Forest City sixth-grader an accomplished mountain climber

BY PATRICE WILDING, Times-Shamrock Writer

Gabe Hunter of Union Dale hangs on the rock climbing wall in his backyard while wearing some of his backpacking gear. At 11 years old, Gabe has topped numerous peaks of more than 14,000 feet and has become an experienced mountaineer for his age. TIMES-SHAMROCK PHOTO/JAKE DANNA STEVENS

Some kids come back from summer vacation with stories about hanging out at the beach, sleeping in every day or playing in the sunshine until the streetlights came on.

Union Dale resident Gabe Hunter returned from summer break with thrilling stories and breathtaking pictures from climbing snow-capped peaks in theWestern United States.

He logged more than 42 miles and more than 20,000 vertical feet in just nine days.

At the tender age of 11, Gabe has become an accomplished mountaineer in his own right.

A sixth-grader in theForestCityRegionalSchool District, Gabe first got interested in hiking and climbing after poring over books and family albums that showed the peaks his parents, Tammy and Dr. Matt Hunter, have topped.

Before kids

Prior to having children, Dr. and Mrs. Hunter, who grew up locally, moved west toWyomingandColorado, where Dr. Hunter was stationed during his service with the Air Force. The pair began hiking in 1992 after Dr. Hunter “looked around, saw the mountains, and thought, ‘That looks fun!’” he explained.

Together, Dr. and Mrs. Hunter have climbedMount KilimanjaroinAfricaand theAlpsinSwitzerland, among many, many others memorialized in photos and artifacts like ice axes around their home.

After returning to the area and starting their family, which includes Gabe and his sisters, Grace, 10, and Jenna, 14, the Hunters traveled back West for family summer vacations. The entire family toppedAspenMountaininColorado, with an elevation of 11,212 feet, during a trip in 2009 when Gabe was just 9 years old. He was hooked.

He recalled his first impressions of the peak, which he reached in about four hours.

“It was cold. I thought it would be a little cold, but not that cold,” Gabe laughed. Despite the conditions, he said, he wanted to do more.

Over the next couple of years, Gabe and his family began incorporating his climbs into the plans for family trips. Though his sisters didn’t share his love for the activity, and Mrs. Hunter generally considers her enthusiasm for serious climbing a thing of the past, Dr. Hunter has gladly taken up mentoring his son on the slopes and trails.

Dr. Hunter has even built a 16-foot rock climbing wall of his own design in the family’s yard for practice. While all of the kids love playing on it and the wall is a big hit at parties, Gabe gets real skills from his time on it.

Gabe, who also plays soccer with a town recreational league and is enrolled in a freestyle skiing program at nearby Elk Mountain, said he would like to become more proficient in glacier travel and technical rock climbing as well, which are riskier and more physically demanding pursuits.

In the future, Gabe hopes to climb all 54 “14ers” inColorado(mountains with elevations of more than 14,000 feet) before moving on to places likeMount RainierinWashingtonstate and the king,Mount Everest.

“I heardK2is hard, andCho Oyuis pretty,” he added casually.

No room for mistakes

“There’s a lot more technical peaks we need permission for,” Dr. Hunter said, as he gave a careful glance at his wife. “Areas where he can’t make a mistake.”

So far, his toughest climb has beenMountSoprisinColorado, Gabe said, which took 10 hours roundtrip to accomplish. His typical routine for climbing includes a big dinner the day before (quinoa is his favorite energy-boosting food), and a light breakfast or no food the morning of, when he rises at about4 a.m.

Gabe’s gear includes backpacks stocked with plenty of water and food, hiking poles, a windbreaker and coat. A camera is also an important piece of equipment to capture the amazing sights he’s seen firsthand, like the time he encountered a herd of at least 10 mountain goats, including several kids, onGrizzlyPeakinColorado.

“I’m glad he can see how pretty it is,” Mrs. Hunter said. “I’m so happy he’s getting to see the views. You can’t even imagine, it’s just like a postcard.”

With practice, mountaineering has become easier, Gabe said, and he still enjoys the rush he gets when he’s topped a new mountain.

“I feel exhiliarated,” he said. “(When I reach the top) I still feel really energized.”

“I think he’ll be able to climb anything in the world, no problem,” his dad said proudly. “He’s got the build of guys who can handle the altitude.”

“He handles it well,” Mrs. Hunter agreed. “I’m impressed with what he can do at age eleven.”

Peaks Gabe Hunter has climbed

Names followed by elevation, in feet.

2009

AspenMountain11,212

Sherman14,036

2010

CodyPeak10,799

GarfieldPeak13,780

Castle Peak14,265

Aspen 11,212

2011

GrizzlyPeak13,988

MountSopris12,953

La Plata Peak14,336

Mount Elbert14,433

Aspen 11,212