Andrew Hamilton’s 1999 Attempt

Day 9 (September 5, 1999)

I was still one and a half days behind schedule.  As I thought about the days to come, there were only two days that I thought might be impossible for me.  But only one of those seriously worried me.  The hardest day remaining was the day I had planned to do La Plata, Massive, Elbert, and Mount of the Holy Cross.  The mountains themselves weren’t all that hard, but each required at least 4,000 feet of climbing, and there was no way to efficiently combine any of them.

Although I was behind schedule, I still felt like I could set the record.  I knew I wouldn’t beat the old record by much, but at this point I didn’t care.  After climbing Snowmass, I figured we would head over to the southern end of the Sawatch Range.  From there I would climb Shavano, Tabeguache, and Antero.

Laura woke me up at 4:00am.  This morning I had to drive up a long, rough road on the motorcycle, and then I would have about an eight mile trek to the top of Snowmass.  I ate breakfast and got ready to go, Laura warned me to be careful of where I was going, but I didn’t pay her too much attention.  I was headed to Lead King Basin, which provides the shortest approach to climb Snowmass.

I left the parking lot at 4:30am and started up the road.  Soon I came to a fork in the road.  To the left was Lead King Basin, straight ahead was the town of Crystal.  I headed left toward Lead King Basin and the road quickly began climbing.  The road eventually became extremely steep.  It was wet and muddy in places and just kept going up.  After about thirty minutes I looked at my altimeter, it read 12,500 feet.  I knew I had taken a wrong turn, because my road was supposed to end around 10,700 feet.  So I turned around and headed back, figuring that maybe I was supposed to go to Crystal.  I didn’t know that the road I had been on was an alternative way to the trailhead, and if I had just stayed on it for awhile longer it would have descended to the trailhead.  I was mad at myself for being so stupid, and was worried about how much light I had left.  Since the motorcycle had no headlight, Shane had rigged up one of our powerful Vistalight bicycle lights to provide light on the motorcycle.  It was powerful but the batteries don’t last too long.  Without that light I would lose a lot of time.

I made it back to the turn off and headed toward Crystal.  Just past Crystal there was another fork, and again it said left was Lead King Basin.  This time I chose the correct road, and I cruised up the road to the trailhead.  I leaned the motorcycle against a tree and starting my limping pace up the trail at 6:30am.

Once my feet stopped hurting I kept up a pretty good pace all the way past Geneva Lake to Little Gem Lake.  I decided to try the West Face route on Snowmass.  I studied the West Face, and decided against the guidebook’s suggestion to head up near the middle rib of the face.  Instead, it looked best to me near the northernmost gully.  I ascended fairly slow because of all my ailments and finally made the summit at 9:30am.  Once again I had absolutely perfect weather.

As I came down I was surprised to run into an old kayaking buddy, Carl.  I said hello, and continued on my way, getting back to the dirt bike just before noon.  Since it was Labor Day weekend, there were many fancy jeeps driving along the road.  I was amazed at how the dirt bike can instantly leave even the best four wheel drive vehicles in the dust.

I made it back to the parking lot at 12:30pm.  I ate a good lunch, then waded out into the little lake to wash off a bit.  I hadn’t washed or brushed my teeth since I had started, and had a little rash on both my legs.  The water felt good on my legs.  I hoped the cold water and some sleep on the drive to the Sawatch would help rejuvenate me.  As I stood in the water, everyone from my support crew was staring at me.  My ribs were poking out and all the fat was gone from my now very thin frame.  On the bright side though, my little pooch belly was gone, as I was nothing but skin and bones, with a tiny little remnant of muscle in a few spots.  I figured I had stumbled across a great diet plan.  I could make millions!

I still hoped to climb Shavano, Tabeguache, and Antero, so we began the drive as soon as we could.  Shane and Leslie returned the motorcycle while Natalie followed Laura and Dad up and over Independence Pass.  When we made it to the end of Independence Pass, we were surprised that Shane was not there waiting, as we had planned.  So we stopped and waited for him.  I was concerned about time, and had to make the decision to not climb Shavano, Tabeguache, and Antero.  Instead, I wanted to climb the most difficult of La Plata, Elbert, or Massive.  I chose Elbert, because it required the most elevation gain (4400 feet) of the three.  Shane and Leslie arrived and we informed them of the new plan.  Then, out of the blue, my Uncle Bud and his girlfriend Chris Clarke (not the same Chris Clarke that had been at Maroon Lake Trailhead) pulled up.  They had coincidentally been in the Aspen area that weekend and had climbed La Plata Peak earlier that day.  They joined our caravan as we headed to the Mt. Elbert trailhead, to see us off.

