SUPERIOR -- How many 8-year-olds would trudge up a 14,000-foot peak in Colorado and ask to do it again? Not just once, but 57 more times?
That's exactly what Max Manson, now 12 and going into seventh grade at Eldorado K-8 in Superior, did over the last four years. He not only knocked off the official 54 14,000-foot peaks in the state -- the fourteeners -- but did an additional four that make the grade elevation-wise but are in dispute as to whether they qualify as distinct summits.
Max scaled his final peak, Pikes Peak near Colorado Springs, on Aug. 2. His first fourteener was Mount Bierstadt, summited June 13, 2009.
"Ever since I could walk, we would climb the foothills near Boulder for fun hikes," Max said Thursday. "My dad said we could do a fourteener. I loved it, and I wanted to do more."
So began the routine of Max and his family heading into the Colorado wilderness on most weekends over the course of five summers and waking up before dawn to start the long slog up peaks like Mount Shavano, Handies Peak, Mount Lindsey and Conundrum Peak. Mostly alongside his father, Pat, Max would pack a harness, ropes and a helmet for the trip -- using them only when he needed to.
"We were like, 'We're going fast; maybe we should do all of them by the time I'm 18,'" said Max, who tracked his progress by pushing pins into a relief map.
They knocked off 15 peaks their first summer, 11 in 2010, seven in 2011, 16 in 2012, and the last nine this year. Max chose Pikes Peak as his final fourteener so that family and friends not up to the hike could drive to the top and celebrate his feat with him.
The most arduous journey for the pre-teen? Crossing the ridge between Little Bear and Blanca peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Range, where the exposure was most severe. Tethered to his father, Max would serve as a counterweight -- in theory, at least -- if his father fell off an edge, and vice versa.
"Those are terrifying words for a mom to hear," said Amy Manson, who has also been out on many of Max's fourteener trips.
Mostly, though, Max was extremely lucky when it came to weather and injury. They were never chased off a mountain by lightning, and he sustained merely a scraped knee and hand when a gust of wind knocked him off his feet on his way up Mount Democrat.
Max and his father had a tough time getting to the top of El Diente Peak in the San Juan Mountains, resorting to ice axes and crampons to get through a couloir on the mountain. But then there was the payoff -- a 10-minute glissade down a snowy slope on their backsides.
His mother said there is no doubt that her son has a special relationship with the Rocky Mountains.
"We noticed that Max would come alive on a mountain," she said. "He remembers every detail of every mountain he's climbed. He is like a little fourteeners encyclopedia."
Max said he would study routes and print out maps and photos from the website 14ers.com before tackling a peak. The process taught him patience and the value of knowing ahead of time what he was getting into as he neared the trailhead.
"I'm not really patient at home, but up on the mountain it's about hiking straight for 15 hours," he said. "It's this really cool feeling when you're on top."
Gregg Cruger, Max's sixth-grade science teacher at Eldorado K-8, had Max do a presentation to the class about mountaineering following a field trip to the American Mountaineering Museum in Golden. He prepared a PowerPoint and connected with his classmates in a way a teacher can't, Cruger said.
"It takes a really uniquely passionate and motivated type of kid to do what he did," he said. "He's a kid who doesn't just talk about doing stuff; he will get up and do it. He is just effusively excited about mountains and mountain climbing."
Max has brought his experience with the fourteeners of Colorado to audiences at the REI stores in Boulder and Westminster and to a summer camp put on by the Louisville Recreation Department.
"It did inspire a lot of them to climb fourteeners," Max said.
While Max does not profess to be the youngest person to ever summit the state's fourteeners -- he met a boy while hiking the Chicago Basin in the San Juans who had completed them by the age of 8 -- there aren't too many like him. Katie Blackett, CEO of the Colorado Mountain Club and a Boulder resident, said her organization has a list of 1,500 people who have hiked all the fourteeners in the state, dating back to the early 1900s.
"It's pretty rare for a 12-year-old to summit all the fourteeners," Blackett said. "He's already in a small group, and his age puts him in a very small group."
She said most mountaineering legends are older, and kids like Max can do much to inspire the younger generation to take to the high country.
"I didn't really like hiking when I was 12, but if I had someone like Max to look to, it could've been more fun," Blackett said.
Amy Manson said her son never really thought about trying to set any records with his hiking. She said the pursuit was driven almost exclusively by passion for the outdoors and a need to keep moving onward and upward.
"We didn't worry about any records; he did this because he loves to be on the mountain," she said.
Max said he has no intention of abandoning the mountains now that he has hiked the tallest ones in Colorado. There are 12 fourteeners in California he has his eye on, while Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Aconcagua beckon from overseas.