Friday, January 13, 2017

14ers Are Dead!

Mount Elbert, Colorado's highest 14er
Mt. Elbert, Colorado's highest (and one of its busiest) mountains
Climbing 14ers is dead. Give up!

What?!? What do you mean? I love climbing Colorado's highest mountains! This hobby is more popular than ever! I have only fifteen more to go before I've stamped every mountain in my 14er passport!

Okay, okay, I still like climbing 14ers, too, and I'm not going to stop climbing them on occasion, but sorry, it's just not impressive anymore to brag over beers that you "climbed" Mt. Elbert. And though your ego may swell to boast about being a 14er "finisher," so many have done it before you, it's just not the same as it was twenty, or even ten, years ago.

Where's the adventure? Where's the skill? The short answer? Not on Colorado's 14ers. Not anymore.

Spoiler alert! The internet (this website inluded) is bursting with beta regarding Colorado's 14ers. There are hundreds of pictures from every angle. Three-thousand word blow-by-blow descriptions that leave nothing to the imagination. Youtube videos that show every move of every crux. You can easily feel like you climbed them all without even leaving the comfort and safety of your living room.

And people just can seem to get enough.

But the adventure of mountaineering, what has always been at the very soul of this beloved pastime, is simply lost when you follow a train of two-hundred others up the slopes of a mountain. The sense of accomplishment from summiting a tall peak is  eliminated by the hoards of flip-flop wearing gumbies (each following an internet map and GPS tracker on their smartphones) swarming around you on the top.

La Plata Peak in Colorado's Sawatch Range
La Plata Peak in the Sawatch Range
It is true, crowds are nothing new and the internet is now several decades old, but the beta age has reached a new apogee that has spoiled nearly everything. Nothing is secret and nothing is sacred.

One of my favorite nearby hot springs, which ten years ago was a refuge of quiet and solitude, is now a veritable circus on a summer day, complete with beer-guzzling party-goers, lawn chairs and thundering music. With the rise of social media, and millions if not billions of websites devoted to every niche you can possibly imagine, things that were once glorious, like summiting 14ers, have lost their prestige. Climbing these popular peaks, like travel blogging and MTV, is dead.

I hate to be cynical and nobody likes a pessimist. So what are we to do? What is the antidote to the death of the Adventure Era? The terrible answer is: I don't know. I'm tired of hearing people telling me "you should have been here in the 70's." I know they're right. But the world has changed. Earth's population has more than doubled in the last 50 years, and the growth hasn't slowed. Imagine what they will say in another 50 years. Maybe there will be paved staircases with handrails all the way to the top of every peak in the state.

But here are some ideas to help us still cultivate this long-lost adventure. And you don't have to travel around the globe to find it. It is still possible right here in our own backyards in the very mountains we have loved into their graves:

1) Pick a random mountain you have never heard of and climb it. 
Don't use google. In fact, don't even go on the internet at all. Use nothing more than a topo map and your own skill. Treat it like a first ascent. Scout the peak for the easiest line and nail it. Sure "Point 12,762" might not have the bragging power of "Capitol Peak," but is bragging really why we climb? (If you answered yes, then I hate to say it but you are NOT really a mountaineer anyway. Sorry....)

Snowmass Mountain from Geneva Lake
Snowmass Mountain from the backside
2) Climb a 14er by a much harder, non-standard line 
Everyone and their dog (literally) climbs routes like the Keyhole Route on Longs Peak. Go and ascend Kiener's instead. It's much more beautiful, much more exhilarating, and you can pop up on the summit plateau on the other side of the peak from everyone else, making you feel (at least for a moment) like a rock star. Several years ago I created a "14ers the Hard Way" list, to provide alternatives to those over-trampled standard routes. I dare you to complete this list!

3) Climb in the winter
Sure it's much harder, sure it's more dangerous, but climbing 14ers in the winter adds such a significant bump in the hero factor that you can feel like an actual mountaineer once again. You will see these peaks for what they are: impressive, beautiful and majestic. They deserve this reputation. And you deserve to experience them this way.

There it is. I said it. It's done. Climbing 14ers is no longer adventure, it's no longer heroic. It's a cliche. But there is hope, and you can be part of the solution.

-14ers the Hard Way
-The Future of Climbing and Mountaineering
-Ten Mountains You've Probably Haven't Climbed But Should

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