Peak feet, peak feat
(Daryn Dodge's SPS List Finish)

24 Jul 2009 - by Sam Mcmanis

EDITOR'S NOTE: Daryn Dodge finished the SPS Peaks List on Cirque Peak, and was later written up in the Sacramento Bee for pursuing this quest. With permission of the Sac Bee, conveyed by the author, the newspaper article by Sam McManis is reproduced below. One quibble with attribution is that Steve has never used the word "fetishistic" in his life!

This text is reproduced with permission from Sacbee / Outbound
Published Thursday, Sep. 17, 2009

The original story was at, but that web page vanished a year later.

Daryn Dodge stands atop Banner Peak, one of 248 Sierra Nevada summits he has reached in 30-plus years. Some ascents are relative strolls, but others require expert mountaineering and climbing skills. Photo by Steve Eckert.

He was 18 in 1978, flush with the certainty of youth and freed from the tethers of high school. He and three buddies thought: Yosemite road trip! Gonna climb Half Dome. Maybe the Clouds Rest peak, too. Gonna do it without much training. No problem, dude.

Tell that to the bears.

"They took our food," Daryn Dodge recalls. "We had to steal it back to finish the trip. We lit a stick with some gas from our stove and waved it around. The bears backed off. We grabbed what food was left. They ended up haunting us all night. They did mock charges at us. We'd take turns staying up all night, beating pots and pans to scare them off. I was scared of bears for years after that."

Dodge is 49 now, entrenched in family life and a career as a toxicologist for the state Environmental Protection Agency.

Yet, on and off for 30 years, Dodge has thought: Sierra road trip! Gonna climb all 248 peaks on the Sierra mountain range list. Gonna be smart and systematic about it.

No problem. And no bear encounters.

On July 25, when he and a climbing party reached the summit of Cirque Peak near Mount Whitney, Dodge became only the 67th Sierra Club member (since records began in 1964) to conquer all 248 summits.

It was the culmination of what Dodge, a Davis resident, calls a lifelong dream.

Not that it started out that way. No way he could've envisioned back during that '78 trip what lay ahead - the skill, endurance and persistence necessary to join such elite company in the Sierra firmament.

Not all the peaks were difficult; some amounted to little more than a stroll for such a capable mountaineer.

But others carried such ominous (and well-earned) names as Devil's Crag, Disappointment Peak, Bloody Mountain and Cloudripper. Equally as daunting, perhaps, is the sheer time involved in the pursuit, driving up and down the spine of the state just to scale some granite.

He has, after all, a life. His wife, Nancy, and son, Marcus, 13, would wave when he'd leave for weekend sojourns or weeklong treks, but also shake their heads in baffled wonderment at his quest.

Why did he do it?

It's the hoary old climber's quip: Because it's there. "It's a great way to see the Sierra," Dodge says. "Lots of great views. And you get to see bears once in a while - and that's always fun."

Reward is mostly personal

He certainly didn't do it for the hardware. Each member of the Sierra Peak Section finishers receives a pin the size of a quarter. "And you've got to buy it for 15 bucks," Dodge says, laughing. "Well, it is a nonprofit club."

Dodge's climbing friend, Steve Eckert, says it takes a certain fetishistic obsessiveness to do it. Eckert should know; he became the 53rd peak scaler in 1999. And it is an exclusive club, he says.

"One thing I love to tease people with is that more people have climbed (Mount) Everest than have finished this (Sierra) list," says Eckert, who lives in the Bay Area. "The point of the list is not to be a risk-taking (mountaineer). It's to get people to move geographically and see the whole Sierra and appreciate it.

"That, and it's a great endurance test."

Eckert says he saw those traits in Dodge - patience, persistence, aerobic performance - when the two first started climbing together several years ago.

"He's totally devoted," Nancy Dodge says. "He's a passionate guy. It's hard sometimes when he's gone on another trip. But you have to understand: It's really important to him."

It's not as if she wasn't aware of her husband's tendencies.

See, before Dodge fully flung himself into peak climbing, he put in just as much effort into endurance cycling. He regularly finished near the top in doublecentury (200 miles) races throughout Northern California and, from 1987 to 1999, completed four Paris-Brest- Paris brevets (covering 745 miles between the two French cities within a 90-hour limit).

By 2004, overuse injuries to tendons in his knees and ankles rendered Dodge too gimpy to compete over such long distances on the bike (though he still routinely rides to work over the Yolo Causeway).

No pain, no altitude gain

The good news, he says, was that the joint damage didn't affect his climbing. Which is why, since giving up competitive cycling, Dodge has the time and energy to notch about 25 peaks a year.

"(The knees) give me some trouble here and there," he says, "but it's not that repetitive cycling motion, so I can do it without too much pain."

Then again, a little pain and suffering makes the pursuit feel like a real challenge.

"Peak climbing usually involves the easiest route to take," he says. "And some of the peaks are day hikes easily done. But there are a number of peaks on the this list that are not easy by any route."

Case in point: Devil's Crag, scaled by Dodge, Eckert and two others in 2006. It's a 12,400-foot peak in the vicinity of Mount Goddard, replete with loose rock, steep ridges and not much room for maneuvering.

"It involves climbing a 1,000-foot-long, knife-edged ridge with tremendous exposure on both sides," Dodge says. "But it actually went pretty well."

On Disappointment Peak (13,917 feet) in the central Sierra, he had to rappel into a gully "to get to the easy route." On the Hermit (12,328 feet) near Bishop Pass, the summit was so steep he had to pull himself up with rope.

Dodge nearing the top of Disappointment Peak. A seasoned athlete, he has avoided serious mishaps while piling up peaks. Danger? "Mostly, it's rock-fall danger when you climb with others," the 49-year-old Davis resident says.

Most impressive, Eckert says, is that Dodge has never been hurt on a trip. "Daryn's been somewhat immune to the risk-taking you see in many people who go for the list," Eckert says.

"But a lot of people will take chances. I once almost had to get a mountain rescue at night because I wanted to complete a peak and didn't want to have to come back and do it again."

Dodge downplays the danger, says it's important for climbers to stay in good shape year-round and to acclimate to altitude hiking.

He does, when pressed, admit a few close calls. "Mostly, it's rock-fall danger when you climb with others," he says. "When you're on a steep slope with lots of loose rock, you've got to be careful that the person above you is not in your fall line. I've had to jump out of the way of big boulders knocked loose by others on a couple of occasions."

Meanwhile, back home

Dodge's wife, who rarely accompanies him on climbing trips, hopes for the best.

"Before he leaves, I do have him write down where he's going, so if something happens I can tell people where to look for him," she says. "He'll call me if he's within cell phone range, which isn't often. I do like it when he goes with other people."

But, according to the weathered sheaf of papers upon which Dodge has marked off each peak in pencil, he has done more than 80 solo climbs.

"Really." Nancy Dodge says. "I didn't realize it was that many."

She also wasn't aware of her husband's next challenge - but wasn't too surprised to hear about it secondhand.

"I enjoy climbing the Sierra so much I'm sort of thinking about going through the list a second time," Dodge says. "But much slower this time."

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