We decided to put a mix gender category on the board for a self supported Nolan’s 14, direction: north to south because, that direction is the most neglected!
It took us 57 hours and 56 minutes. We decided on self supported after getting our packs on and realizing how heavy they actually were! We set up two gear drops.
There is so much to process and comprehend what actually happened over the last couple days, as Andrew and I have done multiple Nolan’s 14 and Holy Nolan’s runs together, but this one hit different. We had to work so hard for this one, as air quality was unhealthy and poor from nearby prescribed fire burn, we were not able to train appropriately this summer due to a number of factors, the mountains in southern part of the course got dumped on when we needed to start, amongst other things- safe to say, we wanted to see if we had it in us.
Turns out we did.
We make up an incredible team, who for the most part is completely in sync with one another and hold each other in highest regard. I will have an official write up coming soon.
Nolan’s 14 2023 – report By Andrew and Andrea
Andrea and I started 2023 with some big adventure plans. We wanted to check out the 13ers in Wyoming and complete some big ridge traverses like the Sangres Traverse. However, early on we realized the year was going to be a bust.
Sometimes life just gets in the way. Andrea was struggling with a leg injury causing her to go back and forth with whether she would get surgery or not, I hurt a leg tendon and decided my running days were over, and by far the biggest problem was Andrea’s mom Donna being diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer.
I’ll always be amazed with how Andrea’s family including her sisters, Aunts, and Uncles all came together to help with her mom for the last few months of her life. They all pulled together to share the responsibility of the hospice care until the sun set on this side of her life. It was a bonding experience for the family that we wouldn’t trade for anything, however it did put a damper on any other goals we had envisioned, and our weeks in Tennessee broke our rhythm of training, so that we didn’t think we were in shape enough to go for anything big.
Despite the setbacks, our philosophy over the last few years has been to try to be consistent with smaller workouts every day. We may not be in the best shape or get in a ton of training, but we maintain a decent level of fitness at any time with consistent but short workouts every day. We also did a bit of guiding, helping those needing to finish their list of 58 14ers. This means many repeat trips up the Maroon Bells, Little Bear, and Capitol Peak.
One weekend we had a day available, and decided the time was right for a Crestone group 14ers loop “FKT”. We wanted to see if we could beat 8 hours, and were able to pull it off with very little training, so we started thinking maybe we could just squeeze in a Nolan’s before the cold weather set in this year. We’ve been talking about giving Nolans a go from North to South for years now. It seems like no one goes that direction anymore, and since we have a lot of experience on the Nolan’s route we figured we could just go for it without having to put in much scouting time. It seems like 10 years ago everyone was going North to South on the route, but then people figured out that South to North was much easier. If you look at the records for the two directions, it is astounding how many people are recorded for South to North times, but only Andrew Hamilton and Joe Grant have times recorded for North to South.
When Andrea's mom passed away, it hit Andrea pretty hard. It seemed like it would be a good time to head into the mountains. An early September snow had hit the mountains, and we wanted that snow to melt, but we only had a few days available at the end of September to make this happen. Once we saw three days of decent weather in the forecast, we just decided to go for it. Originally, we thought we would go unsupported, where you carry everything with you from start to finish. But then we realized how heavy our packs were going to be. No Thanks! At the last minute we changed our minds and decided to choose the self-supported style and set up two gear drops where we could pick up some extra food along the way. It is annoying though because it takes a significant amount of time to set up the gear drops and pick them up before and after the Nolan’s attempt.
We looked at some of our previous Nolans attempts and came up with a spreadsheet of our expected times. We ended up putting together a plan where we thought we could finish in 48 hours. I’ve always wanted to pull off a sub-50 hour finish, and that’s still a couple of hours slower than Andrea’s amazing time from last year so it seemed possible, although we realized it might be a little aggressive for our fitness level and circumstances this year.
We packed up and headed to Buena Vista the day before our scheduled start, needing to set up our gear drops. Then we wanted to get a hotel room and we planned on sleeping in late to get a late morning start. An 11:00am start is a little unorthodox of a start time, however in the North South direction we liked where that start time put us in the dark. Well actually we didn’t like that it put us on Princeton in the dark on night two, but other than that it seemed like it could work out nicely. It’s always important to think about where on the course you will be at light and dark hours.
