BOULDER — Getting people on the mountain, whether it’s ascending a technical route on a 14,000-foot peak or a leisurely stroll up a canyon path, seems to be world-class mountaineer Gerry Roach’s life’s calling.
“You need a loving knowledge and a vocal users group in the mountains if you are going to preserve the experience,” Roach said during a recent interview near Boulder’s Flatirons. “The word in California is — is that the users group is shrinking.”
Amid rumors of a slump in participation in mountain activities, this 55-year-old climber and software engineer just might have the tonic to turn things around a bit. Fulcrum Publishing has just released a second edition of Roach’s best-seller “Colorado’s Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs” along with “Colorado’s Fourteeners: Companion Map Package.”
Since 1992, the first edition of the book has sold more than 40,000 copies. The newer edition now includes color photographic overlays and topographic maps; as well as 250 routes to Colorado’s 14ers, including some new alternative and technical routes with each route rated by grade, class and snow steepness.
Roach, who has covered most of the routes he writes about in his book, is only one of 25 people to have ever climbed the “Seven Summits,” which are the highest peaks on each of the seven continents.
Roach’s current premonition on the state-of-affairs of a shrinking mountaineering “user’s group” is that if it shrinks any more, mountaineering will be on its way out.
“In the long term there won’t be enough people in the mountains who are knowledgeable and vocal,” he said. “We need to promote mountaineering, hiking, skiing and other things that involve the outdoors. Without it we’re doomed!”
He doesn’t necessarily write his books — his others being “Colorado’s Indian Peaks,” “Rocky Mountain National Park” and “Flatiron Classics” — to promote just the experience, but “the love of it.”
Roach moved to Boulder with his family in 1954, leaving behind the smoggy basin of Los Angeles. “I took one look at the Flatirons and said, ‘Wow! Look at that! I wonder if you could climb up it?’ “.
Next thing Roach knew, he and a Baseline Junior High School chum were climbing up the face of one of the Flatirons. “We survived it,” he said.
At age 13, Roach took up rock climbing and scaled slabs mostly around Eldorado Canyon and the Flatirons. Then his second year of climbing, Roach started getting into mountaineering.
“We needed a car for that because we were too young to have a car,” he recalled, noting his auspicious involvement with the Colorado Mountain Club and the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group. Since his youth, Roach said it took him nearly 20 years to climb all of Colorado’s 14ers.
“It wasn’t a huge priority,” he said.
In 1976, Roach attempted to climb to the summit of Mount Everest, but failed. He went back, however, and got to the top in 1983. “The whole Everest thing (anymore) is about ego and money,” he said, adding that anyone can buy the oxygen and pay the Sherpas to take them to the top of the world. “In our society, higher is better.”
Nowadays, Roach spends his time globe-trotting to places like Alaska and Peru to do remote climbs; however, to this day his favorite 14,000-foot peak is Longs Peak.
“It’s a world-class mountain,” he said. “Mostly because of its east face.” Roach is also quick to give advice to anyone interested in climbing Longs Peak. “When the weather and winds get going up there, it can snuff you,” he cautioned.
As for beginners, he said, “First, get good instruction in the fundamentals. Second, practice those fundamentals on easier climbs before taking on harder ones.” And for the advanced climbers, he insists, “Stay in shape!”