On Saturday, July 18, I completed Nolan’s 14 south to north finishing at Fish Hatchery trail head in 58 hours and 9 minutes.
I made the decision to try Nolan’s the night before when my wife told me she’d watch the kids if I wanted to give it a go. She even took the kids to a friends house for dinner so I could go to bed early. I made sure I had a GPX file on my watch, synced my wife’s In Reach Mini Garmin to my phone andheaded off to Blanks Cabin at 4 AM the next morning from Leadville. I set off at 5:51 am. I didn’t really learn the nuances of the In Reach and when I marked every peak as a waypoint, it showed up conveniently as “boat ramp” on my tracker!
The first day went well, there was a brief hail and lightning storm going up Princeton but after waiting it out for about a half hour things cleared up again. Coming down Princeton on wet talus was a bit of a crux with Altra Timps acting like ice skates on the lichen. I carried everything I thought I would need for the entire route and was going to be self supported but coming down Princeton that plan went out the window and I decided I needed to sleep at Avalanche Gulch Trail head. I was moving quickly enough that I decided at this point to run supported and attempt to get some solid sleep every night. This worked well and I rested for a few hours, setting off for Mt Yale around midnight with a goal of making it to Winfield that evening.
I had a low point on top of Mount Harvard when another hiker pointed out all of the mountains I had yet to complete. The line from this viewpoint was utterly impossible looking and I basically thought to myself I would descend and drop out. As is the case with being above 14,000’ I felt much better as I descended. I began to realize how many things have gone well thus far and decided I needed to forge on. Luckily I had down climbed the ridge from Missouri to Belford as one of the only segments on the course I had scouted, and as a rock climber the ridge going up Missouri felt much easier as a climb up rather than a down climb. Plus, I was now wearing Hoka Evo Speedgoats with much stickier rubber than the Altras. I blitzed up the climb To get the fifth class part over with before a light drizzle started. The hardest part of the day’s segment was still ahead on the ascent of Mt Huron. I wasted a bunch of time messing around on cliffs before realizing the way to the summit was on the steep loose scree on Huron to get to the summit. I saw Jason Koop and his buddy slipping and fumbling down the loose scree you and we kind of gave each other a look like “this is terrible”. Mt Huron was the worst part of the entire course in my opinion but maybe it was just because of how tired I was at this point. My wife was waiting with our little girl in the van at Winfield and I felt like I couldn’t run another step when I arrived. I are food and shut my eyes for a few more hours and by 2 AM felt ready to go again.
La Plata trail at night was beautiful with all the stars in the sky. It was Saturday morning now And after feeling utterly alone for most of the route I was about to be surprised with dozens of hikers coming up as I descended. We have a cabin near the base of Mt Elbert, so I was feeling like I had made it home on the long climb up. There must’ve been 40 people on top of Mt Elbert and I was excited to ditch all of them on the steep scree heading west. Half Moon road was busy with people and heading up Mt Massive was going to be a bit crowded. Luckily some ominous clouds started to form and a lot of people were bailing. It was at this point I realized if the weather gets really bad I could actually fail with one peak to go. People were telling me to be careful as the dark clouds loomed and I thought to myself at this point lightning would have to hit me to drop out! And my luck continued, the higher I climbed the clouds begin to dissipate. The summit of massive was clear and calm. The descent off massive took me a while. I kept second-guessing the route. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find the Highline Trail in the scrub brush and marshes.It was at this point that I was happy to have a decent buffer on the 60 hour cut off. I found the Highline Trail and my wife texted that she would meet me for the last couple miles. I found my wife and she said the kids were at the babysitters but we were supposed to get them at 4 o’clock and it was like 3:50! Luckily the babysitter said we could be a little late. When we arrived at Fish hatchery our friends Abby and Casey were there to give me the champagne of beer or a Miller Highlife! It was fantastic, and about five minutes after getting into the van high winds picked up and it was drizzling cold rain. I had done Nolan’s with almost no scouting on my first try!
With so many miles of dangerous talus and scree I don’t think I will ever do this route again! It was fantastic but I am good with doing it once. However, if I were to do it again I could shave a couple hours off my time easily by ensuring I had a rain jacket that was large enough to fit over my pack, gators that were securely attached to shoes with sticky rubber and waterproof gloves! Just being more efficient putting layers on and off without having to stop and mess with my backpack would’ve helped a lot. Also, I had to use two Garmin 935s because those are the watches we had when I started. A Suunto Ambit3 Peak would’ve been a much better watch in terms of battery life and navigating for me. Sleeping both nights and treating it like a stage race helped me break down such a difficult course into a more manageable-almost stage race.
Please let me know if there are any questions I could help answer and good luck for anyone attending this beautiful, amazing route!