Evergreen’s Roger Fertig is a hiker.
Scaling every 14’er in Colorado? Not child’s play … but there are only 54 of those. Not quite enough for Fertig.
Passes are his passion. Passes that connect two mountains or two watershed valleys. Passes, like peaks, important enough to have a name. He’s done 500 in Colorado. So far.
Like the one he just summited on Aug. 12. The 500th. It’s called “Rock of Ages,” not far from Telluride. It’s 4.1 miles bottom to top, starting at about 10,000 feet and finishing above 13,000.
And it wasn’t a walk in the park.
“Rocks and scree fields, followed by rocks and scree fields, and it was steep,” Fertig said.
Sounds tough for a 26-year-old. Fertig, however, is 76.
He got his start when he was a little boy as his family moved from Oklahoma to eastern Washington. It was his first sight of mountains, which he says is the oldest memory he has. He never forgot it.
In 1970, when he moved as a young man to Colorado and got his first peek at Pikes Peak, he was hooked. He puts it simply: he wanted to see “beyond the beyond.”
That’s why, since he summited his first pass 50 years ago, he hasn’t stopped.
He had thought he would. Early on, he’d told himself, “I’m going to do a hundred passes in my lifetime.” For Summit 100, he hauled a banner up to 12,919 feet, the top of Triangle Pass, near Aspen.
But it had taken him only 10 years to reach that century milestone. There were more passes to scale, so he made another banner for the 125th pass, then for the 150th and so on.
By 20 years into his passion, Fertig decided he would do every pass in the state. His father-in-law gave him a simple book about Colorado, now frayed at the edges after all those decades of use, called “Passes.” It lists fewer than 300. He’s done them all … and has added many more himself.
“What drove me was this passion,” he said, “this love.”
He knows it’s not prestigious like climbing all the 14’ers, but it’s a personal passion, and it fills his life. “These passes are sacred to me. They’re my friends.”
But they’re not always so friendly themselves. He tried getting up 10,000-foot-plus Buffalo Pass near Steamboat Springs. But three or four times weather, sometimes snow, stopped him before the top. But only temporarily. Fertig says with satisfaction, “I finally got it.”
Or there was the time 10 years ago with his son, Jordan, on Comanche Peak Pass north of Estes Park. They had summited above 12,000 feet and were headed down but still above tree line and fully exposed when thunder and lightning struck.
“You keep moving but you want to separate. If one guy is hit by a strike, the other guy’s alive,” Fertig said.
They lived to tell the story.
Conquering passes is not the same for Fertig today as it was when he started 50 years ago. Not only because more passes have turned up on the map but because more years have turned up in his life. His summary of the toll that takes is short and simple: “It’s harder. I’m slower.”
But not too slow to stop. “Rock of Ages” might be his last “banner” pass, but it’s not his last pass. There are still a few more he hasn’t seen. And why would he stop now? After doing 500 of them, if you ask him his favorite, he’ll tell you, “The next one.”