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Nolan's 14 - Unfinished Business

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Nolan's 14 - Unfinished Business

Here I was again. Alone in the woods. Spooned tight against Lopi with the rain tinging loudly off the roof of the van. It was a Tuesday or a Wednesday. Days didn’t matter out here. What mattered most was the weather. Another flash of lighting blinded me for a few seconds and the thunder rumbled through the van. It fit my mood. I was feeling the apprehension of years of time spent here. Months of being alone running, hiking, and exploring these mountains. But the mountains don’t care about that. A fall could be deadly and the weather. The weather turns from blue bird to snow in seconds and when the hair stands up on your arms you fear you will die. But even if the weather held. Would I finish? Would I finally be able to bury this obsession? What if my body gave way before my heart and mind? What if an injury? What if a sickness? What if… 

This was my second summer in Colorado scouting the beautiful line called Nolan’s 14. It traverses 14 14ers gaining and losing 44,000 feet respectively. And it is the most beautiful line I’ve ever seen. It has consumed my time and thoughts for years. After a horrible failure last year this was my redemption. I wouldn’t make the same mistakes, and I would have the company and strength of my partner Julia Millon to pull me through.

Let’s start from the beginning. It was a average cold Monday in May. I had just driven back from a week in Yosemite and wanted to see some familiar running faces so I showed up for the Donner Party Mountain Runners Monday group run. It was a large group and I recognized a few faces. We started with a big up hill. I struggled to keep on the heels of Gretchen and was looking forward to the downhill. At the top we waited for the group to all finish and then it was the fun part. I took off in my typical brakeless descent. It is rare someone can keep up with me, but I kept hearing a person a few steps behind. When we reached the parking lot within seconds Julia and I became instant friends. The most mentally tough person I had ever met and balls out crazy on technical descents… It was only days before I reached out to see if she would want to be my partner for Nolan’s. Her response was something like “Fuck Yes!!” and that’s how it all began.

I left for a two month training and scouting mission in Colorado around the beginning of July. Unfortunately things took a turn for the worse once I arrived. A horrible gum infections and two surgeries put me out for 3 weeks on my training and scouting. When I was finally able to run again I came back fast and hard. Spending long days in the mountains and as much time as I could. Nolan’s was coming together and as the date came closer and closer I was becoming less and less excited. I started to feel burned out on the mission. Nothing was new and exciting anymore. I had seen almost every part of the course and I couldn’t pull on any stoke. I had spent most the summer alone and work had been very stressful. My energy levels were tanking, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be my normal stoked self.

But here we were getting ready for go day. I picked Corbin and Julia up from the airport on Thursday morning and we all made our way out to the mountains in the van. First stop was the Leadville beer mile. A tradition at most races were your crew and pacers get out and run a beer mile. Corbin participated and actually did really well. It was a fun way to start the trip and see some other ultra friends. 

Next was Friday. The plan, pack, and get super fucking nervous day. We spent the day in Buena Vista making sure everything was set and ready for our mission. Corbin was debriefed and our bags were packed. Now it was just time to sit and wait for 5am to come. It was crazy that last day. I had waited almost 360 days for this very moment. BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), as my friend Stacey calls them, have a tendency to pull you in and then spitting you out making you wanting more. I knew we could do it. The real question was would the weather allow us?

The alarm chirped at 5am and we all piled into the van to prepare and make breakfast. Corbin cooked me up some eggs and made Julia some coffee. This time I double checked to make sure tracking was turned on and at 6:08 sharp Julia and I were charging up the trail.

Most of the Shavano trail was in a thick cloud and when we finally got above treeline we got above cloud line too. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day and we made quick work of Mt. Shavano. Once we got to the saddle and started our final ascent a crazy wind picked up. It was blowing straight into our faces and my hands quickly lost feeling. We finally layered up, crested over the summit, and started our way to Tabeguache. The ridge between Shavano and Tab goes quickly and once on the summit of Tab we headed for what they call the Hamilton traverse. Continuing on the Tab ridge we got our first taste ofexposure and steep scree. It landed us in a beautiful saddle and we finally got to run a grassy roller descent.

Julia looked back at me as we opened up our stride and said this is some sound of music shit right here. To which I shouted “The hills are alive with the sound of music…” for the entirety of the descent. There was no trail and when we got to the bottom it placed us in a marshy bog with dense bushes. At first we tried to pick good footing and avoid getting are feet wet but after a few minutes we were just charging straight through feet and ankles in deep water and mud. The marsh dumped us out on a fire road which we would take almost to the top of Antero. 

