Paul Ryan returns to Colorado as group questions whether he climbed nearly forty 14ers

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Update below: Paul Ryan is just a regular outdoorsy guy who likes to climb mountains. At least that's the image Ryan presented in one of his first rallies as the vice presidential candidate for the Republican Party -- in a speech last month at Lakewood High School where he mentioned his love of Colorado's 14ers.

He's back in the state today with a rally this morning in Colorado Springs, and before he brags again about conquering the Rocky Mountains, one advocacy group wants proof.

Yesterday, the left-leaning ProgressNow Colorado sent out a press release titled "Did 'Lyin' Ryan' Really Climb Forty Colorado Fourteeners?"

Accompanying the release are photos like this one of hikers on top of mountains next to empty chairs (what else?) -- holding signs saying, "I climbed a 14'er with Paul Ryan."

The 42-year-old congressman from Wisconsin has gotten a fair amount of attention for his workout routine -- and, more recently, for misstating his marathon record by more than an hour. He also has come under fire for taking some "factual shortcuts," as the Associated Press said, in his Republican National Convention speech in Tampa.

Democrats and Obama supporters portray Ryan as an untrustworthy candidate prone to lying or misleading, while his campaign and Republican supporters continue to defend his comments and brush aside the marathon comments as a minor memory lapse.

Speculation began yesterday as to whether Ryan has actually climbed the mountains he's claimed to have scaled, with The Atlantic noting this quote from a climbing message board:

To have climbed forty and not be a resident means that you would have had to devote entire summers to climbing fourteeners, in essence becoming a "lifestyle" hiker/scrambler. I doubt Ryan had the time or dedication to fourteeners to take the required time out from his political career. Even if you did four a summer, that would be ten summers devoted to traveling to Colorado for the purpose of high altitude hiking. Even if you live here and can drive to the trail heads, forty is a huge commitment of time and energy.

A 2009 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article says that Ryan "has made close to forty climbs of Colorado's 'Fourteeners' (14,000-foot peaks)." (A Romney official tells the Atlantic that "he's not said forty different peaks, its nearly forty climbs -- with a number of peaks climbed more than once. He's been doing them for more than twenty years.")

Regardless of all this back and forth, ProgressNow is asking for proof as Ryan prepares to speak at 10:10 a.m. today at WestPac Restorations, 765 Aviation Way in Colorado Springs -- a location not far from Pikes Peak.

Continue for comments from ProgressNow's director and for more photos. The organization's press release says:

We're calling for Ryan to release photos, summit logs, and any other evidence he has to back up his claim that he climbed forty of our state's highest mountains -- or come clean with Colorado that he's lying about his "peak bagger" record too.

Joanne Schwartz, the group's executive director, tells us, "It has been his intro to his speeches here in Colorado and how he's trying to appeal to Coloradans. If he's going to try to appeal to Coloradans with these particular activities, he really needs to make sure he's telling the truth."

Schwartz says she hopes her group's effort to draw attention to possible hiking fibs will highlight larger concerns about dishonesty in the Romney-Ryan campaign.

"With so many recent lies about policy, it continues to raise questions about what else he might be lying about," she says, noting misleading statements Ryan made in his RNC speech related to Medicare, the 2011 battle over the debt ceiling and the closing of a General Motors assembly plant (which he used as an example of Obama's failures, even though it closed before the president took office).

"I think a lot of us who have climbed fourteeners have memories of how difficult it was, taking pictures at the top of the mountain, sharing that with friends," says Schwartz. "I think it's an appealing way to get people to think about how their outdoor activities might apply to politics and policy."

She says her group will keep pushing Ryan to offer proof and will encourage others to send photos, which ProgressNow will continue to promote through social media.

"Us here in Colorado take our outdoor activities very seriously," she says. "It's worth raising the question of whether or not he completed the fourteeners."

Update, 10:08 a.m. September 6: After we posted this morning, a Romney campaign official sent us a link to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel blog post published yesterday, in which the reporter who originally wrote the story clarifies what Ryan said in the 2009 interview about climbing Colorado's 14ers. That reporter offers a more detailed transcript of that portion of the interview and says essentially the same thing that the Romney official told the Atlantic -- all of which we noted in our original post above. The official's comment reads:

In the interview, Ryan did not claim to have climbed close to forty different "fourteeners," as has been reported by some. (Colorado has more than fifty 14,000-foot peaks).

He said he made close to forty climbs (climbing some peaks more than once).

More from our Politics archive: "Photos: Craig Romney targets Colorado Latinos as dad Mitt prepares for debates"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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