San Juan Mountains

San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains: Grenadier Range

Friday, August 28, 2015

White Lives Matter

I have read the entire story in my Denver Post the last two days about the murderer who shot and killed the lady reporter and her cameraman a couple of days ago.  I forget the names of the various people involved but you all know what I am writing about.  It happened in Virginia.  A disgruntled former employee of a television station decided to extract his revenge by killing some people.  He selected an up and coming lady reporter and her cameraman for his murderous plot.  He filmed the entire event with his own camera and, according to the report that I read, he was successful at getting most of the killing captured on live TV by the very cameraman he had killed.  That video rapidly went viral and I suspect those with voyeuristic tendencies could watch it today if they were so inclined.  I am not so inclined.  There is enough pain and death in the world I find no need to seek out video capturing it.  The killer sped off in his car.  He was later chased by the cops and, thankfully, he saved the taxpayers millions of dollars by doing himself in before the cops could capture him.
Despite reading two feature length reports on the event in my newspaper, I failed to discover the two key ingredients of the story that allow it to make some sort of distorted sense.  It was only later on, after reading the newspaper reports, that I stumbled across an internet report that gave me the rest of the story.  Before I tell you the rest of the story I want you to read it and ask yourself, why would these two key facts be suppressed?
Police searched the living quarters of the murderer and discovered a long written rant containing his final thoughts about what he was going to do and why he was going to do it.  Unless you had seen photographs of the murderer and his two victims you would not be aware, as I was unaware, that the murderer was black and the victims were white.  As it turns out the murderer's rant clearly described his hatred for white folks.  The decision to murder the reporter and her cameraman was motivated almost exclusively by hatred for white people.  The "disgruntled former employee" angle given by the newspaper was largely untrue.  The murderer had bounced around many television newsrooms in recent years, never able to keep a job because he hated the white people in authority over him.  Everywhere he went he claimed to have been discriminated against by white people but when investigations were conducted by various committees, councils and boards sympathetic to his claims it was always found to be untrue.
The murderer shot his victims because he hates white people.  That is a hate crime.  That is big news.  It was a murderous rampage motivated almost exclusively by racial hatred.  Why was that fact ignored? Why did Obama not call a press conference and declare that the murdered reporter could "have been my daughter?"  Why is it that white lives apparently do not matter?  Where is Jesse Jackson? Where is Al Sharpton?  Why aren't those noble fellows leading the charge of black people issuing apologies to white people for the actions of one of their own?  Why is the media quite obviously refusing to report the truth about the murders?  Why is it the case that when a white person engages in a racially charged murder of a black person it makes the national news for weeks but when the tables are turned the truth is suppressed?  Who is the real racist here?
There is one other point of fact that has been suppressed in the news reports about the murderer's motivations.  The black murderer was also a homosexual.  A small portion of his rant describes how he hates white people because they have also discriminated against him because he was homosexual.  So there you have it.  The murderer was a member of two, not one, but two politically protected classes in the Socialist Democracy of Amerika.  As a result of his most preferred status it is deemed immoral to report the truth about him when the truth about him casts those two politically protected classes in a bad light.
This story has made me so mad I am going to go out and do nothing.  I am not going to march on Virginia, accompanied by a couple of dozen white folks carrying banners declaring that "White Lives Matter."  I am not going to kick, scream and complain until legions of news reporters gather outside my door wanting to know how difficult it is growing up Welsh and white in Amerika.  If you say that it is not difficult that only proves how insensitive you are to the plight of Welsh-Amerikans.  Only we know the extent of our suffering.  I am not going to loot the local electronics store tonight.  I am also not going to loot the local liquor store tonight.  In fact, I will stay home tonight and watch the Rockies.  That should be punishment enough.

Update:  September 1, 2015

I see where a black man shot and killed a white police officer in Houston the other day.  He shot him in the back simply because he was white and a cop.  Guess what I am going to do about that bit of news?  Nothing.  You got that right.  I am going to do nothing.  I am not going to petition the career politicians to make white people a protected class.  I am not going to organize a media effort to publicize the fact that white lives matter.  I am not going to march down the street and obstruct traffic in order to call attention to the fact that a white cop was the victim of a racially motivated hate crime.  I am not going to loot any local businesses and I am going to stay home again tonight and watch the Rockies.  They are playing the Diamondbacks.

