Man who climbed all 54 of Colorado’s 14ers recounts tales of danger, beauty

He was within 50 feet of the summit. With a protruding rock at chest level, he looked up and saw a hand hold to his right that looked “bomb proof.” Then, he committed what he calls the ultimate sin. He let go with his left hand as he reached for the “bomb proof” hold to his right.

He fell 100 feet. He wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Ad

“It was blind dumb luck that I didn’t die,” said Patrick Renworth, a 55-year-old attorney at law who climbed all 54 peaks in Colorado in the span of four months in 1985.

Renworth is one of many that climbs 14ers regularly. In total, there are fifty-four peaks in Colorado, 15 in California and one in Washington state. There are a total of 70 peaks in the lower 48 states that are traditionally considered to be 14ers.

These high peaks provide a recreational activity to those who climb them.

“I like the process,” Renworth said. “When you’re hiking a lot, it’s almost like meditation.”

This process and the challenge of leading a group safely to the top is, he said, why he loves to climb.

“It’s a real exhilarating feeling getting up there — you’ve got the endorphins from working real hard to get up there and then you get this spectacular view,” Renworth said.

Zack Zeilik, senior nutrition science major, didn’t grow up in a place where mountains exceeded 14,000 feet and is trying to take full advantage of going to college in Colorado.

“I love the outdoors and it’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors and really explore your opportunities,” Zeilik said.

Zeilik has climbed four 14ers and hopes to climb more.

“Getting to the top, you are very relieved and excited and tired and cold all at the same time,” Zeilik said. “It’s definitely worth it.”

Ad

Growing up in California, Renworth also wanted to take full advantage of his time in Colorado. He and his friend hiked from Mexico to Canada along the continental divide through Colorado.

“I’ve always had an interest in mountaineering, and I got interested in the Colorado mountains when we hiked through on that trip,” Renworth said.

Upon entering Colorado, the men decided to hike through the state and climb all the 14ers as they went, starting with Pikes Peak and ending with Longs Peak.

“We literally hiked — we didn’t hitch-hike — we walked between all the peaks,” Renworth said.

Renworth and his friend were summiting a peak nearly every other day. There were days they climbed two peaks.

Unlike the 14ers in California, Colorado 14ers are less technical and require less protection, such as crampons, ice axes and ropes. During their time in Colorado, the men used a rope only once when they traversed between the North and South Maroon Bells.

“We couldn’t find the route that was in our book so we ended up having to rope up just because there was this one stretch that was a little sketchy,” Renworth said.

Dangerous situations are something Renworth knows all too well.

In a training climb two weeks before his trip along the Continental Divide, Renworth attempted the summit of a California 14er called North Palisade.

“I felt myself going very, very fast and, I’m not trying to be dramatic, I had enough time to think ‘oh, I’m going to die’,” Renworth said.

Renworth put too much confidence in this hold that ended up being a sloping hold with loose gravel at the top. He began a slow fall backward with the rock at his chest pushing him away.

Landing in a seated position amongst some jagged rocks, Renworth hyperventilated for a while as he was not completely acclimated to the altitude.

After calming down, Renworth decided to hike down the mountain in a great deal of pain with his climbing partner carrying all of the gear.

Two days after the fall, Renworth entered the emergency room where the doctor told him, in amazement, that he had a man in the other room who fell off a ladder that was in worse shape than this man who had just fallen 100 feet. Renworth was healthy enough just two weeks later to begin his Continental Divide hike.

Because of his age, Renworth climbs less technical routes, but now takes the proper precautions and advises students at CSU to do the same.

“If you’re smart, you start really early in the morning,” Renworth said.

The experienced climber also suggests bringing food, at least two liters of water and warm wind-breaking clothing.

Zeilik advises students to research as much as possible and pick an easy mountain if it is their first attempt at a 14er.  He also recommends a first aid kit.

“Be over prepared because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Zeilik said.

Students who are interested in giving their first 14er a try should contact the CSU Outdoor Club which leads a couple 14er trips each year.

“If (students) come to the Outdoor Club meetings, they can meet people who climb and have the experience,” said Erica Patterson, co-president of the Outdoor Club.

Collegian Reporter Laren Cyphers can be reached at news@collegian.com.