Who We Are: 54 of Colorado’s highest peaks – in the bag
September 8, 2012
When a bunch of young guys tackle all of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks – 54 in all, and some difficult ones in the mix – they learn a few lessons along the way.
Dillon Dam Brewery workers and friends David Dickerson, Kendrick Flor and Eric Hotchkiss – known faces to those who frequent the brewery – have plenty of stories to tell at the bar. The stories range from near-death experiences to how they recently cracked wine in Chicago Basin near Silverton to celebrate the completion of all 54 peaks.
Interwoven among those tales are important lessons, such as maintaining respect for the mountain, for the weather – and humility in oneself. That starting early isn’t just to beat the weather – it’s also to beat other hiking parties who might kick loose rock down on hikers below. That climbers must be prepared for anything the mountains throw his or her way, like when Dickerson and a friend spent one snowy night under a pine tree followed by another in a miner’s cabin with cans of soup that expired in the 1990s after sliding unexpectedly down a couloir and losing their route. They started a fire using their map, and they drank out of the stream and rationed Clif Bars still in the pack.
Rising above the tales and the lessons are the memories. In particular, the memory of what it’s like to stand atop a 14,000-foot peak alone at sunrise, taking in the surrounding peaks and valleys. Often, it doesn’t matter if it’s wilderness below or not; everything man-made becomes so small it’s tough to make out.
“Nothing compares to being on the top by yourself and surveying the terrain … seeing what else you have summited from a distance,” Flor said.
The threesome crossed paths at the Dillon Dam Brewery, where manager Kim Nix watches their antics with admiration.
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“They’re guys who hang together, live together, climb mountains together and they do everything correctly,” she said. “They don’t do it to get grand applause. They do it because they love it.”
They came to love it through Dickerson, who had been climbing 14ers for about five years prior and encouraged his coworkers to join him in bagging a peak. Dickerson says Zack Wolf spurred him to start climbing while living in Colorado Springs, which is where Dickerson grew up.
“All I’d done was Buffalo,” Flor said. His first 14er was Sherman, and he recalls being socked in at the top – an unremarkable start to climbing to 14,000 feet, he noted. But he came back for more, beating his body up each time.
It’s a love-hate relationship, to be cliche. It’s painful and mentally taxing to reach the summit of most 14ers, but there’s something about the challenge – and subsequent success of standing on a mountain taller than the surrounding peaks – that’s addicting.
“You’re pushing yourself,” Flor said. “It’s so easy to give up. I think how I could be in a warm bed right now. It’s two in the morning and freezing. You have to overcome that mental hurdle.”
Like on the El Diente to Mount Wilson traverse, which was the most technically challenging route the guys did. Once he and his group committed, they had to go for it – even when dark clouds rolled in and lightning began striking nearby.
“You can’t rush it because the rock’s rotten,” Flor said.
It’s also tough to make good decisions when tired – and when the summit is within reach but weather moves in. The guys were turned back 400 feet from the Capitol summit, which is among the more difficult 14ers. That was just one of the three times they were denied from the summit.
“The hard thing is to be responsible when you’re so close and do the right thing when you’ve committed 18 miles,” Flor said. “It’s such a horrible feeling. The day we didn’t get Capitol, we hiked out in the rain.”
The hardest lesson learned is that the “easiest” 14er can be the toughest hike – particularly if they didn’t come prepared. On the flip side, coming prepared with extra layers, and sometimes even extra socks, can make for one of the best days on one of the hardest peaks.
Like on the traverse between the Maroon Bells, which was “perfect,” Flor said. On the other hand, “Huron was in a blizzard. It was not an enjoyable time … The weather is so fickle. You can have a bad time on a super easy mountain,” he said.
Hotchkiss’ horror story tells of him pushing off a slab of rock on the northwest face of Little Bear that had moved when he tested it, but he figured it would withstand his weight because it was so large. It began rolling out of the hill with him on top. He leapt to a ledge and had a climbing companion holding his pack to keep him steady. He hiked the rest of the way with a deep gash in his leg – and was denied on that summit experience. Hotchkiss chalks it up to lack of experience. He was fewer than a dozen peaks into his quest for all 54.
“There’s no room for pride or foolishness,” Flor said. “If you’re scared, you’re scared and you ask for help. There’s no reason not to be real about it.”
Flor completed all 54 peaks in five years, while Hotchkiss sacked them in four. Some were done together, others were done with whatever climbing buddy the guys could find for the summer. In the end, though, the friends planned the Chicago Ridge trip so everyone finished at once. Dickerson didn’t have far to go to finish; Hotchkiss bagged more than his fair share during the trip. It was the only 14er voyage he brought alcohol on, he said.
The guys did every 14er by the rulebook: No driving to the top or gaining elevation by road. They did every traverse if they had a choice. They learned over time, and became smarter. Their next step is to foray further into technical climbing. Dickerson is the first to say he’s finished with having lists.
“I want to climb whatever I want,” he said, adding that he’s still keen to tick off some of the highest 100 peaks in Colorado. Snowboarding the 14ers might be on the list, but the guys are hesitant to say they’ll tackle the peaks in winter. It adds a whole new set of problems, Dickerson said.
“I’ll do it if it looks cool and looks like an adventure,” Flor said.