My very first fourteener (or how I learned to love/hate the San Juan Mountains)

Back when I worked for a running company, I was responsible for concepting the branding around our special finishers’ medals. All of our “double” medals rewarded runners who completed two specific events. The idea was to tie the newer, or poor performing event (Colorado), to the larger, more established one (Utah). We had a cheeky brand that thrived on double innuendos, hence the whole “double medal” concept. When I came up with the Mile High Medal, I proposed the following double tag line:

Fourteeners and Fourteen-year-olds.

Obviously, it wasn’t picked up. Somehow, the idea of popping your cherry a mile high in an airplane, and joining the club, was more acceptable than the idea that Utah pioneers routinely married off plural wives as young as 14. I have a dark sense of humor (that might be an understatement) which is not always received well. Everyone has their own personal line of decency, right?

Well, the summer of 2014, I popped a personal cherry, so to speak, of my own. I summited my first fourteener: Mt. Sneffels.


No, really. That’s its name. Cute, right? Our running club organized a trip to Silverton, Colorado where we could play in the San Juan Mountains for a week, drink wonderful beer, and generally enjoy the high altitude. I’d never been above 11,000 feet before, so sleeping each night at 10,000 feet was pretty wild.

So, on the third day, we set out early to climb our mountain, Mt. Sniffles. It would be a hike/run of around 13 miles or so across some of the most spectacular terrain I have ever seen. We drove out on a road that literally made my head spin. I cannot believe my little car made it.

shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!

Most of the hike took place on old, abandoned mining roads. My friend Sami and I kept stalling to collect pocket-fulls of sparkly rocks. Seriously, it was like the opening scene of Snow White, where the dwarfs are collecting diamonds. We passed waterfalls and fields of flowers. It was stunning. But, it was fucking hard!

Mt. Snuffleupagus was in view, and we were approaching 12,000 feet. Glacial lakes and large summer snow fields became the new norm. I realized it took about two breaths for each step that I took. Within our group, I was falling behind in last place. It was everything I could do to keep up.

Around 13,000 feet, the group settled at a new trailhead which would split along 3 different routes. We ate some snacks and took some photos. Ryan asked me if I was OK, and I realized that the altitude was seriously bothering me. Short of breath, heart pounding out of my chest, dizziness and a general sense of dread: this is exactly what a panic attack feels like. If you’ve never experienced the wonderful side effects of social anxiety disorder, I strongly suggest you give hiking a fourteener a try.


Mt. Fluffy Bunny was now around 1,000 feet away. Just an easy scramble over a loose boulder field with large, jagged, pointy rocks that would tumble out from under your feet. You could stick to the large snow fields, if you preferred, and enjoy casually sliding backwards with about 1,500 feet of open, exposed air beneath you. This part took longer than expected.

We finally made it up to a thin shoulder between two peaks, with our goal, Mt. Fuzzy-Lumpkins to the left. A narrow couloir of snow, nestled between two vertical cliff walls was all that stood between us and the summit. Most of our group was smart enough to stay behind, but Ryan, Jon, Sami, and I gave it a shot.

sooooo cute!

Well, all I can say, is that it was sort of a shit-show. Every step we took sent us sliding backwards in fear. As the sun rose higher, our sturdy snow had begun to melt making it less and less reliable. It took some serious swearing and crying to make it up.

The summit
Yeah, we summited. Then we spent about an hour sobbing (Sami and I, at least) as we tried not to slide out of control on our way back down the couloir. Dark thoughts went through my head; I didn’t want to do this. Why had I gone along with it? Would I really beat myself up later if I’d skipped the summit? I guess I will never know.

A magical slip and slide to our doom!

Obviously, we survived. Once we made it down to about 13,000 feet, the terrain wasn’t too bad, although we’d periodically post-hole and fall beneath the snow into the jagged rocks below. It was kind of like playing the lottery where, when you win, you’re severely beaten! It probably didn’t help that I had filled my pockets and my already heavy camera bag with hundreds of crystals and rocks I’d collected.

So, that is my story of Mt. Slinky-Dinks, my very first fourteener. We summited. We survived. Pictures were taken. Alcohol was carried, but not drunk, and we were terrified for our lives. In any case, it was unforgettable.



This post was originally published on the old botfriendly website. But, nobody cares about that. 

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