After setting up our first drop, we came to find all the hotels in BV, Salida, and Leadville were unavailable, it turns out it was prime leaf-peeping season, and nothing was available! We panicked for a quick second thinking our procrastination of finding a hotel room was just about the dumbest thing we have done in a while. Sleeping in the car or on the ground just wasn’t going to cut it this time, because we needed to sleep in late, and the sun rises early! Thankfully our procrastination paid off, and our great friends Ella and Charlie Nuttleman offered up their newly self-built cabin at the base of La Plata. Safe to say this was the best cabin stay there ever was, they are incredible, incredibly talented in their house building abilities, and we are grateful.
The morning came quick, but we weren’t rushed. We like round numbers to make math easy, so when we were not ready to go by 11 am, we figured the next best number would be 11:10. So there you have it, we started our journey at 11:10 am on Sunday September 24.
Massive/Elbert – A Strong Start
The one thing Andrew and I preach until we are blue in the face, is to never go out too hard right out of the starting gate. This is such a difficult concept for most people to understand. It shouldn’t be that complicated. Basically, when you are fresh you have the strength to completely burn yourself out. A common excuse for a Nolans failure goes something like this. “ I was on pace for 40 hours, but then I got HAPE!” or “I was moving great, but then I tripped and broke my ankle!” More likely, they just went out too hard and misinterpreted the symptoms of pushing too hard as HAPE, or turned their legs to jelly and then tripped and hurt themselves. Too many people make this mistake, and then crash and burn somewhere after the first night on the course. Our theory is if we set a pace fast enough to not be going slow, but slow enough to not let our legs burn, or have any hard breathing, our energy will be conserved and well preserved for the long haul. Then it is just a matter of surviving the nights. When Andrea and I look at Nolans splits, we don’t really care much about the first day, we want to see what kind of splits we are pulling off in the first and even more critical second nights!
We summited Massive in 2:35. Was that too fast? We will never know, as we felt good, we were never breathing hard, nor did we ever have burning legs on the ascent, but that was the fastest we have ever ascended Mt. Massive from the Fish Hatchery. Feeling happy to be ahead of our 48 hour splits, we headed down, short cutting where we could, and headed up Elbert. Elbert is one of the few peaks we think is easier in the North to South direction. It is a straight shot off the road, 3,000 feet up the west rib. Still feeling strong, we seemed to be happy with our nutrition and caloric intake, but problems started early for us. Our earliest issue seemed to be some sort of congestion, and mucus was starting to build up already. Any time there are any potential breathing problems, Andrea gets anxious, as she always thinks back to her first failed Nolan’s in 2020 due to breathing issues from poor air quality. Before we knew it, we were headed into the night, racing to descend Elbert before dark, and we just pulled that off as we didn’t need to turn our headlamps on until we finally reached the road. We were happy and ahead of our splits headed to La Plata.
La Plata – Still Moving Strong
Once we got to the river crossing, Andrew piggy-backed Andrea across the river (what a deal!) We found our gear after a few minutes of frustration (where did we leave that gear?), resupplied, and on we went.
In getting ready for Nolans, we both fear how we will react to the nights. As we said before, it is your performance during the night that will really set the stage for how you do in Nolans, and the second night is an order of magnitude more difficult than the first night. Our strategy of starting at 11:00 am seemed to pay off as we both felt pretty fresh going into the first night. But as might be expected Andrew was still feeling tired and starting to nod off as we neared the summit of La Plata. Andrew was listening to some hardcore history podcasts about the Mongols, and after taking a 5-hour energy, he gained some energy back at the summit and started telling Andrea all about what he had been listening to which kept our minds occupied for a little while.
After La Plata we both got very cold and finally both of us were feeling tired. Andrea does not have a weapon against fatigue. Andrew can always count on a big boost from a 5-hour energy, but for Andrea a 5-hour energy is just a big boost of nausea. It is a big problem that needs to be solved. If you don’t have a weapon when delirium sets in then it is going to be hard to recover! As the fourth big climb in a row, we were dreading the climb up Huron, and sure enough once we covered the miles between La Plata and Huron and started ascending, the climb really dragged for both of us.
