Jon Kedrowski and Chris Tomer, Sleeping on the Summits: Colorado Fourteener High Bivys (Westcliffe Publishers, 2012) — Book Review

© 2013 Peter Free


26 February 2013


Jon Kedrowski — assisted by meteorologist Chris Tomer’s sometimes minute to minute weather forecasts — hiked, scrambled, climbed, and slept atop 58 Colorado fourteeners — all in one summer


Sleeping on the Summits: Colorado Fourteener High Bivys is a jewel of an inspirational (mostly picture) book.


That’s true even though it is nearly completely worthless as a conventional route guide or even as an abbreviated overview of each adventure.



Absolutely unique


Sponsored by Sierra Designs, the Kedrowski-Tomer “mission” turned conventional Colorado alpine thinking on its head.


Instead of making pre-dawn starts, so as to avoid the summit thunder and lightning storms that so often develop on these peaks after noon, Kedrowski (PhD, mountain geography) — sometimes joined by and always benefiting from weather forecasts from meteorologist Chris Tomer — went up the summits in the late afternoon to sleep on the top.


Most of the book is comprised of photographs of these summits at sunset and dawn.



The book is uniquely valuable for 4 reasons


(1) The fitness level that these two men displayed is world class.


Younger readers will be inspired by some of the casually recorded, extraordinarily fast times up the peaks.


Especially so, considering that Kedrowski was almost always carrying the weight and bulk of overnight gear.


(2) The emphasis on light, supremely fast, and weather-knowledgeable mountaineering is well illustrated, mostly by implication.


Some of the peak attempts involved very short windows between storms, or during lessened storm intensity, in order to make it to the summit.


Kedrowski and his smartphone were usually in constant with meteorologist Tomer, who provided minute by minute information regarding the development and movement of storms in the area.


(3) All readers will be inspired by the beauty visible from the summits.


Older, decrepit readers (like me), will be able to partially assess whether we can even make it to the summit, based on the visual information demonstrating pitches, rock types, and challenges that are obvious in most of the book’s photographs.


(4) The book gives deadly weather its due.


People who avoid Colorado winter mountaineering and who are (wisely) successful in being off-peak, during summit thunderstorms, generally have little idea of just how bad summit weather conditions can get.


Some of the photographs in the book hint at these.  Two depict Kedrowski’s summit tent after snow and ice coat the summit’s loose rocks.  You immediately notice the adjacent cliffs.


The thought of down-climbing under such conditions (which Kedrowski had to do) would have made me anxious, even when I was young and as fit as he is.  Today’s arthritic shadow of what I used to be would be (literally) dead meat.


Kedrowski provides two textual accounts of being caught in horrific lightning storms on the summits.


In one, he explains that a “guardian angel” literally lighted his way to downslope safety.


That brief recollection is worth the price of the book.  Not necessarily for its implied religious meaning (which some readers may not relate to), but for its account of how quickly conditions can turn deadly and how randomly fortunate some people are in escaping seemingly certain death or injury.


Kedrowski emphasizes how important route planning is.  Some of the naked rock, ridge approaches require hours to complete.  Get caught out there by an electrical storm or high winds and you’re toast.  Again, the photographs illustrate the point.



A caveat — notice the sleeping conditions pictured


Kedrowski’s tent (or bivvy) is almost always pitched on broken rock.  And frequently on grossly uneven broken rock.


He frequently built rock walls to shield the tent from summit winds.  And sometimes he built walls to prevent himself from falling off adjacent cliffs.



Highly recommended — this book is magnificent


For a volume without an obvious “how to” market niche, this book nevertheless hits the Colorado mountaineering mark.


Prospective buyers will probably already be familiar with:


Gerry Roach, Colorado’s Fourteeners: from Hikes to Climbs (3rd edition, Fulcrum, 2011)




James Dziezynski, Best Summit Hikes in Colorado (Wilderness Press, 2007, 3rd printing 2010).


Both are excellent, somewhat detailed compendiums of routes on these peaks.  Roach’s unrivaled guide is by far the more encyclopedic.


But, if you asked me to choose a first purchase among this trio of books, it would be Sleeping on the Summits.


The Kedrowski-Tomer book inspires and elevates the soul in ways that even outstanding route guides do not.