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Peak(s):  Mt. Shavano  -  14,230 feet
Tabeguache Peak  -  14,158 feet
Mt. Antero  -  14,271 feet
Mt. Princeton  -  14,200 feet
Mt. Yale  -  14,200 feet
Mt. Columbia  -  14,075 feet
Mt. Harvard  -  14,424 feet
Mt. Oxford  -  14,158 feet
Mt. Belford  -  14,202 feet
Missouri Mountain  -  14,071 feet
Date Posted:  09/21/2017
Date Climbed:   09/02/2017
Author:  warg
 Nolan's 14......The rest of the story   

Nolan's 14 --- the rest of the story*
*Yes, there is a trip report out there from my attempt last year.
(Okay, so 14ers.com only lets me add 10 peaks to this trip report, but Huron, La Plata, Elbert and Massive were indeed part of the 14!)

PERSPECTIVE is a favorite word of mine. This picture kind of helps with that.

"Failure is the cost of a meaningful success." ~Wade Gardner

It took some months to mentally work through my failure on Nolan's last year, in 2016. I was thoroughly convinced through most of that time that I was done with it. Too many variables, too many things had to go just right ‚‘ and I didn't like failing.

But 2017 found me knocking off laps on the Manitou Incline like my body knew something that my mind wasn't admitting to quite yet. Those laps turned into some distance training up and down and around Pikes Peak, and finally I had to acknowledge the itch to get out there and take Nolan's 14 on again. In order to do that, however, I knew that I also had to come to a better understanding of failure.

I have heard many people in many different contexts talk about how failure helped them to grow. How failure is one of the best things that can happen to a person. And not that my life has been perfect --- but in the area of mountains I have had a lot of "success" and not much "failure." So not finishing Nolan's last year turned out to be a blow to my pride. It also revealed my ignorance. I realize now that my original perception of Nolan's was simply that it was an "additive" equation --- I could climb one mountain, now I would climb 14 back to back. But Nolan's is NOT additive --- it's more exponential. Each additional mountain brings new levels of fatigue and brain failure, until you are running on fumes. It did take some time, but eventually I began to see "failure" more as the process of learning, rather than as a permanent condition. I saw more and more clearly the immense number of variables necessary to overcome for a successful Nolan's run. I began to brainstorm how to control or eliminate as many variables as possible‚¶. In a nutshell, I began to LEARN from my failure.

Since this is a trip report and not a novel ‚‘ let's jump to early July, 2017. I felt like I was in pretty great shape, it was about the longest daylight hours possible, it was nearly a full moon ‚‘ and I felt like eliminating support team stops would not only speed up the process, but would also remove the variable of the difficulties of communicating with support teams. So, off I went on Round 2 of Nolan's, unsupported.

And quit after five peaks. (Going N-S, I was on top of Missouri at 20:46.) This time the failure was not quite as devastating. I was able to summon up a desire to LEARN, and so asked Andrew Hamilton on Facebook what he was doing for nutrition. (Keep in mind that I have zero ultramarathon experience! My longest run to date was my first Nolan's attempt, around 50 miles.) He let me know that he was "drinking his calories!" My world was turned upside down, and immediately new possibilities started opening up. I started training with Hammer Perpetuem products, and immediately saw and felt the benefits. My other MAJOR learning experience was that I was simply going too hard. I just didn't have enough experience pacing myself, and was going to have to figure out a solution for that as well. I also learned that going unsupported was for those with more experience ‚‘ and first I needed to learn more before I attempted that again.

And so the learning process continued, scouting out new options for a South to North run (No solid reason to switch it up ‚‘ I just had friends that were going this direction and decided to give it a go), meeting new friends, and brainstorming as many variables as possible that could possibly affect a Nolan's outcome. The target date was set for Labor Day Friday, 9/1/2017, and final preparations were under way.

My support team consisted of my wife Dara, who puts up with all my mountain shenanigans, my friend Walt, who has been on many of those shenanigans with me, and my friend Diane, who happens to also be Walt's wife, and who also puts up with our combined shenanigans. These guys committed themselves to making Nolan's a possibility for me, and I am deeply grateful for the love and comradery I have with these people. They are each special and unique people ‚‘ each with their own amazing story.