Christians Should Get Out Of The Legislature

Did you hear about the two Michigan legislators who were having an extra-marital affair?  Republican Representative Todd Courser and Republican Representative Cindy Gamrat were committing adultery (both are married) when something strange happened.  Someone found out about the affair and attempted to blackmail Courser.  In a bizarre attempt to keep his adulterous affair quiet Courser conjured up a story which he believed would deflect attention away from his philandering ways.  According to an article by the Associated Press, Courser "orchestrated a campaign suggesting he had sex with a male prostitute to distract attention from his relationship with another legislator....he devised the plan to misdirect attention from a threat to expose his extramarital affair."
Once the word got out about what was really going on Courser said, "It was over the top.  It was wrong.  It was not my finest moment.  It was the only option I felt would be unpredicted by the blackmailer."  You know what would have been totally unpredictable to the blackmailer?  Without a doubt the blackmailer would never have predicted that Courser would stand up and act like a man.  Imagine what would have happened if, rather than concocting a wild-eyed story about having sex with a male prostitute, Courser had stood up and said something like this, "I confess to committing adultery.  My partner in this adultery is a fellow career politician by the name of Gamrat.  We have both sinned against God and our partners.  As legislators we call upon our fellow legislators to create a law that would allow for our execution should either of our spouses desire to prosecute us for this horrific crime.  We have committed a sin that, according to God and the Bible He wrote, is worthy of death.  If our spouses decide to exercise their biblical right to have us executed we will joyfully accept that decision knowing that it is the will of God for our lives."
That, of course, didn't happen.  Rather, "Courser asked for forgiveness from his wife and children and his constituents, as well as from Gamrat, her family and her husband."  Only a career politician, seeking to save his political skin, would "ask for forgiveness" from "his constituents."  Forgiveness is only properly requested when the actual victim of the sin is being addressed.  Courser did not sin against the people who voted for him.  He sinned against his wife and the husband of Gamrat.  The two innocent spouses in this affair should be able to specify a punishment less than execution if they so desire.  That is what biblical law allows.  Unfortunately biblical law is not the law of the land, nor is it the law of Michigan.  The law of the land says that adultery is a victimless crime that harms no one.  I wonder how the two innocent spouses feel about that?
The reason I bring this all up is because of what the article then said, "The two lawmakers are among the Legislature's most outspoken social conservatives and have said their legislative work is inspired by the 'Divine hand of God.'"  Well there you have it.  A couple of adulterers are under the direct inspiration of God when they craft a law about how a child safety seat must be at least a certain length when the child is of a certain age.  That same couple is being led by the Holy Spirit of God when they decide that motorcycle riders must wear helmets or receive a ticket for refusing to do so.  According to these two clowns God has an opinion about what percentage of the money stolen from land owners in Michigan, via the real estate tax, should be allocated to paying government school teachers to indoctrinate the local children in the doctrines of Statism.  Does anyone see the irony in this situation beside me?
Evangelical Christians, which these two adulterers claim to be, profess to believe that "the Bible is sufficient for all matters of faith and practice."  This common doctrinal assertion states that the Bible is the Word of God and as such it tells us everything we need to know to conduct our lives.  Indeed, the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is a historic orthodox Christian doctrine which clearly states that Christians need nothing more than the Bible to order their lives properly.  All evangelical Christians, as a part of what it means to be Evangelical, confess to the truth of this doctrine.  The hypocrites Courser and Gamrat profess to believe in that doctrine and then turn around and dedicate their lives to creating extra-biblical rules and laws.  Then, to make things even worse, they declare that the extra biblical laws they are creating are a by-product of the direct inspiration of God in their lives.  If that were so then the laws they have designed should be added to the Bible as a necessary addendum for all Christians to follow forever.
Married Evangelicals jumping into bed with one another is old news.   What I am calling for is something very different.  If Christians really believe that the Bible is sufficient for all matters of this life then why would they seek to become career politicians who dedicate their lives to creating a massive body of extra-biblical rules for all of us to follow?  I have a simple request for all evangelical Christians.  Either get out of the business of legislative politics or stop calling yourself a Christian.  Both cannot exist at the same time.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Market's Machinations Are Meaningless