My dad wanted to help me out by carrying my pack up Elbert.  So he and Shane accompanied me as I started Mt. Elbert at 5:50pm.  Bud Dog came along to keep us company, as well.  It was to be his seventh 14er.  As I limped away from the trailhead, I’m sure everyone was surprised, seeing me head out so slow.  After a while my feet were able to move again, and I was able to hold a pretty good pace.  Later I heard that my Uncle and his girlfriend looked at each other and decided there was no way I was going to finish.

I was looking forward to getting to the Sawatch.  In this range there are lots of mountains, but most of them are class 2 hikes, and in many cases it is easy to traverse multiple peaks without having to give up a lot of elevation.  Elbert is an easy hike on a good trail all the way to the summit.  It is also the highest 14er in Colorado and the second highest in the Contiguous United States.

Once I was able to get moving again, Shane helped out my dad by taking the extra burden of my pack.  Around 12,500 feet the trail got steeper and I left Shane and Dad behind as I cruised on up to the summit, with Buddie running around and keeping me company.  I got to the summit just as it was getting dark, around 8:20pm, and quickly turned around.  Not far from the summit I met up with Shane, put on some warm clothes, picked up my headlight and headed down.  Shane and Dad were going to continue to the top and catch up to me on the way down.  A short time later I passed by dad.  He was still going to the top, and I told him I’d wait for him at tree line if he hadn’t caught up to me by then.  I continued down and not long after, Shane caught up to me.  We saw my dad’s headlamp coming down the mountain behind us, and continued until we reached tree line, where we sat down and waited for my dad.  And waited, and waited.  For some reason he hadn’t caught up to us.  After what seemed like a very long time Shane and I both thought we saw a flicker of light.  Shane stood up and yelled out, out of the darkness, we heard my dad yell back.  His head lamp had burned out and he had been stumbling down in total darkness, trying to stay on the trail.

He hadn’t heard me when I said we would wait for him at tree line and was relieved that we had waited.  He was getting tired and had a bad altitude headache so he wanted to rest for a minute or so.  Then we got going again, in a few minutes dad got a bad cramp in his thigh, and couldn’t stand on his leg.  He laid down on the trail, and I starting massaging out the cramp while he lay there, moaning in agony.  Shane gave dad some ibuprofen, and after a short wait, we helped him up and started down again.  The going was slow, but because I was able to focus on my dad, I forgot about my knee pain, and it felt fine all the way down the mountain.

Shane and I tried to keep dad’s spirits up and before long we made it down to the trailhead.  We had been hoping that someone would be there waiting for us, but no one was.  Laura had said that they would be going up to the Mt. Massive trailhead, and would wait for us there.  Since it was only .1 mile further it didn’t seem like a big deal to them.  But it seemed like a big deal to us.  So we hiked to the Mt Massive trailhead and to our surprise, there was no one there.  Now we were starting to get a little worried.  My dad needed to stop hiking, and we had no idea where they were.

Laura had also mentioned the possibility of setting up camp in a pull out between the two trailheads, but we had seen any sign of them.  We decided to head back to the Mt. Elbert trailhead and continue in that direction.  We found them not far from the Mt. Elbert trailhead, Laura was confused as to what direction the Mt. Massive trailhead had been from the Mt. Elbert trailhead.

I scolded Laura because I was so annoyed, but thankfully she didn’t take it personally.  She made us a good dinner, and we all sat down around the campfire.  My mom, who was going to take care of me for the last week, had come while we were hiking and she rubbed down my legs and did some of her therapeutic touch stuff on my knees.  Dad was happy to finished.  I think he had a new appreciation for the record that I was trying to set.

We all went to sleep, with the plan for me to start climbing Massive around 4:00am. I had successfully taken one mountain off the most difficult day I had left, but from now on I could make no mistakes.  I had to climb mountains according to my original 12 day plan in order to set the record.