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He climbed 4,000 feet of elevation gain, backpacked more than 50 kilometers into the middle of the Pecos Wilderness, donated cash to Ted Turner, and even volunteered for a boy scout group for two years to gain access to the Philmont Scout Ranch.
Efforts paid off in September when Phil Robinson, 66, trudged to the summit of Mount Phillips and completed a journey of roughly 16 years to reach the peaks of the 184 tallest peaks in New Mexico. Robinson, a retired science teacher at Albuquerque Public Schools, is believed to be the only person to mark the peaks of these many high mountains in New Mexico.
Phil Robinson, a retired science teacher from Albuquerque Public Schools, stands on the summit of Mount Taylor near Grants. (Courtesy Phil Robinson)
There is a small caveat to its performance. Despite his best lobbying work, Robinson failed to get permission from the Taos Pueblo to climb the top of two mountains on tribal land. Robinson climbed as high as he could in the mountains without crossing the line.
“My goal was to make it as respectful as possible,” said Robinson.
That meant that he sometimes backpacked for days to get to a starting point without trespassing.
Robinson began his project at the age of 51 in 2006. He hiked his son Garret to the top of Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in the state. Then Robinson came up with the idea of climbing more and more peaks with the aim of doing something that had never been done before.
“You hear everyone hike the Colorado 14ers, but you never hear that about New Mexico,” said Robinson, referring to mountains in Colorado that are higher than 14,000 feet. “New Mexico has incredible peaks.”
He climbed the state’s tallest 13,000 and 12,000 foot peaks, then cast a wider net and began climbing 11,000 and top 10,000 foot peaks.
His endeavors forced him to cut bureaucracy and climb unnamed peaks without an established system of trails.
Eight of the peaks were land grants, and Robinson had to track down landowners and pay for access.
About 10 of the peaks are on Ted Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch. Robinson said he paid a “cruise fare” of about $ 3,000 to be a guest at the ranch and to climb the peaks during his stay.
“We spent five days on his land,” said Robinson. “They treated us like they were on a cruise ship.”
Garret Robinson accompanied his father on around 50 of his summit climbs. Some of the lesser-known peaks, Garret said, were “awful” because there weren’t any hiking trails there. So, to get to the summit, you had to drive uphill for hours while navigating fallen trees, boulders and cliffs to get to the summit, where his father used GPS to make sure he was standing on the true summit.
“For me, I think I just endured this misery to make sure my father comes back safe,” said Garret.
Robinson said his son, wife, daughters and grandchildren sometimes accompanied him on his hikes.
Phil Robinson, 66, stands with a group of Boy Scouts after a hike at the Philmont Scout Ranch. Robinson volunteered with the troop for two years to gain access to the ranch to climb multiple peaks. (Courtesy Phil Robinson)
His late dog Daisy, a wire fox terrier, was Robinson’s most important hiking partner until her death. Daisy was the subject of a front-cover article in 2014 when Robinson was doing hikes to all of the 12,000 and 13,000 foot peaks.
His favorite mountain? Truchas Peak, the second highest mountain in the state, which requires a round trip of more than 30 miles deep into the Pecos Wilderness.
“I kind of think the tallest peaks in New Mexico are harder to come by than the tallest peaks in Colorado because they’re not marked,” said Robinson.
Robinson’s last peak on his list, which he hiked on September 18, was Mount Phillips at Philmont Scout Ranch, which is also home to several other high peaks.
Robinson, a former Eagle Scout, had asked permission to climb the peaks but was turned down because he was not a member of a Boy Scout troop.
So Robinson joined Troop 166 as a volunteer. He spent two years working occasionally for the Boy Scouts, then leading group hikes to the Philmont peaks each year.
Robinson says he probably took 25,000 photos over the course of his project, he also writes meticulous travelogues and shares his GPS data on a Peak Digger website.
“It was a pleasure to see every corner (of New Mexico),” said Robinson. “When I drive through New Mexico, I’ve been to pretty much every high mountain peak there is. What is exciting for me is … every peak that I see is not just a peak. For me there is a whole story behind it. “