I made my first investment into the stock market in 1985.  I had earned a little bit of extra money by agreeing to clean an enormous church building by myself over the Christmas vacation week.  My employer paid me a premium for my efforts and after buying Christmas presents for family and friends I had some money left over to invest.  I don't remember what my first investment was but I do remember what happened to it less than two years later.  In one day, in October of 1987, my investment lost over 25% of its value.  That was my introduction to what are known as stock market corrections.
Technically a correction is any stock market decline within a one year period of time greater than 10%.  Pundits will call strong corrections of greater than 20% bear markets.  I adopt those generally accepted definitions while recognizing that any significant decline in stocks is a down market in my mind.  The activities in the stock market this past week motivated me to look at what the stock market, as measured by the S & P 500, has done throughout my investing career.  Here is what I found in regards to down markets:
  • 1987   -33.5%
  • 1990   -19.9%
  • 1994     -8.9%
  • 1997     -9.6%
  • 1998   -19.3%
  • 2001   -49.1%
  • 2003   -14.7%
  • 2004     -8.2%
  • 2008   -56.8%
  • 2011   -19.4%
  • 2011     -9.8% 
  • 2012     -9.9%
  • 2012     -8.4%
  • 2015   -12.2%
The only genuine bear markets in that list of 14 down markets were the tech bubble burst of 2000-2002 and the Great Recession of 2008-2009.  The tech bubble burst was a classic case of irrational exuberance wedded to a total lack of understanding about economic fundamentals leading to a maniacal desire for a single class of investment.  Centuries ago it was the Dutch tulip bulb mania.  At the turn of the millennium it was a powerful belief that technology stocks would never decline in value, even if they never managed to show a profit and sported P/E ratios of infinity.  Both manias came to a sorrowful end for those left holding the bag when things collapsed.
The Great Recession was entirely the product of the stupid and destructive policies of the government of the Socialist Democracy of Amerika.  I have posted at least 10 articles to this blog describing, in detail, how it came about.  I will not be discussing it again here today.
What I will be discussing here today is the nature of the 12 other market downdrafts that have taken place during my investing career.  Those 12 downdrafts technically constitute corrections.  Here are some facts about corrections in general.  According to this website: 

* Since the end of World War II (1945), there have been 27 corrections of 10% or more, versus only 12 full-blown bear markets (with losses of 20% +).
* This equates to one correction roughly every 20 months, according to Dow Jones index maven John Prestbo, who points out that this average does not mean they’re evenly spaced out. 25% of these corrections over the last 66 years occurred during the 1970’s (the Golden Age of Market Timers), another 20% occurred during the secular bear market of 2000-2010.
* The average decline during these 27 episodes has been 13.3% and they’ve taken an average of 71 days to play out (just over three months).
* From the beginning of the last secular bull market in 1982 through the 1987 crash, there was just one correction of 10% or more. Between the Crash of 1987 and the secular bull market’s peak in March 2000, there were just two corrections, according to Ed Yardeni. This means that secular bull markets can run for a long time without a lot of drama.
* Since the stock market’s bottom in March of 2009, there have been only 3 corrections: In the spring of 2010 the S&P 500 began a 69-day drop of roughly 16%. The widely referenced summer correction of 2011 lasted for about 154 days and almost became a bear market. The correction during the spring of 2012 set up one of the greatest rallies of all time, although it was barely a real correction, sporting a peak-to-trough drop of just 9.9% in just under 60 days.
* The most recent correction took place in 2011, between the end of April into the end of September. The Dow dropped roughly 16%. 
* Bull market rallies in between corrections – and there have been 58 in the post-war period – tend to run for an average of 221 trading days before being interrupted and gaining an average of 32%. By this standard, we are way overdue for a correction.
Here are some of my observations about the most recent correction: 
  • The current correction (last week through yesterday) took place 1162 days after the past correction.  That period of time was over five times longer than the average period of time between corrections. 
  • The current correction took place after the stock market had risen 66.5% from its previous correction.
  • The current correction was long overdue.
  • The current bull market, starting in March, 2009, is 6.5 years old and has caused the stock market to rise by 276%.  Those investors who were afraid of stock market corrections have missed a lot of total return by fearfully remaining on the sidelines until things calm down.  Things never calm down.
There are several other facts about corrections that need to be mentioned.  All of the information presented  above, with the exception of my comment about "fearful" investors,  is from various sources and contains nothing but statistical analysis of down markets.  My observations about down markets are of a more subjective nature.  Without any further ado, here are the Welshman's observations about stock market corrections:
  • Stock market corrections are always short and steep.  They catch investors by surprise and create a tremendous amount of panic, especially among investors with little or no experience in the stock market.
  • Stock market corrections cause the pitch and timber of stock market media commentators to rise by several levels as they report the daily performance of the stock market.   One commentator I see on CNBC becomes downright shrill when the market corrects.  
  • Whenever the stock market drops CNBC.com will have a photograph of sad looking traders on the floor of the NYSE on the top of its webpage.  Conversely, when the stock market rises they will post a photograph of smiling traders on top the webpage.
  • Whenever the stock market corrects various media outlets will have special reports about the correction, all of which will contain experts explaining how and why the market is correcting.  None of those reports will come even remotely close to the truth.
  • When the stock market goes into a steep correction all perma-bears (forecasters who permanently predict a down market) will immediately say, "I told you so."  Conversely, when the market quickly goes back to its previous high the perma-bears will have all gone into hibernation.
  • Dozens of reasons will be given for why the world is coming to an end when the stock market corrects.  This time it was Greece, the Fed, the National Debt, the "crisis" in China, economic woes in Europe and ISIS.  None of the stated reasons for the decline have anything to do with it.
  • Here is the truth about corrections:  They are unpredictable.  They are not based upon any objective economic or political reality.  They are caused by groups of day traders panicking together, which leads to more panic, which leads to a correction.  Shortly after the lemming-like day traders realize what they have done they become optimistic about the market and they start buying.  Other day traders start buying and 71 days later we are back where we started.  
  • A general corollary to the General Rule stated in the paragraph above is that the sharper the correction, the sharper the recovery.  Most important of all, never forget that the machinations of the stock market are usually meaningless.  Buy quality stocks and stock funds and hold them for the long term.  You will thank me for that advice some day, if you follow it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Confessions Of A Thankful Peakbagger - Part 2

