Flying Colorado’s 14ers | AspenTimes.com

Flying Colorado’s 14ers

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily
Garrett Fisher flew his 65-year-old Piper Cub PA-11, mostly with the door open, to photograph Colorado’s 14ers.
Special to the Weekly |

About the book

Above the Summit: An Antique Airplane Conquers Colorado’s Fourteeners

Author: Garrett Fisher

132 pages, 111 images

Published by Tenmile Publishing, Breckenridge, Colo.

To order Fisher’s books, or for information about his groundbreaking work as an entrepreneur and economic innovator, go to www.garrettfisher.me.

Garrett Fisher is one of the few people on God’s green Earth who sees eye-to-eye with 14ers.

He published a book about flying his 65-year-old Piper Cub PA-11 over and around all of Colorado’s 14ers — mountains that rise to more than 14,000 feet above sea level.

Few in this world will stand atop a 14er, Fisher said. Most of us view them from a distance or after getting off a ski lift. Distance reduces them to less than they are and makes them “ordinary” — another mountain with snow on it, Fisher said.

They are not.

“An airplane joins a 14er in its domain: The high reaches of the atmosphere, looking at the highest mountains in the Continental United States as an equal,” Fisher said.

His last one was Mount Sneffels, near Telluride. He had landed to pick up some fuel and food, and looked back at the craggy peaks he had just flown over and through, when he had this moment of clarity.

“I must have been out of my mind,” Fisher remembers thinking.

It’s genetic

His grandfather agreed, counseling against this sort of behavior, Fisher said. Then again, his grandfather was 76 when he got his helicopter license, and he taught Fisher to fly that Piper when Fisher was a teenager.

It may seem a little nuts, and maybe it is, but a touch of insanity isn’t the only thing Fisher got from his grandfather and father. He also inherited that plane.

His grandfather restored it years ago. Fisher’s father got from his father, and Fisher inherited it from him.

His grandfather didn’t really use it anymore because, at age 76, he got his helicopter license and bought a Bell chopper — like one of those helicopters in the M*A*S*H television show and movie.

He’d fly all over Upstate New York and land at gas stations and coffee shops to have a cup of coffee with his buddies. People were so awed that they’d stop while he was there to ask him about it all and buy stuff from the station. Gas-station owners started carrying aviation fuel so he’d land there and create a tourist attraction.

He took his first flight in a Piper J-3 Cub when he was 2 years old. At age 8, his grandfather started giving him flying lessons, and he earned his pilot’s license at age 17.

He flies that PA-11 all over the U.S. and Canada, photographing along the way and writing books about it.

“There is no radio, and I’m literally flying by the seat of my pants, with the door open,” Fisher said.

He’s enthusiastically thrifty and often finds himself in a tent sleeping next to the airplane at small-town airports all over America.

When he’s not doing this sort of thing, he’s an entrepreneur and economic innovator, founder of the Institute for Economic Innovation, based in Frisco. He has been featured in Wired magazine and TED Talks’ TEDx.

His other books include “Human Theory of Everything,” “Where the Colorado River is Born” and “Extreme Autumn: Fall in Colorado.”

Mountain magic

Like most pilots, Fisher tends to be romantic about flying, something he portrays in his books.

“My goal is to convey the awesome beauty of wilderness areas and the experience of flying over them to as many people as possible,” he said.

He calls his Piper “the ’57 Chevy of the sky.” It weighs 766 pounds empty. It’s a tandem seat aircraft, one seat in the front and one in back — no heater and no electronics. There’s an on/off switch for fuel and a couple gauges, pedals and a stick.

Flying around with the door open, even in brutally cold winter weather, he shot about 1,000 frames every time he went up, and while he was looking for just the right picture, he was also tracking places to make emergency landings.

“I never had to use one because the engine never quit, but it’s something that gets drilled into your head,” Fisher said.

Most places have features that define them for people who aren’t from there and some who are. New York City has the Manhattan skyline. In Alaska, it’s raw wilderness, Fisher said.

In general, visitors identify Colorado with snow-capped peaks and, specifically, 14ers.

“What drives people to climb them and tourists to slam on their brakes and gawk at them, or for me to circle them in an airplane, is rooted in the same thing: the enigmatic mystique of a pile of rocks that defied the conventions by which we live,” Fisher said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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