Chances are, unless you’re a resident of Colorado or an avid hiker in the Rocky Mountain West, you may not know what the colloquial term, “fourteener” signifies.
In the vernacular, a 14er is one of Colorado’s 54 mountain peaks that exceed 14,000 feet in elevation. Today there are 14er hiking clubs, organizations and Web sites dedicated to the peaks and those who strive to accumulate the most trips to the most summits, coveting the experience like so many trophies or medals.
As hiking to the peaks has gained in popularity, so have the problems associated with increase in trail traffic and its impact on the fragile alpine environment.
Officials with the U.S. Forest Service say that a growing trend of leaving mementos behind to signify one’s successful hike to a 14er summit is becoming a growing problem for public land managers.
And, now there’s also graffiti.
“Graffiti is something new,” said Forest Service peak manager Loretta McEllhiney, who has recently investigated incidents involving the use of felt-tip markers on rocks located on top of 14,443-foot Mount Elbert near Leadville—the state’s highest peak.
McEllhiney told The Summit Daily News she has removed plastic dolls, stuffed animals and even a 100-pound granite block from the summit. But one recent graffiti culprit—obviously not the sharpest Sharpie-wielding hiker on the planet—not only wrote his full name on a boulder atop Mt. Elbert, but also penned his e-mail address.
As a result, Forest Service authorities and hikers outraged by the defacing of the mountaintop tracked down 21-year-old Lewis Daugherty of Fort Collins—within hours of his offense.
“It was creepy,” Daugherty told the Summit newspaper. “Within seven hours, they knew everything about me except my Social Security number. Somebody even sent an e-mail to my boss.”
To his credit, the novice hiker apologized for his thoughtless deed and quickly made the second 14er hike of his life--back up Mt. Elbert--to clean the boulder bearing his name and e-mail.
Has he learned his lesson?
“I didn’t really know it was technically illegal. It was my first fourteener,” he explained. “I tried to make it good. If I have to pay any more consequences, I will, with no shame.”