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Peak Performer

Colorado Springs’ Payne relishes challenges of climbing, photographing state’s majestic mountains

Payne is shown here while conquering his final fourteener, the 14,018-foot Pyramid Peak.

Payne is shown here while conquering his final fourteener, the 14,018-foot Pyramid Peak.

Matt Payne doesn’t simply have hobbies.

His interests, once identified, morph into epic quests that border on obsession. It’s just the way he’s wired.

And that’s the way a person needs to be if one of their passions is climbing mountains. As the saying goes, “If it was easy, everybody would do it.”
But Payne isn’t interested in pursuits that are easy. He’s more inclined to choose an activity that pushes him to his utter limits, both mentally and physically.
Because, otherwise, what’s the point?

“It doesn’t interest me to do something just to do it,” says Payne, 34, who has summited all 53 of Colorado’s “ranked” 14,000-foot peaks. “I’m not OCD, but when you have that momentum going and you’re list-driven, you’re just very motivated to do it. I’m very achievement-driven, and if I don’t have a goal, I just don’t do it.”
Climbing mountains has been a part of Payne’s life for as long as he can remember. He made it to the top of his first “Fourteener,” Mt. Sherman, at the age of 6 while hiking with his father, Ray, and he’s been climbing ever since.

“When I first did it as a kid, it was just something we loved to do as a family,” says Payne, who works as a safety officer for Peak Vista Community Health Centers. “It also gave me huge self esteem to say that, as an 8-year-old kid, I’d climbed a bunch of mountains. It just makes you feel really good about yourself, and it’s obviously good for you physically.”

He knocked off a dozen Fourteeners before the age of 20 – most of those before the age of 13, in fact – then got away from mountaineering for a while as he earned a bachelor’s degree in counseling from Mesa State and a master’s in clinical psychology from UCCS. A period of admitted laziness – and an extra 30 pounds – followed in his 20s, but Payne’s passion for the sport eventually returned.

Payne and wife, Angela, were married in 2006, and their son, Quinn, arrived the following year. Having a family perhaps recharged his motivation, and that turned into a quest. The first list he chased was knocking off all Fourteeners, an accomplishment he achieved by summiting Mt. Pyramid on July 27 of last year.

It was a long, difficult and enlightening experience to summit each of the peaks for the fifth-generation Coloradoan.

“You feel like you’ve really accomplished something, especially when you do the really hard ones that are dangerous,” says Payne, who once climbed a grueling mix of six different Fourteeners and Thirteeners in a four-day period. “The feeling you get by doing that is so great that, sometimes it gets you to do things you shouldn’t do.”
Pushing oneself past physical and mental limits is part of the sport of mountaineering, a hurdle that thousands of people who have climbed all of Colorado’s Fourteeners have overcome on numerous occasions.

“I get more out of pushing myself mentally, but I’m very pragmatic and logical,” Payne says “So, I’m fairly good at using that mental aspect to push myself physically. I’m athletic, but I’m not a physical specimen of greatness, so it helps to use the mental focus to push the physical side.”
There were even times he questioned if he wanted to continue his passion.

“I’ve been in a few lightning storms where you’re already gassed and you’re kind of scared,” Payne says. “I’m not going to lie, there have been several times on difficult trips where I was physically just flogged, and you get back home and are like, ‘I’m not doing that anymore.’ Then, a week later, you’re like, ‘I’m going out again.’ It’s crazy.”

Like many of his climbing peers, Payne does what he does partly to test himself, but also to give his life perspective.

“It’s just you and the earth,” says Payne, who serves on the boards of the Urban Peak of Colorado Springs and the Rocky Mountain Field Institute. “It helps you refocus on what’s really important and put the world in perspective. All of the ‘other stuff’ doesn’t matter as much, and (you think) life is pretty damn good right now because I get to do this and enjoy this amazing experience.”

Next on Payne’s list is climbing all of Colorado’s top 100 peaks - and he’s 20 summits away from that goal. Through his years of climbing, Payne also began to take photos of what he saw on his treks.

That evolved into his current fixation–photography.

“It’s about getting to a certain spot on the side of a certain peak that has a certain view at a certain time of day,” says Payne, who has had his work on display at the Mountain Living Studio and in the Business of Art Center in Manitou Springs. “It’s another challenge. That’s what I do to myself – I give myself these ridiculous challenges.”

Payne says he plans to keep climbing for “as long as he can,” and that he will take more time to “smell the roses” as he crosses off the final 20 peaks on the top 100 list. There’s no doubt he’ll savor the experiences while creating captivating images, one shutter click at a time, to share the beauty he’s so often enjoyed.