Saturday, March 3, 2012

Why Cave Dog's record will stand and what to do about it

I've been accused of Cave Dog worship by more than one person over the years.  I wouldn't necessarily go that far - heck, I've never met the guy - but I am beyond amazed at the feat he accomplished in September 2000.  As my fitness at ultra-distances and familiarity with Colorado's high peaks increases, my appreciation of just what it took for him to summit all of the state's 14ers in less than 11 days subsequently grows.  I would love to give it a shot myself, but there are two extremely compelling reasons that keep me from doing so.

Logistics/resources  Cave Dog had a dedicated network of friends and family who were all willing and able to commit to an extremely long "day" of crewing.  Imagine how difficult it would be to get 4-5 people to agree to "Hey buddy, any chance you could take two weeks off of work, go without sleeping or showering for days on end, and sit around in a car bored out of your skull for me?"  Cave Dog had the additional carrot of "Oh, and by the way, this effort is likely to be a record that will stand untouched for years.  Would you like to be a part of this?"  This is not the type of endeavor one can just "do."  I honestly couldn't justify putting other people out for that length of time simply to fulfill a selfish goal of doing it.  Unlike a course record on a once-a-year race, Cave Dog put the record so far out of reach that no one has even attempted it since.

The its safest
Risk  In 2011, there were ten deaths on Colorado's fourteeners.  Twelve people died 2010.  Admittedly, the summit-to-death ratio is quite benign when compared to Annapurna or K2.  Thing is, all it takes is a something like a sprained ankle five miles from a trailhead with a severe storm approaching to make things...interesting.  The most impressive part of Cave Dog's feat IMO was the sleep deprivation he endured.  I just can't get myself to imagine myself crossing the knife-edge or catwalk, descending the hourglass (above the snowfield in the picture), or topping out on Sunlight's summit block half-asleep.

Despite the fact that I've resigned myself to foregoing any attempt like this, I still feel compelled to challenge myself to some sort of tangible goal/race/FKT/"thing".  Something that removes the constraints of depending on others.  Something that lessens the risk of falling asleep and dropping off a cliff face.  I've been putting a ton of thought into this, and thus far have come up with two "alternatives."  

The Fourteener Speed Grid.  Some people have heard of the grid.  Fun concept, but ridiculous at the same time.  The "season grid" is a much more attainable goal (each peak in each of the four seasons), but not one that interests me.  Instead, I propose this.  Cut out the sleep deprivation.  Cut out the time constraints.  All one has to do is track how long it took to get from trailhead to summit and back on all 58 peaks.  3,000' rule must be followed from TH to first summit.  This encourages link-ups such as the Crestone Group and Collegiates.  Once you have times recorded for all ascents, tally 'em up.  Don't like one of 'em?  Do that peak again.  Track only your fastest.  How quickly could it be done?  Cave Dog spent 7 days, 7 hours, 51 minutes on the trails.  With sleep, fresh for each one, could the total time be cut down to something in the 6 day range?  Maybe even into the 5s?

Tour de Fourteeners.  This bastardizes the concept a little less, but would be more challenging.  Similar to Le Tour de France or the TransRockies Run, this would be done as a stage race.  (preferably beginning on the same day as Le Tour's prologue, of course)  While the exact order of days would be up to the competitor, the number of days and the groupings would have to remain constant.  Following would be a sample schedule - one that includes easy/hard cycles and limits logistical challenges:
  • July 1 - Eolus, north eolus, Sunlight, Windom
  • July 2 - El Diente, Mt. Wilson, Wilson Peak
  • July 3 - Sneffels
  • July 4 - Redcloud, Sunshine, Handies
  • July 5 - Uncompahgre, Wetterhorn
  • July 6 - San Luis
  • July 7 - Challenger, Kit Carson, Crestone Peak, Crestone Needle, Humboldt
  • July 8 - Lindsay, Blanca, Ellingwood, Little Bear
  • July 9 - Culebra
  • July 10 - Snowmass, Capitol
  • July 11 - Castle, Conundrum
  • July 12 - Pyramid, Maroon, North Maroon
  • July 13 - Holy Cross
  • July 14 - north massive, Massive, Elbert, La Plata
  • July 15 - Huron, Missouri, Oxford, Belford, Harvard, Columbia
  • July 16 - Sherman
  • July 17 - Yale, Princeton
  • July 18 - Antero, Tabeguache, Shavano
  • July 19 - Democrat, cameron, Lincoln, Bross
  • July 20 - Quandary
  • July 21 - Grays, Torreys
  • July 22 - Evans, Bierstadt
  • July 23 - Longs
  • July 24 - Pikes
I've been mulling over the former option for over a year, but the latter didn't come to me until a few weeks ago.  The more I think about it, though, the more excited I get over the prospect of not just attempting it, but seeing how many other twisted souls would also try their hand at it some day.

So...are you in?


  1. This is why I always roll my eyes when teachers complain about how hard their job is.

  2. Surprised this one has not gotten a bit more play, traction. Figured some of the 14er folks would bite at it.

    You should put Sherman adjacent to the Decalibron.

  3. GZ - I posted at There has been some discussion over there.

    Initial thought regarding Sherman - Hur/Bel/Ox/Harv/Col is a beast of a day. Sherman from Iowa Gulch (the west side) is a 'rest day' and logistically feasible. Decalibron is an easy day as well.

    I'll be sending out the Nolan's run-through email soon. You'll be included, we'd love to have you join for a day or two.

  4. Harvard/columbia from the trailhead was a beast of a day for us. The traverse is just... slow and tedious for at least 1/2 of it. I am not an ultra runner but I imagine that portion of the speed attempt would break some people off.

  5. I've been contemplating this whole conundrum the past few months and have realized that in general the "mountain runner" has died of late. People are more into running established trails and the new ultra races that are around, such that 14er records are as challenged as they used to be.
    I think this summer all this might change, and you may need a new title (I'm not going to challenge it, but keep an eye out). It's time that a new crop of runners/mountaineers challenge some of the old records.


  6. There are some weird days on the "tour de 14ers." On the one hand, I can't imagine doing July 15th, while both Quandary and Sherman by themselves are a breeze. It's nice to have easier and harder days, but this level of variation seems like too much to me.

    BTW, for something similar but a bit more accessible, you might check out the kind of mileage for Bob Burd's Sierra Challenge ( ).

  7. Oliver - come on out and do it some day before you get a real job!

    Dan - absolutely, the 14ers have plenty of "crappy" parts. They still have to be done, though! More on that in a minute.

    Eric - yes, I've heard rumblings of this myself. I wish anyone attempting it the best of luck. I have my own ideas. We'll see if Tony actually goes for Nolan's in September, that would be cool to see.

    dirtbag - yes, "weird" is one way to classify them. Yes, the 15th is nearly ridiculous. My primary justification: driving and hiking time. If you don't hit Huron/Miz/Bel/Ox/Harvard/Columbia in one shot, you add significant mileage to the total. Might as well be efficient and purposely have a monster day, kinda all L'alpe d'Huez style IMO. I'll check Burd's link, thanks!

  8. I don't think that it is bad to admire someone. If you want to beat his record you should know what you are lacking for and try to compensate to beat him.