Nolans 14 Attempt #2 9-5-09

Trip Overview Route: Nolans 14
Goal: First 5-7 peaks as fast as I can (Yale, Columbia, Harvard)
Distance Completed: 40 miles
Elevation Gain: 19200ft
Total Time: 22 hours 10 minutes
Calories Consumed: approximately 6000

Intro: My Summer

2009 has been a year crammed with work, writing and many new experiences. Needless to say racing (especially 100s) has not been a prominent part of my schedule. The Moab Red Hot was a non-social event due to my thesis writing and I was only moderately trained for the Golden Gate 50K in June. After finishing my thesis in April I took some much needed time off from everything, including hard core training. While the summer hasn't not been filled with ultra races I paced 52miles at the Big Horn 100 (go Pete!), 46 miles at the Hardrock 100 (great job Frank!) and 26 miles at the Leadville 100 (rock on Jamie!). While I enjoy racing I've come to realize the training and mountain climbing is what I really love. After much debate I've decided that in 2009 I would not race any 100 milers, instead get into the mountains as much as possible, climbing, running and hiking and experiencing as much of Colorado as possible before moving to Philly in January.

The Route: Nolans 14

Nolans 14 is formerly a mountaineering race traversing all fourteen Sawatch 14ers, from Mt Massive in the North to Mt Shavano to the South. The race has since been shut down, but the route remains for those who wish to try it on their own. The rules are simple, climb as many 14ers on foot as one can in the 60 hour time limit. Very few people have finished the entire route, previous results can be found on Matt Mahoney's website. Last year in my first foray into the Nolans route I successfully completed four 14ers, but was mentally beat due to some of the tough route finding and my unpreparedness.

The Hike: So it Begins

Even though I was not fully trained I felt nicely rested and in pretty good shape to make my second attempt at Nolans 14. I convinced several other "Special Idiots" to come out, and the date was set, September 5th, for the start of our journey into the heart of the Colorado Mts. Late Friday night Steve helped me shuttle my car to the North Cottonwood Creek TH between Yale and Harvard/Columbia, this would give me a vehicle at my ending point. Myself, Chris, Kari, Steph, Andy, Steve and Fritjof all settled down for a few hours of sleep near the Blank Gulch TH (our starting point). It was a chilly night and I didn't sleep well for many reasons, 4:00 AM came way too quickly.
After a few poptarts and some last minute packing we were ready to go. The group started off up the trail in good spirits (5:10 AM), soon I trotted on ahead, knowing I had a long way to go. I felt a little groggy in the moon light as I climbed, but thanks to the aid of my trekking poles I was still moving at a good clip. I summited Mt Shavano (Peak #1) at 7:30 AM a few minutes ahead of everyone else. The skies were clear, the morning was cool, a great day to be outside. I promptly took off for Tabeguache trotting across the talus and making the summit at 8:08 AM. I took a moment to glance North, Antero, Princeton and Yale were all visible in the distance.

Mt Shavano's summit Moonset from Shavano Mt Antero and Browns Creek

The Long Road Ahead

Once I had decided not to run the Bear 100 in September, Nolans was to be my big trip. This year I was mentally committed and focused on the route at hand, at least getting over Yale, then seeing what the night brought for Columbia and Harvard. I quickly trotted back down to the Tab/Shav saddle, descending the broad chute to Browns Creek. I crossed Browns Creek at the edge of the meadow, but not far enough down stream to avoid getting my feet wet in the meadow (the others found the right log crossing). I hopped on the trail along Browns Creek back to the broad gulley leading to Antero that I had found last year. I powered my way to the top of Antero at 10:55 AM, ahead of last year's time.
Now for the long run down into Baldwin Gulch to where I'd meet Kari and the crew vehicle. The Baldwin Gulch Rd is runnable and unfortunately unpleasant on this day. The road was flooded with noisy, exhaust spewing, inconsiderate 4x4s and dirt bikes. They would fly by kicking up dust and dirt, not slowing for pedestrians. I was very glad when I finally popped out at the bottom of Baldwin Gulch (12:30 PM) to my aid vehicle, minus the crew. Kari and Chris had taken off for the Blank Gulch trailhead to get Andy who had contracted a nasty case of altitude sickness on Shavano. After refilling my water, changing socks, and stuff my face full of peanut butter filled pretzels and wheat thins I was off jogging the dirt roads to the Grouse Canyon "trailhead".
I use trailhead loosely, as the initial climb into Grouse Canyon traverses to the West (left) of the canyon along steep elk paths, bypassing the narrow brush choked river valley. At 10000ft I began a high traverse into Grouse Canyon along an elk path that brought me right to the canyon split at 10200ft without any difficulties. I entered the dry stream bed and began the slow trudge up to Princeton. As I neared 12500ft I began to feel severely fatigued, but kept pushing. I summited Princeton at 4:35 PM, feeling pretty beat, but still moving.

