I don't know how to write about Nolan's 14. I guess it's just kind of comical how everything went down and how much I've learned from the whole ordeal. I'll start by saying Nolans I'll be back. If you want a good laugh and quick synopsis of everything that went wrong read my previous post called How to Not Do Nolan's 14. Otherwise keep reading for all the details you never cared to read.
It was August 17 2015 and I was on a long flight from Kentucky to San Francisco. The previous 5 days were filled with love and family and climbing. Another one of my sisters had gotten married. Afterwards I seized the opportunity to climb in the Red River Gorge with my oldest sister and her friend. But now I was headed west back home and then I'd immediately be Colorado bound in the van.
Colorado has always had my heart it was where I was first introduced to real mountains. It was where I learned how to suck wind at altitude and climb rocks. The Sierras are great! New, exciting, fair weather, and rocky but nothing will compare to the grandness of Colorado.
I loaded my van up with gear food and Lopi and was headed to Tahoe to pick up Corbin, the man who would be crewing me. He had never done something like this before, but I had debriefed him for weeks and had plans to talk strategy the whole drive.
Flash back to a week earlier. I was tapering for my big run. Excited and feeling strong. I headed to Yosemite valley. A place I know intimately. A place I call home. My coworkers were in the valley for the first time and I wanted to show them why Yosemite is so great. But it was also a sad weekend a meadow full of mourning and celebrating life. Long story short I was on El Cap when I repelled too fast and swung into the rock. Trying to stick the landing my left foot took all the force. The pain was immediate and I was sure it was broken. Emergency room, crutches, ice, and x-rays later I was cleared with a likely fractured foot but only a diagnosed bone bruise. Unable to weight my foot. I joined the mourning in the meadow. And for the first time in a long time I felt the power of Yosemite move through me. I was vulnerable. I was weak. I held in my hands the ashes of a man who lived so extreme the extremeness that I wanted to live. His power moved through me and I felt his presence in the valley. To live so fully so alive that death doesn't scare you. It is what I strive to achieve.
Having a broken foot wasn't the end of the world and it wasn't going to stop me from running me big objective. I actually rested for once. I stayed off of my foot as much as I could and hoped it would be 100% by go day.
Back to California. I rolled in late to Truckee to find Corbin not ready to leave. It was okay though I had been traveling all day and wasn't that excited to drive more anyways. We eat a delicious dinner, and I cleaned the house while he packed. We decided it would be safer to leave at 3am after a few hours of good rest and just drive all day to CO. The alarm sounded at 3am but I struggled to get up. Finally I jolted from bed in a panic. It was now 4:30am. Over sleeping was about to be a theme. We quick loaded up the van and I started driving while Corbin snoozed in the bed in the back. I drove through the sunrise and was over halfway through Nevada when the lights started flashing in my window. I had never been pulled over by a cop, and I didn't think I was speeding. Exchange of papers and words and finally back on the road with only a warning. I was more aware of my speed after that. I continued to drive the whole way through Salt Lake. On the other side we filled up gas and Corbin took the wheel while I slept. When I woke up we were in Rifle and Corbin was excited to climb. After a pitch or two the sun had set and we headed into town to grab some dinner and buy groceries for the big run.
The final drive to our bivy at the base of Mt Shavano was long. It felt unreal that in only 6 or 7 hours I'd be making an attempt on Nolans 14. Corbin took the 3 hour drive so I could sleep. The car slowed to a stop. I woke up. Are we getting pulled over again? Yep right outside Leadville Corbin was tired. We reached our bivy at 2am. I set my alarm for 5am and saw the sad notification that I only had 3hrs of sleep. The alarm sounded and I turned it off. Again jolting out of bed I looked at the clock, 7am I had over slept 2hrs. I need to go now. A few exchanges of words, a little breakfast, and I was heading up the trail.
I had never used my GPS but I was confident I could figure it out. Charging up hill I thought for a second. I was expecting the trail to be single track not a fireroad. I pulled out my gps and grabbed my location. I was far away from where I wanted to be heading up the wrong mountain. This is when I made another bad decision. Instead of backtracking on trails, losing some elevation, and then going back up I decided to cut straight through the woods hoping I'd intersect the trail. I did hit the trail around 8am not far from the trailhead about a mile of slow bushwhacking. Disappointed in myself for wasting so much time I began charging up hill.
The forest was thick with fog which made it very enchanting. I couldn't see the summit but I was sure when the fog finally split it would take my breath away... and it did. Picking people off the trail I made it to the summit of Shavano where I only stayed for a minute. I had been trying to get water out of my camelback with no success. It appeared air had gotten lodged in the hose. After messing around with it at the summit I gave up and headed for Tabeguache. I was happy I still had my liter of nuun to drink but bummed I would have to take my backpack off to drink it. Every second is precious when daylight is on the line!
