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Paul Arell; Old Man on the Mountain

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There are climbers whose goal is to summit all 54 of Colorado's 14,000 ft. peaks in the least amount of time (Men's record: Ted "Cave Dog" Keizer 10 days/20 hours/26 minutes. Women's record: Danelle Ballengee -- 14 days/4 hours/53 minutes). Sixty-five year old environmental engineer Paul Arell is not one of them.

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Back in August 1973, he was sitting in his office at the EPA when a co-worker said, "We're climbing Mt. Princeton this weekend. Wanna come?" He was 25 at the time, and had done some climbing and backpacking in Alaska, but nothing like Mt. Princeton.

"It was a tremendous physical challenge," he said. "There's a big vertical gain. Looking down from the peak you can see the Arkansas River 7000 feet below. It was totally exhilarating."

He was hooked. He recruited some friends and together they started doing day trips to the 25 relatively easy peaks within range of Denver. In the first five years he did 16. By 1990, he was up to 33. But in the ensuing nineteen years, his enthusiasm waned, and he only climbed an additional three.

"I had kids, and a wife," he said. "Life took over and it wasn't a big focus."

Flash forward to 2010. Newly retired, Arell decided that he really did want to complete the remaining 18. By then, however, none of his old climbing buddies were interested. So instead, he rounded up three new guys; Chris Wilson a retired educator, Bob La Greca, still working in telecommunications, and Glenn Crissman, a retired computer systems guy.

"We were all in our early 60s," Arell said, "four old guys with the most difficult and remote peaks still ahead of us. It took us four summers to complete them. The weather didn't always cooperate. Fortunately, our wives did."

It's a tossup between Capitol and Little Bear as to which climb was the most difficult.

"Capitol has a knife edge that drops off to nowhere, 1,800 ft. on both sides," Arell said. "For 150 feet you're holding onto that knife edge with your boots on the rock going hand-to-hand sideways for maybe 20 minutes. Past that there's another hour-and-a-half to the summit. The whole climb took us 13 hours going and coming from
Capitol Lake."

Little Bear, on the south end of the Sangres, was equally difficult. There's a narrow passage of smooth rock called the "Hourglass" that is, according to Arell, "slicker than snot on a doorknob" due to the algae-ridden melt water from above. Below it there's a shear drop; lose your footing and you're a dead man.

But there's another difficulty with the Hourglass. Climbers sometimes call it "The Bowling Alley" because of the loose rock from above which tends to dislodge and zing down, bowling over anything in its path.

"This almost happened to us," Arell said. "We looked up and saw a good sized chunk of rock coming our way. We all dropped flat and it passed over our heads. We'd already done Mt Blanca and Mt. Ellingwood on that trip so we decided to call it quits and come back the following year with a better game plan."

Sadly, one of the group, Glenn Crissman, died at home in his easy chair in February 2012 and never got to complete the list.

"He was the lead climber and the fastest of the bunch," Arell said. "He had four peaks left. We split his ashes into four parts and scattered them on Pyramid, Capitol, Mt. Wilson and El Diente." They finally completed #54, Snowmass Mountain, in September 2013.

If you're thinking of trying it, here's some advice from the Old Man on the Mountain; "Don't wait until you're in your 60s. Had I known, I'd have done the harder ones earlier. Even so, it was a great feeling of accomplishment. You learn team work, persistence, and how to profit from your mistakes. I'd do it all over again."

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For more info:

www.14ers.org

Read "Halfway to Heaven" by Denver Post reporter Mark Obmascik
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Coming soon: "Cowboys, Yogis, and One-legged Ski Bums," Don Morreale's book of the best of his Examiner stories.

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