This is when I started to tank. My stomach had been sour all morning and I was struggling to keep any calories down. The fire road was a gradual grade and we never stopped moving but I was starting to feel the fatigue and my energy levels were tanking. My sister Ruthie and her fiancé Stephen were planning on meeting us on the top of Antero so I kept pushing through to see them. Off in the distances I caught a glimpse of Stephens backpack. Julia was waiting for me at the top of the hill and when I got there I told her I think thats my family and even though I want to take a little break lets keep going. Julia was getting her self situated as I continued walking. Out of nowhere a helicopter started to land. I turned around to find Julia getting dirt blasted. She took off in a sprint and we laughed at the close call. She was like I kept telling myself that helicopter won’t land till I get out of the way… apparently not.

We kept going until we caught up to Ruthie and Stephen and we shared stories about the helicopter and found out that a jeweler had a rock stuck on top of him and was needing a rescue. The four of us continued the last little section to the summit of Antero. I made slow progress of the final section to the summit. It seemed that every time we’d get close to 14,000 feet my body would slow to a survival pace and I just slowly keep moving upward. We said goodbye to Ruthie and Stephen and started our run down the steep face of Antero. As we lost elevation and scree skied down the mountain I started to catch another wind. Julia and I talked the entire fire road out to the van running the entire time.

At the van I finally got some calories down. We were making great time and right on the schedule we had predicted. 10 hours from Blank Cabin to Alpine was the most ideal situation. Giving us a good amount of daylight to get up the back side of Princeton. We refilled, changed socks, and got on our way quickly. It was hard leaving the van but the next section up grouse creek flew by. Julia was setting the pace and I was just keeping on her heels. When the trail finally disappeared we started straight up the side of the mountain towards the Princeton summit. On a map it doesn’t look so far but the terrain isn’t quick moving. Up through the woods we moved. The hill was steep and we followed aimlessly through the trees. This is when we encountered fresh mountain lion tracks. I had been intently looking at the ground trying to see any other signs of humans and unfortunately found signs of one of my biggest fears. Being alone in the woods at night in mountain lion territory. Our goal was to get to treeline as fast as possible now. A small kick of adrenaline got me moving and we crested above treeline right at sunset. We scared a heard of about 15 mountain goats and we watched them scurry up the steep talus.

We could see our ascent gully now and Julia looked at me and said that looks way too steep. Headlamps on and a little pump up music playing we started our way up the gully. At this point it was our only option we needed to get up and over. The gully which I coined “Death Gully” was incredibly steep and very loose. Every step up was a few steps down and a rockslide of dirt and boulders. It was important we picked a clean line and the leader didn’t send rocks speeding down at the second. Julia took the lead at first but after a mild panic attack I took over. The moving was slow and the top of the gully never seemed to get closer. At one point in the pitch dark I tried to convince Julia for a nap. We moved even slower the higher we got. The late night and lack of oxygen was getting to me. When we finally reached the top of the gully we could see Princeton silhouetted by the moon in the distance. We were still so far from where we needed to be. A quick scan of the terrain with the headlamp showed jagged steep cliffs in almost every direction. Unfortunately for this time in the night our best option was to traverse the ridge even though this meant submitting a 13,971 foot peak as well as Princeton. 

The ridge to Princeton went slow. We had been above 13,000 feet for hours now and both of us were struggling with food and fatigue. When we finally made it to the summit hours later than we hoped we needed to make a crucial decision. Run down the shortest route and bushwhack below treeline in the dark or take the actual trail and potentially add several more miles but be on trails the entire time. I was nervous about the mountain lions below treeline and Julia was nervous about the terrain. So we made the decision to rough out the extra mileage in an effort to be on more runnable and safer terrain. 

We didn’t stay long on the summit because we both felt very ill and started to run down the trail. The trail was steep and loose and both of us took a few tumbles. It wasn’t going as fast as we had hoped and I was looking at my GPS for navigation. I didn’t want to loose the trail on accident. At one point an hour or so after leaving the summit we looked at the GPS only to discover we were still above 13,000 feet. At 2 in the morning we took breaks often and barely talked. The trail turned into a road and we shuffled our way as quickly as possible. By the time we reached the Colorado trail at 3am we were still 12 miles from the van. I looked at Julia and said we’re going to watch the sunrise before getting to the van. And then silently we pushed our way towards Yale. Julia led setting a good pace on the uphills. We filtered water once and Julia took a few second nap on the trail. The sun was rising slowly and the darkness became a bit less dark. Our hallucinations started to hit strong. Is that a house I’d ask and Julia would respond I thought that was a bus and as we got closer it would just be trees.

By the time the sun finally rose we were on the road headed towards Yale. I was a little nervous that Corbin would head into town to check our tracker or something and miss us since we were now about 3 hours off of schedule. But being able to turn my headlamp off made me catch a second wind and we laughed our way the final two miles to the van. Our plan was to take a quick 30 minute nap and then be on our way up Yale.

