IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) -- Most visitors are happy to scale Colorado's towering Rockies in a vehicle.
A smaller but hardy group of travelers -- about 200,000 a year -- isn't happy until they have hiked the state's tallest peaks, nicknamed the 14ers.
And for an even smaller, even hardier group of about 1,000, the challenge isn't met until 55 peaks of 14,000-feet or more have been hiked or climbed.
Gerry Roach is one of them.
''We need the mountains now more than ever because, as John Muir said, we go to the mountains to get their good tidings. We go there to uplift our spirits,'' said Roach, only the second person to have climbed the highest peaks on all seven continents.
''If you live in Chicago, imagine how wonderful it would be to be on top of a Colorado mountain. Most of what we touch in our daily lives is of people, and the mountains are not. They are of God,'' he said.
Most of Colorado's 14ers -- there are 54, 55, or 56, depending on who is doing the counting -- can be hiked or walked up. Many peaks have registers where climbers may record hometowns and the dates of ascents.
The ascents have become so popular that a group called the Colorado 14ers Initiative has formed to help clean up the most popular sites.
Many of the mountain peaks were named after explorers:
- The 14,264-foot Mount Evans near Denver is named for the second governor of the Colorado Territory.
- The 14,110-foot Pikes Peak near Colorado Springs is named for Zebulon Pike. The view from the top inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write ''America the Beautiful.''
- Longs Peak, in the Rocky Mountain National Park, named for explorer Maj. Stephen Long, is the busiest. ''There can be hundreds of people in front of you, knocking rocks down on your head,'' said climber Andrew Hamilton. ''Don't go there looking for solitude.''
Sixteen peaks require some technical ability, according to Roach's guidebook, ''Colorado Fourteeners, From Hikes to Climbs.''
The peaks are found in six mountain ranges.
Longs Peak, Mount Evans and Pikes Peak are in the Front Range. The Ten Mile-Mosquito Range south of Interstate 70 near Breckenridge and Leadville has several gentle peaks, including Quandary, at 14,265 feet.
The Sawatch Range has 15, more than the entire state of California. Its northern boundary is west of Vail near Interstate 70 and includes Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the state's most beautiful peaks. Five of the southern half carry the names of universities and are called the ''Collegiate Peaks.''
Ten 14ers are in the Sangre de Cristo, or ''Blood of Christ,'' range in southern Colorado and are among the most challenging in the state with a different geological history than other ranges.
The seven 14ers in the Elk Range near Aspen are among the most rugged. The other most challenging peaks are in the San Juans, a remote, 4,000-square mile area southwestern Colorado. Thirteen 14ers are in the San Juans.
Hamilton, a 26-year-old software engineer from Jamestown, Colo., believes all 55 could be done in three weeks.
He should know. Hamilton was the first to do all 55 in 14 days.
But even doing them in three, two-week vacations would not be a walk in the park, he thinks.
''A lot of it depends on the planning. If you take the time to research it then it definitely could be done in three summer vacations,'' said Hamilton.
In reviewing his own 14-day ordeal, and the paths of two others who beat his 1999 record, Hamilton found some shortcuts he missed. The unofficial rules require a hike of at least 3,000 feet from the nearest road.
Roach's guidebook carries a list of 10 essentials for every hike: map, compass, sunglasses-sunscreen, extra food, extra clothing, headlamp-flashlamp, first aid supplies, firestarter, matches and a knife.
Even with the best planning, almost anything can happen. ''You can get any kind of weather up there,'' Hamilton said. Several hikers die each year from lightning strikes on Colorado mountains.
''Colorado is famous for apocalyptic lightning storms that threaten not just your life, but your soul as well,'' says Roach's guidebook.
Hamilton came up with his own plan when he encountered a climber whose friend had fallen to his death on Mount Eolus, among the Needle Mountains 15 miles southeast of Silverton.
While the climber went down the mountain to summon help, Hamilton went up to find the body. ''I did what I could. I covered up his face and climbed to the top where the cell phone would work and called for help. I still have nightmares about his face,'' he said.
After many attempts on a cell phone he gave search-and-rescue teams enough information to reach the scene. It put Hamilton behind schedule and left him shivering on the mountaintop with nothing but a space blanket to keep him warm. ''It was really wet and I got soaked.''
On the Net:
Colorado Mountain Club home page: http://www.cmc.org
Colorado Fourteeners Initiative: http://www.coloradofourteeners.org/
Gerry Roach: http://www.climb.mountains.com
Andrew Hamilton's story: http://www.andrewhamilton.com/14ers/
(Distributed by The Associated Press)
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