Huron/Missouri – Legs Faltering
Deep into the night, summiting was taking forever. It was cold, Andrew only had his shorts on, but Andrea was thankful for all her warm clothing she picked up at the first gear drop before La Plata. We often find hiking in the dark and cold does seem to take a toll on our legs ability to recover, so it was important for Andrea , as she remembered her cold and miserable night one on Columbia-Missouri last year on her record attempt, to pack some warm layers. The summit was very cold with a brisk wind blowing. The descent of Huron was steep, loose, and rugged. Although Andrea was suffering, she did a really good job keeping that to herself, as she knows how important it is to try to maintain a positive attitude for me (or any partner she is with in any attempt for that matter). This was quite the adventure dealing with the boulders, trees, steep bush whacking, and route finding. Near the bottom of the descent Andrew lost the ideal path and we had to punch through some very thick bushes to complete the descent. It was all a challenge, and we were excited to get this night over with.
Our legs were not feeling super strong or recovered from the previous climbs. Did we go out too hard? Was it just the cold? Were we eating enough? Were we just too out of shape for this? Is Andrew too old for this? We just didn’t know, but it was interesting that we were both feeling exactly the same.
We started up Missouri just as the night was ending. We were hoping our legs would wake up with the morning sun, but alas we both felt extremely weak. This mountain was so incredibly steep, straight up, no switch backs (aside from the occasional) and the summit just never seemed to get any closer. We reached the summit ridge, but then you have to spend what seems like an incredibly long time traversing across it to get to the summit. False summits were going to be a recurring problem for us…Once we summited, we continued across the East ridge on our way to Belford. It took a LONG time, as the East ridge is technical, and we are much more comfortable ascending than descending that route. We were losing time on our splits, and that is never a good feeling. The one positive take away from the East ridge this time of day, is at least the sun shines on it first thing. So here we had the chance to begin to warm up from the chill of the night.
Belford/Oxford/Harvard – Staying Alive
Heading up to Belford Andrew was in the lead, and despite how slow we felt, we had a very consistent pace, and somehow despite our miserable performance on Huron and Missouri we were still 30 minutes ahead of our 48 hour splits at this time. The problem was that our legs were just not recovering and Belford and Oxford both were hard. And honestly those are supposed to feel like a couple of freebies as you hardly lose any elevation going from Missouri to Belford to Oxford, relative to other climbs on the Nolans route. The one thing we really hate about that ridge is that it is ALWAYS windy, or at least it seems like that. Our only chance to get out of the wind is from the summit of Oxford, where we hid behind a wind protected stone wall. At this point we both commented that we weren’t having much fun and would both have been happy to quit then and there. The finish felt like an eternity away, and we couldn’t believe we were only atop peak #7. What was up with our legs?
We like Oxford going South to North, but today we decided that we hated descending Oxford in this direction. We continued losing time until the bottom of the descent where we really needed to do something about our legs not wanting to work and our poor caloric intake. Once we arrived at Pine Creek, the low-point between Oxford and Harvard, we took a long stop to filter water and loaded up on as many calories as possible, we needed to recover. Pine Creek is approximately the half-way point for Nolan’s so it was somewhat of a relief to get to this spot, but also a little depressing for how bad we felt!
Heading up Harvard, Andrew tried to set a very consistent pace. No breaks, no stops, but not too hard. Just a slow, steady pace to get us up as fast as possible. We were in sync as it was the perfect pace for Andrea, and our legs seemed to have finally recovered from that terrible night. This was a special Nolans for us as Andrew and I always seemed to be connected on this adventure. We were tired at the same time, strong at the same time, similar anxieties, and later we would even share similar hallucinations. Starting on the steep climb of Harvard, we were 100% in step with each other. One step after another...we made the summit in just over 1:30 so somehow after that horrible morning we hit the summit still on pace for 48 hours.
From the summit of Harvard, looking South we could see the remaining 6 peaks of the route. Unfortunately all of the Northern faces that we looking at were still carrying quite a bit of snow. Even though the snowstorm hit a couple of weeks before, it just hadn’t melted off. That was a little concerning because that amount of snow was enough that we would have to reroute onto paths we weren’t as familiar with, or risk treacherous snowy terrain.
