Scott Garcia recently had the day off work. No way was he about to sit around.
And so from his home in Pueblo, he was headed to Wilson Peak in southwest Colorado. It would be his 46th 14,000-foot peak, his 67th overall climb of one of the state’s 54 highest summits.
Garcia, 27, can tell you every date he accomplished each of those trips. He can tell you elevations and mileage related to each of those, too.
“That’s one of the things about autism,” Garcia says. “You’re really good about numbers.”
A bad thing about autism, he says, is what happens to the mind when the body stops.
“I have to be moving, have to keep my mind moving,” he says, making his way to Wilson in his Nissan Versa. “I think that’s where this came from.”
By “this,” he means his mountain way of life. Colorado’s fourteeners rally a certain community, and within this community, Garcia has become quite well-known.
You’ll find him across online forums and social media pages. You’ll be impressed with every selfie from wilds in every corner of the state, posted at an astonishing pace, seemingly every other day.
But you’d be even more impressed hearing how he got there.
“I think hiking has saved his life in a way,” says Chantelle Shoaee, a close friend of Garcia.
She’s gotten to know him since 2018, when he was into his third summer of fourteener conquest. He had connected with the Denver-based nonprofit Shoaee founded: Always Choose Adventures, helping people with disabilities get outside.
Garcia had gotten outside aplenty; the previous two summers, starting on a whim with Mount Elbert, he’d racked up 31 fourteeners. All on his own. All with a clunky backpack and discount store shoes. All from waking up in the middle of the night, driving to trailheads and driving back to Pueblo in the dark again.
Garcia needed to learn how to camp. That’s why he reached out to Always Choose Adventures.
Shoaee hadn’t had much experience with people with autism, but she suspected Garcia would not want to be touched. Upon first meeting, she’d let him offer the handshake.
“And then he was like, ‘Can I hug you?’ ” she says. “He gave me the biggest, greatest hug immediately.”
Garcia has been surprising people like this since he started on the fourteeners in 2016, not long after he got his driver’s license. He’d been living with his aunt, Laurie Bowman.
“When he moved in with me, I really thought he was gonna live with me until I passed,” she says. “That’s not the case.”
Last summer, Garcia moved into his own apartment. He wanted to move to Salida, his favorite mountain base camp, but his aunt explained to him that he needed more money. Also, she wanted him close by in Pueblo. In case he needed her.
“He hasn’t needed me,” she says.
Garcia recently got a raise at his job at a Target warehouse. He’s been paying his own bills. It’s not just the mountains he’s been driving himself to. It’s the grocery store, too, and social get-togethers with other fourteener fanatics.
Before he embarked on these high-altitude missions, “he was very dependent on me,” Bowman says. “The more he hiked and achieved all these fourteeners, the more he realized, ‘I can do stuff, I don’t need my Aunt Laurie.’ It’s really boosted his confidence in so many ways.”
She still worries about Garcia. But she knows how his mind works. How he can memorize maps and information. How he can focus on something — a trail, for example — and never let it escape him.
“Even with his autism, I think God blessed him with so many other (attributes) that we don’t have,” Bowman says.
That first fourteener, Elbert, “was like climbing Everest,” Garcia says. But he says he hasn’t felt fear since. Not even Colorado’s most dreaded fourteener, Capitol Peak, could scare him. He managed that knife edge just fine Aug. 30, 2018.
“It’s not intimidating to me at all,” Garcia says. “It’s like right at home.”
Home has been hard for him to find. Growing up, cruel twists of fate had stripped him of home.
Scott was the apple of his mother’s eye, “my sister’s pride and joy,” Bowman says. The boy was born six weeks premature, and there were complications from that. There were other complications — those from his mother Sandy’s lifelong battle with Type 1 diabetes.
Dad worked a lot, running LensCrafters stores. So it would be Sandy and Scott, off at tee ball games, seeing the sights around their home in Hawaii, walking the LensCrafters mall, home for TV dinners.
Little Scott had a hard time with speech. Had a hard time at Walmart when it was busy and loud. Had a hard time in classrooms. But his mom wanted him to know he was no different than the other kids.
“I wouldn’t say there was bullying, but I remember one birthday my sister had for him in Colorado Springs,” Bowman says. “It was at McDonald’s, and nobody showed up. So, he’s gone through some of that.”
The family had moved to Colorado to be closer to family as Sandy’s health worsened. Eventually, a hospital bed moved into the house. Scott would stay there at her side.
He was 12 when she died in 2005.
“It was hard. It was really hard,” he says. “But from there, Dad and I got really close.”
Eight years went by. And for much of that time, the man had successfully hidden his sorrow from the boy.
It wasn’t until the end that Scott learned of that sorrow being coupled with alcohol late at night.
His dad’s organs started failing. A heart attack left him in the intensive care unit.
“Oxygen had been cut off from his brain,” says Bowman, who hurried to the hospital to be with her teenage nephew.
He was the next of kin. He had a decision no son should have to make.
“Scott just wanted his dad to not be in pain,” Bowman says.
She had made a promise to his parents to take care of him. And she began fulfilling that promise there in the hospital room, where she stayed with Scott to catch his tears.
Reaching the heavens
Like a crowded Walmart, change is hard for Garcia.
“After my dad died, it was a big change,” he says. “That was a big change that I did not see coming ... For that to happen, yeah, it was just a big change. I just couldn’t handle it.”
But he tried. He tried walking, first around the mall where his dad worked. He’d walk around the stores just like he and his mom always did.
Then Bowman noticed him walking outside more. Around the house and at the local park.
“He just needed his solitude time,” she says.
But she had no idea where this search for solitude would take him.
From Pueblo, Garcia started going back up to the Springs to hike around Garden of the Gods. He picked up the intensity with the Manitou Incline. He looked farther afield, to Devil’s Head.
“I was looking for hikes online, like AllTrails,” Garcia says, “and Mount Elbert came up.”
Then it was Mount Princeton. Then Quandary Peak a couple of weeks after that. It was Mount Bierstadt after that, followed by La Plata, Yale, Belford, Oxford, Pikes.
Garcia couldn’t get enough. And now he’s not climbing alone anymore. Through 14ers.com and fourteener social medias, he’s made friends.
Now people want to climb with him. They seek his expertise. It’s a change, but a good change.
“Throughout my childhood and teenaged years, I’ve always been by myself,” Garcia says.
There are still times he prefers to be by himself. Like on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. “He likes to be alone on those days,” his aunt says.
But he can always find peace in the mountains, where everything is still and quiet. From the trees, to the streams, to the views up high, nothing changes.
Up high, “you feel like you’re in the heavens,” Garcia says.
So it felt once atop Mount Democrat. “It was my 29th summit,” he recalls.
“It was overcast. And I was like, ‘I love you, Mom and Dad. I miss you guys.’
“And then the sun just poked out of the sky. It shined up the summit. I’ll never forget that. You could really tell they were there.”