COLORADO, USA – This past week, speed climber Erin Ton posted a photo and caption on Instagram that almost immediately generated controversy: “Women’s Self-Supported 14er Speed Record: 14 days 10 hours. 365 miles, 159,356 feet of elevation gain…” You might think, based on that quote, that Erin just finished climbing all 58 of Colorado’s fourteeners, unsupported and in record time.
In reality, she climbed 57 of the 58 peaks; she neglected to mention she skipped Culebra Peak, the only privately owned 14er in Colorado that charges for access – $150 to climb.
A History of Skirting the Rules
Ton has a history with Culebra Peak – she was caught trespassing on the peak in 2021 to avoid paying the access fee. The Ranch staff personally walked her down the mountain, a moment captured in an Instagram post of hers, where she flips them off – even though she was violating Leave No Trace ethics and breaking the law.
Many in the 14er community speculated that she could not get a permit to climb Culebra Peak due to this previous incident – a perspective that Ton herself suggested in a 14ers.com forum post asking if she could use someone else’s permit.
However, ranch managers have since clarified publicly that Erin would be welcome back to summit the 14er – so long as she followed the rules, paid for a permit, and signed a waiver as previous record-setters have done.
The Decision to Skip Culebra Peak
That said, it appears Ton wanted to climb Culebra Peak and tried to get a permit – but she waited too late. She wrote on June 15th, “I feel obligated to climb Culebra for the purposes of keeping the record consistent.” She was informed that reservations are issued to specific people and that they were likely already gone for the season. She additionally stated, “I have said the only reason I would ever pay is to set the speed record. Reservations are all booked.”
Reservations usually fill up early in the year, as the ranch only allows hiking until July 31st, when the hunting season begins. Rather than wait to try her record attempt the next season, she moved forward without a permit. She may have hoped to sneak back on the peak again or show up and beg for entry. However, permission never came, and Culebra was never climbed.
Aggressive Responses Make Things Worse
To make matters worse, when others in the climbing community reached out to ask her about Culebra Peak, she deleted their comments and banned them from her Instagram page. I was banned about 5-minutes after I posted to ask if she climbed Mount Lindsey and the Decalibron without permission. She has additionally posted scathing criticism of other hikers she came across on her attempt, writing on Strava, ‘these dudes think they are so tough because they walk up one 14er and then go to town to get a burger and beer after.’
She also engaged in repeated ad hominem attacks against those questioning her decision to skip Culebra while still claiming to set a new record – a reasonable thing to ask. She deleted some of these critical comments as news spread of the controversy, but they remain saved on several online forums documenting her attempt.
More Details and Explanations Emerge
Several days later, amid backlash and rising controversy, Ton acknowledged publicly that she did not climb Culebra Peak, and claimed she never intended to in the first place. She said she wanted FKT officials to adopt a new record category for climbing all the 14ers except for Culebra, because it is privately owned and requires a fee to climb.
Problematically, she posted this explanation in an Instagram story that disappears after 24 hours, so we cannot link to it and no one can see it any longer. Her original post, which continues to claim she set a new 14er speed record, remains unedited on her account with 3,700+ likes and counting.
This new statement also contradicts her initial statements six weeks ago when she searched online for a permit to climb the peak. It remains an open question if she truly intended to be transparent about skipping Culebra Peak, or if she hoped to find a way to climb it but never did. Or worse, she planned to ignore the peak the entire time and hoped no one noticed.
It should be noted that all previous FKT record setters, both male and female, have climbed Culebra Peak by getting the required permits and reservations in advance.
Where Does This Leave Us?
Ton’s accomplishment – climbing 57 peaks in a two-week period – is undeniably impressive and worthy of celebrating. However, Ton’s aggressive behavior and lack of transparency have many in the community questioning, rather than applauding, her actions. In one fiery post, she said she wishes Culebra Peak was closed so that no one could climb it – arguing that would be better than the current standard of charging for access. When combined with her Instagram post claiming she set a new 14er ascent record, along with her censorship of comments questioning that fact, we are left with a murky situation and a lot of open questions.
Ton states that her record should be the first self-supported climb of the ABC (’All but Culebra’) 14er list, which is not currently listed on the FKT record-keeping website. However, this perspective poses even more questions: Are more 14er FKT records necessary and appropriate? Is it reasonable to maintain record categories for 14er sub-lists? Is Culebra Peak distinct enough from other peaks to justify a category of speed climbs without it?
In my opinion, creating a new FKT record category for those who fail to secure the correct permits does not fit the spirit of these speed attempts. Ultimately, only those who record these records can make the final decision.
What Can We Learn From This Incident?
Where does that leave Ton and the rest of the 14er community? It is too early to say. However, the entire incident underscores a few key lessons that all hikers and climbers can take into account:
- Kindness is everything. Ton’s aggressive commentary online only fueled the flames of this controversy, belittling other hikers and suggesting it would be better if Culebra Peak was closed to the public without exceptions. Had Ton approached this project from a place of humility and kindness, none of this likely would’ve happened.
- Planning ahead is critical for FKT attempts. The core of a 14er FKT attempt is logistical planning – how do you get from one peak to the next in the fastest and most efficient way possible? Previous FKT record-setters agree that the Culebra Peak permit is one of the most important things to consider when planning an FKT attempt because they are limited and sell out fast. Those considering such an attempt should focus on securing a permit well in advance, along with a ticket on the Durango-Needleton train that leads to the Chicago Basin.
- Trespassing during FKT attempts is unacceptable. While Ton did not ultimately trespass on Culebra Peak, she did trespass to climb five peaks: Mt Lindsey, Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross. We encourage all FKT record attempters to contact landowners and work towards legal access. Trespassing violates Leave No Trace ethics – it is never okay, and doing it publicly like this puts future access at risk in other places and for other people. Do not trespass.
- Be Transparent. If Ton added a single clarification to her Instagram that she hadn’t climbed Culebra Peak, none of this would have happened. Additionally, deleting comments and criticism only makes people more suspicious about your claims – not less.
Editorial Note: We contacted Erin Ton and asked for answers to these questions and to hear her perspective on this issue, but she blocked us on Instagram and did not respond. If she contacts us, we will update with her comments.