Columbia – The Scent of Disaster
Our goal for the Harvard Columbia Traverse was two hours. We have a route that stays up high and technical but avoids dropping down and adding a bunch of elevation. Fortunately the East side of the ridge was dryer than we expected so we didn’t have to worry about snow on the technical terrain.
We were moving as fast as we could, however we were a little stressed out as it didn’t look like we would hit 2 hours. Then Andrea noticed a campfire like smell in the air, and for the first time we noticed that the air felt hot, hazy and smoky. Was there a new forest fire? This could spell disaster! Is this why are legs have been struggling so much? We know from past experience if you try to go fast in smokey air it can lead to breathing problems and could certainly have been the culprit explaining why our legs were burning so much in the dark. But we thought the air seemed clear in the morning. Whether it was real or imagined, I think we felt like we were choking on more mucus than before, and all of a sudden it seemed a real chore to breathe.
We made the summit of Columbia and after battling hard we made in in 2:08, so technically we hadn’t lost much time, but now we looked around and it truly was a disaster, the air had a strong scent of smoke, was hazy everywhere, and it looked like the smoke, or at least the thickest haze was coming from the Shavano area, our exact destination.
We started descending Columbia, and the air was so bad, Andrea started to panic. She started using her bandana as a mask, and offering up her second to Andrew. Her lungs don’t tolerate smoke well, and mentally it will get the best of her. So we decided to stop and make some calls. We called Andrew’s sister to see if she could find out what was going on. After some time she discovered that there was a controlled burn down near the base of Shavano. So the good news was that it wasn’t some out of control forest fire. The bad news was that meant we could potentially be in the path of the smoke for the rest of our attempt. Laura encouraged us to just continue on “Do you even need your Lungs for anything next week anyway?” She said if our roles were reversed we would tell her to go on. But actually, Andrea and I talked about it afterward and said we would tell her to save her lungs if our roles were reversed.
Andrea sent Chris Tomer a text and a phone call asking how long we would have to deal with this smoke, and his answer was not very encouraging. Another 8-12 hours. Which unbeknownst to us, it was 12, even if we were hopeful for the 8, and then they would restart the burn the next day. Glad we didn’t know that at the time.
Andrea and I decided to quit. We had been feeling weak for the last day, weren’t having a lot of fun, and there we had it…we had the perfect excuse to quit. Who could fault us for not continuing in the face of messing up our lungs in a bunch of smoke? I was already starting to experience a strange reality because of a day of sleep deprivation and in my mind I didn’t care what we did, I just figured I was there to support Andrea and her crew and if she wanted to drop out that was fine with me. Crew? What crew? It was just me and Andrea, my brain was starting to act weird. But man would it sure be nice to be finished! And get some sleep? Sign me up!
Andrea made a call to Ella and told her we were quitting, then we started thinking about how we were going to get out. Quitting on Nolan’s is such a pain when you are self-supported! How would we get back to our car? There is no one to pick us up, so from where we were, we would have to go up and over Yale anyways before anyone could come get us without too much hastle.
Then, after much wasted time, and another phone call from Laura, Andrea just said “let’s keep going,” and I was like, “OK, fine with me.” So we continued. Maybe Laura was right, we didn’t want to let everyone including ourselves down. We committed to Nolan’s, and we were going to finish this project, no matter what. Andrea kept thinking of Laura, her confidence in us, everyone who shared words of support to us on social/through text messages, and that really helped motivate her. So, if you are one of those individuals reading this, thanks to you! Who cares about a sub 50, now that we had wasted an incredible amount of time we didn’t know what would be possible time wise, so we joked that we were probably destined to finish in 53 hours. Every time Andrew has ever finished Nolan’s within 60 hours it was always in 53 hours, so why not another one.
Deciding to continue after wasting so much time was frustrating, but down we went. Down the steep way off the mountain. Andrew has decided he hates that way off Columbia. It’s steep, it's hard. But we finally reached the trail, where we would have to start the ascent of Yale. Dang it would be nice to have that wasted time back! Now it looks like we get to enjoy Yale in the darkness.
Yale – Route Madness
Good ol’ Yale. This was a tough one. The smoke lingered hot in our lungs, drying our mouths out, slow going. It was a struggle near the bottom of the airplane gully. We know there is a decent way through there, but I guess we wanted to whack all of the bushes! It finally turned dark on us, and the North to South route we would have preferred to take was blocked by snow. So we zigzagged around, should we head to the ridge? Should we just go straight ahead? For all the times we have scouted Yale how could we feel so lost.
