Reaching the summit
Cooneys successfully scale all of Colorado's hard-ranked Thirteeners
As Colorado’s 13,000-foot peaks go, Boreas Mountain rates a prolonged yawn. It’s a hike more than a climb, nothing technical to worry about, and the elevation gain is a mere 1,500 to 1,600 feet over the course of a couple of miles.
But when Grand Junction’s Tim and Carrie Cooney reached the summit of this Thirteener situated between Breckenridge and Fairplay shortly before noon Saturday, it marked the end of a long road and an achievement 36 years in the making.
Boreas Mountain may be boring to the serious peak-bagger, but it was the only remaining hard-ranked peak 13,000 feet or higher that the Cooneys needed to summit to join a small group of people in rare Colorado air. They believe they now are the 26th and 27th persons to summit every hard-ranked Colorado Thirteener, 584 of them in all, along with the state’s 53 hard-ranked Fourteeners.
It is an accomplishment that happened more by accident than design, they said. It certainly never crossed their minds in 1977 when they climbed their first Fourteener together. Tim already had made it his mission to do every Colorado Fourteener, but he didn’t have plans beyond that.
Once they conquered all of the 14,000-foot peaks, though, they turned to the state’s top 100 peaks. Then they decided the top 200 were worth conquering, a task they completed in 1995. At that point, they thought perhaps half of the Thirteeners were a reasonable goal, so they set out to get the top 319 peaks.
They completed the top 300 in 2002 and finally decided doing all of the Thirteeners was a realistic goal, one they could achieve in about 10 years. It ended up being 11 years, to which Tim said, “We actually did pretty good. We were only one year off.”
It helped that they got smarter as they went along. They’d find areas where several peaks were near each other, allowing them to check off some that were much lower on the elevation list, and sometimes they did more than one in a day.
The approach was similar to the one they took two weeks ago in the southern Elk Mountains, where they bagged eight summits in nine days, including three in one day. And that left them with one to go: Boreas.
They decided some time ago Boreas would be their final Thirteener because it would be a good location for other family members in the Denver area to meet them and easy enough for everyone to climb, even Carrie’s 78-year-old dad, Herb Sanford. Also joining them Saturday were: their son, Shaun, and his wife, Lyndsi, and their 16-month-old son, Kaeden; their daughter, Sharon, and her husband, Ken Smith ,and their 5-year-old daughter, Rhema.
In addition, the Cooneys sent out an invitation on a climbing website for others to join them if they cared to, and five people whom Tim Cooney considers to be Colorado peak-bagging legends took up the offer: Ken Nolan; Jean Aschenbrenner; Teresa Gergen; Kirk Mallory; and Jack Dais.
“We feel really honored that these other people joined us,” Tim said.
It also was a nice reunion for Tim and Carrie with their children, who had joined them on quite a few peaks as they were growing up, and that allowed Tim to have a little fun with the family name.
“You ever hear of the Flying Wallendas?” Tim asked, referring to the high-wire, daredevil-stunt-performing family. “We’re the Climbing Cooneys.”
The Cooneys also are something else: regular people who have done an extraordinary thing.
Tim, 61, does bookkeeping, credit management and Web-page design for Palisade Greenhouse, while Carrie, 56, is an enrollment clerk for Rocky Mountain Health Plans.
“We’re obviously not Olympic-caliber athletes,” Tim said, although their favorite way to recreate keeps them in shape. “We consider ourselves to be average people ... Neither of us ever were rock jocks.”
To that, Carrie added, “It’s more mental than physical.”
“Anyone can do it,” Tim said. “It doesn’t require great technical expertise (on most peaks). Mostly you need to know how to read a map and choose a route.”
Their advice to anyone considering taking up peak bagging is to “forget the Fourteeners. There’s so much more to see on these obscure Thirteeners.
“If you want solitude, avoid the Fourteeners.”
Carrie added, “There’s more challenge,” with the Thirteeners. And Tim followed with, “And more wildlife.”
And while the Fourteeners are nothing to sneeze at, they’ve become familiar. Colorado even promotes them.
Tim and Carrie said they once bagged a Thirteener where they were the only ones on the peak at that time, and from it they could see a Fourteener in the distance and numerous people on that peak.
“There’s a saying we’ve been putting in the summit registers for years: Beaten paths are for beaten men,” Tim said.
He smiled, and Carrie chimed in with, “The trail less traveled, we’ve definitely done that.”
Although the latest achievement might seem like a perfect time to say, “Enough,” that’s not what the Cooneys are thinking. “We’re not going to quit now,” Carrie said, mentioning there are some “soft-rank peaks” that could be 13,000 feet if they were officially measured. Then, there are some of the higher 12,000-footers, such as Mount Sopris, which they surprisingly have not climbed.
“We have no agenda, of course,” Carrie said. “But that’s what we said at the beginning.”
Fittingly, Tim said Saturday afternoon, he and Carrie would find a place to park their truck and sleep that night, then go climb another peak today.