Yesterday I indulged in a totally selfish blog in which I only spoke, wrote and thought about myself.  I told you about all the amazing things I have accomplished in the mountains over the years and why everyone else who is out in the mountains is stupid when compared to me.  Today I am going to change gears a bit and tell you what I am thankful for.  Being thankful necessarily implies and requires an object of that thankfulness.  In my case I am thankful to the God of the Bible for it is He and He alone who has given me all that I have known and experienced these last 40 years.  In addition to being thankful to God, I am thankful for the many wonderful things I have seen in the mountains during my climbing career.  Today I want to indulge myself one more time and tell you about some of the highlights.

The Mountains Themselves:
The mountains are an amazing place to spend time.  My mountains of choice are the Rocky Mountains, particularly the southern Rocky Mountains, of the Socialist Democracy of Amerika.  Anyone who has ever spent time in the mountains knows what I am talking about.  There is a certain feng shui that I only experience when I am in the mountains that all true lovers of the mountains know about.  The mountains are beautiful, both in their stark rock faces and their gentle green valleys.  The mountains morph throughout the seasons into a multitude of different forms.  The same place in December is not the same place in July.  Every day is different and every place is special.  Although I thoroughly repudiate all of the pagan doctrines of animism, I do acknowledge that the mountains invigorate my soul.  One needs only read a small portion of the Psalms before a similar sentiment can be found.  The mountains become like personal friends to me.  I love spending time with old friends and I love making new ones.
People often ask me what my favorite mountain is.  Or they will ask me what the most difficult mountain was to climb.  The answers to those questions are not easy.  Asking which mountain is my favorite is like asking which of my children is my favorite.  I can't answer that question.  They are all different, unique and special to me in different ways.  The same is true for difficulty.  A peak could be difficult for me because I was sporting a terrible head cold the day I climbed it.  Or it could be difficult because of snow or rock conditions.  The only question I can answer is which peak is the most dangerous I have climbed.  That is easy....Little Bear.
Little Bear (a 14er) has a stretch to the top via the standard route called the bowling alley.  It is so named because it is a steep slick section of rock which acts like a funnel to guide anything that falls from above into it.  Climbers expose themselves to rockfall the entire time they are in the alley.  To make matters worse, the top of the alley is a dreadfully loose area of bowling ball size rocks, each poised to go crashing down upon climbers in the alley at a moments notice.  When I climbed Little Bear I was to the top before anyone else so I avoided the danger on the way up. Coming down, at the top of the alley, I noticed a group of three climbers working up the alley.  I sat down immediately so as not to dislodge any of the rocks upon their heads.  When they got up to me I could see one of the climbers was petrified with fear.  I asked them to sit right there and wait until I cleared the alley on my descent.  They agreed.  I quickly downclimbed the pitch and yelled up that I was clear.  Not more than a couple of seconds later a bowling ball sized rock came screaming past the point I had been standing in a minute earlier. 
All of the photographs posted to this blog are taken by me in the mountains.  They capture to a small degree the thrill of being there.  Scroll to the bottom often as I change the photos from time to time.