No matter, one step in front of the other. One day we will get there. But why doesn’t the top ever seem to get closer? After much ascending we reached the saddle that joined with the main trail. That should have been good news, a few minutes on the standard route of Yale! But wow that was a nasty false summit in the dark! Why have we never noticed that before? WTH! We lost an hour over our projected time getting to the summit!
We were happy to be on the summit! Woohoo! Unbeknownst to us the real adventure was about to begin on the descent. We decided to follow the Hughes Gulch route that Andrea took last year for her 2022 Nolan’s attempt, and it was pretty much a total disaster. We have been up Hughes Gulch a few times in scouting trips and it doesn’t seem so bad in the light. But on the descent, in the dark, we were really questioning if this route makes any sense. For miles and miles our route seemed to go through giant boulder fields. And if we tried to follow grassier forest terrain we would quickly dead-end in thick bushwhacking. Then we would find we had completely veered off our ideal track and would bushwhack back to it, only to find the ideal track was back in a field of giant boulders? Why have we ever liked this route? By the time we finally reached the trail Andrea was just hanging on mentally and Andrew was in a terrible mood because of the wasted time from the difficulty of finding the track in the dark. We will not be descending Hughes Gulch in the dark again that is for sure.
We had wasted half the night! We were supposed to be battling Princeton this night and we still had over 9 miles just to get to the base of it! Andrea decided to try a 5-hour energy, but come to find, just as every other time, they just give her nausea and don’t seem to wake her up at all.
Now on the Colorado Trail, we descended towards the Avalanche TH, and wow was that the worst trail ever. Just a consistent downhill grade that seems to accentuate the pain in the knees, tendons, and all parts of the foot. Would it ever end? I just stayed out front and let Andrea and her friends talk and head down the trail. Wait what? It’s just me and Andrea. For some reason I can’t get this idea that there are other people with us out of my mind. Andrea was having the same experience. She had a friend named Emily who she thought was with us. This is the fun of a second night of no sleep, the delirium sets in. What is real and what is not is sometimes hard to distinguish. Meanwhile just one foot in front of the other. Keep going. Andrea was doing well but was not happy (to say the least) about the trail. Who designs these trails? It seems like they want people to feel maximum pain, honestly that is probably the number one requirement. Have a destination? Don’t go there, take a roundabout way and add 1000 switchbacks just to make it hurt.
Finally we made it to the Avalanche Trailhead. Now 3 miles down the road to our second gear drop. Oh boy, 3 miles on pavement in our current, stumbling mental state. That is going to be hard.
Princeton – Shiver Sleeps
Coming out of Yale was a great feeling. We hadn’t intended to spend the majority of the nighttime on this mountain. Now we could finally focus on Princeton, always meant to be the big battle of night 2. We were headed to Princeton- but first, a nine mile hike to the base of Maxwell Gulch, where the real ascent of Princeton would begin. Princeton is undeniably the beast of the Nolan’s route. North and South sides of Princeton are the two lowest points on the Nolan’s course. And there is just no way to avoid a challenging, often off trail route on both the ascent and descent.
After about a mile the pavement was really getting old. The amount of groaning was impressive. Neither of us groaning to seek attention- it just sometimes feels good to make all the noises. When we reached Indian Flats Trailhead, we immediately took what we call our first shiver sleep. “What is that?” you might be asking yourself. It’s basically when you lay down on the ground or trail and fall asleep, until you wake up shivering which usually lasts about 3-5 minutes. Andrew and I love shiver sleeps. We immediately fall into a deep sleep, but within minutes wake up shivering uncontrollably, so we get up and are forced to get moving again in order to warm up. Then just a couple minutes down the trail we found our second gear stash, reloaded our packs and took another delightful shiver sleep. It seemed as if we spent a lot of time at our gear stash this go around and when we finally got going we had napping on our mind, but at least Andreas body felt great, as the Tylenol she took kicked in and seemed to work wonders.