Mt Cronin from Baldwin Gulch Rd Climbing Elk Pathes into Grouse Canyon Antero(left) from Upper Grouse


The descent into Maxwell Gulch was haunted me since last year. Maxwell gulch is an aspen, brush and dead fall choked canyon that gave me nightmares last year. This year I followed the NE ridge until it became brush choked, then followed a descending traverse into Maxwell Gulch. By staying high on the right side I was able to find another elk path which shot me out onto the CT half an hour faster than last year. The CT through this section makes for great running, smooth trail, golden aspens and nice views of the valley.
I was soon back on the dirt roads, now to find the short cut over to Avalanche which I had missed last year. I jogged up the road a little bit, still not finding the road, so I gave in and waded through the river along a horse trail that popped me out a little lower along C306. The jog up the road went by quickly and I arrived at the Avalanche Gulch trailhead just after darkness (7:50 PM). I was met by a wonderful group of crew; Chris, Steph, Kari, Steve and Fritjof all stayed around to wish me well on my 5th mountain. I fueled up, got another change of socks from Kari (thanks!), and was off into the night, ascending my 5th and final mountain for the trip.
I powered up the first part of the hill in good form, but by 9:00 PM was hit by a terrible case of the sleepies. The lack of sleep the past couple nights was catching up to me, and I was starting to think I'd pass out on the side of the trail. I took a guarana and pushed on to the best of my ability. It took about an hour, but by 10:00 PM I was back awake and alert, and nearing the saddle between Avalanche Gulch and Silver Creek. At 10:20 PM I crested to the turnoff for Yale's East ridge, a long rubble filled slope with a series of use trails zig zagging upward. As I sat down to eat it began to rain, just what I needed. The temperature had dropped into the low 40s and the wind had picked up, so I put all my clothes on in an attempt to stay warm.
I set out up the "trail" navigating the use trails up the ridge. As I began to ascend the steeper sections of the ridge around 12,500ft the severe fatigue set in again, this time it was accompanied by shortness of breath and light headedness. A sure sign of acute mountain sickness, making me realize that it was not simple leg fatigue on Princeton, but AMS setting in. As I pushed upward the symptoms got worse, only being able to take 10-15 steps at a time before crumpling into a ball to gasp for air. I was still fully conscious and not feeling sick, though I also had no appetite (I usually eat like a horse at altitude). I slowly trudged uphill, noticing the fresh dusting of snow on the ground, and the cold wind that blew across the ridge caused me to shiver. Every 100ft of elevation seemed to take hours as I occasionally glanced at my watch, shit, only at 13000ft, really! I continued to trudge on, slowly making progress, but the fatigue worsened.
Finally I reached the saddle at 13500ft, looking up at the silhouette of steep rocky slope in the moonlight. Almost there.... I pushed on, moving very slowly, and began to worry that I may have to turn back if my symptoms got any worse. I finally reached the summit plateau making my way to the obscure pile of rocks that marked the summit (12:55 AM). I plopped down and tried to take a picture in the dark (my photography skills were no existent). My body started to shiver again, so I quickly took off back down the mountain for the main trail.
The snow had made rock slippery, and I took a few minor spills on the way down, banging a shin or smacking my ankle into a rock. The way down went by much quicker, though my fatigue and respiratory distress were still apparent. I returned to the saddle at 2:20 AM, quickly stripped down a few layers and began the hike down Silver Creek back to the trailhead where Chris was to be waiting with a tent, sleeping bag, and my car. Once below 12,000ft my legs returned and my breathing eased so I was able to jog most of the downhill back to the trailhead. The trail was steep but in good shape, at last I finally shot across the bridge over North Cottonwood Creek to the trailhead where my car was the only one sitting in the lot. I stopped (3:20 AM) the watch and threw off my backpack, satisfied with my effort, but very tired.
Descending into Maxwell Gulch Back on the CT, aspens changing Mt Yale from the CT
Fall colors on the CT Super crew at Avalanche Gulch Me, 1 more mt to go


It had taken me 22 hours and 10 minutes to complete five 14ers along the Nolans 14 route; Mt Shavano, Mt Tabeguache, Mt Antero, Mt Princeton, and Mt yale. A solid effort, but far from my ultimate goal of one day finishing the entire route. I agree with Steph that I have developed a new respect for those few who have completed this entire route, the truly ludicrous nature of it can not be fully understood until one pushes themself to the brink of collapse, only to complete a fraction of what others have done. This endeavor closes a successful non-racing year for me, knowing that I've gone out and pushed my limits as far as they'd let me go at this time. The mountains will be there in years to come, and one day I will return to them for yet another attempt at Nolans 14.

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