Ultra-endurance mountaineer John Prater, nicknamed "Homie" on 14ers.com, is three days into trying to climb Colorado's 58 Fourteeners or 14,000-foot mountains (including some unranked 14ers) in a new record time. Homie started the clock at 5:15 a.m. on Thursday morning in the Needle Mountains in southwest Colorado. He had backpacked up to Chicago Basin the day before for the jumping-off point.
The current record is held by Ted Keizer AKA Cave Dog who ran up and down 55 Fourteeners in September, 2001 in 10 days 20 hours and 26 minutes. Keizer, then 28 years old, did two years of training and enlisted a support crew. "All I had to do was hike, eat, sleep and run," he said.
Cave Dog also wrote to Prater on 14ers.com last Thursday: "Good luck. I wish you a wonderful and successful adventure. It will be amazing. As you know, the 14ers are one of a kind. From the grand peaks of the Elks and San Juans to the long hikes of the Sawatchs, from the knobby rock of the Crestones to the inspiring Longs, there is so much variety. However, you will see them in a new light during this adventure, a perspective that few have had. No matter what happens, that is yours forever. I wish you clear skies and a hiatus from the lightning. I wish you a hold out sky pilot and a late blooming Indian paint brush, many mountain goats and big horns, and the most awe inspiring of views. You will see so much and experience so much in the coming days. Live it. Treasure it. And, break that record."
Prater climbed the first two Fourteeners--Windom and Sunlight Peaks--in a mere 2 hours last Thursday morning and then bagged Eolus and North Eolus before running back down to the narrow gauge railroad and taking the train to Silverton to meet his support crew. He then headed over to the San Miguel Range and climbed El Diente Peak, Mount Wilson, and Wilson Peak, three of the harder Fourteeners, before the day was done, but getting completely soaked in heavy rain on the mountains.
Bill Wright, a speed climber in Boulder, Colorado and co-author of Speed Climbing with Hans Florine, was Homie's support crew for the first few days of the marathon, driving at breakneck speeds, cooking meals, and writing on Prater's blog. Wright parked at the Rock of Ages trailhead below Wilson Peak and waited for Homie in the dark. Just before eleven "...Homie banged on the truck before heading off to the porta-potty. When he returned I had the car running. He mentioned how tough that group was but was remarkably alert, in good spirits and surprisingly high in energy. The cold rainy conditions had caused him to not eat or drink much. He knew a crash in energy had to be coming and tried to eat some of the spaghetti I made for him." He had climbed eight peaks in the first 24 hours.
Wright then drove him over to Ouray and up to the Mount Sneffel's trailhead, where Homie headed out at 1:15 a.m. in the dark to climb Sneffels, which he did round-trip in 3 hours 24 minutes with the mandatory 3,000 feet of elevation gain. From there it was up over 12,640-foot Cinnamon Pass on a rough 4-wheel-drive track, reaching the top at sunrise. Below the pass, Prater ran up three of the easier Fourteeners--Handies, Sunshine, and Redcloud. At that point in the ultra-marathon Prater was only 14 minutes ahead of Cave Dog's pace, which, Bill Wright notes, "is essentially a dead heat in something that will last almost 11 days."
Next Prater left the Nellie Trailhead at 3:55 a.m. to head up Uncompahgre Peak and then jog over to nab Wetterhorn Peak. He returned in heavy rain to the Matterhorn Trailhead at 10 p.m. and was driven east to the San Luis Trailhead where he ate before heading out to climb San Luis Peak at 1:27 a.m. Prater returned to the vehicle 5 hours and 21 minutes later and again headed east to the Willow Creek Trailhead on the west side of the Sangre de Cristo Range.
Today Homie left the car at 9:35 a.m. and headed up Willow Creek accompanied by Mark Oveson. The pair first climbed Challenger, then Kit Carson, Humboldt, and Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle, crossing the exposed rock ridge between the two, before descending down to Broken Hand Pass and on down to the South Colony Trailhead where Gerry and Jennifer Roach were waiting to pick Homie up and ferry him on to tomorrow's peak adventures--Culebra, Blanca, Little Bear, Ellingwood, Lindsey, and Pikes Peak.
Climbing all these Fourteeners is a feat for most people but to be able to do it in under 11 days is amazing and simply beyond most athletes. It involves 138,558 feet of elevation gain, a couple hundred miles of hiking and climbing, a dedicated support team, a heck of a lot of motivation, and the ability to suffer. As Bill Wright notes on the blog: "To break the record takes incredible planning, toughness, and world-class endurance, but it also takes luck. Since he can't control the luck, all he can do is keep going, keep adjusting, keep strong, keep showing how badly he wants it."
Keep going, keep pushing John. We're cheering for you to break the record. Go Homie Go!
Photograph above: The Knife Edge on Capitol Peak is one of the most precarious climbing sections on Colorado's Fourteeners. Photograph © Spencer Swanger.