First Women Complete Nolan’s 14, Colorado’s Most Demanding, Obscure Mountain Challenge

Anna Frost on the Nolan's 14 course in the Sawatch Range, Colorado; Photograph courtesy Anna Frost and Missy Gosney
Anna Frost on the Nolan’s 14 course in the Sawatch Range, Colorado; Photograph courtesy Anna Frost and Missy Gosney

Update: We checked with Matt Mahoney, the Nolan’s 14 record keeper, on how the Nolan’s 14 finish is defined. He said: “Like any challenge, the participants make the rules. Traditionally, the clock stops on the last summit.”

Yesterday, ultrarunners Missy Gosney and Anna Frost finished Nolan’s 14, meaning they climbed 14 14,000-foot peaks in succession over about a hundred miles in the highest mountain range in Colorado, from Mount Massive near Leadville, all the way down to Mount Shavano near Salida. This is an accomplishment so large that even most ultrarunners can’t fathom what these runners did. Indeed, out of dozens of attempts, only 11 people have ever finished the route. The effort took them just shy of two and a half days, non-stop, and during that whole time they slept about half an hour. They endured lightning storms, nausea, intense fatigue, and more than a few hallucinations. But they got it done, and in doing so, they became the first women finishers of this most demanding of obscure mountain running challenges. Their effort was supported with a crew and aid points. (Learn the history of Nolan’s 14.)

Let me try to give you some perspective here: Thousands of people climb Mount Elbert, Colorado’s highest mountain, each year. It’s a big peak, but it’s not technical and just about anyone who can hike can reach its summit. A slightly smaller number of people climb next-door Mount Massive, the state’s second-highest peak, each year, which is fittingly massive, but equally approachable from a technical standpoint. Occasionally, ambitious hikers complete both peaks in a single day, in doing so covering over 9,000 feet of climbing over the course of about 14 miles. That’s enough to floor your average strong hiker. But for Missy and Anna, those two peaks were only the beginning of an odyssey that would eventually stretch for 12 more “14ers” and almost 58 hours in total. (Runners must complete the feat within 60 hours to be official finishers.) Here are a few things they had to say about their adventure. Find your own hike here >>

Storms

“The lightning was on top of us. I was literally sh** scared,” says Anna of their descent from Mount Yale in the evening of their second day. Caught in a thunderstorm above treeline, they increased their pace significantly and sprinted into the nearest trees, where they hunkered down and did sit-ups and “arm flaps” in order to stay warm. “There was no time between lightning strike and thunder,” says Missy. “Do you know how loud that is?”

Route Finding

“We got lost on the easiest part of the course, that I’d done a million times,” says Anna. “Both of us know the route super well,” reports Missy, “and we didn’t really ever go off route.” This is saying a lot; over the course of roughly a hundred miles, more than half of which was off-trail, they nailed every bit except for a quarter-mile section on a good trail, which only happened “because I was hallucinating like crazy,” reports Anna.

Hallucinations

“I was really hallucinating,” says Anna. “All the rocks were animals. Mickey Mouse was probably the craziest. There were giraffes and elephants. I saw a black koala.”

Nausea

“Neither of us puked the whole time,” says Missy proudly, but goes on to say that “we both felt super nauseous above 13,000 feet.” Which, keep in mind, comprises about 25 percent of the whole endeavor.

Food

“I ate a salami stick on the top of Harvard,” recounts Missy. “Meat and grease—it was the best thing ever.” Their food tally seems literally impossible. Anna says that between aid points she ate “a few bars, maybe four caffeinated gels (not because I wanted them but for the caffeine), lots of Shot Bloks, baby food.” Missy was even worse: “I had some almond butter and honey sandwiches, two caffeinated gels, one bar and a few chewies.” They both drank lots of water, occasionally with some electrolyte powder. At aid points, where they met their crew, they managed to get more down. “I ate so many of those tortilla/avocado/turkey wraps,” says Anna. They both ate some pizza, soup, and chips. “Oh yeah!” says Anna, “I ate a lot of PB&J’s, but with the crusts cut off because I didn’t want to get curly hair.”

Injuries

Missy leans in close and talks in a low voice, as if embarrassed for what she has to say: “you know, I’m 48 years old and I didn’t have any issues out there. That’s so lucky.” She says her feet were sore at the end. Anna’s feet suffered mightily over the first half of the run. “My feet were literally wet the whole time,” she says, “and the friction in my shoes was horrible.” Wet feet can lead to deep creases and eventually to straight-up trenchfoot. However, during the second day Anna managed to get her feet dry enough at aid points to limit damage, and she was less bothered by the pain thereafter.

