Press "Enter" to skip to content

Summit Myopia

By Maisie Ramsay

Only the women remained.

It was the middle of November, and they had been trudging uphill for nearly six hours. More than a mile of elevation gain lay between the trailhead and the goal: Mount Oxford, a destination that first required us to summit Mount Belford.

The male component of the team – two men and two dogs – had long since fallen back, deterred by poor gear, injury and the suspicion that perhaps one mountain was enough for the day. The women, however, pressed on.

The journey began with Mount Belford’s northwest ridge, a relentlessly steep slog through windblown snow with all the traction of confectioners sugar. Then another mile and a half to Mount Oxford, separated from Belford by a broad saddle that tapered at its western terminus to a steep, narrow ridge.

The traverse meant losing and regaining 1,000 feet of elevation, and traveling three extra miles, adding hours of toil to the journey.

What possessed them to embark on this fool’s errand? Well, Mount Oxford happens to be over 14,000 feet. 

Photo by Maisie Ramsey
Photo by Maisie Ramsey

When it comes to Colorado mountains, 14,000 feet is the magic number. The Sawatch Range boasts 15 such lofty peaks, and I was determined to hike all of them. The precious summer hiking season was devoted to the remaining Sawatch fourteeners on my list: Mount Antero, Huron Peak, La Plata Peak, Mount Elbert, Mountain of the Holy Cross, Mount Columbia and Mount Oxford.

By November, only Mount Oxford’s 14,160-foot summit was still unclimbed. Time was running out.

That’s how I came to be dragging my hiking partner, Lindsey, up that confounded heap of talus long after the peak season came to a close.

Not for the first time, I questioned this self-imposed exercise in harebrained goal setting. An entire season had just been squandered on the most crowded trails outside the Front Range. There was no exploring in far-flung places. There were no adventures. There was just that silly little goal, which had now been achieved. Congratulations to me.

Standing on Mount Oxford’s summit, a vast ocean of snow-capped peaks stretching to the western horizon, I looked out at places I would have rather visited last summer. None of them had anything to do with the magical 14,000-foot mark. There was Silver King Lake and its mountainous guardians; Mount Harvard’s shapely neighbor, Birthday Peak; the unfrequented slopes of Quail Mountain, Ervin Peak, Mount Blaurock.

These were all places I could have explored had I not been too busy chasing arbitrary points above sea level.

Hikers, or at least the ones who frequent sites like and, seem to be obsessed with numbers. How high is the mountain? Is it above 13,000 feet? Is it above 14,000 feet? If so, by how much? Does it have the requisite 300 feet of prominence to qualify as a ranked summit?

Mountains are categorized by range, elevation and technical difficulty. The standard routes, especially those on fourteeners, are extensively catalogued and documented. You can reconnoiter an entire trail from the comfort of your living room.

Somehow, overwhelmed by all this information, it was easy to lose track of why I wanted to go hiking in the first place. I suspect I’m not the only one. For all the data points collected on online, there doesn’t seem to be a ranking for natural beauty.

Hiking is not glamorous. It’s not exciting. It’s slow and tedious and exhausting. It’s not about the act itself, it’s about where it gets you.

Hiking, that most lowly of locomotion, will carry you deep into the Rocky Mountains. Your own two legs will transport you to secret wild places where the silence and solitude is absolute. Why limit this incredible instrument to trails overrun with hikers, bikers, dogs and the occasional nonprofit group? (All of whom were present at a mid-summer hike of Mount Elbert.)

My first forays into the Colorado wilderness were filled with a sense of wonder. Trip reports and guide books were my bibles. My decision to complete the Sawatch fourteeners this year took that sense of adventure and crushed it. One grunt up a mountain was much like another, except with differing views.

Reaching a summit is usually accompanied by a sense of accomplishment. As Lindsey and I descended into Missouri Gulch, the surrounding hillsides taking on the tangy hues of early sunset, it wasn’t accomplishment I felt, but liberation.

I was freed from my cursed goal, free to recapture the magic of exploring the outdoors, free to love nature again. I was a genie let out of its bottle, never to be captured again.

Maisie Ramsay is an amateur parrot tamer and beet pickler who would rather be hiking right now. Follow her escapades at