Nolan’s 4, or what mountain goats drink

Sunset in the mountains

Photo credit: Carl the mountain goat

I’d just left Winfield and was hiking down South Clear Creek Road when I heard the UTV approaching.

“Ten bucks says they stop and ask me what the hell I’m doing,” I thought to myself.

They stopped, I pocketed ten bucks. “I should do crazy stuff more often,” I thought to myself.

“You goin’ to Lake Ann?” the man asked, referring to an alpine lake below the divide, straight south of us.

“No, Huron,” I said, referring to a peak a short climb east of us.

“Huron? That’s a 14er! You’re climbing a 14er at night!?”


The man’s face was a mixture of disbelief and concern. So was his gal friend’s face. I wasn’t sure what to say, as night had not yet fallen and there was plenty of time to summit before darkness. Besides, at a mere 14,003 feet, Huron barely counts as a 14er. At best it is a high 13,9er that only managed to sneak into the 14er club because they “forgot” to check its tall hat at the door. I bet it has connections with real 14ers and that’s how it got in.

After offering me a ride to the trailhead, which I politely declined, Mr. and Mrs. UTV rolled along and left me to my business.

My business

As you may know I made the terrible mistake of trying to climb 14 mountains in a row just over a month ago. I didn’t get all 14, and that really annoyed me, so on Wednesday, Sept. 28, I left the Leadville National Fish Hatchery once again to repeat my terrible mistake.

I gave myself an early 1:00am start so I could avoid as much weather as possible later in the week. I couldn’t start Monday or Tuesday because I had to work at the paper. So, 1:00am on Wednesday it was. Unfortunately, starting Nolan’s 14 at one in the morning meant that I didn’t get any sleep the night before. But was that going to stop me? No way. Not for a while, at least.

I won’t bore you with all the details. Not because I don’t sincerely want to bore you, but because I simply don’t have the time to do it. So, here’s what happened, in one paragraph:

I staggered my way uncertainly up Massive’s east ridge in the middle of the night. At about 13,000 feet I thought I heard the devil coming for me, but it was just some elk bugling nearby. “Bugling” is a cute euphemism for the sound elk make – it’s really more like infernal shrieking; like all seven trumpets of the Apocalypse blown at the same time by seven asthmatic angels. If you don’t believe me go watch this YouTube video of ELK BUGLING IN ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK HD, starring MONSTER elk. Actually, just listening to that would be enough to put the fear of God in your pants. Now imagine it happening in the middle of a moonless night, way up a mountain with the wind howling and nobody anywhere near to read you a bedtime story about what cute animals like to do at night. This paragraph is clearly going to be too long to explain what happened, but is that going to stop me from writing it? No way. Later, down by Halfmoon Creek, I got lost trying to find Wade’s Way in the dark. Then, at the gully below Elbert, already dizzy from sleep deprivation, I sat down on a rock and rested my head on my arms for a few minutes. Things were looking not great, but so what? I had Elbert all to myself that Wednesday morning. Also,

I lied about not having time to bore you with all the details

At La Plata trailhead, Adam was waiting for me with food and a chair. I sat down and ate and then I got up and got out of there.

I’ll be honest, eternal slumber sounded pretty nice as I climbed La Plata. But despite my best attempts to fall asleep forever on three separate occasions on the way up, I somehow got to the summit awake enough to discover that I was still alive.

Disappointed, I looked around, soaking up the matchless beauty of the Sawatch and hoping that the spectacle would somehow stop my heart and save me from the rest of Nolan’s.

It didn’t. Disappointed, I began descending to Winfield.

Winfield is a place you don’t care about

When I finally got down to Winfield I ate hot scalloped potatoes and talked to Adam about quitting because I was so unbelievably sleep-deprived.

“How bad do you really want to go under 60 hours?” he asked.

“I don’t care about 60 hours,” I said as despair reached over my shoulder and helped itself to some of my potatoes. “I just need to sleep.”

So I slept, for about half an hour, in the back of Adam’s van, on a memory foam mattress I could have slept on for … eternity. I will have to remember to take a memory foam mattress with me when I die. I think the only thing better than eternal sleep would be eternal sleep on a memory foam mattress. Write that down.

While sitting there in a chair like a dead man in a ghost town you don’t care about I made up a mental list of all the reasons not to continue up Huron: 1) I am so tired I can barely move; 2) I’m already going way too slow to make 60 hours; 3) My body still isn’t even close to being recovered from Nolan’s 10; 4) There are rainstorms preparing to melt me on Harvard and then freeze me to the side of Columbia; and 5) Oh, my shoes are broken.

