Nolan’s 14. Something I’ve been thinking about all winter long. Back in December of last year, Dirtmonger told me about this running route through the Sawatch range of Colorado. The goal is to summit fourteen peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation from Shavano in the Sourh to Mt Massive in the north. It intrigued me, as my passion for climbing mountains is just as strong as my passion for long distance hiking. However, I’ve been focusing on long distance hiking, as it’s something that takes more time, and I may not be able to do as easily later on in life as I do now. But last year, I felt as though I was really missing out on some of the awesome peaks to bag in order to keep pushing forward. But not this year, not again! So I did a little research after Dirtmonger told me about it. It’s 100 miles long, approximately, and it is a connect the dots route, some on trail and some off trail. The goal of the route was to have people run it (supported) and finish in under 60 hours. I, however, will not be running this. I will be backpacking it, an hopefully adding on some other peaks I would like to enjoy along the way. It is undoubtedly the section of the Cdt I have most been looking forward too!
Part of the reason I took so much time off last month was to give the Sawatch range time to thaw out. This would give me a better, safer chance of completing the route. I think it is ready now, yet I’m still bringing my axe and microspikes just in case (not UL).
Additionally, grace picked me up from monarch pass and brought me to Leadville. This would allow me to do the route south bound back to monarch pass. The main benefit of this was to climb the north facing slopes that hold all of the snow. This will be much, much safer. I will be able to see the snowfields and either avoid them or climb them. Going down, it’s often tough to see where they lay and how to safely avoid them. This seems much preferable to me. Safety first!
The only thing I’m worried about is weather. It’s been the wettest spring/summer in a long, long time. Even after the snow, it’s been consistent rain. Showers that are normal in August have been showing up every day in June. This is very out of character, and I don’t see an end to it. If the weather is nasty, it’ll be hard for me to complete this route, as so much of it is above tree line, exposed and unprotected. The Lightning danger will be very, very high.
But I’m going for it. I want to test my limits, see how fast I can do this. See how many extra credit mountains I can climb. It’s all so exciting to me, and definitely one of the biggest hiking endeavors I’ve taken on yet. I could very easily fail, and not complete this. To me, that’s exciting. I know I’ll finish the CDT, save sickness or injury. I can’t say the same for this route, and that’s exciting to me.
Grace dropped me off at night, and I set up a peaceful camp near the Colorado trail. My sister Monica and her boyfriend Joe are getting in late and sleeping in their car at the trailhead. They plan to hike Mount Massive with me in the morning, the northernmost 14er of the route. I set the alarm for 4am. I hope I’m ready for this!
The alarm goes off and I’m up. I begin throwing things in my bag and carry everything to their car. It’s warm already, long before the sun rises. I knock on their window with my ice axe. It seemed like the appropriate thing to do.
We’re on the trail by 5, not bad. We hike 3.3 miles of the Colorado trail before turning up towards mount massive via the eastern slopes. Were greeted with a colorful sunrise through the pines and fur trees we’re hiking under. Beautiful strands of orange, red, yellow, and pink show brightly to the east. It’s beautiful hiking at this time of day.
The three of us reach tree line and marvel at the site of Mount Massive. It’s is just that; Massive. It’s the third highest peak in the contiguous US (second highest in Colorado), and it’s ridge line spans 3 miles! There are 4 peaks in that three miles over 14,000 feet. If you truncated the mountain at 14,000 feet the plateau would be over 1/2 a square mile. It has more area above 14,000 feet than any other mountain in the contiguous US. It dominates the skyline outside of Leadville. As Gary Roach says, “Mount Massive is not a mountains, it is its own region.” And that’s true, it is HUGE!
We take take photos and move on, headed up to the saddle between south massive and massive proper. When we get to the saddle at 13,900 feet, the whole Sawatch range and the Elk range open up to us. Snowy peaks in every direction as far as the eye can see. Ribs of the mountains showing through the snow, teeth of the mountains jutting up into the sky. It’s a spectacular sight. Another 520 feet up a narrow ridge and we are all at the summit.
We relax. It’s sunny still, and we all catch up on the happenings of the past two weeks while soaking in the views as the sun beats down on us. It’s a beautiful day so far!
Soon the clouds begin to build, and after over an hour on the summit, we head down. I say goodbye to joe and Monica back at the trail head. They are taking all of my gear to twin lakes so that I can slack pack mount Elbert. Awesome! Just food, rain layers, and a lot of liquids in my Backpack to the summit.
I slam a Mountain Dew, eat a slice of pizza Monica gave me, and start the timer on my phone before heading up. Mount Elbert is the highest peak in Colorado at 14,433 feet, second only to mount Whitney in California (14,495). I want to see just how quickly I can get up, setting a goal of under two hours. It’s about 4,500 feet gain, so it’s no easy walk.
I start slamming, determined to beat the rain clouds to the summit. My pack feels light, and my legs strong. My pack is light. I hustle past crowds of hikers headed down from the summit. Some give me weird looks, which I guess is expected. It’s drizzling, and I’m wearing tiny shorts and a tank top, speeding by them soaking wet. Some even tell me it’s too late to be just headed to the summit. I thank them for their concerns and keep heading up. I need to hustle!
I start running the flat and gradual up hill until it becomes too steep. I then get in a comfortable rhythm, not speeding as it’s too steep, but rather the quickest pace I can keep without having to break for air. The trail gets steeper and steeper, and the cold win crashes against my skin. It’s cold under these clouds, wet from the drizzle.
I keep pushing, drinking malto as I go, until I reach the summit. Panting for air, I look at my phones stop watch; 1 hour 56 minutes and 49 seconds! I feel super proud, especially since the storm is holding off. There’s one other man there who takes a quick picture. I head down, and soon the rain comes. I run down down down to tree line and soon the rain slows, then comes to a stop. The sun comes out, and I take off my rain coat.
What a day, I think to myself. Such an exciting one!
I get my gear at the general store in twin lakes. Real nice people there! I then head towards la plata peak, my next summit. At 14,336 feet, it’s the fifth highest in the state. It’s also one I’ve never climbed before, one of seven I have left, of 58.
I hike up at dusk, and it’s steep. My pack is no longer super light, but instead heavy with 4 days of food, and ice axe, and micro spikes. Darn! I still make it close to tree line before it gets too dark, and I set up camp. Thunder rumbles nearby, and soon it’s raining on me. Glad I got this tarp set up. I know il stay dry, and I feel comfort in that. Good gear is a must out here!
3:30am alarm. Hoping for a sunrise summit of La Plata peak. Then on to Huron, and hopefully Missouri, Belford, and Oxford Tonight, I wish for good weather tomorrow!