Atmosphere

On Top of the World

Award-winning journalist Mark Obmascik's dishes on his new book about summiting Colorado's 54 fourteeners.

June 2009

When award-winning journalist Mark Obmascik found himself in a couch-bound rut at 44, he took a cue from his 12-year-old son and set out to summit each of Colorado's 54 fourteeners in just one year. In Halfway to Heaven: My White-knuckled—and Knuckleheaded—Quest for the Rocky Mountain High (Free Press), he chronicles his adventures as he battles self-doubt, sheds a few pounds, and meets a slew of quirky hiking partners on 14ers.com. Here, Obmascik looks back.

5280 Your wife had a "no solo hiking" demand. You never cheated the rule?
Mark Obmascik It turned out to be a great rule. I learned about stuff I never knew I was interested in by going on the Internet and meeting strangers. Not only didn't I cheat, but I never slept on the sofa when I got home.

Was it awkward hiking with total strangers?
It's kind of a code. You don't know each other, but I would have done anything to save the other guy's life, and he the same. You get above a certain altitude and there's a truth elixir. You have heartfelt talks, which doesn't really happen for men without alcohol involved. You get so far out of your comfort zone—away from the cubicle, the house—that everything gets stripped down to its essence. Everybody's got a story.

What motivated you to keep up the grueling schedule?
It's before dawn...and you're moving. You look up, and there's the Milky Way, just brilliant. I really love the spirit out there. It's a wild thing. The Discovery Channel doesn't do it justice.

Next on the docket?
I like stories about people chasing something without brakes. I think people live their lives like a compromise, which is sometimes good.... But what happens when you take the brakes off?