54 14ers at 14

Lowell Whiteman student Bridger Root next wants to summit California's 14ers, Alaska's Mount McKinley

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Bridger Root will never forget the summer of his 14th birthday. It was during the summer of 2003, the summer he finished climbing all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot mountain peaks.

Root, a freshman at The Lowell Whiteman School, turned 14 on July 26, a few days after he summited Mount Elbert, the highest of Colorado's 14ers. He took a month off for a trip to Switzerland and, on Aug. 24, he climbed the last mountain on his list, Culebra.

Root recalls that he climbed his first 14er, Mount Huron, at age 8. But it wasn't until two years later that he resolved to climb all of Colorado's 54 14ers -- and do it before his 14th birthday.

"When I was 10, I climbed Longs Peak. It took us like 13 or 12 hours. It was a really long day."

Somewhere during that very long day, Root determined that he wanted to climb another 42 of the highest mountains in the continental United States.

"It seemed like a good goal," Root said. "I like hiking and I like rock climbing. And I could actually focus on it. It's not a popular thing. It's different, and I like the challenge. It's fun to do the different stuff ... not what everyone else is doing."

In order to attain his goal, he would need to average more than 10 peaks a year. The summer he turned 12, he had climbed 22 peaks.

"A lot of them are easy, so you can climb a bunch in a day," Root confided.

His climbing companion on all but two of his summit expeditions was his father, Brick Root. His female border collie, Diamond, also made it to a majority of the summits.

Climbing 42 14ers over the span of the past four years meant Root had to get some cooperation from the gods of thunder and lightning.

"I've had amazing luck with the weather," Root confirmed. "But it took me three times to get up Princeton."

Mount Princeton, outside Buena Vista in the Collegiate Peaks, is not among the most difficult of Colorado's tallest mountains. However, the weather above 10,000 feet is predictably unpredictable, and climbers have to exercise sound judgment.

Root's first attempt was made in early June and his party was turned back by a combination of snow and thunder. The second attempt on Princeton came as part of a school group. When some of the members didn't feel well enough to gain the summit, Root turned back with them.

The young climber has learned to cope with sore feet and the aching knees that aren't unusual for growing teenagers. He blocks out any discomfort caused by long treks by sending his mind off to a distant place.

"I definitely zone out," he said.

Along the odyssey of climbing 54 mountains, Root learned to safely ascend and descend snow-filled couloirs steeper than 50 degrees. On the final approach to Capitol Peak near Aspen, he straddled a knifelike ridge with dangerous exposures to long drops on either side of him.

"Exposure doesn't really bother me," he said. "I'm lucky altitude has never affected me."

Root and his father aren't in any rush to descend once they attain a summit. The youngster is apt to pull out a good book and sit down to read at 14,000 feet.

"We like to enjoy it while we're up there," Root said. "Sometimes we take two hours to acclimate because it's good for you."

Root must learn to acclimate to higher elevations if he is to attain his next goal:

"I'd like to climb California's 14ers, but I want to climb Denali in Alaska when I'm 18."

Bridger Root also will have to improve his rock climbing skills over the next four years if he is to succeed at climbing above 20,000 feet on Mount McKinley (Denali). But anyone who spends 45 minutes with the modest young man comes away with the impression that he just might do it.

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