Beyond biking
Local pair embarks on human-powered tour of all of state's 14ers

David Paquette and Nick Ehrhardt take a practice run with loaded trailers up the lower flanks of Animas Mountain on Monday morning. On July 1, the two will embark on a completely self-supported tour of all of Colorado’s Fourteeners in an effort to raise awareness of conservation issues facing the peaks./Photo by Todd Newcomer

by Missy Votel

limbers, tree huggers, nature lovers – call them what you will. But whatever you do, don’t call David Paquette and Nick Ehrhardt peak baggers.

The duo, which will be attempting a human-powered ascent of all of Colorado’s Fourteeners starting next month (56 by their calculation), fairly bristle at the thought.

“I definitely don’t agree with that term,” said Paquette, 24.

Starting July 1 from Purgatory, he and Ehrhardt, 23, plan to ride their bikes to each trailhead and climb on foot from there. “Climbing these mountains isn’t about crossing them off a list,” he said. “It’s for enjoying them as they are.”

In fact, if there’s one thing these otherwise jovial college chums, whose banter often borders on a comedy routine, are dead serious about, it’s their upcoming mission. Although there is nothing they like better than spending time in the mountains, they have a more altruistic motive.

By undertaking such a grueling task, the two hope to raise awareness of the conservation issues facing these popular peaks. Along the way, they plan to educate those they meet on Leave No Trace and sustainable recreation practices. They also will be soliciting funds that will go toward trip expenses, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics in Boulder, and the Colorado 14er Initiative, an organization that works to protect and preserve the natural integrity of the state’s tallest peaks.

Appropriately enough, they have termed the trip “: An Environmental Initiative.” A map of the route, donation information and a trip blog is posted at

“Our hope is that we’ll have a huge amount of money available to donate to the 14ers Initiative and Leave No Trace,” said Paquette. “That’s what I’m most excited about. The money will go toward organizations that make the mountains a better place to live in.”

According to the Colorado 14ers Initiative, more than 500,000 people visit Colorado’s 14,000-plus-foot peaks every year. While some of the more remote ones have remained relatively pristine, increased use has taken a heavy toll on the more popular peaks and alpine basins. As a Colorado native and backpacking guide, Ehrhardt, who hatched the idea for the trip four years ago, has seen the effects firsthand.

“I’ve seen the impact poor stewardship of the land has caused,” he said. “Take Chicago Basin. You go back there, and there’s vivid evidence of where people have camped and that people have been there. The mountain goats, which are usually reclusive animals, now will eat out of people’s hands and are becoming a nuisance. A few have actually had to be put down because they’re charging people.”

More and more, visiting these peaks is becoming less and less of a wilderness experience, he said. Erosion, trash and wildlife disruption all have taken a toll and if left unabated, could destroy the experience for generations to come. Which is where the education part of the trip comes in, he said. Last week, the two took part in Peak 4 Stewards training at Mount Shavano, which was put on by CFI. They hope to put the instruction to practical use once in the field.

“This way, we’ll have the opportunity to educate people from the trail,” said Ehrhardt. “There’s beautiful stuff out there to enjoy and a right way to enjoy it.”

In fact, the two are encouraging anyone and everyone to come out and join them in their endeavor, reiterating that the trip is not about breaking records but getting their message out.

“We’re making sure that we’re never in the state of mind where we don’t want to stop and talk to people,” said Ehrhardt.

“Especially massage therapists and people carrying beer,” Paquette pipes in. Such a light-hearted approach and taking it slow is what the whole trip is about, he said.

“My first reason for wanting to do this is to show people that you don’t have to see the countryside traveling 70 mph,” he said. “It’s about smelling the honeysuckle as you’re walking by. It’s an experience you can’t get driving by in a car.”

Nevertheless, the two plan on keeping a relentless schedule, starting next week and finishing sometime in late-August.

“A peak a day, that’s the plan,” said Ehrhardt.

In order to stick to the timeline, they have planned all their meals in advance and will be mailing rations beforehand to specific destinations. To stay light on their feet, they will be pulling only the most crucial necessities in their bike trailers: bivy sacks, tarps, spare bike parts, duct tape. However, they note there will be some room for luxuries, with the mention of comfy shoes, pillows and camp chairs topping the list. Anything else – beer and pizza, namely – will have to be enjoyed during pit stops in the towns along the way.

And while the trip has been something the two have been looking forward to for more than a year (they planned to go last summer but Paquette had shoulder surgery), they realize it’s not going to be all cozy campfires and breathtaking vistas.

“I figure the first week’s going to be absolute hell,” said Paquette, only partly in jest. “When you break it down to 10 miles of hiking and 20 miles of biking a day, it doesn’t seem that bad. The challenge comes in doing it day after day.”

In preparation, Paquette, who works at Gardenswartz Outdoors, and Ehrhardt, who is working construction, have been doing a lot of trail running and riding, although they admit this only scratches the surface.

“You can’t really train for it, to an extent, it trains you,” said Ehrhardt. “All you can do is make sure you have a strong physical base.”

On the mental side, however, the two are confident that their years of friendship will help them weather any rough spots along the trail.

“We’ve been friends for a long time,” said Ehrhardt, who met Paquette during his freshman year at Iowa’s Luther College before transferring to Fort Lewis College. “We’ve just got to make sure we’re open and let each other know when we need space.”

Nevertheless, they realize the trip’s going to be an uphill battle, figuratively and literally.

“It’s been a lot of work in our heads, and now it’s going to be a lot of work in our legs,” said Ehrhardt. “It’s a challenge, and we know it.”

In fact, to their knowledge, only one person has been successful in completing such a trip.

“A guy did it 10 years ago, said Ehrhardt.

“But he had vehicle support,” Paquette quickly added.

So, while there is a possibility they could break some kind of obscure record somewhere out there, the two are genuinely unconcerned.

“I don’t care if we break records, we’re doing this for the environment,” said Paquette. “The point is not to do as many peaks as quickly as possible, but to do them as environmentally as possible.” •

Nick Ehrhardt, left, and Dave Paquette pose with their rigs on Animas Mountain earlier this week. The two college friends plan on a schedule of about a peak a day starting July 1./Photo by Todd Newcomer.



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