Scouting Trips:
A scouting trip is my term for an aborted climb.  As an non-obsessive/compulsive person I am prone to turn around at a moments notice.  I can't count the number of times I have turned around on a peak.  I turned around just 200 feet below the summit of North Maroon (NE Ridge route) because of snow conditions I did not like.  I turned around on the south summit of South Maroon one day because of a party member's fatigue level.  I turned around just a couple of hundred feet below El Diente (north slopes route) because the monsoonal rains were causing large rocks to plummet down the many narrow couloirs on the face.  I decided I didn't want to be jumping from rib to rib under those conditions.  I have turned around many times due to approaching thunderstorms.  I have turned around several times due to snow conditions that were screaming "avalanche" to me.  In most cases I believe other peakbaggers would have ignored the conditions and pressed on.
Yesterday I mentioned the married couple with the peakbagger son I met on Culebra.  Before the couple started down they asked me about my peak count.  After bringing them up to date on my stats the father exclaimed, "I bet you have hundreds of tales of dangerous moments in the mountains, don't you?"  I thought about his question for a moment and replied, "Actually, no I don't.  I turn around before things get dangerous."  Climbers with much less experience than I have tell dozens of tales of harrowing escapes from certain death.  I don't consider that to be a good thing.  Scouting trips are much more fun.

Mountain Weather:
A large part of the joy of mountaineering is experiencing the different weather conditions that exist in the alpine environment.  I don't know what the record high temperature is for the air at 14,000 feet in elevation is but I am quite certain it is not very high. Still, on a calm day with a bright sun shining it can be downright warm at that elevation.  Thunderstorms are the bane of alpine climbers in the SW SDA as the summer monsoonal flow frequently creates powerful afternoon storms.  They are best avoided by starting early, climbing fast and keeping an eye on the sky.  I have always been amazed at how many people I have seen hiking up the mountain, while I was coming down, into a dark and threatening sky.  On the other hand I probably shouldn't be amazed.  I am also aware of the fact that inexperienced climbers have many tales of how they were afraid for their lives because of a lightning filled thunderstorm.  After 822 summits I only have two such stories and, rather obviously, I survived them both.
Monsoonal rains can shut down an entire climbing trip.  I have spent two five-day backpack trips into the San Juans sitting around camp, desperately attempting to keep the camp fire going while it rained and rained and rained.  Climbs planned for those trips were aborted and replaced with the subtle beauty of the monsoon.  There is something wonderful about reducing life to staying dry and keeping warm. Watching the low, moisture laden clouds sweeping up the valley only to drop their rain on my tent is a joy to behold.  I have even climbed some peaks during the monsoon, but only easy ones that did not require route finding or any rock work.  I summited Windom Peak (one of the four 14ers in the Chicago Basin that I mentioned yesterday) and never saw anything but the fog hanging a couple of feet in front of me.  I would like to go back some day and do it when I can see the views....I hear they are fantastic.
Winds are always an issue up high.  Rare is the day that is calm.  Many of my favorite memories involve wind conditions strong enough to blow a man to the ground.  I was climbing Quandary Peak one late fall day many years ago and as I got higher on the east ridge the winds became increasingly strong.  As I neared the top of the peak I got hit by one blast of wind from the north followed immediately by another blast of wind from the south.  The end result was that my backpack was stripped from my back and I was pushed to the ground.  As I gathered my pack and struggled back to my feet I noticed two fellow climbers hiding in the shelter of a large cairn about 100 feet away.  I fought through the wind to the cairn but despite shouting as loud as we could we were unable to hear each other.  We exchanged thumbs up and I continued to the summit while they headed down.  The smiles on all of our faces told the entire tale of that day.
Winter snows bring a completely different set of conditions.  I have summited in the winter by walking over frozen tundra, on snowshoes and on skis.  Winter climbs are always cold and much more difficult than their summer cousins.  They also add snow and the pleasures associated with travel over it.  One day in particular comes to my mind when I think of the winter snows.  We had skied to the top of a peak near Wolf Creek Pass in southern Colorado and decided to come down via a snow-filled bowl.  The snow was so deep, so light and so powdery that we were able to point our skis straight down the hill and let it fly.  The waist deep powder kept us under control as we cruised along enjoying the views.

