Making it to the top

11 years and 54 mountains later, Anderson accomplishes his goal


John Anderson has never seen a peak he hasn't wanted to conquer.

Anderson has felt that way about 54 peaks to be exact.

Eleven years ago, Anderson, 50, embarked on a journey to top all of them Colorado's illustrious fourteeners, the 14,000 foot astounding mountains.

On Aug. 3 he completed the journey, reaching the top of Crestone Peak, the last of many, many peaks he's climbed in ascent toward his goal.

"Anytime you get to the top there's a certain exhilaration and certain sense of accomplishment," said Anderson. "When I summitted that final peak, there was that added thing to it. It hit me that this was 54, that I was actually able to do it all. The sense of accomplishment was a lot more special."

On Labor day of 1989, at age 39, Anderson climbed his first fourteener, Capitol Peak.

Anderson had been intrigued by the mountain after several camping trips to the area.

With a fourteener guide book given to him for his birthday and some free time, Anderson decided to hike to the top.

Giant Boulders, a steep drop-off at what is called Knife Edge Ridge and long uphill battles made the mission difficult, but Anderson succeeded.

One down, 53 to go.

"It was long," said Anderson trying to recall his first trek. "I had a sense that I can do this, and so I just did."

Anderson would later find out that his first climb was one of the hardest mountains to summit.

Call it beginner's luck, but once Anderson realized how difficult the peak he had just climbed was, everything seemed possible.

"I had this realization that I could do it," he said. "I thought to myself, If I could do this I could do all of them."

And so the Labor Day stroll up a treacherous mountain ignited a crusade to conquer every one of the monstrous peaks.

The next year he would take on six more mountains: Crestone Needle, Humboldt, Wilson Peak, Red Cloud, Sunshine, Longs Peak. And then the next year four more and nine then next. He simply kept chipping away at this pace.

While Anderson has reached his goal solo, he hasn't been without help. Anderson says his family's support has been important. Also, on the more technical routes, he has taken a partner, a friend, Gary Morse.

The support has helped, but on the mountain it is all Anderson's will.

For a man not especially physically gifted, and a smoker from age 15-32, he has had to use more determination than raw power.

Anderson has an intangible want-to. The steep inclines make him breathe deep and take long breaks, but his motor never stops. It has always churned him to the top.

"When your legs and lungs are burning, you do need a lot of determination," he said. "It's a matter of pushing and pushing. I can't just keep going and going, so I have to use a lot of desire."

He's not a natural climber or extremely skilled. He's done the peaks simply with hiking boots, an ice ax, and always the proper clothing.

Anderson will be the first one to tell you to be prepared. He's been in his share of showers and storms that have luckily only scared him to death.

"Definitely been in my share of those. Nice, sunny weather is really a luxury," he said.

While tackling Wilson Peak, he ran into inclement conditions for the first time. Rain poured while lighting and thunder filled the air. The thunder was so loud it was hurting his ears. Anderson huddled next to a boulder until it had cleared enough to head down.

Anderson has many stories like these. He also has pictures of each one of his treks. The pictures are strikingly similar: a steep rock face with patches of snow.

He knows that pictures don't do the mountains justice. Only he knows the intricacies, because he's been there.

He's climbed peaks that are straight uphill walks. He's climbed other peaks where technical strategy is needed to ascend a steep face.

Not every peak has been exciting, but that's the perils of a pursuit.

"Some I just did to do," said Anderson. "I was really after the 54 so I went after all, no matter if they were boring or not. Even on the boring ones, though, the scenery was equally as amazing."

Besides the challenge of a peak, Anderson takes a lot of joy in the mountain scenery.

"I'm just inspired by it," said Anderson. "It's a real spiritual thing. When I'm out there, I get of a sense of magnificence, of the amazing process of creation. It really takes my breath away sometimes."

One thing not as beautiful as the scenery is Anderson's trademark in all his endeavors. Before tackling each summit, Anderson donned his Denver Bronco hat. The blue corduroy hat is the perfect symbol of his long journey. It contains the sweat and intensity of summitting the 54 peaks. The residue of the hat, and the memories will remain forever.

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