Summit’s summits: Gary Fondl finishes off county’s 101 highest peaks (podcast)
Gary Fondl saved the smallest for last.
Two months ago, Fondl and his wife Cathy meandered through 1,600 feet of tame, wooded trail to ultimately stand at the summit of the 9,418-foot Green Mountain.
The irony of finishing off his quest to summit Summit County’s 101 highest ranked peaks here wasn’t lost on Fondl. Especially considering this exact spot serves as the backdrop to the county’s northernmost point above the tiny reservoir-front town of Heeney.
“As I approached that last summit,” Fondl said, “man, that feeling of accomplishment was pretty high stoke. … Really neat view of the reservoir itself, and I was pleased to find a trail on it. Because I never really did recon on it until I got there that day.”
From the safe confines at that relative round top, Fondl could see the county’s most jagged and dangerous peaks and ridgelines jutting skyward in the nearby Gore Range. The Gore is the truly expansive and fascinating portion of the county where Fondl and friends carefully scouted and executed their routes to reach such humbling points of interest as the 13,213-foot Peak L — Fondl’s favorite mountaintop in the county.
“First time I did it,” Fondl said of Peak L, “we did it in a day hike, and it took 17 hours. And, man, it’s just a beautiful piece of rock. Six a.m. till 11 p.m. — that’s a long day on your feet, but when you reach that summit, it’s a beautiful summit. The rock quality is as beautiful as the view.”
LISTEN: Our unabridged chat with Gary Fondl, in which Gary details why Peak L is his favorite mountain in the county, why smaller mountains are often times harder than their big brothers and how “Falcon Ridge” near Wichita Mountain got its name.
After more than two decades of hiking and skiing the 100 highest ranked points in Summit County, it was there at the wooded, below-tree-line Green Mountain where Fondl finished a quest he set out in earnest to accomplish six years prior. On Nov. 11, 2012, Fondl printed off three pages with more than 150 peaks in the county from ListsOfJohn.com. In the time since, Fondl used pink highlighter to denote those high points he reached, including the true 101 highest official peaks in the county — those that rise with at least 300 feet of prominence relative to neighboring peaks.
The top of the list was obvious, and a mountain Fondl scaled many years prior: the popular 14,270-foot summit of Grays Peak. The bottom of the list was Green Mountain, 4,852 feet closer to sea level.
But it was all of those much more obscure 13ers, 12ers, 11ers — heck, even 10ers — that comprised the chunk of those lesser-traveled, more-difficult-to-orient mountains that proved to be the lion’s share of Fondl’s journey.
At many of these more obscure mountaintops Fondl would use his map, compass and altimeter to dial in whether he was near the right spot. Often times, summiting came only after having bushwhacked through trail-less woods. Once there, Fondl would find the equivalent of a relic: a small glass jar containing a summit register, some which hadn’t been signed in years.
“This definitely got me into areas of the county I wouldn’t normally go into.” Fondl said. “So it was kind of neat to go into every nook and cranny of the county, even after 20 years of being here, there is somewhere new to explore.”
“There are no trails on these smaller peaks,” Fondl added, “you are kind of just wandering through the woods trying to navigate the best that you can. Just trying to figure out where is the best place to park, the best spot on the map.”
In total, Fondl’s list of the 101 highest ranked points in the county include three 14ers, 41 13ers, 39 12ers, eight 11ers, seven 10ers and one 9er: Green Mountain.
Back in early October, Fondl initially wanted to hike Green Mountain right after he and his friend Pat Gephart of Breckenridge completed four days of hiking some of the more awe-inspiring 12ers in the Gore Range. Returning from the wilderness with blisters and black toenails from new hiking boots, Fondl decided to take a day of rest before continuing on to the finish line at the top of the county.
Over the past two autumns, Fondl has used September’s ideal hiking conditions to knock off the final remaining 12ers he had yet to reach in the Gore. The mysterious Gore was a region he only initially ventured into years prior after consulting what some Summit County locals refer to as “The Gore Bible.”
It’s a decades-old college thesis written my a man named Joseph Kramarsic. Entitled “Mountaineering in the Gore Range, A Record of Explorations, Climbs, Routes and Names,” Fondl is unsure if it still resides in the Summit County Library. But after photocopying it for himself from a friend’s photocopy, it’s what’s helped steer Fondl to summiting success ever since.
“The high 12ers in the Gore are definitely harder than any 14er around here,” Fondl said. “You are putting in three hours to get to the base of the mountain, and then you start your climb. That would be maybe the easier ones. The harder ones it takes a full day just to get in and up to camp.”
Heading into his penultimate trip this autumn, to the Gore 12ers in the vicinity of Upper Slate Lake Basin, Fondl and Gephart set out for some of the Gore’s most impressive spots, Peaks K, P, R and S, all within a few hundred feet of 13,000. It took the pair seven hours with full packs just to get to camp. Once they were atop the ridgelines, Gephart realized what his friend Fondl had told him: That some of the “Class III” portions in the “Gore Bible” were closer to fifth-class scrambling.
That’s the Gore. It’s also within the Gore where Fondl came across the oldest summit register glass jar he encountered on his quest for 101. At the 13,220-foot summit of Peak E he read entries from as far back as 1948.
Having conquered the Gore and Summit County, Fondl now has his sights set on the high points in neighboring Eagle and Clear Creek. As for the 14ers, nearly a quarter-century after the native of Pennsylvania moved here in 1994, he’s still five shy of completing the 58 14ers.
But, then again, who’s counting? Thousands have hiked the state’s 14ers. The same can’t be said for Summit’s 101.
“Eventually I think I’ll do it,” Fondl said, “but this was a neat project to do. Summit County is my home. I love it.”
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