| Climbing "Culebra" - what it means to finish the 14ers
Many insights were found on my trip to Culebra. The less profound ones included a realization that the gps coordinates of the TH on here are you to the upper TH, not the North gate. I didn't need directions here: a person comes from the ranch to escort you to the upper TH from the North gate. In my opinion it would be more useful if the the coordinates would direct hikers to the North gate, so people can navigate to using a gps (which is consistent with every other 14er on this site). Additionally, if the current given TH coordinates are used along with a device using Google's algorithm for navigation, it will attempt to take you on a road that does not exist that is coincidentally about 30 minutes away from the actual north entrance to Cielo Vista Ranch.
While initially on a quite conservative track time-wise, this detour put us at the gate at about 6:20, where we waited until near 7:00. A potential $300 was not worth the folks at the ranch doing a double check at the gate for their missing 3 reservees.
After a failed attempt to control an Amygdala hijack, my mind raced with philosophical and ethical questions that threatened the very core of my 14er quest. After we settled on climbing a peak that will hereafter be called "Culebra" Peak, I performed some mental-trickery to soothe the cognitive dissonance associated with claiming my soon-to-be-climbed "Culebra" Peak to satisfy my 14er conquest. My mind fixated on 3 main questions that I have been pondering for a little while now. What is truth? What is experience? Will I ever find love? "Culebra" didn't help on the last one, but helped me with the first two.
What is truth?
All perception is tainted by mental schema erected from years of environmental pressures, subjective construal, and moralistic judgement. At the baseline level of consciousness, there is not a single cognition one can have that is not "tainted" by neural pathways that distort objective reality to fit into a cohesive narrative that is erected and modified throughout one's life to navigate the complexities of the world. To claim that one has finished the 14ers implies he or she has climbed all the mountains that share a certain trait, namely elevation. However, things keep changing, and more and more magical "14ers" appear through the generous use of quotations around unofficial ones, which brings a new definition to "finishing". Finally, this community seems to be chalk full of folks who discount the status of some of the "finishers" for not climbing the final sunlight block, not climbing 3000' on each 14er, or any number of ridiculous rules that blur the lines of what it really means to have "finished" the 14ers. (As if elevation above an arbitrary man-made unit isn't silly enough.)
I had a reality check when I realized woke up at 1AM, drove half way across the state, and was about to pay a ranch $100 to climb up and down a pile of rocks just to say that I did. (Especially considering that I have not climbed the Loft on Longs Peak or Kelso Ridge on Torreys Peak - closer, cheaper, and arguably more interesting climbs)
Why then, do I even climb 14ers? I've had so many great times: I've met some of my current best friends, and solidified several friendships on 14ers. Furthermore, when my father passes away (hopefully several decades) in the future, I will certainly not be a Son full of regret wishing I had maintained our relationship into adulthood. Dad and I are closer now than we ever have been, and our relationship hasn't skipped a beat throughout my entire adulthood. 14ers, along with Colorado's other great hiking and biking spots, are to thank for this.
The real reason I climb is because of my need for the transcendental experiences that the mountains often offer, both alone and with others. I've discovered that, if anything, the act of finishing the 14ers is the intrinsic journey of experience. It brought me to my next question:
What is experience?
When one attempts to fathom what constitutes the experience of "finishing" the 14ers, it is unlikely that the mere act of reaching the top of each summit comprises a significant portion of the journey that is implied when one claims to have "finished" the 14ers. If it is understood that the act of having climbed the top 58 peaks in Colorado, represents a journey, and it is also understood that each journey that exists is also unique, then one's experience of "finishing" the 14ers will be similar in some regards, but also very different than others who also claim to have finished.
How then can a person even claim to have accomplished an objective goal which inherently undefinable from a psychological level? It can't be done. If you insist that the objective criterion is to have stood on the highest point of every mountain "Above 14,000' with 300' or more of prominence by current survey information" then don't have a conversation with me about 14ers because we obviously climbed for very different reasons.
Although experiences and memories vary, the act of climbing these peaks is still quite satisfying on many levels (spiritual, physical, psychological). More notably, when two fellow "finishers" come together, something very special, and refreshingly human happens: stories are shared.
"How did you like the Knife Edge?"
"Wetterhorn had a pretty sweet crux right?"
"Man I hated Challenger!"
"My heart absolutely melted looking through the Keyhole."
"The Crestones are otherworldly."
"I can't believe how enchanting the San Juans are"
"Seriously - Challenger sucked. Oh and Princeton, forget that noise!"
"Princeton wasn't that bad"
"You're insane; I'm going to climb Longs again"
"Driving home from North Maroon allowed me to release a disappointing part from my recent past."
If finishing the 14ers means that I've followed some silly arbitrary rules then I will never finish.
If "finishing" the 14ers means that I can relate to others over similar (but not identical) experience and become instant friends with someone over complaining about Columbia or Bross or raving about Longs Peak, The Elks, Sangres, or San Juans, then it will make no difference whether I climb Culebra Peak or "Culebra" Peak. Even if I climbed the real Culebra, at most I could share 60% of stories with another "finisher" as it is. Swapping Culebra with "Culebra" won't really change my ability to conversate about shared experience on Colorado's highest peaks.
The poorman's "Culebra" actually shares many traits with the real Culebra:
Culebra vs. "Culebra"
I'm happy to say I'm officially disenchanted with the concept of 14ers. Do I plan to ever climb Mount Wilson, El Diente, Castle, Conundrum, Snowmass, and San Luis? Do I plan to ever repeat the likes of Longs, Crestones, Capitol, San Juans? Absolutely: those are cool climbs.
I will do them because of the experience not the obligation.
Will I ever climb the real Culebra? Maybe, but I will have to climb Wham Ridge, Mount Powell, Longs Peak, and many, many others, and become sufficiently bored of repeating them (for free) before I climb Culebra for intrinsic reasons. It is possible that I could get sufficiently peer pressured from friends, but the reason will still be for the experience of shared meaning, not a meaningless obligation of finishing.
When I step on top of San Luis this fall with my friends and family there to accompany me for my "finisher", I will be fully aware that I have not followed all the rules perfectly. But when in life does one ever?
The sunk cost fallacy would suggest that, on principle, I should just squeeze Culebra in another weekend. But "Culebra" changed me in a way that I now will not climb it on principle.
I am perfectly fine merely "finishing" the 14ers.
First view of "Culebra"
Check out the bird on his perch!
Craig Spock Nelson
What a stud!
Must be a typo?
Class 3 "Crux" if you stay on the ridge proper
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):