Mountain Critters:
I have seen my fair share of critters in the hills over the years.  The usual marmots, pikas, deer and elk are commonplace.  I have also seen quite a few black bears.  One memorable day I was treated to the exploits of a mother bear and her two cubs walking along through a meadow.  They never knew I was there as I watched the two cubs running and attacking each other through the meadow while mom stood close by keeping watch over the proceedings.  I once came face to face with a black bear as I was hiking down the trail from Chicago Basin.  I came around a corner and there he was, walking up the trail.  I am not sure who was more surprised but he certainly reacted more quickly as he exited the trail stage left and soon disappeared into the trees.  In more recent years I have seen a short-tailed weasel (Lake Como near Blanca peak) and a pine marten (near Guanella pass).  I always appreciate it when I am able to see something that is not quite so common.
My favorite critter is probably the mountain goat.  I have had numerous encounters with these shy masters of the high country.  On one occasion I was climbing a steep ridge only to come around a corner and come face to face with a tiny baby goat.  It seemed a bit unsure about what to do with the human it was looking at.  We looked at each other for a while and then it wandered off in the direction of mom.  Another time I was climbing the Kelso ridge of Torreys peak when I looked up to see an adult male just feet away from me, looking down upon me with bits of tundra flower sticking out of his mouth.  He too ambled away after our brief encounter.
I once came across a new born deer.  The tiny spotted creature was still wet as I walked upon it in the middle of a grassy meadow.  I knew mom was nearby so I reversed direction and gave the little guy some peace and quiet.  Another time I had spooked a rather large herd of elk which ran off in another direction from me.  I was above timberline at the time and as I walked along I came to a small depression in the tundra.  There, sheltered from my view at first, was a new born elk calf.  When it saw me it struggled to its feet and stood there staring at me, wobbling on spindly little legs.  Once again I quickly slipped away so the little guy could return to his place of rest in the tundra.

Mountain Companions:
I have broken the silly rule that one should never climb alone hundreds of times.  There is a joy in solo climbing that cannot be experienced in a group.  With proper preparation and careful climbing there is no reason why someone with a bit of experience should be forbidden to solo.  Some of my most treasured memories are of solo climbs that involved a bit of difficulty along the way.  Solo climbs of Mt. Wilson and South Maroon stand out in my memory.  Maybe it is difficult to find solitude on the 14ers today (it wasn't in the old days) but there is still plenty of solitude to be found on non-traditional 14er routes and the 13ers.
On the other hand, the joy of a couple of compatible climbing companions can make a climb even more memorable.  I have climbed with dozens of different people over the years and whenever we get together these days we will inevitably recall some of those moments.  Comments like, "I thought I was going to die" and "I will never climb with you again" are commonplace.  We can laugh about them today and, no, nobody was ever in a place where they were going to die.
Thanks to my wife and my brother, both of whom have shared over 100 summits with me.  We make a good team and I couldn't have done what I have done without your support.  Sadly, two climbers from my past with whom I also shared well over 100 summits are now my sworn enemies.  The mountains I understand, human beings I don't.  To all of you who have joined me on a climb, a heart-felt thank you and I hope to share another summit with you some day in the future.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Confessions Of A Thankful Peakbagger - Part I