As Labor Day weekend got closer, the overall weather forecast was looking great, amazingly enough! However, the targeted start date of Friday had a 50% chance of rain showers, and based on past experience, I was really hesitant to make a go of it, especially if just waiting one day was going to improve the forecast dramatically. So, I ended up waiting. As it turned out, that worked perfectly for my buddy Brandt Ketterer as well (check him out at ‚‘ well worth your time!), so we set a start time for 5am Saturday morning.

We slept at the Blank Cabin Trailhead for Shavano, to maximize our rest that night, and were up and off at 5am on the dot. I carried a SPOT and Brandt had a Delorme, both set to update every 30 minutes. My wife wished us well and sent us off, and the adventure was ON!

Super excited! This is going to be GREAT! Image credit: Dara

Side note here ‚‘ both of my previous attempts had been solo. It seems like I can't always find people who want to do what I want to do, when I want to do it?!??? So, teaming up with Brandt was going to be a new experience for me. I felt like we had some great communication about the need to communicate ‚‘ especially when rest was needed or even when passing off the lead was needed. I also felt like Brandt brought some awesome strengths to the team ‚‘ specifically in his ability to pace us, his strength over the long haul, and his great attitude throughout. I saw my strengths as familiarity with the route including good GPS tracks, my mental strength and my amazing support team!

Brandt set what felt like a fantastic pace up Shavano. My body kept telling me that I could have gone faster, and I had to keep reminding myself that this was not about one mountain ‚‘ it was about 14. And pacing ourselves was going to be a key to success. Turns out we made the first summit in 2 hours ‚‘ which was a fantastic pace, and yet not too fast either. Nothing too notable happened on that ascent, aside from getting passed by another Nolan's runner ‚‘ Eric S. He came out of nowhere and vanished up the peak just as quickly. I just kept telling myself, "Pace yourself. Just pace yourself."

A quick stop to enjoy the beauty of the sunrise. Image credit: Brandt

Having dealt with phone battery issues before (which affects my GPS navigation), I was pretty committed to not taking any pictures along the way. Brandt, however, has this photographers eye and kept seeing these kodak moments that he had to capture. And now that it's all over, I'm super glad to have the photos!

Tabeguache only took us another 29 minutes to get to the summit ‚‘ a slight bit of overnight moisture / ice slowed us down a bit but not much. I had done quite a bit of scouting, of both the gulley to the north from the Tab / Shavano saddle and also of what is referred to as the "Hamilton Traverse" ‚‘ continuing West from Tab and around the end of the valley through the willows, then up Antero from the SW. Did I mention that there are willows on that route? Yes ‚‘ willows. We opted not to go that way. And once you have a good line down the Tab gulley, it's a cinch! Just about one hour from the Tab summit and we were down at the creek, ready to start gaining elevation again.

Our GPS tracker was set to 30 minute increments, so you get a rough idea of what we did.

Our route across Shavano. Image Credit: Brandt

Two down! 12 to go! Image Credit: Brandt

We opted for a pretty straight shot up from the creek towards Antero. Most people swing a bit to the West to a less steep valley, but in scouting I found the line I chose to be sufficient for our needs. Plus we saw a heard of bighorn sheep on the way up... splendid! Coming out on the open space below the final road up Antero, we saw Nancy G ahead of us. She had started before us, and kudos to her, was making it a solo learning experience. She ended this time after Princeton, but knowing her‚¶ she'll be back ‚‘ watch for her!

A beautiful heard of sheep as we started heading up Antero. Image Credit: Brandt

A look at our Antero track.

Looking back... three peaks down! Image Credit: Brandt

Looking ahead... here we come, Mighty Princeton! Image Credit: Brandt

Just below the Antero summit we ran into Eric S again, heading back south so that he could then drop West to the Baldwin Gulch road. He was doing great and still moving fast, so we wished him well and continued to the summit, arriving at 5:01 into the trip. (10:01am) I had done a LOT of scouting on Antero, looking for shortcuts. (If you don't know ‚‘ I've been dubbed with "shortcut" for a middle name. More on that later.) My final conclusion is that shorter is not always faster ‚‘ and in the Nolan's game, faster is what it's all about. So we also turned south again, to return to the first saddle where the mining is going on and cut West from there, staying on that ridge all the way to the Baldwin road. Once on the road, Brandt set us a good running pace, and we made good time all the way down ‚‘ to be met by Nancy's husband Mark and their friend Diane. My wife was to meet us at the Alpine cemetery, so we just grabbed a quick drink of water and got ready to move on.

