Jon MacManus was doing a 500-piece puzzle in Lake City Sunday night. Looking at all of the pieces scattered on the table helped him put his recent feat in perspective.
On Saturday, MacManus climbed his 637th 13,000-foot peak in Colorado, completing his quest to climb every thirteener in the state 41 years after he began.
“It was a big puzzle,” he said. “It gave me an idea how daunting of a task this was.”
The puzzle didn’t even have as many pieces as there are 13,000-foot peaks, all of which required a lot more effort than putting a couple pieces together.
MacManus completed the quest by climbing an unnamed 13,034-foot peak north of Creede near Rat Creek on Saturday with over 20 of his friends.
When he looked at the mountains left on his list about four years ago, he said all of the remaining climbs were really hard, except for unnamed mountain he called Rat Creek Peak. So he saved that for last so he could share the experience.
“It was awesome,” he said. “It worked out the way I wanted.”
MacManus, who’s 69, began the adventure when he was 28 and living in Denver. He said he went up I-70 with his boss and climbed unnamed 13,215 peak. His boss had already climbed all of the state’s fourteeners and was working on climbing the state’s 100 highest peaks.
The two climbed together and his boss eventually climbed the state’s 200 highest peaks.
MacManus followed his lead and when he climbed Mount Wilson and El Diente, he finished climbing all of the state’s fourteeners, its 100 highest and its 200 highest peaks in the same day.
He said the most peaks he climbed in a single year was more than 125.
While it may have taken MacManus 41 years to climb every thirteener, he also took a lot of breaks in that time. He got into ultra running for a time and started the Run Through Time marathon in Salida. He’s lived in the Salida area for the last 18 years. He’s also climbed lots of mountains that weren’t on the list in that time. This year he climbed Utah’s tallest peak, Kings Peak, 13,527, and also climbed some mountains in Montana.
About 8 or 9 years ago he looked at his list of thirteeners and realized he had 250 left. “I thought, I’ve got to get on this,” he said. “And I started bagging them.”
When MacManus first started his quest, he said he would often climb two or three mountains in the same day. As he climbed more mountains on the list, however, he realized that he had more and more stragglers left with the peaks spread apart. For some hikes, MacManus would have to back pack in, camp, climb the mountain one day and then hike out the next day.
Making the challenge even tougher is that many of the state’s thirteeners don’t have trails to their peaks.
“I used to just wing it,” he said. “I’m really good at looking at something and figuring out what works.”
Eventually, however, he was able to start getting some information on hikes from a site called John’s List where hikers would post information.
Even armed with information, the mountains still presented plenty of challenges.
“Some of them are ridiculous,” he said, thinking back to hiking up muddy gullies filled with snow and ice. “Sometimes I’d think, ‘I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this’,” he said.
MacManus, however, prefers the experience of climbing a thirteener more than taking a trail to the top of a fourteener.
“I like doing thirteeners more than fourteeners,” MacManus said. “They’re harder, (sometimes) there’s no trails and there are no people. Fourteeners are ridiculous now - you can see 150 people up top, which can take the thrill out of it. On a thirteener if you see someone, it’s pretty cool.”
He said Lizard Head was the hardest peak to bag, noting that the rope climb to the summit is rated either 5-8 or 5-9.
“Once I got that, I knew I’d get the thirteeners,” he said. “It was kind of a glorious day; my friend Chip got me over that.”
The Gore Range, meanwhile is probably his favorite place to hike. “There’s a lot of thirteeners and they’re so hard,” he said.
The Sangre de Cristos, he said, “have some wonderful peaks, but some are really hard to get to.”
While MacManus may have finished his quest, he’s not done climbing. He said he’d like to find some new mountain ranges and go climb their highest peak.
“I might go try that just to see different stuff,” he said.
What he learned on the quest, he said, was also like the puzzle.
“Just like in the jigsaw puzzle, don’t give up,” he said. “Do one piece at a time and you’ll get there eventually.”