When we got to the van at 7am we found my friend Brandon, Ruthie, and Stephen all surprised to see us. Our best case scenario arrival would have been 3am so showing up at 7am was a surprise to everyone. Julia and I passed out immediately in the van having been on the move for 25 hrs. Our half an hour nap turned into an hour and a friendly stranger named Sue offered to do some body work for us. She was a extreme sports massage therapist from Aspen out riding horses for the day. She gave Julia a leg massage and then came for me. I was struggling already with the nagging pain my hip gives. I was unable to sleep in certain positions in the bed because of it and Corbin commented that it felt like my femur was protruding from my hip. Sure enough it actually was.

Sue laid me down and rotated and popped my femur back into the socket. For a few seconds I felt better and then as I sat down I heard it pop back out. At this point there was nothing I could do about it. My muscles wanted to femur there and it was going to need to be dealt with later. Around 10 am after mentally and physically struggling to get started again Brandon, Julia, and I started to make our way up Yale. At this point time didn’t matter 60hrs was looking far out of the picture and I was now nervous we would be getting stuck in the dark on some unideal peaks. The steep climb up the Colorado trail to the Yale turn off went forever. Corbin and Lopi caught up with us for the summit and I really enjoyed all of the company. I had felt like shit for almost the entirety of the run and I was doubting my ability to continue. The middle 7 peaks are a serious commitment and after our night on Princeton I was questioning it.

As we reached the turn off for Yale I confessed to the group my lack of stoke. I was having the ultra downs and joked with Julia. “You didn’t come all the way to Colorado not to get stuck in a lightning storm above 14,000 feet.” I had been watching clouds build on Harvard as we hiked up the hill but wasn’t worried. A lot of the storms that happen don’t amount to much and the forecast was calling for a near perfect day. Julia and Brandon went ahead and Corbin stuck with me as I struggled to eat and keep moving. Yale was a death march but I was determined to summit. 

We summited the false summit and then met back up with Brandon and Julia for the final push to the summit. The clouds were starting to look ominous and at this point it was safer for us to summit and descend quickly the trail on the other side than it would be to traverse back the way we came via the entirety of the ridge. Right as we approach 14,000 feet it started to snow graupel on us. Brandon in good spirits stated that this was his favorite type of precipitation because they were like little snowballs! Now above 14,000 feet and on the final 70 feet to the summit it hit us. Corbin threw Lopis leash to the ground shouting did you feel that!? As the carabiners on his leash started to sizzle. Immediately next my poles in my hands started to buzz and the hair close to my face stuck straight out. I threw my poles to the ground and Brandon said ow! My poles just shocked me. Someone in the group asked if we should turn around and before an answer could be made I was full speed down the hill. We needed to make it treeline asap. 

We tried to keep 100 feet between us and stay off the ridge as much as possible. I made it down to the meadow at 13,000 feet and could still feel my poles buzzing. Next was the metal button on the top of my hat. The adrenaline was pumping hard and I was moving faster than I ever had with 50+ miles on my legs. The thoughts flashed through my heads what if something happened? This was my fault all these people were out here on this mountain because of me. Not only that I was the one moving slow if only I had moved faster we would have summited before the storm hit and hopefully had been in safer terrain. But it just came so quickly with no warning. CRACK! Lightning shot across the ground and struck in the valley close by. Don’t stop I kept repeating. 

We all made it to treeline in record time and as we sat eating and dumping the scree out of our shoes it was over. Nolan’s was over. I wasn’t sad actually but happy. All the people I cared about were safe and alive. No serious injuries and nobody got zapped by lightning. Some things you can’t control. With Nolan’s the weather and the mountains determine your success. And there will always be another year.

We made it back to the van ate some food, took a nap, and started the return back to normal life. I keep telling myself I won’t be back. That I’ve seen all of the course and that I’m ready to spend my summer doing something else. But deep down inside I know I will be back. Me and those mountains have some unfinished business.

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A Guide to Planning Nolan's 14

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A Guide to Planning Nolan's 14

Nolan's 14 is a huge endeavor not only because of the intense and extreme running but also because of the months and months of planning and preparing that go into it. If you want to read my failed trip report go to the previous post Nolan's 14 the Adventure.

I spent months preparing for Nolan's 14 with pages and notes and emails. I hope this helps the next person, maybe a little, to feel more prepared before they start this process. Also because next year I don’t want to forget all the things I had to do this year.

I’m not going to go into detail about how to train for Nolan's 14. It is actually simple... run a lot, run a lot at altitude, run sections of the course, run at night, be prepared to suffer.

This post is more about the logistics of gear, food, crew, travel, navigation, pacing, and anything else I thought about.


