Rock climbing hobby is a family affair
Story by Danielle Portteus
Photos Courtesy of the Witte family
Mark Witte inherited his passion for the outdoors.
Dennis Witte shared his love for nature with his sons, Mark of Monroe and David, who lives in Arkansas.
“My dad’s passion became my own,” the 36-year-old pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Monroe said. “We love the beauty of the outdoors.”
Dennis started his sons’ interest in mountain climbing. The Wittes have since climbed all 54 peaks in Colorado that exceed 14,000 feet in elevation, also known as the 14ers.
“My uncle (Robert) invited my dad to climb all of the 14ers and they did their first one in 1989,” Mark said. “Two years later, my brother and I took part and have been doing it ever since.”
Mark was just 11 years old when he climbed his first peak.
“In the early years, it was largely dad who wanted to do it and my brother and I sensed the love he had for it,” the pastor explained. “We enjoyed being outside and hiking the mountains.”
While in college, Mark’s interest shifted.
“It hit me and climbing became my own passion,” he said.
A third generation of Wittes is learning the family pastime. Mark’s children, Luke, 12, Jonah, 10, and Seth, 9, are now taking trips to Colorado to climb. Mark’s wife, Sarah, does not climb.
“It’s been really fun seeing them get into it,” Mark said.
Once a year in the summer, the family ventures to the mountains.
“Summer is the ideal time to hike because otherwise there is a lot of mountain snow,” he said. “We go back out in March or April to ski.”
Sometimes in the winter, Mark and his father will pile on the layers and go out for a hike.
At some point, the Wittes decided to take up the challenge of completing all 54 peaks.
“We did all 54 of them together,” Mark said. “We finished the last one in July 2015.”
Mark said some of the peaks take a few hours to climb while others pose a bigger challenge.
“I’ve hiked some of the easier ones in four hours,” he said. “A few of them are over 20 miles round trip and take a few days.”
Typical gear for the trips include jackets, backpacks with food and water, harnesses, helmets, repelling gear and ropes.
Any nervousness Mark felt when he began climbing has since gone away.
“I might have a bit of anxiety but for the most part, I know how to mitigate any danger,” he said.
For the most part, the men have been successful at completing their climbs each time. Once, in 2008, the upper stretch of one of the mountains was packed with snow.
“We decided to turn around because we weren’t prepared for that kind of snow then,” Mark explained. “We built up to it and it was easier the next time around.”
When planning their ascents, the Wittes saved the most difficult one for last.
“The peak we finished on was Capitol Peak, widely considered amongst mountaineers to be the most difficult of the 54 in Colorado,” Mark explained. “It has an infamous knife edge on it with pretty dramatic exposure plus plenty of loose rock on the high mountain to make it quite a thrill.”
In June, Mark and David hiked together in a different setting.
“We hiked rim-to-rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon going from the South Rim to the North Rim and then back to the South Rim over the course of 35 hours,” he said. “It was 45 miles in total.”
The next day, the brothers also climbed Humphreys Peak, which is the highest point in Arizona.
While he is planning the next adventure, Mark still enjoys outdoors. He has completed four marathons including running the Pike’s Peak Marathon, which begins at the base of Pikes Peak in Manitou Springs, Colo. and climbs more than 7,815 feet to the top of the 14,115 foot peak.
Mark runs anywhere from 40 to 50 miles a week when he is training for a marathon.
The pastor admits he is a bit of an adrenaline junkie.
“I like to challenge myself,” Mark said. “We all have God-given abilities. You have to push yourself.”
Now that the Colorado checklist is completed, Mark said the family will set new goals. Mark and David have considered climbing some of the bigger mountains like Mount Rainier in Washington or Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania but no plans have been set.
“The big question is what to do next,” he said. “I could also do all them again with my boys.”