Summer 2014 Mountain Madness
Summer has wound down, and it was a hot one for FKT action in the mountains. Some people REALLY like climbing mountains … LOTS of mountains! Let’s take a look …
Depending how you count, there are between 53 and 58 peaks in Colorado over 14,000 feet – the “14ers”. Climbing them all is a life-goal for many, but the 14ers record was thrust into the modern spotlight by two record-breaking efforts by Rick Trujillo and Ricky Denesik, then followed by Andrew Hamilton; “Cave Dog” (Ted Keizer) set the existing record (fully supported) for climbing all (55) of them at 10d, 20h, 26m in September 2000.
This was such an impressive achievement of both speed hiking and logistics, taking 3 full days off the previous time, that no one challenged it for a dozen years. Finally in 2012 John “Homie” Prater went after Cave Dog’s record, but succumbed to an injury after an intense effort and 41 summits. The trip generated a massive thread of 1,665 Comments on the website 14ers.com, and a really outstanding on-line article was written about it.
Then this June, former 14ers record holder (13d, 22h, 48m in 1999) Andrew Hamilton took a very strong run at the record, but was also taken out by injury (Compartment Syndrom) after a huge effort and summiting 45 of the peaks. Again, there was terrific interest on the 14ers.com site, with the discussion thread running to 1,446 posts.
Hamilton’s detailed (and unfinished) trip report provides a real insight into the absolutely massive effort that goes into these supported 14ers record attempts.
“My goal was not to break the record by hiking faster, but by being faster than everyone else while I wasn’t hiking.” – Andrew Hamilton
“Andrew is the toughest guy I know … I can’t fathom the pain and suffering involved here.” – Bill Wright
After that long 12 year gap, the CO 14ers really heated up this year, as this two-time Barkley finisher and event record holder Brett Maune took a shot starting on August 19, 2014. Despite horrible weather during one of the wettest summers in memory, Maune put in some very fast times in the first four days, including finishing all 14 peaks of the San Juan Range in just 40 hours, but was taken down on the fifth day by food poisoning from a chicken sandwich that he purchased from the restaurant on the summit of Pike Peak! The irony was absurd. This resulted in another monster thread on 14ers.com.
“Good luck, much speed, and go get that record.” – Cave Dog to Brett Maune
“This is ultimately supposed to be a celebration.” – Brett Maune
Graph of recent 14ers attempts (also demonstrating the degree to which these are followed).
14ers 2014 EPILOGUE
Cave Dog basically broke the 14ers record with superior planning, logistics, and support, and each subsequent aspirant has realized they must follow his successful methodology of using very organized support teams and multiple vehicles including jeeps, ATVs and dirt bikes to save effort by driving high up some of the rougher roads. Each has also adhered to the “Colorado Rule” where the climber must ascend on foot at least 3,000 vertical feet to the summit of the first peak in any enchainment, and descend at least 3,000 vertical feet after the last summit of a series. This is mostly due to the plethora of roads in Colorado, including two that allow passenger cars to drive to the summit of a 14er; since driving is not the point these rules may be needed, but can result in strange situations where the climber checks his altimeter then gets out of a vehicle at the precise elevation to start hiking while still below some of the regularly-used trailheads, or gets in an ATV and is driven higher up past a regularly-used trailhead.
But if you never set foot in a car, such rules are meaningless.
So eschewing the entire support structure, Justin Simoni pedaled off at 4:00am on July 25 at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden to do the Colorado 14ers, completely self-powered and self-supported. He bicycled between trailheads, climbed the mountain, camped, and resupplied in towns, thus making all the complex rules totally moot. Justin biked roughly 1,600 miles and hiked about 350 miles to tag all the summits and return to his starting point in Golden on August 28, in a time of 34d, 12h, 40m, setting a new FKT for doing the Colorado 14ers in this pure style (the old record appears to have been set in 1995 by Roy Benton, 37d, 12h). An artist and two-time finisher of the fabled Continental Divide mountain bike race, Justin knew how to take care of himself and keep moving.
