Last Fourth of July, while most families were eating hot dogs and watching fireworks, the Hamilton family was on the road. Andrew Hamilton, a 40-year-old father of four, was in the middle of his quest to break the speed record for summiting Colorado’s 14ers, the 58 mountains in the state over 14,000 feet, and his entire family—and lots of friends—were on the road supporting his attempt.
It was familiar territory for Hamilton. He held the record for a year in 1999, topping out on each mountain in under 14 days. The next year, however, legendary endurance athlete Teddy “Cave Dog” Keizer shaved three days off Hamilton’s time, a feat that seemed unbreakable. Hamilton moved on to other projects, like raising his children and setting the (even more insane) completely self-powered 14ers record in 2003: riding a bike between each of the peaks and climbing them in just under 20 days. He also helped two of his children make it up all of the 14ers and took them and his wife up Mt. Kilimanjaro.
But in 2012, when John “Homie” Prater made the first attempt to beat Keizer’s record in 12 years, Hamilton began thinking about the record again. He knew he’d made some mistakes during his first attempt, like using a borrowed dirt bike that broke down and cost him several hours. He also didn’t take advantage of a shortcut: riding a historic train to access a cluster of hard-to-reach 14ers in the Needle Mountains, south of Silverton. Those climbs took him 24 hours when they could have taken him just five.
Using an updated plan, Hamilton tried to beat Keizer’s record in the summer of 2014. But eight days into the attempt, heavy snow and a shin injury did him in. But that attempt taught him something about himself. “All the years when I was being a dad, I got used to sleeping three hours a night,” he says. Even though his body wasn’t as strong as it was 16 years ago, he had new advantages. “I learned that I could maintain my pace, even on very little sleep.”
For the 2015 attempt he tweaked his plan more. He rented an RV for his crew so he could sleep in his own van while shuttling between mountains. “That was really critical,” says Hamilton. “If I wasn’t able to take power naps whenever possible, and not be awakened, there’s no way I could have kept up the pace day after day.” He recruited a friend with a 4WD truck to get him to trailheads, which proved crucial. And he decided to drink a high-calorie powder mix while hiking, which kept his energy up and his weight loss to two pounds. (He lost a staggering 20 pounds during his 1999 attempt.)
Despite heavy rain almost every day, dense fog, and occasional lightning storms, the plan came together. Hamilton would use the 4x4 to reach the trailhead, then power his way up and down the summit in his La Sportiva Core High GTX® boots, sometimes using snowshoes, crampons, and an ice ax and occasionally riding down jeep roads on an old downhill bike that volunteers pushed up the trail for him. Then he’d crash in the van while his crew drove him to the next peak. He finished the last peak, Long’s Peak, at 2:21 a.m. on July 9. All in all, it took Hamilton 9 days, 21 hours, and 51 minutes to set the new record.
It’s gratifying to be back on top, but Hamilton’s not sure if he’ll keep the record long. He still sees spots where he could have improved his route. And since he’s more of a fast walker than a trail runner, he thinks someone with better legs could easily beat him. “Some of these guys are so fast, if they could put the logistics together they could blow my record away,” he says. Then again, he’s not completely against defending his title. “If someone just squeaked by and broke the record by a few hours… well, there would be some temptation to try it again.”
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