As a side note ‚‘ turns out Eric S had not come through yet! We were quite puzzled about that, and only found out after it was all over that he started having stomach issues on the Antero descent, and eventually had to call off the attempt. So many variables to this thing!

As we left Mark and Diane ‚‘ they asked if we wanted them to follow us over to the cemetery. I was quick to say "no, we're good!" but then as we walked off I had this lingering thought‚¶.. "What if something has gone wrong with our support crew this time? We are here earlier than we expected‚¶.?" But of course I brushed the thoughts out of my mind and we kept going. Not long later, as the cemetery came into view, it quickly became obvious that something had indeed gone wrong ‚‘ we had no support crew! We stood there, a bit bewildered and wondering what to do, when who should appear? Mark and Diane, just to "check on us!" WHEW! Big sigh of relief! We were doing pretty great on food, but were really in need of a water fill up, and they took care of us so well. A BIG shout out to them for keeping us going! (And a reminder of how complicated this whole crewing thing is! Guessing on timing, poor cell coverage, these are just some more of the many variables to work through!)

I had been warned by Julian S just how hot this section from Alpine up Princeton was going to be, in the afternoon sun. And sure enough ‚‘ it was HOT! But WOW! It was also beautiful! The aspens had just started to turn up high, and the beauty was sure encouraging. Thanks again to Brandt for making us stop and appreciate it!

Beautiful colors. Image Credit: Brandt

One more note about this section ‚‘ "Blake's fast scree gulley" is NOT a fast scree gulley when you are going UP it! But overall, this is indeed the route to take up Princeton, getting us to the top at 10:03 into the trip. We were making great time to this point, but had communicated well with each other that our primary goal was to finish, regardless of time. A secondary goal was to get under 60 hours, but we knew we had hours to go before we could honestly judge if we would make that or not. In hindsight, I'm convinced we did ourselves a great favor by taking the "time pressure" off. Now that we have finished ‚‘ if we ever want to go again we can set other goals. But at that point in time, we were both still trying to figure out just what it was going to take to finish at all.

Our journey up and over this beauty called Princeton.

A peek back to Antero. Image Credit: Brandt

And a glimpse of what was to come: Yale! Image Credit: Brandt

Coming off of Princeton, Brandt put his life in my hands and I led us directly off the summit down to the Maxwell Gulch valley below. There is so much room for "preference" in this Nolan's thing, and after experimenting with the ridge and the valley, I'm a huge fan of getting to the easy section as quickly as possible ‚‘ thus straight down from the summit. I got the feeling that Brandt wouldn't be following that route again, but I put my mountain goat skills to use and we got down it pretty fast. And the following descent down Maxwell Gulch was fast and smooth ‚‘ thanks to Brandt leading us all the way through that. And of course the Colorado Trail section is a wonderful run. If I ever come back for a N-S run, I have another route ready to go on this mountain‚¶.but we will save that for another day.

We hit the road 344 / CO trail junction at almost 13 hours in, and were greeted to a warm welcome from all of our crew, plus many other friends as well. It was really encouraging. Even more encouraging was the warm veggie patty Subway sandwich that was placed into my hands! Woot! We dumped our packs into our support vehicle and set out at a fast walk, enjoying our sandwiches all the way up the road towards Yale!

Surreal. Four peaks, 13ish hours, feeling great! Image Credit: Dara? Walt?

A little cloudy, but the weather continued to cooperate. Image Credit: Brandt

It looks like we started up Yale about 13:45 into it, which would have been around 6:45pm. I don't remember when it got dark, sometime as we were going up Hughes Ridge, as I call it. We hit the summit at 9:33pm, 16:33 into our little odyssey. And can I just say ‚‘ we were still feeling amazing! It's becoming more and more clear to me that staying under the "max output" threshold is vital for a successful Nolan's run. Somewhere around Yale the word "surreal" came to me. Like, "Are we really getting ready to head down our 5th consecutive 14er and head into the night on a quest for 9 more?!" And, "How is it possible that we feel so good over 16 hours into this thing?!" With every passing peak, that word "surreal" became more and more solidified in my mind as a key word for this experience.