It was actually just my right shoe. The line of epoxy I’d used to patch up its badly cracking sole a couple weeks ago created a weak point, I think, which the mountains used to split the whole thing wide open again without even breaking a sweat.

Adam convinced me to keep moving. “You can always sleep for a few hours up there somewhere,” he said, and I took his advice.

Huron: all the boring details

After the UTV couple had moved along I just focused on moving slowly and steadily up Huron. I was glad I kept going because if I hadn’t, I would’ve missed out on the most stunning sunset I’ve ever seen in my life.

On my way up I saw a few mountain goats drinking and carousing over on the west ridge to Browns Peak. I got their attention with the secret mountain goat club wave and they came over and met me on Huron and we exchanged cards. Luckily, one of them, the one named Carl, had snapped a picture of that sunset with his new mgPhone 14 so I gave him my Hotmail and he sent me the picture by e-mail. As you saw above, it’s not the best quality, due to him having had a few too many, but it’s better than nothing.

On the way down to Clohesy Lake I stopped somewhere below treeline, found a nice soft spot, and conked out for three hours. It was a good nap, but not as good as it would’ve been with a memory foam mattress. I will say I’m glad I did that descent from Huron in the dark all alone because wow, that route is way harder to nail when you’re not following someone who knows it. I got it right, but now after doing it by myself in the dark I have a much better appreciation for how easy it would be to mess up. Make a note of that, Brandt.

At Clohesy Lake road I stopped and spent about half an hour staring at the Missouri trail and listening to elk scream about the end of the world. I was fighting a big mental battle about whether or not to go on. I knew I could still manage Missouri, and I knew that if I got Missouri I’d probably go get Belford and Oxford, too.

“Alright,” I said to myself. “You could make this seven, no problem, that would be way more respectable than four.”

Another self countered. “No,” it said. “There’s no sense in ruining yourself. You’re not 100%. Go home and relax, man.”

It was a bulletproof argument. “Okay,” I said. And that’s how I decided this adventure would just have to wait till the summer of ’17. A little over 24 hours after leaving the hatchery, I sent a text to Adam and started hiking north to Rockdale.

By the time I arrived, Adam and his van were waiting for me. Thank God for reliable crewpeople with vans. Without Adam, I probably would have broken into one of the old cabins at Winfield and passed out for several hours. Who knows, I might have woken up in jail. The world might have ended, but it didn’t, because I had Adam and his van.

We were speeding east on CR 390 for about 10 minutes before I realized I’d forgotten to turn off my DeLorme. My dad later asked if I’d accidentally left my tracker on or if I’d turned into the Flash. I told him that sometimes I turn into the Flash at night and that it can’t be helped. We all have our struggles.

Another attempt, another bad idea

I am now 0-2 when it comes to Nolan’s 14. But thanks to my second attempt I know a bit more about myself; specifically I know that just trying Nolan’s once takes a lot more out of me than I think it does. So I won’t be trying it again this year. Not only because I’m tired but also because in the past couple days Jack Frost has decisively crapped all over the Sawatch as far south as I can see. Even here in town down low my car got a solid three inches this morning, and the coffee shop is weirdly empty, which can only mean one thing: Winter is here.

I guess I’ll just content myself with the fact that Nolan’s 10 + Nolan’s 4 = Nolan’s 14. Haha, didn’t see that coming, did you? I did Nolan’s 14. Sort of. Nobody’s keeping track, right?

Next stop:

Some place in Arizona called the Grand Canyon. When people talk about the Grand Canyon it seems like they always talk about its rims. I’ve never had a single conversation in my life in which people used the word “rims” to describe anything except dumb cars that deserve to be driven straight into the La Brea Tar Pits. So I highly doubt the Grand Canyon is as grand as they say. I bet it has a spoiler.

Epilogue: Mountain goats drink mead.


3 comments to Nolan’s 4, or what mountain goats drink

  • I have to admit, your ending was not a happy one for me. I was brushing up on my rusty math skills, testing and re-testing my hypothesis that 10+4 did, indeed = 14. I was fairly certain my logic had held up through the read and I’d have theopportunity to land that haymaker of a realization on you.

  • Brandt

    Sorry for the unhappy ending. Would you like some mead?

  • Wade Gardner

    From no sleep to lots of sleep to finally the 20 minute power nap, I’ve think you’ve finally nailed it. Learning is an amazing thing! And as some say, “4th times a charm!” 🙂

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