The Colorado 14er Speed Record Climbing

* If you find anything inaccurate below please let me know in the comments section and I will try to make the appropriate changes.
** Much of this information was referenced from Roach’s “Colorado’s Fourteeners” and from Teddy Kaiser’s 14er history page.

The Colorado 14er Speed Record is over 50 years old!  Over the years the nature of the record has changed dramatically.  Decades ago, lacking guidebooks (there may have been some old guidebooks, I am not 100% sure about that), GPS, internet, 14ers.com, and various types of maps, it was truly an adventure of exploration.  I imagine a big part of the challenge was just getting your hands on the USGS 7.5 minute Quadrangle maps of each of the areas you were interested in.  In some cases you would have needed several maps to cover your area.  These weren’t small maps, either.  Those topo maps are like the size of posters.  You would have had to search the maps for roads that would get you close to the summit, and once out of the car there may or may not have been any kind of trail to the summit.

Gear has dramatically changed over time too.  I remember my step dad carrying around maps in an army surplus map bag that must have weighed a couple of pounds – almost as heavy as the typical day pack people use today.  Gear over time has become lighter and in most cases better allowing people to move much faster than in the past.

It was in this era, back in 1960 that the history of the Colorado 14er Speed Record begins.

  • 1960: Cleve McCarty climbed 52 (then only 52 were recognized) fourteeners in 52 days.
  • 1974: The Smith family, including Father George and sons Flint, Quade, Cody, and Tyle climbed 54 14ers in 33 days, on route to California and Washington, to complete the 68 14ers in the Contiguous United States in a time of 48 days.  They set the 3,000 foot standard that states you should ascend at least 3,000 feet en-route to the first 14er of the climb, after that, traverses are allowed. You should also descend 3,000 feet on the way down.
  • 1976: Steve Boyer sets a time of 22 days.
  • 1980: Dick Walkers sets a time 18 days, 15 hours, 40 minutes.
  • 1990: Quade and Tyle Smith (same from 1974) set a time of 16 days, 21 hours, 35 minutes.

In the meantime, climbing 14ers was becoming much more popular.  And with better guidebooks about to become available, including Dawson’s and Roach’s, it would greatly ease the amount of work that would go into planning a 14er record attempt.

Up to this point I believe the record had always been set without the use of a support crew.  Quade and Tyle Smith, presumably using their knowledge from previous attempts, had arranged for their vehicle to be picked up and moved from the start to the end of several routes.

To reach faster speeds, a new innovation was needed.   The big innovation was the support crew.  Now you could focus on running or hiking, and have friends drop you off and pick you up in strategic locations.  They would also get you out of bed when you resisted, motivate you when you were mentally lacking enthusiasm, cook for you, make you eat when the thought of food made you gag, and do countless other unheralded tasks.

  • 1992: Ultrarunner Adrian Crane sets a new time of 15 days, 17 hours, 19 minutes.
  • 1993: Jeff Wagener completes 55 14ers in 14 days and 3 hours. As far as I know he was the first to add Challenger to the record.
  • 1995: Peter Jones completed the 14ers self-supported in 16 days, 13 hours, and 43 minutes. Peter was the last to try the record totally self-supported.  His time is the fastest known unsupported 14er speed record.
  • 1995: Rick Trujillo and Ricky Denesik, ultrarunners from Telluride, teamed up to set a time of 15 days, 9 hours, 55 minutes on 54 14ers. Trujillo was a former winner of the Pikes Peak Marathon.  I am not sure if they knew about Wagener’s 1993 attempt when they claimed the record. They made many routefinding errors and suffered terrible monsoon weather throughout their record attempt.
  • 1997: Rick Trujillo and Ricky Denesik again braved Monsoons to attempt the 54 14ers.  Unfortunately, Trujillo dropped out of the attempt, but stayed on to support Denesik.  With insanely fast hiking splits, Denesik was well positioned to shatter the 14 day barrier, when a nasty storm delayed him on Long’s by several hours.  In the end he shaved a few hours of the old record for a new time of 14 days and 16 minutes.
  • 1999: Andrew Hamilton (that’s me) completes 55 14ers in 13 days, 22 hours, 48 minutes.  The lack of a 4 wheel drive, some terrible early season blizzards in the San Juans, and just plain stupidity led me to make some poor logistical choices.  Yet by hiking over a third of the peaks in the dark, I was just barely able to shave an hour off the record.
  • 2000: Ricky Denesik sets a new mark of 12 days, 15 hours, 35 minutes.
  • 2000: Danelle Ballengee, super adventure racer and sky runner, becomes the first woman to go for the record.  Despite several set backs she was able to set a time of 14 days, 14 hours, 49 minutes.

Enter the Cave Dog

For years Teddy Kaiser planned his attempt on the 14ers.  He met with Gerry Roach, spent summers scouting the routes, and came up with a solid plan for climbing the 14ers.  I believe he brought two big innovations to the record.  The first was his route through the San Juans.  Nobody before Teddy conceived of climbing the Needles and the Wilsons in the same day.  This simple decision set him up to complete the San Juan range in an astonishing 2 day period.  His second innovation was not to think of the route in terms of days.  He engineered a single master plan, to be followed night and day with no regard to sleep.

He also spared no expense in coming up with a top notch support crew.  He rented a mobile home and a jeep.  He was able to use an ATV for the nasty road from the Lake Como Trailhead, he had a large support crew with well defined duties, and provided them with a 35 paged instruction booklet.  Once during a visit he told me his total expenses were in the range of $20,000.  They made virtually no routefinding errors.

Not wanting there to be any doubt as to his criteria for setting the record, he was the first to lay down in writing a set of rules which one should follow in order to claim the record.

He was rewarded for his hard work in the late summer of 2000 with a seemingly insurmountable time, a record that has stood for 14 years now at 10 days, 20 hours, and 26 minutes.

  • 2012: John “Homie” Prater makes a valiant attempt to go after the record, but succumbs to injury while descending Columbia.
  • 2014: Andrew Hamilton Stopped due to injury.
  • 2014: Brett Maune Stopped due to illness.  Brett was mind numbingly quick through the San Juans and is planning another attempt in July or August 2015.

I still think this record has room to fall under 10 days.  I know there are some super fast guys out there like Anton Krupicka,  Eric Lee, and Sean O’Roarke who have the ability to completely destroy the current record. Dave Mackey from Boulder, quite possibly the strongest runner I have ever known, was planning on giving the record a shot but was horribly injured while training in May.  I think we’ll see more frequent attempts in the coming years and see the records continue to fall.

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