"I think it will be one of the hardest things I’ve done. I think parts will be very unpleasant."
Dr. Dirtbag, otherwise known as Sean O'Rourke, is setting out today on an ambitious peak-bagging journey: He's going to summit all of California's 14ers in record time. That's the goal, at least. And to do it, he'll have to crack the record of four days, 11 hours, and 19 minutes.
Why are you going after this record?
Well, partly the current record sort of deserves to be broken. It’s obviously soft, and it hasn’t received as much attention as others have. This record is kind of a sweet spot for me. I’m not a fast enough trail runner to compete in trail running. The top ultra guys are a step above me. And I’m not a strong enough technical climber to do something like the Grand Traverse of the Tetons. Cross-country travel and scrambling, I’ve found experimentally that I seem to do well at it.
It is sort of a publicity thing. I’ve done some long things over the past year. People who know them say, Wow, that’s a long day. They recognize that they’re hard to pull off. This is something that more people are familiar with, more people can appreciate the speed and the effort and the planning that is required.
How have you been preparing for the record attempt?
I spent the month of June in the Tetons working at the Climber’s Ranch during the work week and staying there for the rest of the month. And I did some longer scrambles and some technical climbing there because it’s one of the opportunities I have to rope-up with people. There are some really strong guys there, and I try to take advantage of those chances when I get them.
Since then, I did a couple of days on the Wind River—been meaning to get there for a couple of years. Really wanted to try day-hiking Gannett and Cirque of the Towers, and it’s nice to get that done. So now I’m just hitting stuff in the San Juans in Colorado, which is an area of the state I haven’t spent much time in. It’s a great place to acclimate since everything is at a high altitude.
Have you done anything of this scale before?
I’ve done individual days that are as long as any of the individual days of this. In terms of putting them back-to-back, I’ve put a moderate day with a long day. But this is stepping things up for me. I’m cautiously optimistic, but it is sort of pushing things to the next level.
I think it will be one of the hardest things I’ve done. I think parts will be very unpleasant. I’m not sure how I can quantify that. The first part of it will be well within what I’m used to. The rest will be just a lot of dealing with fatigue. Not a problem with being unable to keep going, but moving slowly is mentally difficult. Psychologically, it’s a real downer; to know that you could be moving much faster if you’re fresh. Keep grinding it out.
What’s your strategy for breaking the record?
Logistically, [it entails] looking at previous attempts, looking at their routes and trying parts of those routes to see roughly how much time it takes and what the terrain looks like. It’s a lot of cross-country travel, so I need to see how efficiently it can be done, whether it’s loose talus or nice grass or what. Physically, I’ve been doing what I do most summers: starting late May or early June set out on the road and bag a lot of peaks, see a lot of beautiful country, a lot of the mountain West.