Lisa Foster ascended Colorado’s imposing 14er 36 times in 36 months — and that’s just one of her recent records.
Lisa Foster isn’t in it for FKTs. And she’s not a professional guide. The 55-year-old amateur mountaineer just loves Longs Peak, a 14,259-foot gem in Rocky Mountain National Park. Foster first climbed it in 1987 at the age of 20, and it’s been a part of her life ever since.
It’s that attachment — along with a Thoreau-like dedication to pay witness to the mountain in all seasons — that led to her recent spate of accomplishments on the peak. As of Dec. 4, Foster holds the record for the longest stretch of consecutive monthly summits, a feat she began in January 2020 more or less on a whim.
“I didn’t set out to do three years running. But when I started doing it in 2020, and I made it through the year, I thought, well, let’s just see how far I can go,” Foster told GearJunkie in an interview.
But as months turned into years, Foster found herself increasingly committed to matching or exceeding the 30-month record, then held by legendary RMNP climbing ranger Jim Detterline.
And while Detterline made his 30 consecutive monthly attempts in such a way as to avoid some winter climbs, Foster notched her 36 summits in three calendar years. That means she tackled three Decembers, three Januaries, three Februaries, and so on. No easy task. And it’s not like she summited once per month and left it at that. Foster reached the top 26 times in 2020, 19 times in 2021, and 24 times in 2022.
“It was hard. It was a challenge. And one of those years was the [year I did it] by a different route every month of the year. And yeah, that’s a huge accomplishment for me because it took a lot more planning,” Foster said.
Yeah, you heard that right. Not only does Foster hold the record for most consecutive monthly attempts on Longs Peak, but she’s also the only woman to have spent a year logging ascents by a different route each month (in 2021).
Here’s a list of her routes during that record-breaking year:
- January: Keyhole Route
- February: The Trough
- March: Ex-Rangers Revenge (North Face)
- April: Clark’s Arrow (The Loft)
- May: Keplinger’s Couloir
- June: Notch Couloir
- July: The Beaver (Skyline Traverse)
- August: Dialogue on Zen (West Face)
- September: Casual Route (The Diamond)
- October: Southwest Ridge or Keyhole Ridge (she did them both)
- November: Northwest Gully
- December: Right Dovetail
A Family Affair
Foster developed as a mountaineer through practice, hard work, proximity to world-class peaks, and instruction from her husband. Alex Kostadinov is a Bulgarian Alpine Club-trained mountaineer, and he played a large role in teaching Foster the skills she’d need to go down in the Rocky Mountain National Park history books.
She began honing her winter climbing abilities in 2007 in preparation for a Denali summit attempt. Those skills became particularly important when tackling complex Longs Peak routes during the winter, some of which she soloed.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever had an easy December ascent,” Foster told GearJunkie. “I’ve had some less challenging January and February ascents because sometimes, in January and February, you can find days with no wind…and when the avalanche danger is quite low. But I haven’t found a December day with no wind.”
As for her favorite piece of gear? In the winter, she favors Rab jackets and Arc’teryx bibs. In the summer, she slaps on a pair of La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II Mid GTX Hiking Boots.
Records on Longs Peak
Foster’s Dec. 4 ascent of Longs Peak is her 193rd, placing her on the top 10 list for most all-time ascents. According to the Estes Park News, Foster is the only person on the top 10 list that isn’t a current or former guide on Longs. And the only woman. And though she’s a long way from Jim Detterline’s all-time ascent record, for her, it’s all about staying in touch with the mountain.
“It’s because I keep my finger on the pulse of Longs Peak,” the climber said. “I like understanding what’s happening on the mountain.”
Climbing Longs Peak in January helps her understand possible February issues, and her February observations inform her March climbs, she explained. It’s a self-sustaining cycle of observation and experience that feeds her soul just as much as it challenges her body.
When asked if she plans to continue her streak into the new year, Foster was cagey — understandable for a person who never set out to break any consistency records in the first place. She’s got a family, including a young daughter, and enjoys climbing other mountains as well. (Case in point: If her Longs record wasn’t already impressive, she also climbed Pikes Peak every month in 2021.)
But even if she doesn’t maintain the same consistency, there’s no question Foster will be up and down Longs Peak regularly in the coming years. She still remembers what it felt like standing on the iconic summit for the first time, and she’s got no intention of leaving the mountain behind.
“It blew my mind,” she said. “It changed my world.”