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Bernie Boettcher February 24, 2014 TWEET COMMENTS 0

Unfinished Business - Page 2

We devoted our free time to climbing as many fourteeners as we could. By the late 1990s, I started running as many fourteeners as I could.

 

This activity put me in such good shape I started winning races, which inspired my trail-racing obsession.

In 2000, Dennis finished climbing all the fourteeners. I accompanied him on his last. It was my 48th summit.

My fourteener fever subsided when Dennis moved on to other summits, and I began racing every weekend. But the thought of not finishing off the highest peaks kept nagging at me. I told myself I’d complete them before I turned 50.

That all fell apart when I had a head-on collision with a truck on my motorcycle and nearly died.

During the recovery process, I had time to think about things left undone. Not finishing the fourteeners was among them. Walking myself back to recovery, I vowed to finish those last six peaks before I turned 51.

Except for one, I finished the remaining fourteeners alone, running to the summits and back down. Then in September I headed back to Rocky Mountain National Park and spent an afternoon watching distant hailstorms on Longs Peak, the final uncompleted summit in the set. Lying on the tundra with me were 13 bighorn sheep. I accepted that as a good omen before meeting up with Dennis Webb and Andy Crisconi at the trailhead.

Andy is an avid climber who runs an adventure-travel company. He and Dennis have been climbing the high thirteeners in Colorado. We’ve all been friends for years. They agreed to join me on my last fourteener summit, though both had previously climbed the peak.

Longs was one of two peaks I had ever failed to summit because of weather. I was denied twice, once because of rain and again because of snow.

We three were up at 4:30 a.m. and on the trail shortly thereafter, hoping to beat bad weather to the summit. Headlamps lit the way above our form-fitting packs and light shoes. We reached timberline before the sun came up. Good conversation carried us upward. Deep questions like, “What’s it all about?” were asked, but never really answered.

After five miles the trail became technical, and it was slickened by the previous day’s hailstorm, but with good boots and careful climbing, we reached the crown without incident. I stood, raised my arms for a moment, and peered over the edge of the 1,000-foot Diamond face to Chasm Lake another 1,000 feet below. Finally.

For a moment it felt like I’d accomplished something, that is, until I saw a 20-something guy climbing up the same route we did, barefoot in flip-flops. Maybe it’s time to step it up a notch.

Bernie lives.


This article originally appeared in our January 2014 issue.



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