About fifteen hundred years ago a fellow by the name of Augustine wrote a book he entitled his Confessions.  The book described the events of his life and how he came to be the greatest theologian in the history of the Christian Church up until that time.  The events of the last weekend in my life have inspired me to write a "confessions" of a sort.  Last weekend marked the 40th anniversary of my first climbed mountain, 13,101 foot South Truchas Peak in New Mexico.  I remembered that anniversary by climbing my 60th fourteen thousand foot peak, Culebra Peak in Colorado.  If you will indulge me for a bit, I will tell you all about it.
I have never liked the term 'peakbagger' and use it in reference to myself with great reticence.  Peakbaggers are a class of mountaineer that seek to climb as many peaks as possible over their lifetimes.  Top peakbaggers spend practically all of their spare time climbing mountains.  The top peakbaggers in the history of the Socialist Democracy of Amerika have over five thousand peaks to their credit.  Go here if you are interested in the list of top peakbaggers.  John Kirk, the top peakbagger in the land, has climbed 7,301 peaks.  Other luminaries like Bob Martin and Mike Garret have climbed 5,546 and 5,335 peaks respectively.  As a peakbagger, these are numbers that stagger my mind as I consider the time that must be dedicated in order to attain such huge numbers.  I will certainly never rise to the top of the peakbagging ranks. Label me an amateur peakbagger, if you will. 
I will occasionally run into a peakbagger on one of my trips.  That happened again last Saturday when I climbed Culebra.  Although they are usually decent enough chaps I have found that it is impossible for me to relate to them.  Peakbaggers are almost always Type A, Obsessive/Compulsive people who climb peaks simply to be able to say they climbed the peaks.  They love to talk about how many peaks they can climb in one day and their goal is always to climb as quickly as possible while getting as many summits as possible each day.  Stopping to smell the roses along the way is forbidden since it would detract from the possibility of attaining one more peak that day.  The young man I met on the top of Culebra was planning on finishing the Colorado 14ers (58 peaks) today.  He was going to hike into an area in the San Juan mountains called Chicago Basin the first day, climb the four 14ers surrounding that basin in one day, then hike out on the third day.  That sounds miserable to me.  I took three separate five day backpacking trips to Chicago Basin to accomplish the climbs of those same four 14ers.  Chicago Basin feels like an old friend to me today and I have nothing but fond memories of the place.  The young man hiking out from there today barely knows her and will probably recall nothing of her nuances a year from now.  How sad.
So I will reluctantly adopt the moniker of a peakbagger with one significant caveat....I am much more concerned with the quality of my mountaineering experiences than the quantity.  No peakbagger would ever want to climb with me because I am not O/C.  No peakbagger would ever want to camp with me because I take way too much time to explore an area.  And no peakbagger would ever go on a climbing trip with me because I always leave at least one peak unclimbed in the area, giving myself a reason to go back some day.
Culebra was the last of my Colorado 14ers.  Most peakbaggers have a list of 14ers that contains 58 peaks.  We recognize as official peaks all named peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation as well as any unnamed point that exceeds 14,000 feet in elevation that has at least a 300 foot saddle drop to the next nearest peak.  This is the standard set of rules for almost all peakbaggers.  I have also been to the top of two 14ers in California, thus making my 14er peak total 60 rather than 58.  Culebra is a privately owned 14er and has gone through various access issues over the years as different ranch owners controlled the property.  Back in the old days (the 80s) a person could climb the peak simply by calling the ranch manager and informing him that you were going to be there.  There was a fairly long period of time when the ranch was closed to all people.  I assumed that I would never get around to climbing Culebra peak and had dropped it from my list of official peaks when it was closed to all climbers.  Then, a year or so ago, I discovered that the new ranch owners were allowing limited access to the peak.  I was interested.
The current owners of the ranch allow access to the summit on each Friday and Saturday in July and August.  A maximum of 25 people per day are given permission to trespass on their property and the trespass fee is $150/person.  Our access to the peak on last Saturday was the last trespass slip given for the year as hunting season starts this weekend and the real paying customers will be arriving to hunt trophy elk.
My climbing party consisted of my wife and a long-time friend and climbing partner who made the trip up from Tucson to be a part of the planned celebration on the summit.  I assumed that most of the remaining 25 people would be folks nearing the end of the 14er list and I further expected there to be several summit celebrations.  Man was I in for a surprise.  Only 10 people assembled at the entrance gate in the semi-darkness of a 6:00 am start.  We were given instructions about the area and sent off to find our way to various trailheads in our four wheel drive vehicles.  Six of the climbers sped their way to the highest trailhead in order to make the climb as short and easy as possible.  One other climber joined us at a trailhead that allowed us to gain 3,000 vertical feet on the climb.  The 3,000 vertical feet is an important point.  Climbing all 58 Colorado 14ers is called the "Grand Slam."  Climbing those same peaks individually, rather than running the easy ridges between many of them, with a minimum of 3,000 feet of vertical on each climb is doing it cum laude.  Only a small percentage of the 1000+ people who claim to have accomplished the Grand Slam have done it cum laude.  The middle aged man who parked beside us was one of those men.  I am another.  He gave us a friendly greeting and sped off up the trail.  We were a couple of minutes behind him.  We hiked up the jeep road to its terminus, where all of the other climbers had parked their vehicles, and surveyed our options to the top.
The standard route, which is also the shortest and easiest route, went straight up the west face of the peak to a gigantic cairn on the upper ridge.  From that cairn it is a rocky ridge hop on a rare (for the Sangre De Cristo range) east/west running ridge to the summit.  A more interesting route, in my opinion, was to take the NW ridge of the peak up to the higher ridge where the gigantic cairn was located, then finish via the standard route.  Using the NW ridge would afford us dramatic views into the north facing cirques of Culebra Peak.  While all of the other parties raced up the standard route we took off for the NW ridge.  Here is a photo of me just reaching the NW ridge as the sun was rising in the east:


The NW ridge rose moderately along the intersection of the west face and the dramatic north face cirque.  We enjoyed skirting along the ridge, peering off the face on occasion to enjoy the views and exposure.  Here I am working my way up to the high point seen in the photograph below which would eventually become the summit ridge:


To my left in the above photograph was a cirque and Carneros lake.  Here is the view we were treated to as we ascended the ridge.  We are looking down almost 2000 vertical feet:


It was a windy morning and a jacket provided sufficient warmth to climb comfortably.  Upon arrival at the high point on the upper ridge we were treated to our first view of the east/west ridge to the summit, as well as the summit itself.  As we looked to the SE, here was our view:


Our route would follow the skyline coming in from the right and ascending to the summit, which is the high bump in the left-center of the above photograph.  The high point in the middle is a false summit.  This ridge would end up taking more time than I anticipated due to the rocky nature of the traverse.
The gigantic cairn that Culebra is famous for is found where the standard route reaches the ridge traverse visible above.  Here is a shot of the cairn with the false summit looming in the background:


The cairn in the above photo is about ten feet high.  We pressed onward and engaged the final summit ridge.  From the moment we first attained the high ridge that would lead us to the gigantic cairn we could see the other 7 climbers at various points along the skyline on their ascents of the peak.  We were obviously going to be the last to the top today.  Shortly after leaving the point in the above picture we ran into the man who had parked next to us.  He had already reached the summit, checked it off his list, and was now dancing down the rocky ridge to the west face descent and onward to his car.  He barely spent four total hours on the peak and was long gone by the time we returned to the trailhead.  Typical peakbagger, I thought to myself.  I wondered if he had seen the tiny forget-me-not flower growing in the tundra we passed along the way.  I rather doubt it.
We saw the forget-me-nots.  Here they are:


Shortly after passing the man completing his Grand Slam we encountered another climber on his way down.  He, like all the remaining others on the mountain, had parked at the high trailhead.  The first words out of his mouth were, "You are aware that what you are looking at is a false summit, aren't you?"  Given the fact that we had come up a completely different route and already been treated to a full view of the summit ridge we were quite aware of that fact.  He was one of those "know-it-all" climbers who just has to let people know what is going on.  The second comment out of his mouth was an interrogation.  He abruptly asked me, "How old are you?"  Seeing my gray hair and withered body he no doubt thought I was too old to be out climbing mountains.  I could barely answer him before he proudly informed us that he was 70 years old and he had never seen another climber as old as him on the peaks.  My Tucson friend also happened to be 70 but, as it turned out, he was a month younger than the bragger we were talking to.  I was relieved to press on and allow him to his own thoughts.
On the summit we caught up with an older couple and their 20-something son.  The son is the peakbagger I mentioned earlier.  I noticed that he was wearing tennis shoes as he told me about his "ultra-light" techniques that allowed him to climb six 14ers in a single marathon day.  He told me about his plans for Chicago Basin before jogging off to climb a nearby 13er that he wanted to add to his list that day.  His parents were obviously quite proud of him but I could only think to myself that the situation was so sad.  I wondered if he noticed the tundra flowers as he jogged over them.
We were shortly left alone to enjoy the summit. We spent a hour basking in the moment until we started getting chilled and needed to start the descent.  We enjoyed the views and reminisced on the hundreds of beautiful and glorious moments we had shared in the mountains during our times together.  My wife, ever the thoughtful one, had brought a small bottle of champagne so I opened it up and celebrated my 60th 14er:


For you peakbaggers out there, here are my stats after 40 luxuriously slow and deliberate years climbing mountains:
  • 153 ascents of 60 14ers.
  • 298 ascents of 253 13ers.
  • 63 ascents of 54 12ers.
  • 822 total ascents of 493 total peaks, including 393 Colorado peaks and an additional 100 peaks in 16 other states throughout the Socialist Democracy of Amerika.