Climbing 14ers Blind: An Amazing Interview with Colt Weber
This is a guest post about climbing 14ers blind and is written by Lysianne Peacock and originally posted on Out-spiration.com.
For two summer seasons, I worked at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, CO. While working there, I met so many amazing people from all over the United States and the world that have made an impression on me and have become some of my closest friends. One of these people happens to be Colt Weber, the Family Programs Specialist at the YMCA of the Rockies.
His job includes developing curriculum for new programs, training the Family Programs staff, and offer constructive feedback in addition to teaching some of the programs myself. He was also responsible for leading us on a staff bonding hike up to Bible Point, a short but steep hike that overlooks the YMCA, in three feet of snow. While this may seem like just an everyday Colorado adventure, there was something that set Colt apart from any other staff bonding leader I had had. He was blind. This was my first impression of Colt Weber: a crazy, blind man that was leading us through three feet of snow with his trusty guide dog, Pete.
In case you were wondering, we did not make it up to Bible Point nor am I going to tell you the outcome of my first Coloradan adventure. This story isn’t about me. This story is about one of the most interesting people I have ever met, and one of my closest friends who I have hiked and drank one too many Long Islands with. I had the honor to ask Colt a few questions about how his disability effects his outdoor pursuits and how he overcame his barrier to summit one of Colorado’s most difficult 14ers.
So, there’s something unique about you. What is that?
I was born with both a visual and hearing impairment. I went blind for the first time in 2009 but the doctors were able to restore my sight within a few months through a series of surgeries. In 2012, I lost my sight due to illness that led to complications with the previous surgeries, and after a couple more surgeries, the doctors said the lights were out for good.
So, you’re blind. What does that mean for your outdoor experiences?
The biggest difference I have noticed about being in the outdoors since everything went dark is that I almost always need someone with me. I used to hike alone most of the time but that’s not a viable option anymore. The other big difference is that people almost constantly want to talk to me on the trail now. Some of the time its condescending and/or annoying stuff like “Keep going. You’re almost there” on a trail that is fairly easy, and I have done like a gazillion times. Another annoying thing is when people question why I have a dog on the trail. If they would just take a few extra seconds to assess the situation they would clearly see that Pete is a guide dog. One person went so far as to suggest I was faking my blindness.
On the other hand, there are also many people who tell me how I inspire them or just engage in “normal” trail conversation. Over time I have kind of accepted the fact that I am now an “ambassador” for people with physical disabilities and so brush off the negative interactions and do my best to educate the public about the misconceptions and myths that surround and often times harm the disabled community.
You’ve accomplished a feat that’s difficult for most hikers. I should know I did it. You made it to the summit of Longs Peak! Tell us the story.
Long’s Peak was by far one of the most difficult things I’ve accomplished, and it was a few years in the making. I worked seasonally for the Y in the summers of 2009 and 2011 but really wasn’t interested in Long’s Peak. When I moved out here permanently in 2013 there were two reasons Long’s appealed to me. First, it would be the biggest challenge I would undertake blind, and I wanted to know if I could push myself that far. Second, in less than a year of being blind I was already feeling peoples’ low expectations for someone with a physical disability. I wanted to prove them wrong and set the bar a bit higher in their minds.
In the summer of 2013, I couldn’t find anyone who was willing to go with me. In 2014, I made my first attempt with Jenna, Matt, and Paris. The plan was to camp in the Boulderfield for a night and summit the next day. It took me ten grueling hours to cover the six miles to the Boulderfield with a heavy pack on. I did a terrible job of packing and wasn’t really dressed appropriately. That night we set up camp, ate dinner, and went to bed.
The next morning, I woke up to some very unpleasant news, the weather was terrible. It was very cold, and the clouds were so thick that my friends couldn’t even see the summit from the Boulderfield. People were coming down and telling us that they couldn’t summit because many of the rocks were covered in ice. We made the obviously smart choice to turn around, but I was heartbroken. After a full day of busting my ass to get this far, I wouldn’t make it to the top. The hike down was miserable with heavy rain, lightening way too close, and extremely low visibility. By the time we got down I was wiped out and convinced I would not ever stand on top of Long’s Peak.
