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To heaven and back, Grand Mesa Outdoors owner climbs all 58 Colorado fourteeners

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Hiking fourteeners

Henderson finishes at Pyramid Peak, looking out over the Maroon Bells. Pyramid Peak was the last fourteener in Colorado that Henderson had not yet finished. Now she's done them all.

Out here in the Western United States, there’s a term that flatlanders may be completely unaware of — fourteener.

A fourteener is a mountain peak that exceeds an elevation of 14,000 feet above sea level. For reference, Delta sits at approximately 4,875 feet. Out of 96 known fourteeners in the entirety of the United States of America, Colorado has 58 of those, more than any other state.

Hiking silhouette

Little Bear in the Sangre de Cristo Range.

That makes Colorado a unique attraction for avid climbers who love the challenge of high altitudes and nearly out-of-this-world views from the top.

Locally, that includes Sarah Henderson, the owner of Grand Mesa Outdoors in Cedaredge, who finished climbing the last of Colorado’s extensive collection of fourteener mountain peaks in August.

“I started in 2014,” Henderson said. “I actually climbed Sneffels; that was my first one, and I climbed it Aug. 31, 2014. That was my only mountain that year, and so then I started the rest of the 57 in 2015.”

Castle Peak

Castle Peak.

So it essentially took five years to climb them all in her free time.

For Henderson, Grand Mesa Outdoors is still a relatively new venture, as the outdoor supply store only opened in November of last year. She’d left a comfortable and stable management position with Tractor Supply, deciding that she wanted to not only live the dream in her spare time, but also to follow suit in her line of work.

Castle Peak summit

Henderson reaches the top of Castle Peak, at 14,265 feet.

By the time she opened Grand Mesa Outdoors, she had only four fourteeners left to climb.

“I live what I do for work for sure,” Henderson said. “I had a great career [with Tractor Supply]; I was with them for many, many years. It was a wonderful place to be, but this is my dream.”

Hiking Sangre de Cristo range

Blanca and Ellingwood traverse in the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Henderson said she hadn’t made a conscious decision to climb all of Colorado’s fourteeners at the time she’d climbed her first. She made that goal later on, possibly after she’d done around 20, she guessed.

“I just have always gravitated toward peaks and I grew up in Hotchkiss,” Henderson said. “I’d been in the Elks my whole life and it just seemed like a good idea one day.”

Climbing Maroon Bells

North Maroon Bells.

Nothing ever goes right the first time, of course, and Henderson recalled she was unfortunately unprepared when she went to climb Sneffels.

“I climbed in denim capris, a little wind breaker and a pair of tennis shoes,” Henderson said. “I look back at that picture, so ridiculous, I actually have it here.”

On top of Maroon Bells

South Maroon Bells.

Nevertheless, it started her journey. Henderson has a copy of the book “Colorado’s Fourteeners,” which gives extensive information on all 58 fourteener peaks. In the table of contents, Henderson wrote the dates next to each peak as she completed them, finally finishing with Pyramid Peak on Aug. 17.

Along the way, Henderson redid a few nearby favorites. She figured that her favorites overall included Wetterhorn, which is in the northern San Juan mountains, and Crestone Needle in the Sangre de Cristo Range of the Rocky Mountains. Wetterhorn’s peak is “spectacular” and Crestone Needle was a wild adventure in which it took Henderson eight hours to climb the peak before continuing on to climb the needle.

Climbing the rocks

Maroon bells traverse.

She’s done all the state’s fourteeners now, but Henderson’s not one to refrain from making a new goal. In fact, she already has.

“I have been in the Elks ever since I was kid, like I said, and those mountains have held such an appeal to me,” Henderson said. “I grew up as a cowgirl, you know. I was riding horses my whole life, so we rode up there. I ran cattle up there, I worked for the Volk Ranch and rode permit for many, many years, so I’ve just spent a lot of time up there. Now I’m focusing on climbing those peaks.”

Knife Edge

Henderson climbs Knife Edge on Capitol Peak.

Henderson’s personal and work life compliment each other as she learns more about different products and activities, particularly as she has gravitated toward peaks, though her new store has a primary market with people going on the Grand Mesa. She has been stand up paddle boarding and tying flies throughout the summer, learning about what the area demands from an outdoor store.

For instance, Henderson quickly learned that next to no one wanted pre-tied flies. They weren’t selling. She adjusted accordingly. She has noted favorite brands and products, popular activities in the area and comfortable price ranges. She’s determined to provide quality gear for the terrain, and the town has seemed to realize it.

Mountain goat

Henderson comes across a mountain goat high up on Pyramid Peak.

Henderson said that, while things were a bit slow in the beginning, she had great business over the summer as she fine tuned her inventory. Her broadest takeaway was that it was better to have a lot of less than it was to have a little of everything.

Flower on Maroon Bells hike

Beyond the flower, Pyramid Peak is visible from the north Maroon Bells.

Fall and winter items will be on display soon. Until then, she’ll boost other people’s adventures and go have her own on the side.

This story was first published in the Delta County Independent.

Lucas Vader is a staff writer for the Delta County Independent.

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