EAGLE COUNTY — When Denver-based mountaineer Andrew Hamilton asked several friends if they’d support him on a record-breaking speed ascent of all of the state’s 14ers, they responded without hesitation: “Yes!”
Edwards residents Kim Siedlaczek and Andrea Sansone, along with several other friends, Hamilton’s mother and his young sons, set off on June 18 as the support crew on what was hoped to be a 10-day trip that would hit all 56 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot plus peaks — plus two unofficial peaks. The trip was actually his second attempt. He held the record once in 1999 when he completed the trek in 14 days, but another mountaineer shattered the record at 10 days, 20 hours and 26 minutes in 2000. That is where the record has stood for almost 15 years.
Hamilton, a husband and stay-at-home father of four, decided that this might be his year. He said he was drawn back to the challenge by his longtime love of climbing 14ers, and thought that he could at least break his own personal record, if not the overall speed record.
“The first time I read about the record, I started thinking I could do that. It ended up being a great experience, even though it took me months to walk again after that. It was great to have laid down a big goal and stuck it through thick and thin,” he said. “I hadn’t thought about this record for a long time. My friend tried it a couple years ago, and that excited me to try it again.”
On the road
The schedule he set was backbreaking, not only for him as the climber, but for his crew, which handled the logistics and gear and raced him around the state on dirt roads in order to maximize time.
Some days had him climbing six or seven peaks in a single day, often in the dead of night. His crew would accompany him partway (the official rules state that you have to complete the last 3,000 feet of the hike alone), pick him up at the bottom, and he would sleep and eat in the car while his friends sped him to their next destination. His supporters were able to track him online via a DeLorme satellite tracking device.
The first half of the trip went relatively smoothly for Hamilton. A number of friends, including adventure racing buddies and trail running friends came out to climb portions of the peaks with him, and at the halfway point, he was well ahead of the record. His support crew, however, ran into some mishaps. While Hamilton was climbing Mount Lindsey, Sansone had a run-in with a deer that caused her to swerve off the road. When the dust settled, the car was totaled and Sansone had fractured her elbow and required some stitches on her chin. As any committed support crew would, team members drove Sansone into Denver for medical care, then all of them raced back up to meet Hamilton for his next peak.
“My face got a little banged up, but I’m alright,” said Sansone from the road. “We’re just here to support our friend. We’re here to take care of the nitty gritty details and figure it out.”
Trouble on the Bells
On the morning of June 26 — day eight of the trip — Hamilton encountered deep snow on his chosen route up North Maroon Peak. Hiking through the snow was slow and laborious. Route finding was equally difficult, and at some point in the night his shin started painfully swelling.
In the middle of the night, he texted his wife, Natalie: “Nat, I am having serious injury. Likely not make it back tonight.”
A couple hours later: “Hi. Stefan and I on South Ridge of South Maroon. My leg is so bad can barely move.”
He had to wait until daylight to descend, but got back to camp safely, although not without losing some serious time and nursing a painful injury. He had his crew tape his leg up and decided to forge on.
“What he was doing is extremely difficult. He wasn’t running but he was setting a fast pace,” said Siedlaczek. “The most impressive is his ability to fight through pain and sleep deprivation, and that’s essential. He’s admitted that there are people who are faster than him, but he can just suffer like no one else.”
Hamilton completed three more peaks — Castle, Conundrum and Sherman — before June 28, the 10-day mark.
He had summited 48 peaks and had 10 more to go, but his injury was slowing him down.
“I was doing the math in my head, and I felt like I could still do it. I wanted to get my wife (a doctor) to give me some sort of cortisone injection so I could continue without the pain,” he remembered.
However, his wife arrived and diagnosed him with compartment syndrome from overexertion, explaining that it could have serious consequences, and he made the decision to call it quits.
‘A cool adventure’
Despite what seemed like a defeat, Hamilton’s attempt only seems to be the start of other adventures. His support crew called the trip “a cool adventure” and said they’d be on board to help him make the attempt again.
Siedlaczek said that even if Hamilton had broken the record, it would have been by an hour or two, and the mountaineer had hoped beat the previous record by much more.
“It was a good call,” said Siedlaczek. “He was limping, and it would have been painful with some serious consequences.”
The expedition has inspired Siedlaczek and Sansone to attempt their own mountaineering adventure in September. Along with Natalie Hamilton, they will attempt to complete Nolan’s 14 route — 14 summits higher than 14,000 feet in the Sawatch Range — from Mount Massive to Mount Shavano. As for Hamilton, he’s recovering from his attempt at home in Denver but doesn’t rule out another go at the record.
“I still feel very positive about the whole thing. Through day eight I was still way ahead of the old record. In hindsight, knowing the conditions up there, I would have done things differently. I felt like I was a victim of the snow,” he said. “I think I could still try this again in a year or two if the record is still there. I know those mountains pretty well.