Overall, a great track up and down Yale.

Coming off Yale we cut straight across the bowl to the north, rather than following the rim like most do. I like it, think it's a pretty awesome Wade-shortcut. But to each their own. Coming down the final slopes to the bridge we took a route that Julian S and I had been experimenting with. Not sure I would do that again, but it got the job done.

And then we were off ‚‘ straight up Columbia! Just a couple of weeks before in training we had found some great cairns leading the way up Columbia. This time, either I just missed them all or they had been commuted back to "just rocks" by some unknown person. At any rate ‚‘ I knew the way was straight up, so that's what we did. Somewhere along the way I took a Zip-Fiz, my caffeine of choice. Brandt had a stash of Red Bulls and 5-hour energy drinks in his pack, but I felt like I had less than stellar success with those, so I was trying to limit my caffeine as much as possible. (I don't drink sodas, coffee or even much tea in daily life ‚‘ so a little caffeine goes a long way for me.)

No pictures again until Missouri, but here's the rest of the middle peaks.

In my memory, I was still doing well as we summited Columbia (at 21:04 or 2:04am). I knew we had been talking about the fact that we would need a rest at some point, but we both agreed that point had not yet come. By the way, have I mentioned our sleep plan? I'm thinking not, so here it is‚¶. I had gotten all kinds of advice on this topic. From simply not sleeping at all, to taking two hour naps, it seemed like everyone had a different idea about how to approach this. As the only time in my life I had gone over two nights without sleeping was in my senior design class in college (when I was 22)‚¶. Doing it at age 46 didn't seem like the best of ideas. And neither did a two hour nap. I envisioned my body getting cold and my muscles tightening up and me not being able to walk another step after that nap. So, I had settled on the plan for 20 minute naps, as needed. That would keep us out of the deep sleep cycles and make it easier to wake up, would keep our bodies from getting too stiff, and would minimize time spent sleeping to just what we really needed. Brandt was all in with the plan, so we were just waiting until one of us said we needed to sleep.

Rather than the horrible boulder hopping route called the "standard route" for the traverse to Harvard, we opted for the route that dropped us into the valley, then comes up the Harvard slopes to the actual trail quite a ways up the final ridge. We were taking it easy and careful on the way down Columbia, when out of the darkness this light starts following the standard route down Columbia. And said light was gaining on us quickly! We guessed that it was Nick P, as we had heard that he was making an attempt that weekend. We stopped for water in the valley, and watched as the headlamp moved on past us up Harvard. We thought we might catch him at the summit ‚‘ but no luck there. Later it turned out that it was indeed Nick, going solo through the night! We hit the Harvard summit at 5:04am ‚‘ one full day into it now!

Remember how I don't like willows? I have a route coming down more to the right as you go north off of Harvard. Not really right but straight. It just seems like it's to the right, as most people veer left off the end of Harvard, and end up in the willows. My route has its own issues, like nearly getting Nancy G drowned in our overnight rain soaked training expedition, but aside from that it's great!

The sun was coming up as we went down, but was still behind a ridge to our East. As we hit tree line, Brandt said that the time had come for a nap. We were hoping to be in the sunshine for a nap, but knew that as we descended into the trees that would be awhile. So, we just stretched out right where we were at. Instantly Brandt was making sleeping noises, while I laid there and wished that my mind would shut down. The best I could do was be still and keep my eyes closed. Ten minutes later I really had to go to the bathroom, so decided that would be good for me‚¶ and surprisingly, I did feel great! Again ‚‘ surreal. By the time I was done with business, Brandt was up, feeling great, and we were off again.

My route from Harvard to Oxford is about as straight a shot as you can get, which meant we had some climbing to do. But we were in a festive mood, joking about, "Remember that one mountain we hiked that one time? I think it was called Shavano. That sure seems like a long time ago!" Okay, so it was funny to us, and helped the time pass. Before we knew it there we were on Oxford, greeted by a great group of day hikers, all wondering just where in the world we had come from. Another surreal experience ‚‘ it was only 9:17am. That traverse from Harvard ("nap" and all) had taken us only 4:17.