Clothing and Gear

“Of course I wore a skirt,” says Missy. “I always wear a skirt.” She also carried capris and rain gear, a puffy jacket and wool hoodie, gloves, a buff, a warm hat and a headlamp. “I even took a freaking space blanket.” Anna took much of the same. “I couldn’t believe how heavy the pack was the whole time,” she marvels. Both girls carried poles for much of the route, and Anna grudgingly carried a SPOT tracker, allowing people all over the world to follow their route. “With a GPS,” she says, “people know where we are, even when we don’t. But Nolan’s is about being out there, in the mountains. It’s safer to have the emergency button, but it takes a lot away from the experience, too.”

Men vs Women

Does a route like Nolan’s level out some of the differences between men and women? “Totally,” says Missy. “Nolan’s isn’t just about how strong you are. It’s more about skill sets. Have you ever run with Anna before? She’s a f***ing rock star. She can see the perfect line up a mountain in a flash, she can walk on loose, angled scree for hours, she’s totally comfortable in mountain terrain. Those are skills that must be developed over time, and that’s the kind of thing that makes the difference on Nolan’s.”

Why?

At dinner after finishing, a couple asks Missy what she’s celebrating and she explains that she and Anna just completed the Nolan’s 14 route, which doesn’t seem to stun them as much as one might expect, likely because they can’t grasp the magnitude of the accomplishment. Few people can. But they gamely respond with a philosophical question: “Are you doing this for some….purpose?” Missy laughs. She explains that she was in fact raising money for Colorado Outward Bound, but she knows that’s not the answer they want. They’re trying to fathom why anyone would voluntarily suffer so deeply, for so long, for so little reward. So she says, “Most people do this because it’s a pretty good test of mountain and ultra-running skills. It’s little on the crazy side, but Nolan’s is a cool line. It was a fun goal.”

Comments

  1. Ultramarathon Daily News, Wed, Aug 19
    August 19, 2015, 8:08 am

    […] Awesome! Anna Frost and Missy Gosney become first women to complete Nolan’s 14. Here’s my interview with Brandon Stapanowich after he and some friends did it last year. […]

  2. Mark Obmascik
    August 19, 2015, 10:02 am

    Congrats on the terrific feat, but it’s debatable whether they are Nolan’s 14 finishers. The originators say you must complete the entire route, trailhead to trailhead, in less than 60 hours. These runners summited their last peak in 58 hours, but apparently turned off their GPS trackers and celebrated on the summit instead of hustling down the mountain to the trailhead. Seems doubtful that they made it trailhead-to-trailhead in 60 hours. Is a mountain climbed if you don’t descend it? A man tried for the record last year, unsupported, but his race down the mountain to the final trailhead fell 19 minutes short. More discussion about the Nolans 14 rules ouon the 14ers.com forum: http://www.14ers.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=47623&start=36

  3. mit
    texas
    August 19, 2015, 10:47 am

    Come on people, it can’t be that hard:

    “out of dozens of attempts, only 11 people have ever finished the route”

  4. spencer
    August 19, 2015, 1:34 pm

    Wrong mark. From Matt Mahoney’s site, the official nolans 14 website.

    “Cutoff is 60 hours to the last summit.”

  5. Ron
    Colorado
    August 19, 2015, 9:27 pm

    An amazing feat, but why didn’t they proceed and finish at the TH? Nolans is TH to TH covering 14 14ers in less than 60 hours. They didn’t make it back to the TH in less than 60 hours (at least it doesn’t appear they did as the tracker was turned off). Why put an asterisk next to this incredible accomplishment when the finish was simply a final descent to the TH?

  6. Dean
    Colorado
    August 20, 2015, 8:03 am

    Horrible media reporting. Only 6 people have accomplished the Nolan 14er. More people have finished the course, but the goal is TH to TH in under 60 hours. The map on Matt’s website says that and Matt is not Mr. Nolan or Mr Vance who are the creators of this race. You don’t get a medal for only running 25.85 miles of a marathon, you have to finish that last 1/4 mile. Which is the comparison of them running to the last TH. Still a great accomplishment for them and they hold the FKT for woman, but I wouldn’t count that as official nolaners.

  7. Dean
    Colorado
    August 20, 2015, 8:45 am

    Sorry hit the wrong key. Only 9 finishers TH to TH under 60hrs.

  8. Matt Mahoney
    Leadville CO
    August 20, 2015, 1:57 pm

    I know there is some debate about whether the finish is the last summit or the trailhead. I record both times on my website if they are provided. But the participants make the rules. In the original race, the object was to climb as many 14ers as possible in 60 hours. 14 is the most you can do, regardless of your time to the trailhead. Andrew Hamilton’s unsupported record is 57:18 to Massive in 2014 (not 60:19 to Fish Hatchery). The course record is 52:42 by John Robinson in 2002. A total of 13 people have now reached the last summit in 60 hours (John Robinson twice).

