My name is Andrew Hamilton. Currently I am the father of 3 sons and 1 daughter.
I was born in 1975 and am now 40 years old. A few years ago my wife finished up her residency at the University of Colorado. When she took up her job as a doctor, we decided that I would quit being a computer programmer so that I could focus on taking care of the kids. I recently become interested in the idea of trying to set the Colorado 14er Speed Record, and Contiguous United States 14er Speed Record, and I wanted to tell about the long path I have travelled to get to this point.
Climbing Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks (14ers) has been a significant part of my life. I started climbing them with my step dad Henry Siracusan when I was 11 years old (my little brother Joe was only 3 when he started). As a raft guide in Buena Vista in 1996 and 1997 I loved the views of the Sawatch 14ers and tried to get out hiking as much as possible. Finally in 1998 Joe and I took a couple of weeks that summer to finish our remaining 14ers.
During my time as a raft guide, I read about the 14er speed record in my first edition of Gerry Roach’s “Colorado’s Fourteeners”. In that version of the book, the record had been set in 1990 and stood at 16 days, 21 hours, and 25 minutes. I often pondered the record, and studied maps and came up with a general idea of how I would go about trying to set the record.
In the summer of 1999, I set out to break the record. I had just recently discovered that the record had been lowered in 1997 to 14 days and 16 minutes. My goal was to climb them all in just under 12 days. However, after some setbacks and a whole lot of suffering, I was extremely happy to be able to finish in just under 14 days, narrowly beating the previous record by 1 hour and 28 minutes.
The record didn’t last long as Ricky Denesik, the previous record holder, took it down to 12 Days, 15 Hours, 35 Minutes in the early summer of 2000. Only a month later Teddy (Cave Dog) Keiser took the record down to 10 days, 20 hours, and 26 minutes. That is where the record currently stands.
Looking back, my experience in 1999 was a defining experience in my life. I have never been a great athlete, and compared to other record setters my pace is almost embarrassingly slow. However, I was able to persist through pain, sleep deprivation, desperation, hallucination, etc., to finally succeed with the goal. I came out of the experience with a much healthier respect for the mountains than when I started, and with a new found sense of self confidence that is something I have always lacked.
I thought I was finished with 14er records after 2003 when I established a record that I called the Self-Powered 14er Record. This entailed climbing the 14ers using only bikes to get between them. I was lucky with the weather, I finished stronger than when I started, and in general felt like I had put forth a very good effort. Besides, I always loved mountain biking and was a much better biker than hiker anyway! When I finished that record my wife Natalie was 8 months pregnant with our first son, Calvin. And then my life really changed!
Natalie eventually was accepted into CU Medical School, so we left our wonderful house in Jamestown, and moved to Denver. I still did a fair amount of adventure racing up until 2007, when we had a second child and there just wasn’t time to train anymore. At this point my life consisted of taking care of the kids during the day, and working during the night. There was a year where I probably averaged only about 3 hours sleep per night, and I spent much of my time awake as a very grumpy, mean person.
Meanwhile, in the summer of 2008 when Calvin was 4, we decided to go hike a 14er. We chose Antero because Calvin loved jewels and treasure, and Antero is famous for topaz and aquamarine crystals. Because we were lacking a 4 wheel drive vehicle, Calvin’s first hike was 16 miles roundtrip, with 5000 feet of elevation gain! I was totally amazed with how he did that day. He was so tired by the end of the day I felt bad for him, but he really liked it. And by the time we were home he had forgotten how hard it had been, and wanted to go again! We climbed 10 14ers that summer.
From my point of view, hiking with Calvin was very difficult. We moved excruciatingly slow. If we were able to move 1 mile per hour that would be a good day. Hikes that used to take me 4 hours, now took 16 hours. I had to carry plenty of safety gear, because inevitably we would be caught in any bad weather because of how slow we were, so I had to get used to always carrying a very heavy pack. I also had to tell stories for pretty much the entire hike. Imagine having to come up with a 16 hour story…It is very mentally draining.
I started telling people that hiking with kids was way harder than when I set the 14er record. Even if that isn’t totally true, it can be so mentally draining that it feels that way.
It took Calvin and I about 4 years to complete the 14ers. We didn’t realize we were trying to climb them all until his third summer. When Calvin was nearly finished, our second son, Axel, turned 4 and was ready for his first climb. We climbed Mount Lindsey and just as his brother had amazed me, so did Axel. I will never forget him bounding down the trail chasing after his brother in a long afternoon rainstorm.
We started taking up some of Calvin’s friends up on some hikes with us, now I consider myself an expert on getting kids up to the tops of 14ers. Nothing much has changed as the magic formula still seems to be lots of candy, finding jewels (planted by me, of course) on top of each peak, and telling stories for the entire hike.
On our 2012 trip up South Maroon, we met Andrea Sansone and Kim Siedlacek. They became very good friends and semi-permanent hiking partners on our trips to complete Axel’s 14ers. It was during this time that John Prater (Homie) attempted to break Teddy’s long standing 14er speed record (the first person in 12 years to even try). I didn’t know about it until he had been going for about 4 days, but it was very exciting following along. When Bill Wright wrote that Homie needed hiking partners, I immediately volunteered, although I knew based on his times that I probably wouldn’t be able to keep up. I figured I would go offer some moral support and then be dropped, and the nice thing is that he wouldn’t have to worry about me since I am pretty familiar with the 14ers by now.
Unfortunately, John injured his leg and had to call it quits the very day that I was supposed to head out. I felt bad for John, but was reinvigorated with a sense of excitement about the record. One of the big parts of the record is the support crew. In the past I was able to count on my mom and sister to help me out. However, I knew my sister wouldn’t be able to help out again since she has her own kids to take care of. So in 2013 I pitched the idea to Andrea and Kim and they both seemed very excited about the prospect of helping me attempt to set the record. We continued hiking together and Axel finished up the 14ers while still a 6 year old back in September of 2013.
So in 2014 I set out to break the record. Although I am relatively slow compared to others who try to set the record, I have a lot of experience on the 14ers and especially the routes used in the record. Building upon the plans developed by Teddy and Homie I think I created a pretty solid plan last year, and more than half way through had a pretty solid lead on the record before I had to quit due to injury, with only a day and a half left to go.
Even though it was disappointing to quit so close to the end, I actually felt pretty good about the whole thing. There was no doubt that it was a good idea to quit after the suffering my body went through afterwards, but I had managed pretty well especially considering that I can’t commit to a very solid training plan while taking care of the 4 kids. So everyone seemed pretty supportive about giving the record another shot in 2015. Unfortunately early in 2015 I started dealing with several injuries. Nagging knee pain, plantar fasciitis, Morton’s neuroma, a Soleus strain, and shin splints. It sure made it hard to train, but at the same time I was able to work through them all to the point where I thought I could take another good shot at the record.
Then more bad luck struck as heavy late spring snow socked pretty much all of the mountains in Colorado, and now it looks like the Monsoons have arrived early. Just a couple of days ago a tornado warning blared in my neighborhood in Denver and my house and 3 cars were damaged by golf ball sized hail.
All these ominous signs led me to nearly cancel the attempt and wait for next year, but I was convinced to go ahead and get started and see how it goes. If the conditions are too bad I will just call it quits and try again some other time.