to embark on the 59-peak mission after successfully claiming the fastest known time for the traverse across the Mosquito and Tenmile mountain ranges at the end of last summer.
Fisher was making a trip back to Colorado from the Guadalupe Mountains in west Texas when a podcast episode with Andrew Hamilton spurred him into his next extreme endurance challenge.
“It took him 84 days, and he was on the roll of being a dad with a full-time job,” Fisher said. “After I heard that he did it like that, I thought there was a good chance I could probably do it because I don’t have a job and I don’t have kids.”
With more thought and research, Fisher realized that not only was it possible for him to climb all 59 14ers before the start of spring, but he could also possibly break the record that was set by Hamilton during the 2018 winter season.
After making sure his foot was not broken after a 24-hour effort in the Guadalupe Mountains with fellow mountain endurance athlete Erin Ton, Fisher officially set his sights on climbing the state’s 14ers in less than 84 days, 13 hours and 57 minutes.
The feat of endurance is impressive on its own, but Fisher was also attempting to be the second reported person to ever climb all the Colorado 14ers during the winter season and the first reported person to complete all 59 without climbing any of them in the summer or spring.
Fisher officially began stacking up peaks on Jan. 6 when he and Ton climbed up Pikes Peak. After summiting Pikes Peak, Fisher and Ton then turned to summiting Antero, Tabeguache and Shavano on day two of the endurance project.
Despite feeling well-prepared for the group of three peaks in Chaffee County, Fisher and Ton were forced to turn around. Still, Fisher said they learned a series of valuable lessons during the brief detour.
“We didn’t have some of the gear that was necessary to climb,” Fisher said. “We learned a lot of lessons on day two, and those lessons carried on and built up and over through the rest of the days. Every day after that was a success. I did not have to turn back on a peak again after day two, which was pretty cool.”
While he did not have to turn back on any more peaks, that does not mean that the quest was an easy task.
This winter season has brought plenty of snow across the state of Colorado, and Fisher experienced almost everything that comes along with heavy snow systems throughout the project.
While being exposed to the cold wintery conditions on peak No. 27 — Little Bear Peak in the Sangre de Cristo Range — Ton caught frostbite in her right thumb.
The frostbite prevented Ton from fully accompanying Fisher on the rest of his journey. She would continue to join Fisher on some of the less extreme peaks and continued to provide mental support along the rest of the project.
Besides the weather, Fisher says one of the hardest challenges of the project was trying to safely navigate Colorado’s notoriously dangerous snowpack.
“Chasing windows and watching the avalanche forecast, really dialing in skills and techniques of how to mitigate and maneuver around this terrain,” Fisher said. “The biggest challenge of the project was staying safe in this avalanche terrain.”
Another huge challenge for Fisher was navigating the more technical 14ers in Colorado with little to prior knowledge of how to do so.
“I had never climbed any of the technical peaks or any of the technical 14ers in Colorado,” Fisher said. “I have climbed technical peaks, but I actually had not finished all of the Colorado 14ers in summer.”
Fisher says he was extremely challenged by 12 peaks that combined technical climbs, avalanche danger and treacherous conditions heading to and from the summits.
“Those 12 peaks were the hardest of the whole 59,” Fisher said. “They call them the ‘dirty dozen’ and they have taught me a lot.”
While climbing the four peaks in the Chicago Basin in southwest Colorado, one of Fisher’s close friends also got frostbite, and Fisher continued to complete the 21-hour effort solo. Along the way, he faced unexpected avalanche conditions. Fisher said he had to mitigate the terrain while banking on the prior knowledge of snowpack and avalanche behavior.
“I had to do a lot of the navigating and the studying of the terrain myself,” Fisher said. “I had to trust and focus on my skills and what I knew about avalanches to get them done safely.”
Fisher successfully navigated every patch of sketchy avalanche terrain he encountered while climbing the four peaks of the Chicago Basin and the experience set him up for the even more technical climbs of Capitol Peak, the Mount Wilson El Diente traverse and the Maroon Bells.
On all three of those climbs, Fisher said he faced hanging cliff bands, hanging snow fields and perilous ascents that could have sent Fisher plunging to his death with a single misstep.
“I never got to the point where I was scared of the next move I had to make or was worried about messing up, but one thing that was always at the back of my mind was the consequence of potentially messing up,” Fisher said. “Knowing what the consequence was of falling or slipping, keeps you pretty focused. That has to be the biggest takeaway from this: knowing what the consequences are and being able to maneuver through the technical terrain without making a mistake.”
After more than 70 days of bagging peaks, Fisher successfully completed the project by summiting Pyramid Peak near Aspen on March 18 — two days before the spring solstice. Fisher recorded a final time of 72 days, 12 hours and 10 minutes which beat out Hamilton’s old record by close to 12 whole days.
The accomplishment of achieving the fastest known time for Colorado’s winter 14ers meant a lot to Fisher, but he said he was more blown away by the experience as a whole.
“I got the record or whatever, but this turned into way more of a journey to experience,” Fisher said. “The skills I learned, the experiences I was able to gain and the friendships I forged, way outweigh the accomplishment of the record. The journey itself was so big and so vast.”
Fisher says that the project was a huge accomplishment and one he expects will build towards his future goals.
“Honestly I don’t know if I can top it,” Fisher said. “This has been the biggest effort and accomplishment. I am really looking forward to what kind of doors open when getting into bigger mountains. One of my main focuses is to get into the bigger mountains of the world and I think this is a good stepping stone to get to those places.”
Fisher is currently enjoying the high of completing the project and recovering from the toll of the last 72 days. He hasn’t officially pinpointed his next endurance project. Right now he says he’s just looking forward to some spring skiing.
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