Gear


I am a strong believer that gear doesn’t make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. For example, I once won a bouldering comp in an old pair of evolvs with a blown out toe. However I will say that gear can greatly limit the amount of suffering and make your life much easier. Here is a list of things I’d recommend having on you with the brand of what I used.

Running Shoes: Salomon Speed Cross 3 GTX
Backpack: Black Diamond Blaze Pack (they no longer make this model)
Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Ultra Distance trekking Poles
Rain Pants: Patagonia Houdini Pants
Rain Jacket: Patagonia Houdini Jacket
Leggings: Lululemon Speed Tights
Wool Socks: SmartWool PhD Run Ultra Light Mini Sock   
Puffy Jacket:  Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody
Wool Shirt: Patagonia Merino Lightwieght T-shirt
Fleece Sweater: Patagonia R1
Gloves: Columbia Trail Summit
Sunglasses: Oakley Half Jacket Polarized
GPS device: Delorme InReach Explorer
Bladder: Osprey Hydraulics Lt Reservoir 1.5L
Water Bottle: Platypus SoftBottle 1L
Watch: Suunto Core
Gaiters: Salomon Trail Gaiters High Lab
Headlamp: Black Diamond ReVolt
Batteries: 3 AAA
Tape: Athletic Tape or Duct Tape

This is what I’d recommend you have for gear in your support van. Essentially bring whatever extra you have brand doesn’t matter because if you need to use them you’ll just be happy you have something.

Extra Running Shoes
Extra Rain Pants
Extra Rain Jacket
Extra Leggings
Extra Wool Socks
Extra Headlamp
Flashlight: Nathan Zephyr Fire 300


FOOD

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Fueling and hydrating is one of the most important things when it comes to long distance running. With Nolan's 14 it is super important to not screw this up. Especially at altitude when it can get hard to eat or drink enough. Here is what I’d recommend having on you for food.

4 Caffeinated ClifShot Energy Gels
6 Non Caffeinated ClifShot Energy Gels
2 ClifBars
2 Kind Bars
5 HappyBaby Baby food
2 Miniature Wheat Bagels
2 ClifBloks Gummies
2 Nuun Electrolyte in Platypus bottle
4 Saltstick Tablets

That isn’t very much food so it is important to refill at each aid station maybe carrying more or less food depending on the mileage or terrain or time of day (Maybe bring more caffeinated gels at night). So I recommend having a bunch of extra of the above items in your support van. I’d also recommend splitting out what you think you will need into separate drop bags labeled with the aid station you want them at so on go day you don’t have to think about it.

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Here is what I’d recommend having in your support van for food. But to be honest really any food would work. I told my crew to grab me a milk shake and fries every time they went through a town.

Peaches
Apples
Oatmeal
Peanut Butter
Nutella
Hummus
Tortillas
Bananas

Pedialyte
Slim Fast
Cookies
Donuts
Ginger Ale
Bagels
Mash Potatoes
Avocadoes
Pretzels
 


Crew

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The most important part of Nolan's 14 is having an awesome crew. It really amazes me when I hear people who have done Nolan's 14 in under 60 hrs with no crew. This is also the hardest part getting someone to commit 3 full days of their life to making sure you don’t die in the mountains. So it is important that you prepare them for what’s in store. In my case I only had one person to crew though ideally you might have two or three to help out.  First I debriefed my crew via email. Then I followed up in person providing maps and answering questions.  Here is a sample email of what I sent my crew a few weeks prior to my attempt:

Nolan's 14
Hey! I've been planning this run for a few months now and I want everyone to have all the information they need or would desire. Here is a link WEBSITE LINK to my GPS where you can catch my location at any point on the run.
First I will say my goal for this run is to complete it in under 60hrs. If at any point this goal seems unattainable my second goal is to just finish no matter how long it takes.
My motto is never give up, just keep moving, it's not that bad. Since you will be supporting me in this so don't let me give up!!
Okay now into the meat and logistics! Aka the fun stuff.
These are the times I need to be at these points on the course to achieve my sub 60hr finish assuming a 5am start on Wednesday August 19. Note I low balled these times most likely I will be there later rather than sooner.
-Mt Massive 8am
-Mt Elbert 11am
-La Plata Peak 5pm
-Mt Huron 9:15pm
-Mt Missouri 12:15am
-Mt Belford 1:30am
-Mt Oxford 2:30am
2 hour rest
-Mt Harvard 7am
-Mt Columbia 8:30am
-Mt Yale 11:30am
-Mt Princeton 6pm
-Mt Antero 10pm
-Mt Tabeguache 12am
-Mt Shavano 12:30am

I will be carrying on me
- 1.5 liters of water
- 16oz of nuun drink
- 10 gels
- extra batteries
- sat/gps phone
- a rain jacket
- rain pants
- gloves
- socks
- hat
- headlamp
- trekking poles
- 5 baby food
- 2 clif gummies
- 2 mini bagels
- salt tablets

In the van I will have 5 bags label for each aid stations they will all include:
-extra socks
-extra food
-change of clothing (if needed)
-extra batteries (if needed)
I'll also have food in the van to eat but if you're rolling through town grabbing some fries or a pizza would make me totally stoked. I'll leave cash with you.

