Summit County man writes new ebook on hiking 14ers for beginners (podcast)
After moving to Summit County from Wisconsin, longtime Copper Mountain local Kim Fenske has seen first-hand how the community of individuals hiking this state’s 14,000-foot peaks has changed in recent years.
What the former U.S. Forest Service ranger Fenske sees currently is upwards of 400,000 people each summer attempting the 58 summits in the sky known as this state’s 14ers. The people Fenske meets, usually, he says, have very limited experience at these high-altitude locations.
“Generally you are climbing maybe 6,000 vertical feet,” Fenske said of the 14ers. “You may be doing 10 to 20 miles of hiking in a day, and many people are not physically or gear-wise prepared for the challenges of those mountains.”
Case in point, there was a weekend when Fenske winter-hiked the 14,265-foot Quandary Peak, the easiest 14er trailhead to access in Summit County. On that day, Fenske saw about 20 people begin the hike from the trailhead near Hoosier Pass, only three people reached the summit with him.
“And they all were older people —middle-aged plus,” Fenske said. “Those that turned back were all in their 20s. They thought they were all physically fit. I think the pace that they took and also their lack of experience, they didn’t have the persistence to make the summit. They turned around at about 12,000 feet.”
It’s several stories like these — ones Fenske has experienced first-hand while out on the trails — that motivated him to write his new e-book, “Fourteeners For the Rest of Us.” The 202-page, 100-photo e-book, which is currently available digitally as a Kindle book through Amazon for $9.99, chronicles Fenske’s advice for hiking 14ers if you are more of a novice — like so many 14er pursuers are these days.
LISTEN: Our full conversation with Kim, during which he goes into more detail on his new book “Fourteeners For the Rest Of Us,” while also describing a dangerous situation he experienced when winter-hiking the highest point in Colorado, the 14,440-foot Mount Elbert near Leadville.
“Hiking guides and trip reports for the 14,000-foot peaks often make these mountains seem deceptively easy to climb and safe for casual recreation,” Fenske writes in the e-book’s introduction. “… While no guide can eliminate the inherent risks of high-altitude hiking, this book will describe how to manage some of the dangers and describe pathways that fall within the skills of intermediate hikers.”
Fenske hopes his book can help reduce the number of fatalities and search and rescue operations conducted on the 14ers. Fenske thinks many hikers can end up in less-than-ideal hiking situations due to the fact that they may be utilizing information that is not specifically tailored to the more novice hiker, who may lack climbing aptitude and a high-clearance, Jeep-type vehicle.
He himself may not be a hiking newbie, but Fenske has ended up in precarious situations thanks to the fact that he’s utilized a guidebook or information not tailored to his exact experience, gear and vehicle. During one of his early summers of climbing, Fenske said he set out for the 14,420-foot Mount Harvard and the 14,073-foot Mount Columbia. But he ended up losing sunlight in Frenchman Creek Valley, and had to stay overnight in just a jacket and fleece because his sleeping bag and tent were 10 miles away in his car.
“The book had not started at the trailhead,” Fenske said, “and therefore all of my calculations were wrong and I ended up that far away from safety and shelter.”
Fenske said he recalls several examples in his hiking days like that of Harvard and Columbia when he had to leave a low-clearance vehicle below the primary trailhead to a 14er, in turn adding miles to his hike. Down in the desert, one example is his favorite 14er, the 14,165-foot Kit Carson Mountain in the Sangre de Cristo Range.
With a Jeep, Kit Carson can be a day-hike from the main trailhead. But with a low-clearance vehicle, Fenske details how to park a car down at 8,000 feet before setting out for a 17-mile hike to the summit.
Fenske also chronicles alternative hiking options in the area of more dangerous 14ers that aren’t suited for novices. For example, rather than tempting the tricky 14,165-foot El Diente Peak in the San Miguel Mountains, Fenske recommends hiking into nearby Navajo Lake, from which you can see nearby 14ers such as El Diente and the prominent 14,252-foot summit of Mount Wilson in the Lizard Head Wilderness of the San Juan National Forest.
“You’re surrounded by beautiful surroundings,” Fenske said. “You can be out and have a good hike above treeline. It’s very easy, basically the lake is at treeline. And fantastic wildflowers all through that area.”
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