Numbers-Man Ivan: Pikes Peak Pencil Pusher

“‘Pikes Peak Summit 7.8’—I’ll put that sign down. I’ve never been too fast at printing, but people say I have very nice script and they can easily read my printing, too. Let’s see, 7.8 miles and the time I saw that was 11:44 p.m. 7.8 and 11:44. I know that I’m a slow hiker, but that way I get my average speed and by the end maybe get I’ll get my personal best—usually do a good strong mile an hour,” Ivan said.

Photo by Emily Ng

“Numbers-Man Ivan” has frequented Barr Trail since 2009. He stumbles down the trail in threadbare, Walmart-brand sneakers and a blue button-down, front pocket brimming with an assortment of ball-point pens and a mini spiral-bound notebook. Currently 61 years old, Ivan’s jolting movement doesn’t originate from a bad hip or a tender knee. He lugs around a black backpack with its straps severed and knotted together for an impromptu hand-hold, an Ozark tent, and two plastic Walmart bags brimming with empty mini Pringles cannisters. At every half-mile marker, he pauses and places his bags on the ground, wiggles his mini notebook out of his breast pocket, and intentionally clicks his pen:

“3.5 miles. 1:32 p.m. Making good time.”

Ivan takes pride in his print and his script. He never attended college, and he spent most of his life in Kansas, where he was born and raised. He worked in blue-collar labor jobs and never pursued technical training. Ivan’s main goals and aspirations in life have revolved around the mountains.

Ivan’s father was a commercial seed salesman who profited in the rich agricultural belt of the Midwest. His father often had retreats in Denver, and in 1974, Ivan accompanied him on one of these trips. The then starry-eyed 18-year-old Ivan spent his first night in a hotel alone on the fifth floor, gazing out the windows at the Rocky Mountains, planting a seed that would catalyze a lifelong journey. Ivan didn’t know what he was going to do with his life, but he knew he was going to make it to the mountains.

For years, Ivan lost sight of this dream. He moved to Topeka at the age of 20 and worked there for 33 years in various odd jobs. After years of dormancy, Ivan rediscovered his wanderlust at 53 through a chance encounter with freight hoppers: “They lived in boxcars and would hop from one town to another looking for a bite to eat or a place to stay. But they were trying to get out of it. It’s dangerous work. Some of them conductors will open up those box cars on cold winter mornings to find corpses that are straight colored blue. Frozen solid blue. Long story short, these guys didn’t want to end up like him. So these guys were looking to get out of the business, and they were headed toward Pueblo. So we struck a deal.”

Without a cent in his bank account, Ivan headed west in 2007. After two years in Pueblo, Ivan moved to the Springs and made his first summit of Pike’s Peak in 2009 without any outdoor supplies. During a particularly malicious hailstorm, Ivan resorted to tucking his head under a boulder and covering his ears. The next day, he was bruised and bloodied, but he still proudly notes that his head didn’t have a scratch. When he arrived at Barr Camp, other outdoorsmen noted this soon-to-be Barr Camp frequenter and offered him water and warm layers. Since then, he has collected his camping supplies through the generosity of fellow trekkers. He has collected everything from backpacks, water bottles, layers, tents, and sleeping bags over the past eight years and has summited at least once each year.

When asked what caused his infatuation with this peak, he recalls the first time he went on the mountain: “I just climbed about two miles up the trail. Wasn’t thinking about much, and I saw a big boulder. I was curious so I climbed it, and, at the top, I saw a pond filled with some of the most beautiful fish. And all I could think about was how magical it was that those fish got there. I know some dumb high schoolers probably played a prank and brought these fish up there, but I was still awestruck by these beautiful fish living in this inhospitable place. Well, I just realized all these magical things that I can discover on this mountain.”

As Ivan’s memory fades, he relies increasingly heavily on the memories he stores in his notebook. While this trip marks one of Ivan’s final trips up the peak, he plans to continue to explore the mountain through the recordings in his spiral-bound pocket notebook.

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