Things to note
- I will want to give up. Don't let me. Even if I'm crying about falling or seeing an animal whatever it may be. Don't let me. This is very important because I will not be in a state of mind to make these decisions and will be upset looking back if I give up for some stupid reason.

Things you might hear me say and should ignore:
- I'm too tired
- My legs are fatigued
- Too much elevation
- Its too dark I'm scared
- I'll never make it
- The weathers too bad
- I'm not moving fast enough
- I haven't trained enough

GPS coordinates for aid stations and time
-aid1 9am (Lat 39.151030 Lon -106.455116) May not be needed
-aid2 2:30pm(Lat 39.071978 Lon -106.469364)
-aid3 6pm(Lat 38.985233 Lon -106.440611)
-aid4 2:30am(Lat 38.94379 Lon -106.342764) Hike
-aid4 am(Lat 38.871523 Lon -106.292038) Hike
-aid5 1pm(Lat 38.816305 Lon -106.332722) 
-aid6 7pm(Lat 38.711233 Lon -106.289806)

Along with these aid stations there are several places on the course you can hike too you can find them linked here http://mattmahoney.net/nolans14/maps/index.html. I think the easiest one would be to catch me on Missouri or Belford after the aid before Huron. And or park the van at the aid stations and start hiking the course backwards till you find me. Odds are you'll be moving faster than me at all points in time. Also I'd recommend after the last aid station in alpine driving to the trailhead for Shavano and meeting me on the summit of Tabeguache for the grand finale! Aka the short Traverse between the last two peaks.

When you see me on the course at an aid station make sure you do the following:
- fill all my water
- restock all my food
- get my stoke back up
- tell me any weather changes
- make me change my socks
- make me lube up any chaffing or tape hot spots
- make me change any wet clothing
- make me eat and drink

Okay last but not least. Things happen I get that and if for some reason I get to an aid station and you're not there it's no big deal. I'll just keep moving. The amount of food I'm carrying on me will be able to last me a long time and lots of water readily available even though untreated. No sweat. I'm prepared to roll with the punches.
Here is the timeline I'm thinking
August 17 - Fly into SF at noon drive to Truckee immediately. Pick you up and head straight for SLC.
August 18 - Drive into CO. Get Groceries. Prepare for Race. Climb at Rifle. Sleep at Fish Hatchery.
August 19 - Start at 5am.
August 20 - Pushing
August 21 - Finish at sometime.
August 22 - Climb in Rifle drive to SLC.
August 23 - Drive back to Truckee. Drive Back to Bay.
August 24 - Back to work.

I'll send you anything else if I forgot it.

Travel

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Nolan's 14 is no joke when it comes to elevation. If you have the time and flexibility to stay in CO for a month before making an attempt do it. Otherwise I’d recommend making your attempt on your second or third day in CO. Just enough time to get rested but not enough time to start the slow acclimation process.
As for traveling I always find it better to drive. That way I have my van and everything I could possibly need already sorted out, but I live in California. If driving isn’t an option flying and renting a 4wd vehicle is your best bet. The roads for crew can be a little rugged at times so I wouldn’t rally a rented Prius back into the depths of the mountains. The last thing you want is your crew not being able to get to you because of car issues.


Navigation

I wrote up a bunch of Topos and detailed information on my Run Topos part of the blog. They are broken down into 5 sections which are big feats themselves and great places to start out to get a taste of what Nolan's 14 will feel like. I used some of them as training runs and ways to gage pacing. You can find them linked here respectively:

Leadville Fish Hatchery to CO82
CO82 to Clear Creek Road
Clear Creek Road to CO Trail
CO Trail to Alpine
Alpine to Blank Cabin

As for navigation picking up an inReach Explore Delorme and pairing it with a smart phone is a life saver when it comes to navigating the mountains…Especially navigating the mountains at night.


Pacing

Pacing is important when you are trying to do it in under 60 hrs but honestly I think finishing Nolan's 14 even in 70 hrs is an accomplishment too. I first calculated pacing based on a 30 minute mile pace but often you are doing fast than this or slower than this at times. I then compared that to what pace other people had on successful Nolan's 14 attempts. Instead of taking this information from me though checkout all the amazing data parsing Tom Lauren did on his site www.tomlauren.com/notes/... A wealth of knowledge to be had on that page.


