Kristina’s Mountain: The Making Of

kristina bushman Stenbakken Media quandary peak

Back in September, the whole crew here at Stenbakken Media went to Breckenridge to interview Kristina Bushman and climb fourteener Quandary Peak with her, filming as we went. A fourteener is a mountain that’s 14,000 feet tall or taller.

(For those of you who haven’t been following the story, here’s the quick version: Kristina suffered from an eating disorder that grew over the years until it was extremely destructive. As part of her recovery process, she came to Colorado from Minnesota in the summer of 2015, and climbed all 55 fourteeners in 87 days. Yes, you read that right: 55 fourteeners in 87 days!)

Next week we are releasing the video we made on the trip, so keep an eye out for it. But in the mean time, we staff have been recollecting our experiences of the interview and climb.

Erik (master of all things, and general brains behind the operation):

I’ve climbed something like 23 different fourteeners and while I can say some are easier than others, there is no such thing as an easy fourteener. They are all work. And carrying a load of video gear up to the summit (while trying to tell the story itself) is a challenge for sure.

quandary peak sign, there are no easy 14ers, stenbakken mediaIt may seem like a small detail, but I forgot my sunglasses the morning of the hike. On a sunny, windy day that high up, it hurts. My eyes stung for days afterward.

I had hoped that since I live in Colorado and Kristina was coming out from Minnesota that she’d be a bit slower. Nope. She never seemed to need to stop—at least not given all the stops WE had to make for filming.

We met Kristina for the first time in Breckenridge over lunch. As we sat and talked, I was struck with how “regular” she was. That’s not a dig at all. But after hearing of her struggle with the eating disorder and her triumph over 55 summits (in one season!) I was prepared to meet some kind of superhero or the like. Turns out she’s a regular human after all, and one I liked even more after hanging out, shooting the interview, and climbing the fourteener with her.

climbing quandary peak stenbakken mediaOne of the things I admire most about Kristina is that she’s willing to put herself out there. That is, she is willing to say, “I struggle. I struggle with this: ________ and I’m fighting it and winning and you can too!” It’s the last part that is so attractive. She’s chosen to take her struggle and take those lessons and hard-won victories and present them for others to use as leverage in their own struggles.

The climb was most memorable because although Karen and Lance were having health issues, they both pressed on to the summit too. I’m glad I was there for that win!

Lance (first assistant, boom boy, and general lifter of all things heavy):

After we met Kristina and had lunch in Breckenridge, we needed to find a quiet, secluded spot with a nice view to film her interview. Finding a good spot turned out to be harder than we thought it would be. We ended up finding a place with a nice view for the background, but had to keep stopping filming/recording because of nearby dirt road noise and dust.

kristina bushman on quandary peak stenbakken mediaI’ve climbed a few fourteeners, but never before has the hike taken all day. I usually start well before sunup and am back down by 10 a.m. But this day, it took far more time (because we kept stopping to film and usually get each shot twice to make sure we had a good take), and far more energy (because of carrying gear, so much stopping and starting, and hours of sun and wind exposure). It was exhausting!

When I hike fourteeners, I get altitude sickness every time. For me that takes the form of a killer headache that is so bad it’s disorienting. I did everything you’re supposed to do when you climb a fourteener: snack frequently, guzzle lots of water, etc., but it wasn’t enough. Hiking at high altitude pushes you to your limits anyway, but add a huge headache, pounds of gear, and hours of time to it and it was a hard day!

kristina bushman on quandary peak stenbakken mediaThe entire trip was totally worth it! I enjoy the challenge of 14ers, and it was a blessing to hear Kristina’s story and help her share with others. Listening to her talk during the interview, I thought over and over again how distinct each person is. The fact is, we rarely know the people around us. Everyone has been or is going through some sort of big battle in their life and that battle has changed them for better or worse. Kristina’s one of the strong ones who has come thru the worst of her struggle better for it.

Karen (office staff, bookkeeper, odds-and-ends manager):

This hike with Kristina was exciting for me because I’d never hiked a fourteener before. I got to be part of telling an inspiring story AND try a cool new thing. I have a connective tissue disorder that makes me a little fragile and I’ve broken both my feet before, so I was leery how well I would do, but excited!

kristina bushman interview stenbakken media eating disorderThe interview was fascinating. I wish there was a way for each of you to hear Kristina’s entire story uncut, but between length, road dust and noise, and the gunfire that started up somewhere in the valley as we interviewed her, a lot had to be cut out. (Gunshots do make for a dramatic story, but it’s not the one we’re trying to tell here.) Her blog,, documents all 55 summits as she climbed them, and there are a ton of great pictures and stories you can check out there.

The hike was hard! It was fine for a few hours, but once my feet reached their limit, it hurt pretty badly. At one point, with the summit in sight, I was ready to turn around and go back down—I just couldn’t imagine pushing to the top and still having to do the return hike. But Erik, with his endless energy, came bounding over the rocks and took my bag so I could finish the climb with no extra weight.

No matter how many times we said to Kristina, “Hey, would you hike back down the mountain and then hike back up past us so we can film you?” she did it with plenty of energy and a ready smile. She said several times over the course of the day that all those climbs taught her that even when you feel like you can’t go another step, just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You’ll get there.

kristina bushman quandary peak eating disorder stenbakken mediaSure enough, eventually we were all at the summit—bundled up against the brutally cold wind and eating Pop Tarts. As you can see from the footage we shot from the top of Quandary, the view is breathtaking!

Next Week

Enjoy the pictures here and on Instagram and Facebook, and check out the video when we release it next week. Kristina’s is a very inspiring story. She’s overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to regain her health and true self. Her lesson is simple: If she can do it, you can do it. Reach out for help and find a way through. Next thing you know you’ll be at the summit.