In terms of world-record attempts, 12-year-old Sandia Prep student Turner Liotta came up a just a bit short in his effort to be the youngest to reach the high point of each state.
Last summer, a freak blizzard caught Turner and his dad, David Liotta, on Bonney Pass near the 13,000-foot mark on Wyoming’s Gannett Peak, forcing the intrepid Albuquerque residents to turn around about two miles from the 13,810-foot peak.
“When we had a good amount of them done, right in the middle of our goal, I thought about it a little bit and I was pretty nervous,” he said. “I was pretty worried we weren’t going to do it and I tried to keep a positive attitude. Toward the end, when I recognized it wasn’t going to happen. I was a little sad.”
Still, Turner said, the experience and the journey were well worth it.
“We’ve traveled everywhere,” he said. “Just traveled. I’m not sad, I’m bummed a little bit, but I’m still happy I got to travel with my dad.”
The adventure began three years ago, about a year after David Liotta was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is now in remission, he said.
“It was shortly after my treatments were up and that was a huge thing,” he said. “It made me look at how I spent my time when I realized how little time we actually have on this earth.”
An Ironman athlete and avid hiker, Liotta had never been much for climbing until he and his wife, Amy Liotta, reeled off four 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado shortly after his treatments were completed. Turner was actively involved in the planning of the excursion, and it piqued his interest. He soon suggested what became known in the family as the Project.
For the next couple of years, father and son flitted about the country, reeling off high points as quickly as possible.
Some, such as 14,410-foot Mount Rainier in Washington and Mount Hood in Oregon, are so technical that they used a guide, but on many of the excursions it was just the two Liottas and Mother Nature.
Mama Nature eventually put her foot down and put an end to the record-breaking effort.
“The plan has gotten sideways on us. In order to have broken the record, we would have to have it done, both states by May 19, David Liotta said. “We gave it one hell of an incredible shot, for sure.”
The plan now is to get No. 49 with another attempt at Gannett this summer.
“We’ll go to Denali, when he’s a little bit older,” he said. “We’ll eventually get all 50. It’s not going to happen in the time frame we wanted, but that’s a part of climbing. Sometimes the mountain allows you to summit, and sometimes it does not.”
The Gannett experience was memorable in that it was one of the sites where Turner hit a bad patch as they were crossing a vertical snowfield.
“It was just packed and very icy and flashy at some points,” Turner said. “A couple of times, just walking, I fell. If I didn’t have my ice ax, I probably would have slid pretty far. But I self-arrested with my ice ax, and I was fine.”
Meanwhile, Dad was, well, not so fine.
“There was a 1,000-foot drop and into the abyss. I was not so cool,” Liotta recalled.
‘”I’m screaming at him, ‘Self-arrest. Self-arrest.’ ”
Turner thought the scariest experience was the first time having to pass a crevasse.
“I was really worried before, because you see pictures of crevasses,” he said. “We passed my first on Hood. It wasn’t that bad, but it was scary. After three or four times, your stress goes down. On Rainier when I was going down, I didn’t even notice them.”
Now that the Project has been put on hiatus for a bit, neither father nor son wants to give up the mountains. Liotta is looking at climbing Pico de Orizaba in Mexico, while Turner has other thoughts.
“I’d like to do Kilimanjaro in Africa,” he said. “I would like to do that after the 50 or maybe before Denali as a warm-up.”