Over the last several weeks I’m getting to know a different type of mountain-goer than I am used too: the peak bagger. While I will often look at a distant peak and have a strong internal urge to stand on top of it, I had never kept track of which mountains I’ve summited, which ridges I had walked or anything of that sort. I merely have a collection of wonderful stories, pictures and memories to share with the few individuals willing to sit and listen to them.
Having worked exclusively on 14,000-peaks over the last six weeks, I’m becoming increasingly familiar with individuals who are interested only in the check-mark of “bagging” a peak. Sometimes it seems that the only peaks worth “bagging” are those that by some quirk of geological formation have managed to protrude more than 14,000 feet above sea level. I had always just accepted this as a “to each his own” type of thing and, without doubt, it is that. However, I was alarmed when several weeks ago I was sitting at my work-site on Mount Elbert and a gentleman came along. The sun was rising in the east and from our view just above treeline, it was an incredibly impressive morning. The sun had not started to beat down on the alpine, the winds were calm, I was truly enjoying my office. Upon asking this individual how his day was, he responded to me, “This is my 14th!” Due to my lack of familiarity with this mindset, it took me a very awkward pause to realize that he was referencing his 14th 14er.
In the words of John Muir:
“Thousands of tired, nerve shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks are fountains of life.”
I agree with Muir. The mountains are, for most of us, a necessity in life. They allow us to overcome obstacles, foster relationships, experience adventures, and gain a similarity with ourselves that the modern world cannot match. These are all products of a more introspective life that comes naturally from hours and hours of hiking because it gets to a point that your mind just thinks while your body performs the repetitive and exhausting task of placing one foot in front of the other. This connection with our natural environment is to me one of the most rewarding parts of life and I find it interesting that our culture encourages the exact opposite. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been asked something to the affect of “How many 14ers have you bagged?” Never have I been asked: “Which mountain is your favorite?” “Where have you seen the best sunrise?” “Which mountain was most difficult?” or any other qualitative question. The metric being used to gauge our experiences is merely quantitative. A number between 0 and 54 that somehow determines an individual’s commitment to adventure.
“Bagging” all 54, 14,000-footpeaks in Colorado is no small feat. But I would like to encourage all those in pursuit of this feat to extend your mountainous experiences, pick up a map of Colorado and go hike something regardless of elevation, and for the purpose of reveling in the sights and wonders nature has to offer us. Even on smaller scales. Sit and enjoy the sunrise or set from a high mountain meadow. Take a break in the alpine to watch the marmots dance from rock to rock, frolicking in their high mountain home. Or, wait for the pika to emerge from its nest. This small rodent is one of the cutest creatures on the mountain and watching one is certainly worth 20 minutes of your time. If all else fails, take a seat on a rock and eat lunch while watching the clouds develop in the early afternoon. It’s truly impressive how peaceful such an experience can be. Lastly, while enjoying these things, please remember the “travel and camp on durable surfaces” principle of Leave No Trace and avoid trampling the lush mountain meadows where these wonderful experiences will take place.