Gerry Roach – Mr. 14er (and more)


In the climbing world there are a few people who uniquely stand out:Messner, Viesturs, Moro, House, and many more – you know the names. Andthen there are those climbers who have forgotten more climbs than mostpeople have attempted. They may not have been the most difficult orgarnered the fame but they were climbs nonetheless. Gerry Roach ofColorado has a lock on this category.

If you live (or climb) in Colorado you know him from his famous guide book simply called Colorado's Fourteeners: from hikes to climbs.It is the premier guide book for all things 14ers describing 250 routesin sufficient detail for most people to make the summit. In total, hehas authored 15 books.

But who is this guy and what is he up to these days? First a bit of background.

Gerry's early years were flavored with international experiencesstarting with a year in France at age 7 with his family. Soon theymoved to Boulder, Colorado – a rock climbing mecca even in the 1950's.He started climbing rocks and mountains and flew a plane before hedrove a car. His love affair with the international life continuedafter graduating from the University of Washington in 1964 with adegree in math when Gerry served as a teacher in the Peace Corps inBhubaneshwar, India not long after the Peace Corps was formed.

Today, more than 60 years of travel and mountaineering, Gerry hasexplored and lived in dozens of countries and been on more than 30major expeditions. In addition to pursuing a career as a computerscientist, he found time to run a university outdoor program and teachOutward Bound in Colorado and Alaska.

After climbing Mount Everest in 1983, Gerry went on to become thesecond person to climb the highest peak on each of the 7 continents in1985. In 2003, Gerry became the first person to climb every major peakover 16,000 feet in North America. Gerry received the Sierra Club’scoveted Farquhar lifetime achievement award for mountaineering in 2005and the Colorado Mountain Club’s rare Ellingwood Golden Ice Ax Award in2006.

Gerry is not alone in his ventures. His wife, Jennifer, has climbedover 1000 Colorado peaks including all the 14ers and all 637 13ers. Sheis the co-author on several of the guide books.

Q: How are you spending you time these days?
I'm not retired, I just can't get a job anymore. That line started outas a joke, but has turned out to be true.  So, I'm writing, climbing,and organizing trips (see

Q: How often do you get out and climb today?

Every week

Q: Will there be a print update of your famous Colorado 14ers guidebook?

Yes. It's in progress now and should be available in paper for the2011 climbing season. I'm also working on an online version that willbe available sooner.

Q: People know you for the Colorado 14ers but you have a love of the 13ers as well. Can you tell us a bit about your 13ers?

I'm close to finishing the famous long list of all 637 Coloradoranked peaks over 13,000 feet. I consider the list to be a bank accountof great outings, and I'll be a bit sad to actually finish thelist. I'll set the record for having taken the longest to complete thelist. When people complain about the crowded 14ers, I tell them toclimb obscure 13ers. We typically go all day without seeing anyone.

Q: Your guidebooks have a huge number of routes in such detail, over what period did you climb all those routes?

I started accumulating the route information in the 1950s. I climbevery peak or rock in my guides, but there are still a few spots Ihaven't touched.

Q: Longs Peak is special to you. Why does it stand out?

I started out as a rock climber and gravitated naturally to routeson Longs' east face. That's where I found my feet as an alpineclimber. Back then, the Diamond had not been climbed and there was alot of mystery on the face.

Q: What do you think about climbing records these days: speed, ski, disabilities, etc. Is there a place for these in climbing?

There will always be a need for speed – it's the American way. Ienjoy watching the records progress. Extreme activities in themountains are fine as long as they don't hurt the environment or otherpeople. There are wilderness regulations that limit group size andorganized events, and some activities aren't appropriate. The trendseems to be for individual efforts, which are fine.

Q: What are your thoughts on PLBs and cell phone in thewilderness. Any thoughts on the debate relative to the deaths on Mt.Hood and thus requiring PLBs to be carried by all climbers?

PLBs (and Sat phones) are a nice bit of modern technology. You canuse it or ignore it as you choose. I used a PLB to help save a life inMexico, and was quite impressed with the system. Requiring them isanother issue. Being old school, I think we should always be free toget lost. Just don't expect to be rescued.

Q: Any desire to ever return to one the the 7 Summits?

Well, I have. I've done Denali three times, Aconcagua twice andKilimanjaro twice. I was also high on Everest twice – South Col in 1976and summit in 1983.  I'd like to go back and do the north side ofElbrus.

Q: Do you have a favorite lesson from all your climbs?

The answer to the question, WHO CLIMBS UP is in my book TranscendentSummits. See This is just a pointer to thelong answer.

For short answers I like:

“Gravity never sleeps”
“Physics Wins”
“Geologic time includes now”

Q: You summited Everest in 1983. If you were to summit today, how would the feeling compare to that first summit?

Good question. It would be different for sure. In 1976, we were theonly team on the mountain. In 1983, we were the only party on the SouthCol Route.  On both trips we had to lead the entire route.  I take somepride in knowing that I helped lead some of every portion of the routefrom base to summit. Now, it's pay, clip and go. The O2 equipment ismuch better today as well. A traffic jam at the Hillary Step woulddrive me nuts.

I know that I am personally appreciative for all the research Gerryput into his guide books. Without his books, I probably would not haveventured into the 14ers like I have. You can read more about Gerry onhis website. Thanks Gerry for your time and best of luck on your next adventure.

Climb On!


Arnette is a speaker, Mountaineer and Alzheimer's Advocate. You can read more on his site.