Simoni had many crazy adventures along the way, dealing with this summer’s rotten weather and twice having his camp ransacked by bears and all his food eaten. He had an epic final push, tagging Bierstadt and Evans on Aug. 27, then grinding out 84 miles on his bike straight through the night to the Longs Peak TH where he started hiking at 4:00am on Aug. 28. He reached the final summit (Longs) at 8:45am, then hiked 7.5 miles back down and biked another 62 miles in the rain to finish in Golden. When asked if he had experienced any injuries along the way, Simoni said “Nary a blister.” Interestingly, while the supported FKT attempts have garnered huge interest from the vigorous Colorado 14ers hiking community, Simoni’s trip was relatively under the radar, possibly because there was rarely anyone around to give reports – he did everything completely alone, except for one summit.
Justin carried the PB Adventure Vest he had purchased the entire time – on the bike and on foot. It looks worn out – one guesses his next one could probably be comp’d.
“To summarize: this is a self-supported, go light and fast challenge. I’m not fundraising or anything and I’ve got no agenda except: ‘whoa! is this too crazy not to try?’.” – Justin Simoni
“I asked myself which route would be more fun, rather than which would be faster.” – Justin Simoni
“I’ve found number crunching to be a major part of this whole thing. Who knew?” – Justin Simoni
There are just fifteen 14ers in California, but they are spread all over the state (Mt Shasta is over 450 road miles from its nearest 14er neighbor), generally have large vertical gains from the standard trailheads, and some require technical climbing (especially the Palisades Traverse). From July 29 to August 7, 2014, Sam Skrocke enchained these peaks on foot and bicycle (like Simoni, self-supported and self-powered) in just 9d, 20h, 41m from the first trailhead to the last, a massive improvement of over 10 days on the previous FKT for this style of trip.
“This body craves incapacitating exhaustion from worthwhile means and this trip did not disappoint.” – Sam Skrocke
There are no 14ers or even 13ers in Idaho, but there are nine 12ers, and so of course people want to climb them all … as fast as possible. There is a website dedicated to this, which also lists the progression of the FKT for the ID 12ers. It appears that as recently as 2003 the FKT was in the very slow neighborhood of 8 days, but by 2005 it had been brought down to 1d, 14h, 50m (from the first trailhead to the last). On August 16-17, 2014, on a supported trip, ultrarunners Luke Nelson and Jared Campbell took a full 10 hours off this already respectable time, dropping the record to 1d, 4h, 38m!
Campbell had this to say about their trip: “Idaho 12ers was great! Just the right mix and amount of logistics, research, challenging terrain, sleep deprivation, and effort. Luke was an amazing partner and it was an honor to tackle it with him. The terrain in Idaho is wild and rugged, especially in the Lost River Range. The route is not for the choss-averse!” Campbell used the new UD Fastpack 20 for the 17-hour Lost River Range section, and the PB Adventure Vest for the rest.
NEW HAMPSHIRE 4k’ers
Heading east, we find smaller mountains, but still big challenges. There are 48 peaks over 4,000’ in New Hampshire, and climbing them all has been a big deal for decades. The first recorded FKT for all the NH 4k’ers was set by George and Tom Fitch in 1973 at 6d, 15h, 30m. Almost thirty years later, and two years after establishing the Colorado 14ers FKT, Cave Dog brought the FKT down to 3d, 17h, 21m.
The next year Tim Seaver shaved a scant 90 minutes off this time, doing the peaks in 3d, 15h, 21m. This summer Seaver’s record was beaten by less than an hour by Andrew Thompson (of Appalachian Trail fame) on July 7-10, 2014, 3d, 14h, 59m. This one is getting tight!
“A 40 percent (chance of precipitation) is the baseline in the White Mountains, and I definitely had my fair share of rain. There was some wet footing, and the biggest challenge there is just keeping your feet intact. It’s a constant challenge because you’re going over rocks, through wet, boggy areas, dealing with clusters of roots, going up and down ledges. It’s 200 miles of constant reeling.” – Andrew Thompson
Coming soon: Peter recaps a full summer of FKT action on the long trails.
Your Comments welcome!