A quick jog (mostly) over to Belford and we were there by 10:02am. In both of our memories it only took us about 35 minutes for that traverse ‚‘ but we had problems in the future with not trusting technology when we should have, so we will stick with that time. (And now that I think about it, we probably did spend a good 10 minutes on Oxford.) Then back and around to Elkhead Pass where we would begin the Missouri ascent.

Much has been debated about the best route up/down Missouri, but I for one am a BIG fan of what Julian S showed me, heading up the East ridge just enough to then cut under the "ribs" to the south. It's (relatively) quick and easy, putting us at the top at 11:36am (30:36). On a side note, some other guy was out there doing some Nolan's training. He had a bit of an accent, and I didn't catch his name. Anyway, he went straight up the East ridge (not recommended). We saw him again down at Clohesy Lake, after we were about all refueled and had done a sock change. His comment was that the East Ridge was NOT the way to go!

On Missouri, looking at the next step. Image Credit: Brandt

Still on Missouri, looking at the next next step. Image Credit: Brandt

Walt met us at Clohesy Lake ‚‘ a much appreciated crew stop after all those middle peaks! Clean socks felt great, and we were off again, heading up Huron. This would be the first of my attempts that I got to do the East side of Huron in the daylight! I was super excited about this! I took Brandt on another shortcut up through the trees, one that even I had to admit was a bit extreme. But I know that area pretty well, and once we were back on "trail" it was smooth sailing. I've got a pretty good route as well up onto the field where the boulders start ‚‘ no willows involved. And I actually don't mind the final ascent either, as I have a solid route up that as well. In no time at all we were on the summit! 3:16pm, 34:16 overall.

It was on our way down Huron that we finally acknowledged the obvious ‚‘ we were on a smoking fast pace, with just 3 mountains to go. Sure, they were spaced out, and sure, anything can happen. But we started to dream a little bit about the possibilities, and even kicked in a bit of a run down Huron.

Walt and Diane met us at the Huron Trailhead with another round of Subway sandwiches ‚‘ veggie patties! Woot! And once again they muled our packs to the La Plata trailhead while we put away those sandwiches and kept a fast walk pace after them. Once at the trailhead, Brandt said it was time for another nap ‚‘ and as I hadn't slept yet it seemed like a good idea. Once again‚¶. I closed my eyes and couldn't go to sleep. Sigh. Ten minutes later I had enough, so got up and finished getting ready. Brandt got about 15 minutes or so of sleep in, and was ready to lead us up La Plata at what seemed like a really fast pace, all things considered. At least it was faster than my body wanted to go, but as it turned out my body was still capable of the push, so I kept my mouth shut and my legs churning.

A glimpse back at where we had been. And we STILL had daylight! Image Credit: Brandt

Another quick stop to admire the beauty. Image Credit: Brandt

Once we reached the boulder slope ascent, I led us from trail section to boulder hopping to next trail section until we came out on the upper ridge. I was starting to feel some fatigue, and a knot was developing in my back, so I asked Brandt to take over the lead again and he was glad to. Turns out that the faint trail up the East side of that ridge was even fainter than I remembered, as Brandt kept asking about cairns. Unfortunately for me, as we progressed up the ridge I passed the point of no return. I had so wanted to keep up good communication, like when I needed to sleep, but as it turns out ‚‘ when you pass that point of no return, there is no coming back to it. Somewhere along there my mind shut off. I remember how badly my back was hurting (two weeks later and I still have a bad knot in there), and I remember telling myself that this is where it gets real, this is where I stay mentally strong and choose to press on. Then I simply don't remember anything until Brandt was saying something about us going downhill and needing to check out GPS's.

Brandt showed me his Delorme, and sure enough ‚‘ we were on the downhill trail‚¶..and we had NOT summited yet?!! I pulled out my GPS, and same thing! If you had of asked me previously if it would be possible to get lost on La Plata, within an easy 300 feet of the summit, I would have laughed. And yet there we were, wandering in circles for I don't know how long, looking for that summit. It was Brandt who finally took over and led us there, arriving at 8:45pm (39:45). I was still a bit mentally fuzzy at that point. But as we finally found the summit and realized what a close call that was with a BIG mess up, I finally came back awake. At least enough to lead us down the rocky section, finally waking up enough to jog us into the north La Plata trailhead I think around 11:15pm.

