It’s time to check out Nolan’s 14.
Actually, it’s long overdue. I first learned of the mountain challenge referred to as Nolan’s 14 back in 2001, as I was climbing the final 14ers on my list. Conceived by Ken Nolan, the legendary peak bagger who has climbed every 14er, 13er, 12er, and 11er in the state, (that’s 1700 unique summits!), the idea is pretty simple: climb the fourteen Sawatch 14ers between Mount Massive and Mount Shavano in one push, and in under 60 hours.
Massive, Elbert, La Plata, Huron, Missouri, Belford, Oxford, Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Princeton, Antero, Tabeguache, and Shavano. If it sounds like a lot, it is.
It’s not a race or even an organized event. It’s just a course in the mountains that was designed to include as many 14er summits as can be linked up in about 100 miles. And since its conception in 1999, peak baggers and ultra runners have been trying to complete the Nolan’s course, with mixed results.
You can tackle the peaks by any route you choose, you can start any day you like, you can even decide for yourself whether you want to follow the route from north to south or vice-versa. The starting point is fixed for each direction. You can begin at either the Fish Hatchery in Leadville, at the base of Mount Massive, or the Blank Gulch Trailhead by Shavano.
Adding to its uniqueness is that there aren’t really any DNF’s. Your Nolan’s effort is recorded as the number of summits reached within 60 hours. The most you can do is 14, and if you reach that 14th summit before 60 hours has elapsed, take note of the time, that’s your finish. Anyone who hits 60 hours with less than 14 summits is simply credited with the number summits they reached. To date there are about 16 official sub-60 finishers.
I can talk about the details of Nolan’s at length, but instead I’ll recommend people check out the Nolan’s website here. It’s kind of dated but it does offer some useful historical context. And there are some links to maps used by the original group that first completed the course.
I feel like it’s a good time to finally give this thing a try. A friend of mine, Eric Sullivan, is serious about it too, and we’ve been out on the course doing quite a bit of recon. We’re planning on making an attempt at Nolan’s as a team sometime soon, when weather and the schedule line up. I thought I’d share some of our course scouting days here, loosely arranged here in the northbound direction we’ll be going.
I’ve learned through the years that the preparation for the big goals in the mountains can be more fun than the actual full effort. Reconning this route with Sully and Christy has been really cool, it’s brought us back to mountains and parts of the state we hadn’t been to in years. I know the final attempt won’t be as fun at times, so we’ve been sure to try to enjoy these recon days.
(Note: Ken Nolan first outlined the route to Fred Vance who later laid out the plans and loose rules for what has become “Nolan’s 14”. Thanks John Prater for the clarification.)