The ridge between Shavano and Tabeguache is short and quick but my first taste of down hill. With every step the pain in my foot became more and more apparent. Usually a fast descender, I turned into a hobbling slow mess of pain. But that was only one of my problems the ridge has a clear view of the two summits with a group of 40 people on the summit of Tabeguache and maybe 10 on the summit of Shavano... and I had to poop..... bad. I quick looked around for some places to go but decided to just make it fast and quick and hope nobody notices. So I went on the ridge and hid it under a few rocks. What a relief I thought. Good thing I brought toilet paper... not. Great, I was several miles into a huge run and now I was going to continue to run for 15+ miles in my own stew. This day was not going my way. I pulled my pants up and continued to shriek in pain as I slowly picked my way across the ridge.
I made fast progress as I went up hill on Tabeguache. My foot placements were more calculated and so the pain was more controlled. On the top I met a father and daughter out raging in the mountains. We talked about how great the mountains are and he gave me a little advice on gullys and drainages to take on my journey. I discussed my fractured foot and the man just laughed and said. Well aren't you just the typical ultra running masochist. I had a plan of attack and was stoked to keep on moving.
I eyed what I thought was the easiest way off of Tabeguache which actually turned into what I like to call the death gully. The back side of Tabeguache was steep, loose, wet, and narrow. I was tossing rocks down the size of my body and down climbing sections of 5.7 where rocks would come off in my hands. A few times I fell leaving nasty cuts on my arms and legs. Every time I'd tweek my hurt foot my natural impulse was to scream out in sheer pain. I had never heard these kind of noises come out of my mouth before but I couldn't control them. What I thought would be a quick decent turned into one of the longest descents of my life. Time was ticking and I still needed to make it up to Antero and down to Corbin, who I was hoping was waiting in Alpine.
My mind was a blank void as I made my way through the forest. I reached a river and sat down. The thought crossed my mind to fill up my liter of water but I didn't. I was still hoping my camelback would start working. Now I was out of water. I figured if I really needed to I could open up my bladder and just drink straight from it. The river proved to be harder to cross than I was expecting and on the other side I found lots of tents and cars. A nice change of pace from the remote gully I had been in for hours that appeared to get little to no travelers.
I charged up the gully of Antero. It was steep and loose. But I was more controlled as I went up hill. I like to think when I'm running. It's where I sort out all of my life problems. It's where I plan my next adventures and solve my work problems. But after hours on my feet alone with my thoughts your mind goes blank. No more problems to be solved. No more things to think about. Nothing. An empty mind. Step after step. It's a beautiful feeling to be empty. To be stateless. To have no thought.
I was headstrong and set on finishing. I said hi to a bunch of mountain goats and finally fixed my camelback. The delicious cold water was exactly what I needed. I was getting a second wind and excited to see Corbin finally after 10 hrs on my feet. I summited Antero fast and then made the bad decision of descending the steep face instead of running down the roads. The running was slow and I scree skied a bit screaming out in pain at every tweak of the foot. Suddenly I lost control sliding 50ft before coming to a stop. A little shaken I stood up didn't brush the dirt off and assessed the damage. I was hurt. My foot was hurt. My hands were bleeding. And what was that sharpness in my thigh? My phone. Shattered. My guiding GPS device. How was I going to navigate at night now!? The sun was setting so I limped to the road. Everything was against me for a reason. This year wasn't my year to complete Nolans 14. I decided then I was done. Heading up Princeton in the middle of the night would get me killed. I needed to listen to all the warning signs. I was broken.
I slowly jogged out the four wheel drive roads while night engulfed me. The woods came alive around me and I felt the eerier aloneness of the mountains. Only two miles from where I was hoping Corbin and Lopi would be. I dragged my trekking pole behind me to alert animals of my presence. At any moment I could fall and not be able to walk or move quickly. An easy and delicious treat for a lazy mountain lion. Though in retrospect I was looking rather hollow and boney. A mountain lion might have taken a second look and passed.
When I reached the road. I was delighted to find my van with Corbin and Lopi inside. It was then I realized I had never turned tracking on on my GPS and being several hours later than expecting Corbin and Lopi had been very concerned. I crumbled in a pile by the side of the van. Tears streamed down my face as I said the words I never want to ever say. "I'm done." Lopi licked the sweat from my skin while Corbin lifted my broken, sunburned, bloody body into the bed.
I woke up the next morning feeling low. I felt worthless. I had given up. I knew I could do it. I was a failure. Swollen and bruised foot aside, I had given into the comfort of stopping. I would never finish anything in my life. I'd always give up when things got really tough. I continued in self loathing for hours before Corbin suggested going for a little walk. Instead I took him up his first 14er. I continued Nolans 14 but this time limping badly. I wanted to turn around but I didn't. I pushed myself hard up Mt Yale even though my body said no. When I stood on the summit I finally felt peace. It was a good reminder to myself that you don't always get what you want and if I want to suffer I'll suffer. For the first time in awhile though I actually got to sit and enjoy the summit. I was prolonging the terribly painful downhill part anyways.
I'll be back. But next year I have to punish myself more for not finishing this year. Next year I'm going to push myself to hell and back in what I'm calling Nolans 28. Stay tuned.