03 September 2013

Nolan's 14 Pacing Report

“Do it badly; do it slowly; do it fearfully; do it any way you have to, but do it.” 
-Steve Chandler
Mt. Princeton (14,197 ft)
Date: Aug 30
Location: Mt. Princeton, Sawatch Range, Colorado
Distance: 13 miles 
Time: 9 hours

If one follows the ultrarunning scene closely, it doesn’t take long before you hear of the Nolan's 14. When you run in the mountains in Colorado, it’s common to run up, down & around 14ers (peaks over 14,000 ft) since Colorado has 54 of them. Since many ultrarunners around here also enjoy peak-bagging, I suppose it’s no surprise that some of these mountain runners would try and chain many of these peaks together in a single push.

Back in the 90’s, Jim Nolan, a mountaineer who had tagged all of Colorado’s 14ers, mapped out a route of fourteen 14ers in the Sawatch Range in central Colorado (Mt Massive to Mt Shavano), which would cover approximately 100 miles. The first attempts at this colossal endeavor started in 1999, and in 2001, four people bagged all 14 peaks. This particular “adventure run/race” had a 60 hour time limit, but as TK has remarked, anyone who can summit 14 of these mountains at once has accomplished something special, no matter how long it takes. The shortest routes between the peaks are not necessarily the common ones, so finding the best route is part of the challenge. When mistakes are made and routes are missed, sleep deprivation dulls the brain and storms roll in quickly, the difficulties of merely getting over 14 mountains fast are compounded. As in an ultra, you never know what can happen to you when you're exerting yourself (at high altitude!) for that long. That's part of the appeal of this sort of intense endeavor.

While only 7 have finished the full route since 1999 (15% finisher rate) there have been many attempts made. My friend Julian, who is an experienced ultrarunner and mountaineer, has had this on his bucket list and planned to attempt it over Labor Day weekend. As a Leadman and a bona fide Hardrocker (both directions), this is just the kind of challenge that would engage his imagination. I offered to help and he suggested that I pace him over summit #4, Mt. Princeton, one of the most challenging of the 14.

Since he was taking the South – North route, I met up with Julian’s wife Lisa in Buena Vista and together we met Julian at the Grouse Gulch trailhead around 1:45pm. He had already summited Mt Shavano, Tabeguache Peak & Mt. Antero earlier in the day and was looking great. After having some soup and a potato & cheese burrito, we were off in the light rain, headed up Grouse Gulch.
Julian, upon arrival
Lisa had a great little setup for cooking
I hope to have one of these in a few weeks
Ready to go, rain or shine
We followed the trail as it led us up the east side of Grouse Creek, where the trail was a bit overgrown. Obviously, this is not the common route up Princeton. Lots of sticker bushes and fallen trees and if I was doing this in the spring or early summer, would be doused with DEET as I understand ticks are common in these parts. After going through an aspen grove, we came to a talus field, the first of many that I would gain experience with on this journey. We were a little over a mile into the climb at this point. We then went up the drainage to get to the rib where the southwest ridge came in to view.
It's a jungle out there

The first of many potential ankle-turners we encountered 
Climbing out of the drainage
We started the hike at about 9,100 feet. By the time we hit the two mile mark, we had climbed nearly 4,000 feet. My calves were hollering at me most of the way. Julian, being a stud, just hiked up like it was no big deal. At this point, we began taking lines along the side of the ridge (class 2-ish scramble) in which he pointed out a herd of mountain goats to me and we finally got to the point where the summit was in view.
Looking back at the lower line we used to go across
The little white specks in the bottom center are mountain goats
There were no safe lower lines to take to the summit, so we climbed up and over Point 13,971 and down the north side to the “trail” that led us back up to the ridge. After another 30 min or so, we made it to the summit around 6:30. Julian sent up a Spot Tracker signal to mark his summit time and we prepared for the descent.
Spotted: the summit
Heading up Pt 13,971
Looking at the summit from Pt 13,971
Going down the talus slope to catch the trail back up the ridge
Yours truly (Photo: Julian)
Final push to the summit
BAM! and #4 is bagged.
View of Mt Yale to the north
View of the ridge we just crossed to the west
View of Mt Antero to the south
The goal was to descend into Maxwell Gulch, take a jeep road that would lead to the Colorado Trail, about 6 miles from the next aid. We had a couple of options for getting down: 1) taking the NE ridge all the way across and down or 2) going straight down the avalanche gully on the north side. As I was having trouble getting my non-sticky soled shoes to grip on the talus, I voted for the gully, thinking we could glissade down on our feet. Julian thought this may be the quickest way down, tho’ in retrospect, we have our doubts. While there was some fun glissading to be had, it only lasted about a 1/3 of the way down. After that, we were mostly picking our route over loose rock as the sun set and we were using our headlamps. It took nearly three hours for us to get down off the mountain and on to the Colorado Trail. Julian radioed to Lisa that we were running late (we were due by 11p) and hoped to be there around 11:15 if we could run some of the next 6 miles.
This actually looked fun and it was...until it wasn't.
Long story short, we got there about 11:45p with Lisa, Sheila & John waiting. Sheila was pacing Julian over Mt Yale and she was hyped up on caffeine and ready to roll. Julian was feeling more tired was about to hit a low point in the next few hours. I was glad he had Sheila to keep him company and help him through that time.
Julian & Sheila as they headed out.
Having thoroughly been schooled on the rigors of climbing 14-ers, I was toast. My only 14er up until this point was Pike Peak (Barr & Crags trails) and was not a good indication of what I’d be experiencing on Princeton. I realized that I need to add a few 14ers into my annual training runs to get better at scrambling up and down talus slopes and across the ridges. I also need steeper vertical in my training to increase my strength and endurance on the climbs.

Julian managed to summit 12 of the 14 peaks in under 60 hours in his Nolan’s attempt, which is the farthest anyone’s gotten this year. After doing just one of those summits, I understand just how incredible an accomplishment that is. I expect him to go at it again using lessons learned this year to get all 14. He'll get it done, I'm sure of it.

As for me, I'm in major recovery mode as I prepare to pace at Wasatch 100 this Saturday. Those steep climbs gave my calves & hams a good workout and they're still feeling the effects as of today. After two days off, just one 40 min easy run and two 60 min easy runs are all I have on the docket for this week. Looking forward to sampling a bit of this course, widely considered the second hardest 100 after Hardrock. Stay tuned!

If you find the Nolan's 14 intriguing, learn more about it here & check out the reports of the three who finished in 2012:

The Julian Smith featured in this blog should not to be confused with this one, of YouTube fame:

Happy Trails,


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