Questions to ask yourself

Should I find a partner or do it alone?
Like anything having a partner can be nice but can also have its draw backs. I went at it alone but that’s because it’s hard to find someone else that’s just as crazy to join me. I would recommend bringing a partner but making sure you train with them and both have the same goals. It’s always refreshing to have two brains when running such extreme distances. And since pacers are not allowed having a partner is your best bet.

Should I do it North to South or South to North?
When I made my attempt I was going South to North. However for all of the planning and really up until the day before I was going to go North to South. Honestly I don’t think it matters much but this is my thoughts. North to South seems a little bit easier. The first couple of mountains involve a lot of up and down between each of them from Massive to Huron you aren’t really linking any peaks on ridges, which can be nice while you are still fresh in the beginning. This allows you to finish on Tabeguache and Shavano were the ridge between the two is fast with little elevation change when you are the most tired. Going South to North has its benefits in terms of aid. In the beginning the aid is more spread out and you are linking mountains together before seeing you’re crew and at the end when you’re exhausted you get to see your crew between every mountain. In the end they are equally as difficult traversing the same terrain, it’s really up to you.

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Nolan's 14 The Adventure

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Nolan's 14 The Adventure

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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How to Not Do Nolan's 14

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How to Not Do Nolan's 14

Do not leave California the day before you plan to make an attempt
Do not get pulled over twice on your way to Colorado
Do not arrive at your bivy at 2am only 3hrs before you plan to start running
Do not oversleep your alarm and not get started till 7am
Do not take the wrong trail and end up bushwhacking losing an hour right at the start
Do not not know how to use your gps and tracking device
Do not forget to put sunscreen on
Do not forget to bring toilet paper
Do not have to poop on an exposed ridge with lots of people around
Do not get air stuck in your camelbak hose and be unable to drink from it for the 12hrs
Do not take the steepest and loosest decent off of Tabeguache
Do not fall often because of your bad footing (because your limping)
Do not take a 50 foot sliding fall off Antero and shatter your phone in the process
Do not give up ever
And most importantly


Do not attempt Nolan's 14 on a broken foot


Learn from my mistakes. Kind of comical how many things went wrong on go day. Lessons learned.

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Colorado Training

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Colorado Training

Life is finally starting to slow down now that I'm back in California after two and a half weeks raging in the mountains. It is nice to let life slow down every once and awhile. I am currently going through all of my data and photos and notes and getting ready for my next trip back to Colorado. While I do that I finally have the time to upload a video I made during my down time in Colorado. When you live in a van deep in the mountains you tend to have a lot of down time and when that time is not spent eating, napping, or strategizing you can get creative.

It has been a really long time since I tried my hand at this video making stuff so please be kind but I do encourage any feedback! Enjoy.

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Missouri Missouri Belford... Lessons Learned

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Missouri Missouri Belford... Lessons Learned

It is finally dark and the van is parked deep in the woods below Mt. Elbert. This is true darkness. Lopi is curled up in the bed beside me breathing heavy, legs twitching. I am sitting in the bed three pillows propped behind my head with the glow of the laptop on my face.
Words. I am struggling to find the words to articulate the emotional day I had today. So I'll start from the beginning.

The alarm rang and I sat up alert in my bed. It couldn't be 4:30am already!? I heard voices outside the van. I wasn't the only person planning on an alpine start this morning. I pulled the covers off slightly but the cool alpine air made me pull them back on quickly. It was dark. I was tired. I could afford a little snooze I was sure I'd be moving faster than the people outside my van.
Woof woof woof! I awoke again. This time to the sound of barking and it wasn't Lopi's either. A quick glance at the clock What!? It's already 5:30am. I tried again to pull the covers from my body only to snuggle deeper into the bed with Lopi. He wasn't helping the problem nosing closer to keep warm. I through the privacy current open hoping the dim morning light would wake me. Instead I snoozed for another half hour before prying my body from the warm bed placing one article of clothing on at a time before getting back under the blanket to warm them.

It was 6:30am... hard to call it an alpine start. I ate a few miniature bagels and a gel and was on the trail finally. The night before I had come up with the plan to run Missouri to Elkhead Pass to Oxford to Belford. A loop I measured to be close to 20 miles with a serious amount of elevation gain. With the map etched in my head and mileage to trail junctions and peaks occupying my thoughts I knew I had to move quickly my slow morning wasn't helping anything. And my daily weather update from a friend in Truckee had me worried I'd be stuck in another thunderstorm.

One by one I picked people off the trail. When I pass people I often want to ask what time they started but never do. The morning dew on the bushes soak my pants as I run by and my feet feel refreshed running through the raging rivers.