By this time we were pretty behind on our caloric intake and eating was hard. We always end up packing powder appropriately divided out and never consuming nearly as much as we should. The candy we packed was hard to choke down as it made our cough and mucus build up worse. It was about this time Andrea was starting to get nervous about her breathing again. Smoke was still present as we could still smell it. She offered me to finish Nolan’s if she had to back out but I immediately rejected that offer, we were in this together. I tried to ease her anxieties about not being able to take a deep breath and assured her that she was fine.
By this time we were deep in the stages of hallucinations- it’s pretty wild as we were hallucinating the same things. We always felt as if we were hiking with other people, and should be with others. But alas, it was always just Andrew and I. After a few more shiver sleeps and one detour where we walked right on past the entrance to Maxwell Gulch before realizing the mistake and backtracking, we finally were high enough in Maxwell gulch to view the sunrise. It was a beautiful sunrise as the air was clear on the mountain, but down in the valley was still very smoky. The daylight on this peak was important as it was needed to decide our route. Our desired route up Princeton was completely covered in snow. And it was deep. We spied a ridge that headed due west that connected well to the North of Princeton’s West summit, and we chose this much longer route. We would spend a lot of extra time on the ridge line but it looked way better than 1500 feet of climbing up inconsistent snow. I think we made a good call, but no doubt there was not a good option here. No matter what we did I’m sure the time cost was at least an hour over what it would have been in dry conditions. The summit was another just terrible false summit experience where we would think we would be near, but then see the actual summit impossibly far out of reach. It was so disheartening. Reaching the summit, we took cover from the chilly wind in the summit windbreak and were able to see the smoke down below, but we received good news that the winds that day would be coming from the west. This would keep the smoke out of our way for the day.
For our descent we tried a gully that I thought might make sense as a descent route, avoiding the tedious ridge off of Princeton. It’s a loose gully that Andrea hated so much as an ascent route that we hadn’t tried it for years. I remembered it being fairly loose, but when we started descending, the entire slope started sliding with us, at first we were having fun. But I think at about the same time we both had the thought, could we get buried? So at about the same we both leapt out of the sliding rocks. Then it was a painstaking downclimb trying to get down the next 1000 feet without triggering the incredibly loose rocks. We generally found ourselves looking for the rocks covered in lichen, because if the rock is covered in lichen then it likely hasn’t been part of a recent rock slide. Once off the incredibly steep slope that I don’t think we will ever take again, we entered the top of Grouse Gulch and began the long descent out of the grassy gulch.
We found the connector trail to Alpine and hit in the heat of the day, and it was torture. We were hurting and again we were cursing the seemingly endless trail. Nothing fun about that one.
Once we finally reached the town of alpine we took a nice long break. We sat, changed our clothes, fueled up on take fives and fast breaks, and started on our way to the monster of a mountain that loomed overhead. We were finally at the last group of peaks. This is what we have been waiting for since the morning of our ascent up Belford/Oxford. We were running calculations. After the disastrous night on Yale, shiver sleeps up Princeton, inefficient route to avoid the snow, and long torturous descent off Princeton, we wondered if we could still finish in the 54 hour range. No chance. 55 hour range? Not going to happen. 56 hour range? Highly unlikely. Surely we are going to finish in 60, right? Yeah sure piece of cake. But each of those times sounds so much better that the next. Like a 55 hour time sounds so much better than a 56. And a 56 is respectable, but way better than a 57. And seriously, Andrea finished in under 46 hours last year, how on earth are we at least 10 hours behind that?
Antero – Working Hard for Nothing
We decided to go aggressive on Antero. We thought we could pull off something in the 56 hour range. Starting up Antero was hot and intimidating. Antero is almost a 5000 foot climb! But the miles on the rocky road seemed to pass somewhat quickly and we had a great strong pace. We decided the direct route to the summit. We leave the road at 11,000 feet and head directly to the summit straight up the rocky west face. We were moving strong, probably putting out the effort that I would expect to yield a 2500 foot pace per hour. But reality wasn’t matching up. We were barely getting 1500 per hour. What was wrong? In hindsight the big boulders were just too loose. They would constantly shift and slide and it was just time consuming overcoming that. Despite a monumental effort, we only managed to save about 8 minutes over the expected 3 hours to the summit. It doesn’t sound too bad but for the amount of effort we put into it felt like a total failure. Reaching the summit was a relief and we could see the smoke rising from Salida from the controlled burns and were still crossing our fingers the smoke would stay away. Descending was steep and hot. We didn’t like the route down as much as we like ascending it. Andrew had one of his biggest lows here and when we reached the bottom we stopped at a stream and filled up on water, Gatorade, and some food. Doing the math, it looked like it would now just be an epic battle to finish in the 57 hour range. 56 was out of the question! It was going to be a battle against the clock from here on out.