Continued progress, but things were getting real now.

GREAT fuzzy picture, because it so well captures how we were feeling. Fuzzy. Image Credit: Dara

I should have clued in to how badly my body was doing, but it felt like I was awake again, so we headed off at a jog down the highway, with Brandt leading and Walt and Diane following with their vehicle. And wow did that blacktop make my knees hurt! Brandt mentioned later that it bothered him as well. Made me glad ‚‘ at least I wasn't the only one hurting!

We said goodbye to our crew and headed up the Echo Canyon trail. It was below the mine that Brandt said he needed a nap, and I finally realized that I should have said that a long time ago. This time when we laid down, we were both out instantly, only waking up to the alarm 20 minutes later, and ready to go again! Up and up we went, finally crossing the ridge that heads up to Bull Hill and moving into the traverse to the actual Elbert ridge. And then everything started falling apart‚¶.

I had been following our GPS track up until that point, but now that we were into the traverse below the ridge, I was feeling confident. I focused on a snow patch that I could see in the moonlight, and off we went. I was so confident in fact that I stopped looking at the GPS. Here's where things started getting really fuzzy, and neither of us can remember exactly what happened. We were a ways into the traverse when one of us questioned exactly which snow patch we were actually headed for. Brandt doesn't remember a snow patch at all, so maybe I was having a conversation with myself. We concluded that we had dropped way too much elevation, and that we needed to head uphill. So straight up we went. Then we had the bright idea that maybe we should actually check the GPS. What a shock it was to discover that both of our GPS's were failing in the same way! They were both saying that we were too high, when clearly we both knew that we were too low.

I don't know how much time we spent walking in circles, trying to orient our devices, but it was too long, and I started to get cold. Finally I mumbled something about just blindly following the GPS as I had no idea which way to go, and I stumbled off. Brandt was saying something behind me, but I couldn't hear him. Before long I saw his light start to come after me, and on we went. Sure enough, that GPS led us right where we wanted to go, and finally we hit the last ridge up to Elbert.

Once again, Brandt took over the lead, and once again I felt that immense fatigue setting in. I had read all the reports about hallucinations coming on, and had wondered what that would be like. As it turns out, for me it was this persistent idea that we were in the midst of a forest. I would have the headlamp straight down at the ground, and my peripheral vision would catch sight of a rock, and my brain would tell me it was a tree. Then I would look up and realize that I was still on the ridge. Then I would look down and repeat the sequence.

Something else I couldn't figure out was why, no matter how many bumps we crossed over going up that ridge, the summit just never got any closer?! I suppose the mental games were better than my mind shutting down like it had done on La Plata.... But I don't know how much better? Brandt finally announced the summit, at 4:16am (47:16). We got our 13th fist bump in, and I was messing with something in my pack when it hit me.... How do we get down???

You see, all my scouting on Elbert had been for my North-South run the year before. And I liked my routes a lot. But I did NOT like my Western ascent route for a descent. I had talked to Julian S about a better descent, but all I had was a few GPS data points, not an actual track. And I knew that I was tired, and following an unknown route in the dark in those conditions just didn't seem like a good idea. So, I made the call to stick with the route I knew, and off we went due west.

In hindsight, I really can't say if my decision in that moment was a mistake or not. But I can say without reservation that the mistake happened when I never scouted that route beforehand. We did make it down Elbert, but it did cost us time. In the moment, it felt like it was literally costing us HOURS. Turns out in reality it was about two hours to get from the summit down to the old road, 110J to the West of Elbert. With a better route, I know we could have shaved off 30 or more minutes pretty easily there. But at the time, for me it felt like a huge mental loss. And I think in hindsight this is where I knew we would still be under 60 hours, so I stopped pushing myself.

The stream crossing coming down the 110J road had washed away the logs to cross it on, so we just splashed through. I've got this thing about not getting my feet wet, but we had already decided to use what has become know as the "Wade's Way" shortcut, coming in behind the creek at the N Halfmoon Creek trailhead, and were planning to get our feet wet there anyway. I had extra time last summer, and had come up with a bunch of shortcuts and alternative routes for Nolan's. And this little cut is one of the simplest and best! And now that you know it's there, it won't take much to figure it out.