The next year (2015) Matt and Jenna told me we should try it again. They suggested we ride on horseback to the Boulderfield to save time and energy. We also recruited the help of my friend Caleb who is a very experienced climber and suggested we take the Cable Route from the Boulderfield which, while more technical and difficult, would be much safer for me because it does not involve as much exposure to drop offs that the Keyhole Route has. As the plans developed, two other friends decided to tag along, Kristen and Jesse. As the date neared, the plan to use horses completely fell apart and it was decided we would hike the whole thing again.
In December of 2014, I started working out in a local gym focusing on muscular endurance and cardio. On the first day of the hike, it was me, Jenna, Matt, and Kristen. We started around six A.M. and what a difference it was. Thanks to regular exercise and knowing better what I was getting myself into, what had taken ten hours before only took six hours the second time.
It was crazy windy that day and people coming down were saying it probably wasn’t safe to summit but since we were only going as far as the Boulderfield that day we pressed on. We reached the camp site about noon and from there Matt had to head back down. The girls and I set up camp and spent the afternoon and evening napping and playing brain games. Because of the wind we stayed in the tent most of the time. Later that night, Caleb showed up and we all fell asleep.
Jesse arrived the next morning and we were ready to go. Once again, I made some poor decisions. I didn’t think this last section would take very long so I didn’t bring my water bottle or any additional food. Caleb and Jesse went ahead to set up the equipment for the technical part while Jenna and Kristen helped me across the Boulderfield. This was extremely slow going as they had to help me safely cross the huge gaps between boulders without breaking any bones.
The technical part of the Cable Route is a 150 ft. slab of rock. The climb is not very difficult and there are plenty of holds but Caleb had me use mechanical ascenders to speed the process up. From there the rest is a big scramble over a bunch of massive boulders. Thank God I was wearing a helmet because I probably bashed my head into every single rock on the way up. I also cut my hands and shins up pretty good as well.
As we neared the summit it looked as if a storm might be heading our way. We stopped and debated if we should turn around, but Jenna said it best. “I don’t care if we are up there for two fucking minutes, but we are not turning around now.” While probably not the safest decision it paid off because the storm didn’t end up coming our way. When I finally got to the top, they led me to the tallest rock and I stood up on it, raised my arms, and roared for about 30 straight seconds. At that moment my shit didn’t stink, and I was invincible. We stayed on top for about 20 minutes signing our names in the ledger, sharing water, and taking photos. My biggest thought was that I didn’t care if I died on the way down because at least I made it to the top.
The descent was long and grueling. When we got back to the bottom of the technical part Kristen, Jesse, and Caleb had to head back down to the trailhead. As Jenna and I very slowly made our way back across the Boulderfield I was wiped out. At one point, I seriously thought I would have to just sleep between some rocks and Jenna was on the verge of tears.
We both sucked it up and kept going though and finally made it back to camp where we hugged each other for five minutes. It had been a 14-hour day, I was super dehydrated, sunburned, wind burned, and bleeding from multiple places but I made it! The worst was now behind me. Jenna and I made dinner and drank gallons of water before heading to bed. The next morning, we packed up and took a leisurely pace down stopping just below tree line for a long lunch break.
It took about eight hours to reach the parking lot, but man was I elated when my foot touched asphalt. I later found out that I was just the second blind person ever to summit Long’s Peak. We had a huge celebration that night and word spread about my hike quickly. Within a week the Estes Park Trail Gazette had published a story on their front page and soon the papers in Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins had picked it up. Though I have hiked hundreds of miles since then and summited 4 more 14ers, I don’t think I have ever felt quite as accomplished as I did from Long’s.
Do you have any advice for hikers?
My advice to other hikers is that, in the end, nobody else knows better than you what you are capable of. Listen to the advice of seasoned hikers, train your body, and always be prepared but ultimately you are the only one who knows how far you can push yourself.
Want to learn more about Colt? Read more about him here.