The Hundred Highest, in Record Time

Gaining the summits of all of Colorado’s 14ers, or mountains that rise higher than 14,000 feet above sea level, is practically a rite of passage for our state’s hikers and mountaineers. Once you’ve done all the 14ers, you can take a break. There’s nothing left to prove. Except when there is.

Some people go on to summit Colorado’s 100 highest peaks, the Centennials, then the 200 highest, the Bicentennials, or “Bis,” and the 300 highest, the Tricentennials, or “Tris.” Truly motivated mountaineers do all the 13ers in the state, then the 12ers, 11ers, and even the 10ers. At this point, you’re at well over 1,000 peaks. That’s a lot of hiking and climbing.

I stopped at the 14ers, not because I didn’t want to do more lists – I just got busy with other things and didn’t have the time to commit to these kinds of endeavors. So even though I’ve racked up more than 1,000 ascents on more than 700 unique peaks, mostly in Colorado, those other lists elude me. I used to think I’d get to them eventually, but as the years passed, I knew I probably never would. As I’ve gotten older (and slower), I’ve reluctantly put them aside and set my sights on other, more practical and achievable (read: easier) goals.

Until something happens that makes me think “Hmmm…maybe.” Like this past July, when Andrew Hamilton completed all the Centennials in 22 days, 16 hours, and 54 minutes. That’s the unofficial time, anyway, as tracked by “glenmiz” (his username), who, along with Andrew’s main support person on this remarkable feat, Andrea Sansone, posted regular updates on the website 14ers.com. Andrew’s also the guy who set a 14ers speed record back in 2015 in 9 days, 21 hours, and 51 minutes, breaking the previous record set 15 years earlier by Teddy “Cave Dog” Keizer. Andrew’s latest feat – 100 peaks, and not just any peaks, the highest ones – in under 23 days is beyond my comprehension. These mountains are spread across the state, in every major mountain range, from the Front Range south to the Sangre de Cristos, west to the San Juans and all the ranges in between: the Sawatch, Tenmile, Mosquito, and the notorious Elk Range, home to some of the toughest high peaks like the Maroon Bells, Capitol Peak, and Thunder Pyramid. And because access to three peaks on the list – Democrat, Lincoln, and Bross – was closed at the time, Andrew did a few additional peaks to make up for them (he did end up getting permission from the landowners in the middle of all this and went back for them, solidifying his record). He did them in typical high-altitude weather conditions too: heat, cold, sunshine, rain, sleet, wind, hail, and snow.

No doubt you’ve hiked up at least one Centennial, say Pikes Peak. I’ve been up that peak nine times by four different routes. One time, during the November 2006 Bicentennial celebration of Zebulon Pike’s attempt on the peak, it took me three days to get up the thing. Granted, my team and I were repeating the route believed to have been taken by Pike, beginning far south and east of the mountain near what is now Fort Carson. But I wasn’t moving very fast either. Not Hamilton fast.

I carry a GPS on my hikes and every now and then, I glance at the trip computer to see my moving time average. I know from doing a whole lot of hikes that on an average incline of say, 1,000 feet of elevation per mile, I move at only about 1 ½ miles per hour. So I’m not breaking any records. It took me roughly six years to complete the 14ers, with a first ascent on Pikes via the Crags in October 2003 and my final summit, Mount Wilson, in August 2009. My first Centennial was also Pikes, and my last one was Vermilion Peak, the highpoint of San Juan County. I wasn’t even thinking about the Centennials when I did it back in 2015 – I was working on the Colorado County Highpoints, and Vermilion was my last, my “finisher” on that list. It was my 67th Centennial, so I have many more to do if I want to complete all of those.

Descending my last Centennial, Vermilion Peak, in September 2015. I don’t intend to complete the list of 100 highest mountains in Colorado. Photo by Stewart M. Green.

At my current pace of about two-thirds of the Centennials in 12 years, I should be able to do the remaining 33 in about six. Adding in the six-year “break” from 2015 to 2021, that would make my overall time to complete the Centennials 24 years, or more than 365 times how long it took Andrew. So maybe it’s not out of the question. I may have to pick up a little speed though, because a mile and a half an hour isn’t going to cut it. For now, I’ll marvel at the accomplishments of others. I’ll follow people like Andrew, and other fast-moving Coloradans. People like John and Alyson Kirk, who’ve hiked everything over 10,000 feet in the state, or Teresa Gergen, who’s summited everything over 13,000 feet in 49 states. Andrea Sansone, who holds the women’s speed record on California’s 14,000-foot peaks. Or Justin Simoni, who set a self-supported record on the Centennials by biking between them and summiting all 100 in 60 days, 14 hours, 59 minutes, and 42 seconds. And when I see another record set, or watch one fall, I’ll think, “Hmmm…maybe.”

Then I’ll remember how hard it was to work my way up a mere 700+ peaks at my snail’s pace. I’ll remember the lightning storm on the Maroon Bells Traverse, the loose rock on Ice Mountain, the blizzard on Horseshoe Mountain, and the soft snow on down-sloping rock on El Diente high above Navajo Basin. I’ll consider how nice it is to just sit here, and write, and watch other people break records and knock off lists. And I’ll think, “Hmmm…on the other hand, maybe not.”

This blog first appeared as a column in the July 27, 2021 Gazette North Springs Edition.

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