Last week, ultrarunners Anna Frost and Missy Gosney became the first women ever to complete Nolan's 14, an ambiguous and brutal mountain challenge that involves climbing 14 14,000-foot Colorado peaks — from Mount Massive to Mount Shavano — in succession in less than 60 hours.
If you need some help understanding the magnitude of their accomplishment, consider this: out of every attempt to complete the challenge, only 11 people have ever finished the route in the allotted time since its inception in 1999 as a mountaineering challenge among friends.
Even for seasoned hikers, attempting to cover two 14ers in a day is ambitious. Frost and Gosney averaged seven a day, climbing more than 90,000 vertical feet and racing across approximately 100 miles with only one half-hour of sleep.
Supported by a crew and multiple aid points, Frost and Gosney reached the summit of Mount Shavano last Tuesday afternoon 57 hours and 55 minutes after they started their run. They've been recovering and easing back into running since getting back into town, and they filled us in on what it takes to complete one of the toughest mountain challenges in the world (and manage to come out the other side as friends).
You have to want it.
Completing the Nolan's 14 has been on both runners' minds for a while, explains Frost. "It's something we have both been looking at and aiming for for the last few years. Since I first learned about [it], I've been training for it one way or another. We decided last year after Missy's failed attempt that we would do it together this year."
The duo decided to piggyback their attempt onto the Hardrock 100, a challenging 100-mile footrace in southwestern Colorado. (Frost came in first place, Gosney in fourth.) "We had a rest for a few weeks, then decided to go on the training we'd done already," says Frost. "Once something is in your blood and bones like this, it's hard to turn your back on it."
You'll have to carry everything you need.
Despite multiple aid points along the route, the duo had to prepare for the unpredictable conditions of running in the mountains by packing gear for every possible outcome.
"We were well prepared for long times without seeing people and for the weather," explains Frost. Waterproof jackets, pants, down jackets, Merino wool tops, hats, gloves, headlamps and even a space blanket added weight to their backpacks. As for running attire? "We wore skirts!"
You have to know how to navigate the mountains.
A photo posted by @annafrosty on
What makes Nolan's 14 exponentially more difficult is that the route is up to the runner; for the majority of the run, there are no trails, route markers or blazes. Runners must choose their route over roughly 100 miles — no easy task when you're exhausted and hallucinating.
"Sometimes we went a little off and had to search out the way, but never by very far or long," says Frost. For extra safety, the duo (reluctantly) carried a SPOT GPS tracker. "It's strange to be doing something so far into the wild and know that everyone can see exactly where you are," she explains. "It has its perks, obviously, but I like to be alone when I go to the wild."
Weather disasters and injuries are very real dangers.
Weather moves fast in the mountains, and before the duo knew what hit them, they were directly under a thunder and lightning storm. "They really got us running fast," jokes Frost, but sitting out a storm perched just off of Mount Yale was "really scary."
Wet conditions could have easily led to massive blisters and "trench foot," so Gosney and Frost were diligent about drying their socks and shoes as much as possible during rest breaks.
You'll have to force yourself to eat at elevation.
"We ate solid, real foods when we saw our crew: turkey, avocado wraps, soup and rice, pizza," says Frost. But on the run, it became a challenge to replenish their lost calories.
"We tried to eat peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, but it was hard to eat up high," she remembers. The duo did their best to down caffeine gels, shot blocks and energy bars to keep themselves from getting sick.
"Both of us felt nauseous above 13,000 feet, but neither of us actually were sick," explains Frost. But while the women were able to keep physical illness at bay, they had to keep each other motivated to avoid total mental exhaustion.
"My mind really battled throughout the whole challenge," says Frost. "I really struggled to get excited and felt pretty terrible on the uphill, which was really frustrating. Having each other there was great to pull each other up when we came crashing down."
Then, there were the hallucinations: "Every rock came alive as some sort of animal or person," Frost laughs, who remembers seeing Mickey Mouse at one point. "It was quite funny."
Every accomplishment has its critics.
Almost immediately after the duo finished the challenge, they became objects of controversy. Nolan's 14 has a strict 60-hour cutoff time, and doubters say Gosney and Frost only made it to the final summit by the 57-hour mark, when they should have ended at the trailhead. "We followed the official rules from the website," insists Frost. "Challenges like this are just an idea, a goal. If it feels right to [you], then that is what counts."
You'll never want to do it again.
Incredible and mind blowing to finish Nolans14 with the awesome Missy Gosney….and all our magical crew! pic.twitter.com/mPHqQjMwCL
— Anna Frost (@annafrosty) August 19, 2015
After 100 miles and 90,000 vertical feet, Frost and Gosney came to one very understandable conclusion: they'd never try Nolan's 14 again. "We pinky promised!" Frost laughs.
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