Or at least 58 of them...
If ever there was a state that served as a metaphor for the heights man can reach, it would be Colorado. For it is in that Midwest state that there are more 14,000-foot mountains (14ers) – 58 total - than any other in the country.
While many outdoor enthusiasts hope to cross off all 58 of those peaks over the course of their lifetime, one native has twice achieved the unimaginable – setting the speed record for hiking them over the course of roughly two weeks.
In 1999, Andrew Hamilton climbed all in just under 14 days, besting the previous record by one hour and 28 minutes. He held that record for roughly a year before it was shattered twice, first by Ricky Denesik (12 days, 15 hours, 35 minutes) and then by Teddy (“Cave Dog”) Keiser (10 days, 20 hours, 26 minutes), in the summer of 2000.
Keiser’s record stood until this summer when the 40-year-old Hamilton completed the feat again, this time in an amazing nine days, 21 hours and 51 minutes.
X-Wear recently had a chance to catch up with Hamilton whose record-breaking ways continued in September when he set another, finishing Nolan’s 14 in 53 hours and 39 minutes. That challenge had him climbing a subset of Colorado’s highest peaks, 14 summits in all, along the state’s Sawatch Range, from Mt. Massive to Mt. Shavano, spanning 100 miles.
His achievements are proof of what man can accomplish when he sets his mind to it, pushing the boundaries of endurance, stamina and pain. Understandably, Hamilton told us that, “when I’m going for the records I don’t even stop for one minute to enjoy it.”
In the world of speed-mountain climbing, he said success is the result of several factors that starts with planning. “You want to take advantage of the daylight to get the harder peaks done,” he said.
Slow, But Steady Wins The Race
While he is a relatively slow hiker when compared to his peers, Hamilton said that he holds an edge when it comes to sleep deprivation. “In the 90s, the thought was that to go for the record you needed to be like a runner so these guys would crank up and down the mountain super fast, but needed to recover so they’d sleep 10 to 12 hours,” Hamilton said. “I was slow and steady… I’d be able to stay up a long time without sleep so it was a different philosophy. Because of that philosophy you are suffering. It is hard to stay awake when you’re doing the record so I’m probably not enjoying it that much.”
He acknowledged there’s a downside to such an approach – hiking relatively easy peaks can become dangerous due to fatigue.
Luck and timing play significant roles in determining whether these climbs are ultimately successful. This year, he pointed out that Colorado’s monsoon season, which normally arrives in July, came early in the midst of his quest which took place at the end of June.
That meant on the third and fourth day he was stuck in what he described as some “pretty bad electrical storms. It was pretty terrifying up on the ridge… With lightning you feel like you have no control over it so it’s very terrifying.” The weather also led to mudslides as he was descending Mt. Lindsey, nearly derailing his attempt at the record.
He also attributed his success to his team – they are allowed to accompany him up the mountain, but not permitted to offer him advice – as well as his equipment. He relied on super-lightweight gear (Oakley sunglasses, trekking poles, Hoka shoes and an ice axe all accompanied him on his journey) that still allows him to navigate these treacherous ranges when the clock is ticking and he is on a limited amount of sleep.
Passing on Passion to Children
When not undertaking these types of challenges, Hamilton can often be found sharing his love of nature with his children – Calvin, 12, Axel, 8, Luke, 5, and Scarlett (The Bird), 3 – who have accompanied him on hikes. The oldest two have been on every 14er in Colorado.
The hiking gene is something that was passed down to Hamilton as a child. “I remember my step-dad, he had hiked,” he said, recalling that, “One day, he said, ‘Let’s go for a hike’ in a range near where we lived. He was hooked and so he started dragging me and I began climbing 14ers in my early teens.”
That’s all it took. “I love to be outdoors,” Hamilton said, listing the smell of ponderosa pine, the changing color of the leaves in the autumn and the health benefits as a few reasons why scaling Colorado’s mountains are so enjoyable when he’s not busy chasing records.
As to what his outdoor accomplishments mean, Hamilton put it this way: “I don’t know what it says for the human race, but I think a lot of people, I think they can probably suffer a little more if they wanted to,” he said, before laughing, “I don’t know why someone would want to, especially if they saw me looking like a zombie coming down the mountain.”