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Creator of 100summits.com, Matt Payne talks 14ers, photography and high-country obsession

The creator of the 100summits.com website, Matt Payne, 33, recently stepped to the top of Pyramid Peak to finish his goal of climbing all of Colorado's 14ers. "I was bombarded with a variety of emotions," Payne said of that moment. Encouraged by his father, who also climbed in Colorado, Payne topped his first 14er, Mt. Sherman, in 1985. His love for the mountains led him to explore photography - he now creates and sells dream-like compositions - and write about his high-country adventures. Payne lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, Angela, and their son, Quinn. He shared a few words with us this week.

You've climbed all of Colorado's 54 14ers, what did you learn from this experience?
Technically there are 53 ranked 14ers and 58 that the more devoted consider "worthy," but I won't hold it against you Tim... :) ... I learned so much from this experience. Climbing 14ers first of all taught me about setting goals and work ethic. You can't accomplish a goal like this at random. Second, it taught me a lot about myself - about determination, humility and open-mindedness. There's a lot of different kinds of people climbing 14ers - meeting them and getting to know them was one of the coolest parts about this wild ride.

You've mentioned your father, who also climbed in Colorado. What role did he play in your fascination with the high country?
I think it is safe to say that my dad was a huge factor in my obsession with Colorado mountains. Ever since I could remember, I studied maps and memorized mountain names. I looked up to my dad and his goal of climbing the highest 100 mountains. I thought it was just about the most crazy and awesome thing a person could do. I have great memories of being very proud of my dad with other kids in elementary school and beyond. We were a family of few means, but this goal was something I could cling onto with a great amount of pride.

What is it about Colorado's high mountains that attracted you?
What's not to love!? The towering peaks that make you feel like you are a part of something larger... The cool, clean and quiet air... the mountains have always been my church.

With the 14ers experience behind you, is there one moment or event (maybe more than one) that you'll never forget?
Oh wow! There's so many to pick from. I stopped climbing for the most part in my 20's due to school and plain laziness. When I got back into climbing the 14ers in my late 20's and early 30's, I was out of shape, fat, and just plain new to the sport again, or so it felt. In 2009, when I really started a hard-core plan to finish the 14ers, I did an early climb of Harvard with the traverse to Columbia. My lack of fitness was immediately a factor for me. I was hiking with several guys that were in prime shape. I pushed myself way too hard on the way up Harvard and did not think I'd have it in me to finish Columbia, but soldiered on. I felt sick to my stomach and my legs were begging for me to stop. It was a very overcast day the whole morning until we were about 3/4 the way up Columbia when we started to hear thunder. I remember being so whipped on that steep slope but also so afraid of the lightning that I pushed myself harder than ever. I'll never forget that feeling of determination and relief when I got to the top (and hurried down). It reinforced what I knew (and had ignored) about safety and fitness.
Another memorable event was last summer when I did a 45-mile backpack trip in four days with my friend Sarah Musick. We did the Chicago Basin 14ers and a lot of the area's 13ers. It tested us both... mentally, physically and spiritually. The final day was epic to say the least. We climbed Windom from our campsite at Chicago Basin with a 3:30 AM start. After doing Windom, we got back to camp, packed up, and slogged another 15 miles or so with full packs on to her car, which we reached at 11:30 PM. A full account of that insane adventure can be read here.

Pyramid was your final 14er summit, what was it like making those final steps, what were you thinking and feeling?
I have to admit, it was a really surreal moment. I was bombarded with a variety of emotions, including happiness, sadness, accomplishment and relief. I remember thinking that this "was it." The moment I had been planning for and dreaming of for a very long time. It kind of reminded me of graduating from college.

Your website 100summits.com is rich with your photography, blog, and climbing information. Tell us about the concept behind 100summits and what are your plans for the site?
I actually started writing my own trip reports in 2009 on a blogspot.com page. I felt like that page did not give me all of the tools wanted in order to do the things I had in my mind. So, I decided that I would challenge myself to build my own website, having no expertise or experience. That website was actually inspired by a few other sites, including Summitpost.org and Listsofjohn.com. At first, my plan was to make it a website about all of the mountains on earth, with a huge database, photos, etc... but as work began on it, I realized that scope was much too big for what I had time for and what I had expertise in. I decided that I wanted it to be a place where I could share my trips, have a great database for people to log their climbs, and a place for others to write about their experiences too. The idea for others to contribute quickly faded as I realized it was silly to think others would want to do that on my site, so I focused my energies on my own content. The site has taken on many forms and functions over the past three years; however, I like where it is today. I'm not sure I want to change directions at this point. I do want to continue writing my own articles when I have time, with a special focus on the mountaineering deaths. I think that data and info might be useful someday.

Your photography is extraordinary. What equipment do you carry when summiting?
Thanks for your kind words! I have been known to carry a full-size tripod with me to the summit, which is usually a painful experience (but worth it). I also carry a fairly large DSLR (Nikon D7000) and up to three lenses. My favorite lens is my ultra wide-angle lens - the Tokina 11-16mm. Other than that, one of the best investments I made was in a LowePro front-loading bag for the camera, which sits resting on my chest, making the camera very accessible.

Many of your photos are taken atop 14ers at daybreak. You don't mind working for the right light. Do you enjoy climbing in the dark?
I have to admit, getting spooked by deer that have eyes that look like mountain lions at 2 AM is a bit hard on the heart-rate; however, I really do enjoy climbing in the dark, sometimes alone. There is a certain rush to it. The only real disadvantage is that you have to be certain of your route, as you can imagine it is easy to get lost when you have no light.

You are also selling photos now. Where can we purchase them?
I try to post most of my best work on my photography website, mattpaynephotography.com, where people can purchase prints, canvas, and more. I also show a few pieces at a gallery in Manitou Springs called Mountain Living Studio. I have also had my work shown in a few special shows downtown. Lastly, if there's a shot people like but can't find online or in the gallery, they can always email me.

You say you're dedicated to the pursuit of climbing and photographing the highest 100 summits in Colorado. What number are you on and what's up next?
You bet - with the completion of the 14ers, I'm sitting at just 20 of the top 100 left. One of the hard parts about my pursuit of the highest 100 was that I often delayed the completion of 14ers to embark on a more enticing 13er. 13ers are actually more fun than 14ers for me - more solitude, more route-finding, and often better photography opportunities. Up next, I hope to take my son up an easy 13er - maybe I can spark an interest in him like my dad did for me.