    I climbed Shavano with some friends to see Missy and Anna finish. We celebrated at the summit, and they turned off their SPOT and took their time coming down. I don’t know their time to the trailhead (I got there later) but it’s not relevant.

  9. Pete
    Colorado
    August 20, 2015, 3:15 pm

    “Both girls carried poles for much of the route”.

    This just reads plain wrong for these two magnificent women. And no, I’m not a feminist or political correctness enforcer by any means.

  10. Jorge Delplata
    Boulder, CO
    August 20, 2015, 5:13 pm

    Aesthetically TH to TH makes sense but I think the goal is to climb 14 fourteeners under 60 hours and they did it. Huge congratulations!
    Mark Obmascik: “Is a mountain climbed if you don’t descend it” Absolutely Yes. Many peaks around the world have been climbed and even when someone descents on a no traditional way (IE: paragliding) or died on the descent , still gets the ascension or first ascension or FKT .

  11. Bogie D
    boulder, co
    August 20, 2015, 5:34 pm

    I think the original setup did not include gps tracking and pacers, or people to accompany you. But things evolve and the “normal” becomes what most people accept as normal

    Hiking 14 14ers to me it sounds like it ends up on the 14th summit….you hiked 14

    Badwater146 ends on top of Whitney even though you have to go back down 12 miles

  12. Bogie D
    boulder, co
    August 20, 2015, 6:27 pm

    What’s not clear to me, is if 2 or more people team up and do some or all of the peaks together, is that allowed and ok?

    I would think so but it needs to be clarified

  13. Judd H.
    California
    August 20, 2015, 10:29 pm

    Great job Ladies. People who know what it is like to be apart of and truly respect the mountains would not criticize or question your accomplishments. Keep pushing yourselves……….

  14. Frank
    August 21, 2015, 8:38 am

    It is an amazing feat, but it is stupid and dangerous, and people are going to die trying to replicate it–I have climbed many 14’ers, and I can say that the storms are not something to take lightly and climbing in the afternoon is dangerous–hiking extreme distances on the ridiculous minimum of calories these two consumed is also dangerous. Hiking until you are so sleep deprived you are hallucinating is extremely dangerous–setting something up like this as a model and goal for others to follow is going to lead to people dying in the attempt

  15. Marc Strawser
    August 21, 2015, 3:19 pm

    So, I guess this is already more demanding and obscure than finishing all the 14ers (including those which supposedly don’t count) in less than 10 days? Amazing accomplishment, but definitely not the most demanding feat that incorporates these mountains. Title change?

  16. John C
    Calif
    August 22, 2015, 2:02 pm

    Incredible Congrats – when does the movie come out

  17. Morgan Tilton
    Denver, CO
    August 24, 2015, 3:48 pm

    Given Matt’s response –that the original objective was to climb as many fourteeners as possible in 60 hours, regardless of returning to the final TH– I think that these two ultrarunners have completed Nolan’s 14: to reach the most number of 14er peaks (14) within 60 hours. What an incredible accomplishment! I enjoyed the personal quotes woven throughout the article and I can appreciate the journalist’s desire to use a variety of language for the attributions and pronouns (“recount” versus “said”; “women” or “ultrarunners”). As a female athlete and professional journalist, it does strike a cord when I see women called “girls” in an article. Would one ever see a “man” referred to as a “boy” or “teenager” for the sake of linguistic variety? Certainly not. Furthermore, using “girls” within the context of that particular sentence, “…Both girls carried poles for much of the route…” could be offensive. Again, when reporting about two male runners, would you write, “Both boys carried poles for much of the route”? Most likely, no. Secondly, any ultrarunner –regardless of being male or female– may use poles to aid ultraruns. Just as the pros/cons of the SPOT tracker are explained, those benefits/drawbacks of the poles could be shared with the audience, too. To address both issues, I would hope to read something like, “Both runners strapped collapsible poles to their packs for support during steep ascents. Throughout the traverse, they ended up using the poles for two steep descents — which means they have the knees of an ox.” This is an adventure “blog” and I am not sure what Nat Geo’s resources are for editing, however, gender equality should be at the top of the publication’s agenda, for all of the content.

  18. Rush
    September 2, 2015, 1:16 pm

    This isn’t a USTAF-sanction, chipped event over a certified course. It’s an adventure. There is no governing body or seated board to review one’s effort. You don’t submit an application. I can throw up a website and declare myself the “official site of Nolans 14”, but it doesn’t mean squat. The ladies did what they did and good on them.