#13! The end is in sight!

The three amigos, ready for one last peak! Image Credit: Dara

Our crew was waiting for us, but unfortunately I had not planned ahead well enough to have dry shoes waiting for me. So I loaded up on anti-blister cream (and didn't notice any blisters), finished off the peanut m&m's, got a picture with Walt, and the three of us set off to complete the Journey.

By this time we knew that we would be finishing under 60 hours, and also knew that we wouldn't be breaking any records. Brandt and I were both very happy with our time, but Walt, being fresh, decided we needed to keep pushing. After repeatedly having to wait for me, I think he took pity and scaled it back a bit. Amazingly enough, we were still passing people, and Walt was telling everyone about what we were up to. Remember that word, surreal? I had that feeling again as I looked into people's eyes. They said things like, "That's nice." And they gave us that nice golf clap, but there was just no comprehension of what we had just been through. Regardless, we pressed on. And as we got close, Walt kicked it into high again and I found just enough motivation to follow him in to the summit. 53:40 into our journey and we were standing on the last summit!!!

Want to really get to know someone? I would suggest doing the Nolan's line with them! Image Credit: Walt

SUCCESS! And thanks to these two for supporting me...almost literally! Photo Credit: A cool lady on Massive who offered to bu

The final descent. Image Credit: Brandt

Side note: Something strange happened as I summited Massive. This dam of emotions seemed to come out of nowhere and wanted to break wide open - and for some odd reason I felt like I had to fight it and hold it all back. I don't think it was about embarrassment over the emotions, in hindsight it felt more like I couldn't explain what they were and where they were coming from, so it seemed like the best option was to throttle them back. Two weeks later and I'm still trying to process what that was all about.

I've discovered that in the back of my mind was this lingering doubt over whether I actually had what it would take to finish Nolan's. I think a big part of the emotions was simply relief. Not exactly relief that I had made it, as much as relief that I didn't have to fight the inner battle anymore. While so much of this event has been about me learning about failure and success, about what it means and what it doesn't mean ‚‘ on another level I'm being reminded about identity. I know who I am. And I know that what I do does not define who I am. And yet on some lingering level, this lie twists through my brain trying to undermine the truth that is in there. So here I am again, still learning. I've completed Nolan's, but I haven't arrived anywhere. I'm still on the journey, still learning, and looking forward to the next step‚¶. whatever that might be! (I am a superhero, by the way. If you want to know more about that, you will have to message me. Or wait until the book eventually comes out!)

Back to the story: The celebration lasted long enough for me to fall asleep sitting on the summit. Ten minutes later I was informed that it was time to finish the journey, so down we headed. That made for a total of 30 minutes of sleep across this trip. As we continued I could feel the blisters forming in my wet shoes. Going down was NOT fun, but we were taking it easy now. We stopped and inspected the barrel of barbell weights near tree line (no, I have no idea how they got there!), and we pretty much nailed the descent through the trees to the Highline trail. I glanced at my watch at what turned out to be 1:25pm, and moments after that Brandt asked me what time I was thinking we would finish by. My reply was, "Before 2pm, of course!" His response was, "Well then, we had better start running!"

Now, Brandt and I had just spent a lot of quality time together. So when he said "running," I knew that he meant "jogging." But Walt was in the lead, and being very ready for the challenge, Walt set off at a RUN. If you have ever spent time on that Highline trail ‚‘ you know that it is nothing but rocks. And with each step, a rock would find a different blister to press into! It was rough! Being at the back I couldn't exactly see what happened next, but Walt tripped over something and came to an abrupt stop in the middle of the trail. Turns out he was not injured more than scrapes, which we were able to walk off. Brandt then informed us that we were okay on time, but would need to JOG if we were still going to make it before 2pm. So again, off we went. This time Walt scaled it back, and we continued at a good pace.

As we got close enough for me to get a solid feel for where we were, it came to me that the "cool time" to end on would be 1:56, making our total time 56:56. I was still at the back, and started keeping a very close eye on my watch so that I could tell the guys if we needed to speed up or slow down to nail that time. We kept getting closer, and the time kept lining up better, until we crossed into the parking lot at 56:56 without me even having to say a word! Super cool! And Josh W ‚‘ it was indeed SUPER FUN!

