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Mountain man



Paul Ryan’s phony claim that he ran a sub-three hour marathon has gotten a good deal of attention. Another one of his claims regarding his feats of strength and endurance seems similarly dubious. Last week in the Denver Post John Andrews, former president of the Colorado senate and a very connected guy in GOP circles, published an op-ed in which Ryan’s physical prowess is used not merely as a metaphor but as a literal evidence of the content of his character:

[Consider] the hard-charging congressman’s love for the Colorado high country (he has climbed 40 of the state’s 54 peaks over 14,000 feet) and you have the most potentially transformative VP selection since President William McKinley put Theodore Roosevelt on the ticket in 1900. (Not the genteel Roosevelt, squire of Hyde Park, but his “strenuous life” cousin who ranched in Dakota and hunted bear in Glenwood Springs.)

Why does it matter that Paul Ryan is a mountain man, at home above timberline on the fourteeners? Because there is no better index of character. It tells of someone’s backbone under pressure, resourcefulness in facing adversity, and trustworthiness for power. Conservative or liberal isn’t the point. The high peaks simply test your mettle. Declinists and defeatists need not apply. Excuses are for flatlanders.

Describing the summit approach for Capitol Peak near Aspen (14,130 feet), the Colorado Mountain Club guidebook says with jaunty understatement: “Scramble around a pinnacle or two, stroll along the knife edge,” and you’re there. Ryan told me last week that Capitol and nearby Pyramid Peak (14,018 feet) are his favorite climbs so far.

Can you imagine Vice President Joe Biden even wanting, let alone being able, to stroll the Capitol knife edge? Or forging to the top of a “very rough and steep” Pyramid, with its “precariously poised rocks” warned of in the same guidebook?

I can’t — and it’s not just that Biden always has one foot in his mouth. Nor is it merely differing leisure preferences: golf greens for the presidential incumbent, boulder fields for the would-be veep. Rather the contrast goes to the core of what the men on these two tickets expect of themselves and what they believe free Americans are capable of.

Unlike marathon times, ascents of 14ers aren’t officially recorded on the interwebs, so Ryan can keep claiming he’s climbed 40 of Colorado’s 54 14,000+ peaks, but I would bet a lot of money the real number is way lower. Just the logistics of getting to many of these mountains are daunting, requiring several hour drives from population centers. I know plenty of dedicated climbers who’ve spent years climbing Colorado peaks while actually living here year-round who are still a long way from climbing 40 of the 54.

That Ryan, who has never lived in Colorado and who has spent all of his adult life playing the political game in DC, would have found the time to climb a couple of dozen remote mountains seems extremely unlikely. What probably happened here is that he’s climbed a few 14ers, some more than once, and that he gave an exaggerated answer to a Wisconsin newspaper three years ago about having “made close to 40 climbs” of 14ers, which then morphed into the claim that he had climbed 40 14ers.


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