All was going to plan it was 9am now and Lopi and I were on the summit of Missouri. This left plenty of time for a summit of Oxford and Belford and I was confident we would be off the summit before the storms hit. They hadn't even started building! 
I had no plans of stopping on the summit but I decided to chat with the only other people up there, a group of four with two dogs. They were headed across the ridge that connects Missouri to Elkhead Pass with plans to summit Belford. I was immediately intrigued I had researched the ridge and thought it would make the trip faster. However the night before I had made the decision to not take it because of the 3rd/4th class nature and Lopi. I quickly responded "Really!? You guys think the dogs can do that? I hear it's pretty steep and exposed 3rd class." To which they laughed "Oh yeah it'll be fine if we have to pick them up we will." Against my better judgement I followed them off the summit. Which quickly turned into Lopi and I leading across the ridge. They seemed very surprised to hear I was traveling alone but I assured them I was not alone because I had Lopi!

Lopi is a strong dog and after 4 years adventuring with him. I know what he can and cannot do. And this was doable. We made quick work taking the path of least resistance until we were suddenly cliffed out. Our destination was less than a quarter mile away. To the right I could see a faint trail far below. We traversed back up the ridge and the group finally caught up. I explained the situation and we all headed down the right side. The terrain was extremely steep with serious exposure. Rocks crumbled in my hands and slipped underneath my feet. The consequences for a misstep were death. I had a bad feeling in my stomach as Lopi clung tight to my legs almost tripping me at moments. I knew if I had been alone on the summit I would have never got Lopi and I into this situation. But it was too late now. We made it even closer to Elkhead Pass but cliffed out again. This time I was done. Lopi and I were headed back to the summit of Missouri and going to finish our run the way we had planned it. The rest of the group tried a couple more times to find a way across the ridge with no luck.

Lopi took the lead sending rocks down on me as he quickly headed for the ridge. He was tired, I could tell, we had already run 7 miles and traversed across a technical ridge. Back on the ridge we headed for the summit of Missouri. Lopi's scrambling became dynamic and his movements sloppy. But he's a strong dog and we were headed to the safety of 2nd class trails. I thought the worst was behind us.
Only one more section of technical terrain. I was hugging tight to Lopi's heels because he wasn't moving very fast. He put his front paws up on the top of the ridge and jumped with his back legs. His back legs didn't make it and he came falling down the steep face right at me. I was precariously perched on the ridge with a sheer cliff behind me. Lopi means the world to me but being knocked backwards off a cliff from a falling dog was not how I imagined I'd go. Adrenaline kicked in and I braced myself. Lopi isn't a small dog actually the opposite at 115 pounds. Instinct made me use a bouldering technique. Arms out straight I tried to catch him but maybe just broke his fall gently. My heart pounding everyone was okay! I lowered Lopi back to the ground and he quickly took an easier route to the top of the ridge. I, still shaking, followed. When I got to the summit I found Lopi laying in some snow. The summit was now crowded in 30 plus people and I was ready to get off it. In the distance I could see the storms building I glanced at the clock. 11am. Damn it! I had wasted two hours and only summitted the same mountain twice. In two hours I could have already been on the summit of Oxford.

There was no time to think should've could've would've so we bolted. Knowing in the matter of a few hours that storm would be on top of us. But I was still determined to finish the loop. Running behind Lopi in the snow a million things on my mind I caught a glimpse of his print. Was that blood? I stopped and took a closer look. It was blood. I immediately jumped to conclusions. My trip in Colorado was over. I bought him booties and I didn't even use them. How could I be such a terrible dog mom? I was sure he had reinjured the paw he delaminated weeks earlier on a run in Truckee. It looked like a lot of blood it must be bad. I sprinted to catch up with Lopi shouting for him to stop. We sat in the middle of the trail I picked up his two front paws and saw nothing. The two back paws nothing. Wait. I looked again. One of his back paws nails had gotten torn up. I assumed it was from the fall he had taken a few hours earlier. It didn't seem to bother him so I put my glove over his paw and used a hair tie to secure. Hoping this would keep it clean.

We were already over half way to Elkhead Pass and it would actually be a shorter distance to just run up over Mt. Belford then to turn around. So we pressed onward. I kept glancing over my shoulder at the approaching storm. I didn't hear sounds of thunder or see lightning so I assumed we would be fine. Just a rain storm. Right? Less then a mile from the summit of Belford we watched the storm engulf Missouri. As I passed the only other people on the mountain they were headed down. We exchanged few words. They used words like cold, miserable, suffer and I just nodded in agreement.

A few steps from the summit what I thought would be rain hit us. Blowing horizontal the snow pelted my open face and collected on my pants. I pulled my rain jacket tight against my head and continued to walk up over the summit. The snow soon engulfed us full force.