The final track.

It was GREAT to get the encouragement from my wife Dara and friend Diane! Wow ‚‘ almost unbelievable that it was finished. My feet were HOT, so I peeled the shoes off and started counting blisters. Over the next few days I kept finding more (like under my toenails?!!!) until the total hit 11. But then another Subway sandwich was placed in my hands and I forgot all about the blisters. Aahhhhh!

Right about then a lady named Teena and her husband came along, getting ready to do some hiking on the Fish Hatchery trails. She noticed our gear strewn about, and asked if we were hiking on the Colorado Trail. At this point, I was pretty tired of the "golf claps" and lack of comprehension of what we had been doing, so I changed it up and ask her in return if she knew anything about the Colorado 14ers. She said yes, had even hiked some of them. So I follow up with, "Ever heard of Nolan's 14?" "NOLAN'S 14?!?!?" was her response! "ARE YOU GUYS DOING THAT???!!!!" My answer was to point at my blister covered toes! She wanted to shake our hands, and I tell you what ‚‘ it kind of put the icing on the cake to have someone show up randomly at the finish who really "got it."

The victory Subway sandwich. AMAZING. Image Credit: Dara

Since completing Nolan's, I've had some time to process over the last year+ of learning, trying, failing‚¶. all that and so much more that this Nolan's challenge has had to offer. The quote that I shared at the beginning of this story was my "wrap up" of the entire process. Here's that quote again‚¶.

"Failure is the cost of a meaningful success." ~Wade Gardner

And I can say without a doubt that this successful completion of Nolan's 14 is VERY meaningful to me. The camaraderie, the support and love from family and friends, the huge scope of the challenge, the learning that came out of the failures‚¶. All this has come together to make this a very moving and meaningful experience. Now, here's the crazy part ---

A week after the event, I picked up "Failing Forward," a book by John Maxwell. Not too many pages into the book I came across this quote:

"Failure is simply the price we pay to achieve success." ~John Maxwell

Now, John Maxwell has never attempted Nolan's 14, to my knowledge. But clearly he has some experience with failure AND success, and I found it really fascinating that our separate experiences would lead us to compile a quote that is virtually identical.

Then I asked myself, "Why couldn't I have just read the book and learned these lessons on failure, rather than having to go through all this pain over the last year?!?" I jest, but I think the answer is clear.... experiential learning sinks the lesson in deep, deep, deep. Whereas book learning is all too often simply about head knowledge.

And so my question and my challenge for myself this next year is, "Wade, where have you challenged yourself and failed lately? And what are you learning from said failure?"

I raise a toast to failure‚¶and more importantly to LEARNING from that failure. May the future provide plenty of opportunities for both.

MANY, many thanks to my wife for being such a support through all of this!! Image Credit: Diane

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Great run.
09/21/2017 21:56
Hey man, thanks for the report. Really enjoyed this one. Way to stay after it!

09/21/2017 22:45
Wow I am in awe of the effort it takes to do this line. Thanks for the great TR!

Congrats for your super feat!
09/22/2017 09:47
I wish I could have your stamina and endurance so I could repeat what you did.

To get around the limit of adding peaks to 10, why don't you divide your impressive report into two parts with 7 peaks each?

09/23/2017 11:09
First time reading a Nolan's 14 report, pretty wild. Can't imagine, way to go!

09/25/2017 02:03
great TR and story

09/28/2017 14:09
Warg, that is awesome, congrats on finishing AND doing so in a pretty impressive time!

I had no idea that the random guy I struggled to keep up with in winter on Yale's East Ridge many years ago was an elite endurance athlete...which you must be to pull off what you just did! BTW, I have hallucinations on long days, can't imagine 50+ hours in. Thanks for the TR on your experience!

Thanks and Congrats...
11/07/2017 11:22
Thanks for the quote (I agree entirely) and the fantastic beta (duly incorporated into my spreadsheet), Wade. Once again, great job by you two humble studs!
-John D.

08/15/2019 18:27
Reading this the night before I go for Nolan√Ęā¨ĄĘs. Loved this read. What a report!

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