Mark Obmascik stands atop North Maroon Peak. Obmascik was an out-of-shape suburban father, but he grew to have a new appreciation for Colorado's mountains, his life and his family after climbing all of the state's 14,000-foot peaks. Obmascik will be in Steamboat Springs at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Epilogue Book Co. to speak about and sign the book he wrote about his experience, "Halfway to Heaven."

Mark Obmascik/Courtesy

Mark Obmascik stands atop North Maroon Peak. Obmascik was an out-of-shape suburban father, but he grew to have a new appreciation for Colorado's mountains, his life and his family after climbing all of the state's 14,000-foot peaks. Obmascik will be in Steamboat Springs at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Epilogue Book Co. to speak about and sign the book he wrote about his experience, "Halfway to Heaven."

Front Range author finds himself in summer of climbing

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If you go

What: Mark Obmascik will speak about and sign his book, "Halfway to Heaven: My White-knuckled - and Knuckleheaded - Quest for the Rocky Mountain High"

When: 6:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Epilogue Book Co., downtown Steamboat Springs

For more: Obmascik's book is available at Epilogue or online at www.amazon.com

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Courtesy Photo

Mark Obmascik will speak about and sign his book, "Halfway to Heaven: My White-knuckled - and Knuckleheaded - Quest for the Rocky Mountain High"

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Mark Obmascik/Courtesy

Obmascik said the summer he spent hiking all of Colorado's 14ers helped turn his life around. The 47-year-old said before starting, he felt he was in decline, but afterward, he realized what he could accomplish.

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Mark Obmascik/Courtesy

Mark Obmascik/Courtesy Bound by a promise to his wife to always hike with a partner, Mark Obmascik said he encountered many different personalities on his hikes. Michael Bodine, pictured on Tabeguache Peak near Salida, is a 62-year-old Boeing engineer from Wichita who almost always hiked in shorts.

Mark Obmascik climbed all 54 of the 14,000-foot mountains in Colorado in less than a year, and he said there wasn't a single trip on which he felt totally comfortable.

"There wasn't a climb where I wasn't either scared or lost or cold," Obmascik said.

Still, he didn't even have to complete his assault on the state's towering peaks before he realized the ultimate lesson of his one crazy summer.

He said the climbs helped him realize that at 47 years old, he still had a lot of living left to do. They helped him find a new appreciation for his home state, and they helped him draw closer than he could have ever imagined to his quickly growing son and his Denver-area family.

"I was 44, and I had started to view myself in decline," Obmascik said. "I wasn't as fast, wasn't as quick. I just kept asking myself, is this going to be the rest of my life? Decline?"

The quest to conquer Colorado's mountains, though, reversed that. Obmascik said that's the main theme in his most recent book, "Halfway to Heaven: My White-knuckled - and Knuckleheaded - Quest for the Rocky Mountain High."

Obmascik will speak about his adventures and sign copies of the book at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Epilogue Book Co. in downtown Steamboat Springs.

Reconnecting

Obmascik said he was overweight and overworked before he started climbing again. That wasn't always the case. He had been an avid hiker and outdoorsman in his youth.

"I used to hike," he said. "But I had put on about 50 pounds since college, had gotten married and had kids. I was swallowed up by work, and you want to spend all the time you can with your kids.

"It just slips away."

It was his children, though, who helped re-ignite Obmascik's love for the outdoors. His oldest son, Cass, was 12 when he was injured while hiking Pikes Peak.

On his way to have a gash stapled shut, he called his father.

"He was telling me to calm down and saying 'I made it to the top and watched the sun rise from Pike's Peak! Dad, I summited it!'" Obmascik said. "That was wild to me. Here was a 12-year-old boy excited about something that didn't involve consumer electronics."

The incident was enough to compel father and son to attempt at 14,000-foot peak together.

They failed, running out of energy near the top of a Front Range 14er. That still wasn't enough to slow Obmascik down.

By the time he was wrapping up his summer of climbing, his once-gassed son was scampering up mountains at a rate of 1,500 feet an hour.

"Talk about a moving experience," Obmascik said. "I just watched him turn into a man. The first time we hiked, we couldn't get up a peak. Next thing I know, he's going at a man's pace.

"My goal was always to have my son tired enough that we would hit a high camp and be able to watch Jupiter cross through the Milky Way - to get him tired enough for me to put my arm around him without him flinching."

Opening up

The climbing didn't just give Obmascik an avenue to grow closer to his family. It also allowed him a chance to meet people and do things he never could have imagined.

His wife, Merrill Schwerin, required that he always climb with a partner. That turned out to be quite a headache when Obmascik realized he didn't know many people eager to wake up at 3 a.m. and head for the peaks.

He found a way around the problem, finally finding climbing and camping partners on Internet message boards.

"I did what I always told my kids not to do," he said. "I got on the Internet, met strangers and slept with them."

That part of the experience turned out to be as valuable as any other, he said.

"That was the thing I complained about the most at first, but I met some really wonderful, fun and eye-opening people. I never met a bad egg," he said. "When you say climbing partner, that implies more than a friend. You're entrusting your personal safety to someone and they to you."

At the end, though, he said the whole experience was worth more than just a few new cell phone contacts, and even more than the precious moment spent in the backcountry with his wife and three sons.

"I can drive around the state, look up and say 'Wow. I've been up there,'" he said. "It changes your attitude. Instead of thinking you can't do something, you think, 'Well, maybe I can.'

"I don't look at myself the same way any more. I don't look at myself in decline."

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