Lopi laid close to the ground and I hunkered over my legs. Gloveless with only a thin fleece jacket and leggings I was not prepared for this weather. However I felt no panic. I didn't know if the storm would last days or minutes or if I would go hypothermic before I ever found out. I was calm. I was well above 14'000 feet in pure whiteness. Everywhere I looked all I could see was white. And the sound. There was no sound. The world was silent. I was silent. I was alone. The most alone I've ever been. All of those moments when I stressed about Lopi or the weather or my hydrating or fueling. In this moment nothing mattered. Nothing was real. Was I really on the top of Mt. Belford. It didn't matter. I didn't know what time it was I never looked. Time didn't matter. I've never felt anything like it. It's hard to articulate the peace and emptiness I felt. I couldn't tell you if I was dead or alive. 
But having awoke from the whiteness the storm passed. It could have lasted an hour I wouldn't know. The surrounding mountains came back into focus and the sky shown blue for a moment. A few rays of sun warmed my frozen cheeks and I felt life again. I could hear the sound of the mountains. A deep rawr of thunder in the distance and the scattering of marmots.

I picked up my things, brushed the snow off of Lopi and headed down the steep face of Belford. This time it was different. I wanted to walk and no I didn't want to walk fast I wanted to walk slow. I had nothing to prove to myself. I know I'm a fast descender. I know I could make it down this mountain in a quarter of the time. But what did it matter. I was training. The storm had passed. I wanted to walk. So I did.

I slowly walked over the slippery wet rocks enjoying the beautiful yellow and purple flowers. It wasn't long though before my desire to move quickly kicked back in and I bounced swiftly down the mountain and back to the van.

Lopi crawled wet and muddy into my bed for the third day in a row and I laid naked feet propped up trying to figure out what happened today. I guess if everything in life always went the way you planned it life wouldn't be interesting.

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Yale Ya'll!

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Yale Ya'll!

I had full intentions on getting an alpine start this morning. After struggling to find the trailhead and almost killing a dear I settled into what I thought was the trailhead for the night.  My alarm was set for 5:30 am and with the relatively short distance to the summit of Yale I knew I'd be more than fine getting up and down well before 1 pm when the weather was to role in. Instead I slept through my alarm and didn't get to the trailhead (which I wasn't sleeping at) until 8am. I wasn't worried because I knew I would still be back down in plenty of time.

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Lopi and I made quick progress on the assent and passed nearly everyone who was out hiking Yale today. We made it to the summit in a little over 2 and a half hours. We had the whole summit to ourselves so we enjoyed every minute of it. The sky looked threatening but I was sure it would hold off for a while. We blasted off the summit for a fast and quick descent. In no time we were below the treeline and I felt safer about a storm approaching. You could hear the thunder rumbling but no rain had started to fall.

Less than a mile from the van the sky opened up. This time it didn't drizzle before the down pour it just began full force. Hail and rain mixed together soaking and stinging my skin. I opened up my stride and ran as fast as I could by the time I reached a big tree I quickly pulled my rain jacket out through it on and made fast work towards the van. It didn't matter that I was only in the rain/hail for less than 10 minutes I was still soaked to the bone and the wet dog beside me was now asleep in my bed. I checked the clock showing only 11. I was thankful I had been so close to the van but bummed the weather rolled in so early. The storm continued to rage for another few hours as Lopi and I hid in the van. Tomorrow we have big plans to do multiple peaks... Hopefully the weather is a little better tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

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Antero Antero Antero

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Antero Antero Antero

Today was a slow moving day. I spent the past few days catching up with old friends and climbing at one of my favorite crags turkey rocks. Not to mention running around playing with my favorite baby too. It was good for morale.

But today it was time to start planning plotting and navigating the big mountains of Colorado. I planned my schedule to have a shorter day the first and last day of my trip and to go really big on the third day. So this morning was just a mellow 11 mile run up Antero.

The plan was to get an alpine start from Golden and be at the trailhead by 6 or 7 that way I was off the summit before the storms rolled in... Instead I got an alpine start drove to the trail junction got in the back of my van and slept till eleven. When I woke up the weather looked threatening but I decided to push anyways. The sound of thunder in the distance made me nervous but the real storm held off till I was back asleep in my car. It rained the entire time but nothing like the torrential downpour that ensued after I was safe in the van.

The run itself was an adventure mainly on 4wd roads until you ascend a gully up a steep loose slope and then across an exposed ridge to the summit. Type 2 fun coming down slipping on the wet rocks and sliding a few hundred feet over loose rocks. As I sit down now to look at my route I fear I may not have been exactly on route... Time for a hopefully simple Yale run in the am with an actual alpine start.

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