Jim Nolan, namesake of Nolan's' 14, an adventure race across fourteen 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado's majestic Sawatch Range, and a minister in the Universal Life Church of Modesto California, would preside over the mountain top ceremony to be held on the final day of the race.
For the race start at dawn (0600) on August 16th, 2001 I lined up with eleven other runners and Laila. Laila had planned on going up the first mountain of the race, Mt Massive, before supporting me for the rest of the race, but Sam the Wolfdog spoiled those plans when he escaped for an hour of "freelancing".
The first objective was to break free of the maze of the Leadville Fish Hatchery and find the three-mile diamond-marked trail leading to the Colorado Trail. Last year I had climbed Massive with the runners before later manning a backcountry aide station at North Cottonwood Creek (after Mt Columbia). At that time I had fallen in with Blake Wood on the diamond trail. This year I again found myself alongside him as we looked for the way out from the fish hatchery. Suddenly, John Robinson broke away from the trail we were on and head west. I asked Blake if that was the way. "I don't know. I followed you last year." I responded, "I followed you!" Without further preamble we followed in John's wake, soon stumbling on the correct trail. Last year when I returned after climbing Massive I wandered around the maze of lakes that constitute the fish hatchery for half an hour before finding my vehicle.
Unbeknownst to me, John Robinson after having gone ahead by going down Massive on the direct route off the summit had left the aide station three minutes before. Thinking I was in first place I paused at the aide station just long enough to fill my hydro-pack with water and eat a small candy bar.
The South Halfmoon Creek Trail is a four-wheel drive road that skirts the west side of Elbert. Two or three miles up the trail I came on a fallen down cairn I suspected marked the spot to leave the trail and begin the steep ascent (from that point it is 3,000 feet in 1.3 miles) of Elbert's NW ridge. Not having done the route I used the opportunity to answer nature's call while waiting for the others to catch up.
In the meantime Dennis Herr apparently went by me and got off course. When Jim Nelson and Mike Tilden showed up in about five minutes we decided it must be the point we were supposed to break off trail for the NW ridge. We set off together. Three or four hundred feet above us we spotted John Robinson ascending the spine to the south of the couloir. While we aimed for John I puzzled over how he had got so far ahead, still thinking that I had been in the lead.
When we saw Blake ascending on the north spine 200 feet lower than us on the other side of the couloir we asked him on the radio why he wasn't doing the "normal" south ridge. "I did that last year. This year I decided to try this side for variety." Interesting
I began to feel thirsty,
a very bad sign-when you get to the stage where you are actually feeling thirst
you are already extremely dehydrated. Where was the next water?
Skirting Bull Hill to the left we soon found ourselves above the Golden Fleece Mine. Aiming for the old wagon road below we dropped steeply down heather slopes. Once on the road we ran pretty hard. Blake, Mike and Jim stopped for water at one point, but I continued a short ways to look for more of a "water spout" flow to fill my hydro bladder. Man, that water hit the spot! I knew it was too late, but I drank as much as I could hold before continuing.
Back and forth the lead changed hands between Blake and I. Finally Blake broke out ahead. Blake won the Hard Rock 100 in 1999 with an at the time course record. Jim and Mike were behind me when I reached Highway 82 at the Echo Canyon Trailhead at 10,000 feet.
Mike has run the Hard Rock 100 four times and recently placed 3rd in the Wasatch Steeplechase. I don't know of Jim's credentials, but just being "friends" with Mike puts him in elite company in the ultra running world. He certainly proved himself by ultimately finishing Nolan's.
It was great seeing Laila and Sam there to greet me. Laila had a folding chair ready for me to rest my weary carcass, Fred Vance set to work on repairing a blister forming on my left big toe, I drank, but had little appetite. Laila begged me to eat. I couldn't force much down though. Before the race I had hoped to reach Lake Creek at 1400-Twenty minutes ahead of schedule I couldn't feel very elated with this incipient feeling of depletion.
Crossing the Colorado Trail, the Highline Trail ascends in two miles to a pair of alpine lakes near timberline. Here I left the trail, climbing through small timber to gain the west ridge. Once in the open grassy terrain above timberline I spotted other runners-this direct route turned out to be the route of choice. As we neared the summit block, Dennis Herr powered by me. He headed for the wrong highpoint however and gaining a little advantage I arrived first on top of Massive at 0815; 4800 feet of elevation gain over six or seven miles. I waved from the top to let the others know where it was and started down, moving south to the saddle between Massive proper and South Massive. John Robinson and Dennis Herr reached the top three minutes after me, followed by Mike Tilden, Jim Nelson, and Blake Wood at 0822.
Following the cairn-marked route west off the saddle I was at first unaware that the others had dropped west directly off the summit down a fast scree chute. When I reached the North Halfmoon Creek Trail I heard Blake on the radio saying after directly dropping off the summit they had not yet reached the trail. My thought at the time was that I had chosen the fastest route down. I ran down the trail towards the road, down which I would go a short ways to the aide station at the South Halfmoon Creek Trailhead leading to the next peak Mt Elbert.