Tabeguache - Delirium
Now the question was, what route were we taking up Tabeguache? The North side was completely snow covered. Do we take a direct gully straight to the summit? Maybe try something that looks dryer to the left. We approached the main gully that heads down from the Shavano Tabeguache saddle. Half the team was going to scout the gullies below Tabeguache. Some girl was following me. Oh wait, there is no team, and that girl is Andrea. Ugh my mind is gone, what is real and what is not?
Once we chose our route, we were happy with it. The gully was surprisingly not crappy and we were actually having a good time climbing, one of the few moments we actually found joy on this route. We decided to stay right in the gully until we ascended a steep section where the steepness eased tremendously at the top. Now we could see the goal, the Shavano Tabeguache saddle. But despite a solid pace it was too far away! It was boulders and increasing amounts of snow up to the saddle. How could we make it on time to finish in 57 hours? Just keep moving I said. Go! Go! Go! Was the mantra. Why is it not getting closer? Andrea hated all the snow mixed with the boulders, she kept suggesting to just head left and gain the ridge, so we went for it! We head left and straight up to the ridge. Good call on Andrea’s part as we were just moving too slow before, now on the ridge we are moving faster and it was much flatter terrain. Once we reached the saddle we moved FAST up Tabegauche. We were strong and did a good job pushing ourselves. We summit Tabeguache, but no time to spare or celebrate a strong ascent time, we’ve got to keep moving!
Shavano – Soul Crusher
Finally one peak remained. There was no time to spare. We move quickly down Tabeguache, almost running, not quite. The sunset was spectacular. Despite the rush, we have to stop and get some pictures. Getting from Tabeguache to Shavano and down we were constantly calculating times. This had become a game of numbers. How much time to Shavano, minus a ten minute buffer, plus our descent. How close will we cut it to beat 58? It was all a math game from here on out.
What is going on? Did you know that Shavano, from Tabeguache has some nasty false summits. Soul crushing to hit what you think is the summit, then come over the rise, and impossibly far in the distance that is the real summit. Damn! Well it was only 10 minutes but wow what a crusher and so frustrating! Although false summit after false summit in the ridge line only took up about 10 minutes it seemed like an eternity. And that that point 10 minutes may have been what cost us. Coach said we needed to get to Shavano faster, and on the summit I was looking for Coach. But no one was there. Wait, it is just me and Andrea. This is so confusing.
Once on the summit, we could see all the controlled burning happening, and all the fires. I snapped a great picture of Andrea standing on the summit with the fires burning below just as darkness hit. It was frustrating that they would choose this time during leaf peeping season to do these burns. Ugh!
The Descent – Running the wrong Direction
Now it was time for our final descent. The problem was it was just about dark and Andrea had switched to a spare headlamp as hers had broken earlier, but the spare was already dim. She would have to follow Andrew as best as possible. His light had plenty of battery and he pointed it directly down at his feet to give me a better view.
Andrea was now on her own as my brain was telling me I was leading an Australian girl and her dog down Shavano, trying to find some good descending terrain that follows the arm of the Angel of Shavano. The Australian girl is having a little trouble keeping up, I have to slow a bit. But then she seems to get stronger, and is following closely. She asked where the trail is, did we pass it?. Why do I always have to explain this to people, we can’t miss the trail its an obvious trail! Wait, have I ever had to explain that before? And wait a sec that’s Andrea back there, it’s not an Australian girl with a dog. Am I déjà vu-ing this descent? My brain is fried. We are beginning our third night with nothing but a few shiver sleeps, this is hard! Andrea seems to be holding up so much better mentally than I am myself.
