Climb Every Mountain

Aspen trees on a hillside approach their peak colors Sunday, Sept. 26, 2004 in the San Juan Mountains in San Miguel County near Telluride, Colo. This weekend should be be prime for viewing the aspen trees in most of Colorado's Rocky Mountains.
This column was written by CBS News Early Show Co-Anchor Harry Smith.

When I lived out west I loved hiking in the Rockies. In Colorado there are 53 mountains that are 14,000 feet or higher. They call them the "Fourteeners."

Come summer, the summits of all these mountains are accessible without technical gear. That's right. No picks. No ropes. You can hike right up to the top. You need water, and decent shoes help too, but summer thunderstorms are the real danger.

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I got a late start one Sunday morning and made the summit of a mountain just as a giant thunderhead cracked above us. I was certain one of our party was going to be hit by lightning. We got scraped up diving for cover but no one was seriously hurt. It's a mistake you only make once, believe me.

Twenty years ago when you made the summit of one of these mountains you occasionally encountered another hiker or two. Nowadays -- especially on the peaks close to Denver -- there are dozens of folks on the summit, dozens more on their way up. And dogs too.

People often leave the trail, trampling through the very delicate tundra, creating new paths that turn into erosion rutted gullies. As my friends from the Colorado Fourteeners initiative say, these mountains are in danger of being loved to death. I worked with a volunteer trail repair crew a couple of summers ago. It's hard -- trying to right the wrongs done to Mother Nature. So find a mountain this summer and climb it, but be gentle, so others can follow in your footsteps

Harry's daily commentary can be heard on manyCBS Radio News affiliates across the country.

By Harry Smith