High exposure: Class of 2019 alumnus climbs for cancer

Grant Haley on a mountaintop
Grant Haley climbed 58 Colorado mountains the summer after he graduated from CSU. (Grant Haley photo)

Grant Haley was running out of time. He had hiked eight miles on a sprained ankle that morning to reach Snowmass Lake, and he was physically and mentally exhausted from a long summer of climbing 14ers. Haley was sorely tempted to set up camp beside the lake, but he still had three miles and 3,000 feet of elevation gain to go to reach that day’s goal – Snowmass Mountain. The peak was intimidating – a gray massif with a steep snowfield and a slabby granodiorite ridgeline that was notorious for exposure and rockfall.

But Haley had made a promise – to himself, to his friends and family, and to the American Cancer Society. He had promised to raise money for the ACS by summiting 58* of Colorado’s 14ers in one summer, and the clock was ticking literally and metaphorically.

“I was seriously doubting I would be able to reach my goal,” Haley says. “This was my final climb in the Elk range and it was my 55th summit, so I felt the absolute need to push through and accomplish what I set out to do.”

In May 2019, Haley graduated from Colorado State with a bachelor’s degree in cellular and molecular neuroscience and a fierce longing to be part of something bigger than himself. His long-term goals included medical school and a career in oncology or psychiatry, but he wanted to do something unforgettable with his last summer in Colorado. He chose the American Cancer Society because of its impact on cancer research and treatment. He created his “Climb for Cancer” in large part because he didn’t know if he could finish it. As a member of the CSU triathlon team, Haley was no stranger to athletic challenges, but he was new to peakbagging.

man on a mountaintop
Snowmass Mountain was Grant Haley’s final climb in the Elk Mountains, and he had to push through 22 miles with a sprained ankle. Haley turned to gratitude to stay focused during the grueling summer. (Grant Haley photo)

“I needed to figure out my hydration and fueling system so I wouldn’t bonk at high altitudes,” Haley says. “After about 10 mountains, I had solidified my pacing and nutrition. Also, route finding became a fun challenge on the more technical mountains.”

Haley climbed Mount Massive, Mount Elbert, and Quandary Peak in May, but snow conditions forced him to wait until mid-July to tackle the rest of the 14ers. At times, he felt like he had bitten off more than he could chew, like the day he woke up in Fort Collins, drove to the mountains, summited Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, Bross, and Sherman, and then drove home in 100-degree temperatures without air conditioning.

“That day changed my perception of what I was capable of and made me realize that I live for challenges,” Haley says. “I was grateful for the opportunity to be healthy enough to be doing this project for people who aren’t as fortunate. I learned that gratitude is the best remedy for pain and suffering.”

Haley summited his 58th peak on Sept. 11, and 54 supporters helped him raise $2,700 for the American Cancer Society. But Haley’s “intense, grueling, sleep-deprived, arduous, awe-inspiring, rewarding, amazing, and fulfilling” experience was just the beginning. Since then, he’s taken up ultrarunning and – inspired by his own experience of watching a loved one struggle with substance abuse – is now raising funds for the Herren Project, a nonprofit that helps individuals navigate the road from addiction to recovery.

*The Colorado Mountain Club includes 54 peaks on its list of 14ers. Haley included four more named peaks that rise less than 300 feet from the saddle that connects them to the nearest 14er.