We keep looking for the trail, wondering where it is. The descent off the summit seemed to have taken forever, and everything looked like it could be the trail we are supposed to intersect. We were looking for a single trek, but we knew in reality it should be a highway, you just can’t miss it, and once we reached it, we had a good laugh as it truly is a highway, and emptied our shoes. At this point we check the time and we have an hour and about 3000 feet to descend. How are we going to do that? We discussed that we will run and Andrea will have to follow as close as she can behind. The running begins and as we fall into a rhythm, Andrea is amazing staying right behind me. I try to shout out warnings when steps are big or the rocks increase in number. We run the entire way. We are perplexed by how people ascend this in 1:30? We are running the entire thing and it’s going to take us at least 1:40, we just aren’t runners I guess. We run, and run, and run. I’m redoing the math, then I remember, we have an extra 10 minutes! Why? We started at 11:10, not 11:00. I had been using 11:00 as our start time to make the math easier. That takes a little bit of pressure off, but it is still going to be close.
Andrew’s joints and tendons are cooperating but I know I’m probably going to pay for this later as we recover. Step after step running down the mountain, Andrew still hallucinating thinking others are with us - knowing he is just being crazy, we race the clock. Andrea was so amazing during this time and the whole time she was just focused on the run.
Mind sharp, eye/foot coordination on point. I remember talking about how amazed I was with the human body and the eye/foot coordination it takes to be able to run down this mountain at what feels like high speed following only Andrew’s headlamp and footing. Watch his light, watch his foot placement, remember his foot placement, place my footing, repeat, and do it fast. My eyes felt like they were moving one million miles per hour. I couldn’t break concentration in fear I would break an ankle.
We are nearing the last rocky descent. I feel confident we are going to make it but to our utter disappointment we come upon the new trail we knew they had been working on all summer. May we ask where it is going?!?!?? Because it’s the wrong direction, and it is not descending!! We are so frustrated and the frustration is building as our precious minutes are dwindling. Is this trail going to be the reason we don’t break 58 hours on Nolan’s?! Freaking probably. Are we really going to miss our goal after all the effort we just put in from the base of Tabeguache because they had to reroute the trail around what seemed like the whole damn mountain?!
We are so annoyed to say the least and all Andrea cared about was getting off this horrible indirect way down, but I just wasn’t sure exactly where cutting the trail would lead us, and I wasn’t comfortable taking a short cut. So here, to all you trail builders out there. Make the trails direct, sincerely those who don’t want to waste time.
We wish we had taken the old trail that was now blocked off, we still had no idea where this one was leading us, but finally, a switchback! We are at least heading the right direction. It seemed like Andrea was really angry with me, but she assured me she was just pissed at the trail and we just kept running. I pictured myself sharing more than just words to the person’s idea it was to build this horrible trail who built the trail.
The new trail finally connects with the old trail! We know where we are, and now we have to sprint. I tell Andrea, and she sprints! I can’t keep up, I’m falling behind, and she’s getting annoyed that she can’t see. We hit the Colorado trail, and sprint the entire way in.
We finish with 4 minutes to spare, coming in at a 57:56. We collapse on the ground at the finish. No one is else is here, just Andrew and I. It feels as if all the people we were hallucinating should have been with us at the finish. We talk for a bit, and can’t even begin to comprehend the last almost 58 hours. We just know we have been waiting a really long time to reach this point. And until this moment, it virtually seemed like an impossible task. Amazing. We were actually finished, and now we get to drive back to the cabin, and do whatever we wanted. Shower, eat, reminisce in relief, be thankful, and just celebrate the amazing teamwork, intimate experience, and partnership we just shared.
Seasoned Nolans watchers probably wouldn’t be too impressed with our time. Earlier this year the overall record in the other direction went under 40 hours. Last year Andrea finished in 45:52. But we have never been more excited about a Nolans finish than this one. The effort we have put in all day to achieve that time. We never gave up. We never fought with each other. We shared similar hallucinations and physical strengths and weaknesses. I don’t know that we have ever felt closer than at that moment. What a bonding experience!
Driving back to the cabin was well into now the third night. Andrew’s mind turned every rock on the dirt road into a bunny, a cat, a baby head, or some other interesting figure. Once off the dirt road I completely forget who or where I am, it was a crazy experience. I have to stop the car and let Andrea drive, but I can’t sleep and back at the cabin the weird object recognition continues as I stare into the fire and burning wood. Eventually we make our way to bed, where the painful physical recovery from this adventure would begin, it’s 4:00 am.