PUEBLO, Colo. (AP) — When Scott Garcia sets out to hike up some of Colorado’s highest peaks, the trail to the top starts with extreme focus, a keen way with memorizing maps and numbers and a passion to get closer to the two people he loves most.
Garcia, 24, has a hard time with any kind of change, but when he focuses on something, it becomes his main thing in life.
“That’s what being autistic does,” said Garcia, of Pueblo.
“It makes me shy. It is very easy to like stay focused and just to focus on my goals.”
Garcia, in a sense, has used characteristics caused by autism to summit 31 of the states “14ers.”
“Those are peaks above 14,000 feet. There are about 58 in the state of Colorado,” he said.
MOM AND DAD
Garcia lost his mother, Sandra Garcia, 12 years ago and his father, Stuart Garcia, died four years ago.
“After my father died, I just went through a lot of changes and everything in my life. It took me about two years to kind of like figure out who I am and things like that and how to cope with it,” Garcia said.
“So I got into hiking since I like to walk and do stuff outdoors.”
After his father died, Garcia moved to Pueblo with his aunt and uncle, Laurie and Larry Bowman, of Pueblo. His aunt is now his legal guardian.
Garcia started his venture to the summits in June of 2015.
“I started hiking at the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs once a month during the summer of 2015. And then I started hiking the Manitou Incline a couple times, and that really got me in shape,” Garcia said.
Garcia said he also hiked Devil’s Head Fire Lookout in Douglas County.
“I was researching other trails that I’d like to hike by Leadville and Mount Elbert came up. I planned it out through 14ers.com. That’s how I get all the routes and everything and the information about the trails and stuff,” Garcia said.
He summited Elbert as his first on June 26, 2016.
He completed his 31st summit on Uncompahgre Peak near Lake City on Oct. 15.
“I think about my mom and dad. In my mind, my dad and my mom are cheering me on. ‘You can do this Scott. You can do this.’ That’s what I think about when I am doing this,” Garcia said.
“It feels great and very rewarding when you work so hard to get to this point in your lifetime. I’ve gone through so much in the last four years, and when I summit a 14er, it feels like I am a lot closer to the heavens and my parents.”
Garcia said he always takes a picture of his mom and dad along with him on his summits.
On a climb of Mt. Democrat near Fairplay, Garcia said he felt that he wasn’t going to make it at the halfway point, but he pushed through and at the top he spoke out loud to his parents.
“I was saying, ‘oh my gosh, I made it. I can’t believe I made it.’ Then I said, ‘this is for you mom and dad. I love you and I miss you so much.’ And the sun just peeped out from the clouds and shined on the summit for a moment, and that was just a sign that they heard me.”
“That was one of the best moments in my life.”
CLIMBING THE MOUNTAINS
Garcia said he needs endurance to tackle the Colorado peaks.
He said that most summits average about 12 miles round trip, and on average they take up to five hours to complete.
“Longs Peak was the longest I’ve hiked. It took me 15 hours. It is about 8 miles south of Estes Park. That was my 17th Colorado 14er,” Garcia said.
On every hike he makes a sign with the elevation and the name of the peak. Sometimes he wears a Green Bay Packers cheese head just for fun.
“He takes a picture with the sign and posts it on social media. He is very proud,” Laurie Bowman said.
Garcia can name — without delay and off the top of his head — each and every peak he’s conquered, along with the elevation of the mountain and how close it is to a town.
“Yeah I remember all of that. Mt. Elbert is 14,433 and it’s right by Leadville. The town of Leadville,” he said with a grin as he looked over at his climbing gear that was placed next to the chair he was sitting on.
GROWING UP WITH AUTISM
Garcia said growing up with autism was difficult at times.
He was born in Ocean Side, California in 1993.
“We moved all over. My dad was a lab manager for Lens Crafters for 25 years. We moved to Maui, Hawaii, in 1996 and then moved back to California in 1999 and then to Colorado in 2002,” Garcia recalled.
“Autistic people really have a hard time with change. When they get focused on something, that becomes their main thing in life. They are not good with touch and things like that and you can’t ask too many questions,” Bowman said.
Garcia said his autism has always made him shy around people.
“Communicating is hard around new people. I am kind of quiet until I get to know the person. Then I am more comfortable,” Bowman said.
“It was a challenge at first to make new friends. It took a little bit of time to overcome my shyness,” Garcia said.
GETTING AN EDUCATION
Garcia graduated from Mesa Ridge High School in Colorado Springs. He later earned a certificate in food services from AspenPointe.
Bowman said her nephew deals with his autism well.
“Sometimes we have communication differences even now, four years after he moved in. But he is very focused and a great worker. He’s not a rule breaker by any means,” Bowman said.
“No, I’m never a rule breaker,” Garcia chimed in with a laugh.
Garcia said he has always focused on his goals.
“He is very good with numbers, too. He can look at a map and know where he’s supposed to turn,” Bowman said.
Bowman said that he guided her and her father during a trip to California.
“He was just sitting in the back seat with no maps, no anything, and he knew where we needed to go because he had looked at a map before. He just memorized everything,” Bowman said.
Garcia holds down a job at Villa Pueblo Senior Living Community and got his driver’s license a few years ago, even though a lot of people doubted that he would be able to drive.
“He drives all over the place,” Bowman said gesturing her hands in all directions.
Bowman said sometimes she’s scared when he leaves and she worries, but she is happy he is making friends and going on hikes with people he knows through his summits.
“I do make him carry an information card with my name, address and phone number in his wallet,” she said.
Garcia said he will continue to do what he does.
“It keeps me going and it keeps me from feeling depressed and lonely. It makes me feel confident about myself and it shows that I can overcome my autism. I’m meeting new people and discovering new places,” Garcia said.
“I am very proud of him. He took this on all by himself,” Bowman said.
Garcia said he will most likely take a break as the winter sets in.
“I never knew four years ago when I was going through a lot of changes and a lot of grieving and everything and when I summited Elbert that I would get into mountain climbing and the hiking,” Garcia said.
“It has really helped me get through life. I have met a lot of great people that have climbed basically all over the United States.”
Garcia has a goal of summiting Mt. Whitney in California.
“It’s the tallest peak in California and the lower 48 states. I see myself doing that next year and down the road,” Garcia said.
“It’s pretty much one step at a time. One peak at a time.”
Information from: The Pueblo Chieftain, http://www.chieftain.com