EAGLE COUNTY — When Denver-based mountaineer Andrew Hamilton asked several friends if they’d support him on a record-breaking speed ascent of all of the state’s 14ers, they responded without hesistation: “Yes!”
Edwards residents Kim Siedlaczek and Andrea Sansone, along with several other friends, Hamilton’s mother and his young sons, set off on June 18 as the support crew on what was hoped to be a 10-day trip that would hit all 56 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot plus peaks, plus two unofficial peaks. The trip is actually his second attempt — he held the record once in 1999 when he completed the trek in 14 days, but another mountaineer shattered the record at 10 days, 20 hours and 26 minutes in 2000, and that is where the record has stood for almost 15 years.
Hamilton, a husband and stay-at-home father of four, decided that this might be his year.
“The first time I read about the record, I started thinking I could do that. It ended up being a great experience, even though it took me months to walk again after that. It was great to have laid down a big goal and stuck it through thick and thin,” he said.
On the road
The schedule he set this month was backbreaking, not only for him as the climber, but for his crew, which handled the logistics and gear and raced him around the state on dirt roads in order to maximize time.
Some days had him climbing six or seven peaks in a single day, often in the dead of night.
The first half of the trip went relatively smoothly for Hamilton. A number of friends, including adventure racing buddies and trail running friends came out to climb portions of the peaks with him, and at the halfway point, he was well ahead of the record. His support crew ran into some mishaps — while Hamilton was climbing Mount Lindsey, Sansone had a run-in with a deer that caused her to swerve off the road. When the dust settled, the car was totaled and Sansone had fractured her elbow and required some stitches on her chin. Like a committed support crew, however, team members drove Sansone into Denver for medical care, then all of them raced back up to meet Hamilton for his next peak.
Trouble on the Bells
On the morning of July 26, on day eight of the trip, Hamilton encountered deep snow on his chosen route up North Maroon Peak. Hiking through the snow was slow and laborious. Route finding was difficult, and his shin started painfully swelling.
In the middle of the night, he texted his wife, Natalie: “Nat, I am having serious injury. Likely not make it back tonight.”
A couple hours later: “Hi. Stefan and I on South Ridge of South Maroon. My leg is so bad can barely move.”
He had to wait until daylight to descend, but got back to camp safely, although not without losing some serious time and nursing a painful injury. He had his crew tape his leg up and decided to forge on.
“What he was doing is extremely difficult. He wasn’t running but he was setting a fast pace,” said Siedlaczek. “The most impressive is his ability to fight through pain and sleep deprivation, and that’s essential. He’s admitted that there are people who are faster than him, but he can just suffer like no one else.”
Hamilton completed three more peaks — Castle, Conundrum and Sherman — before June 28, the 10-day mark.
He had summited 48 peaks and had 10 more to go, but his injury was slowing him down.
“I was doing the math in my head, and I felt like I could still do it. I wanted to get my wife (a doctor) to give me some sort of cortisone injection so I could continue without the pain,” he remembered.
However, his wife arrived and diagnosed him with compartment syndrome from over exertion, explaining that it could have serious consequences, and he made the decision to call it quits.
“A cool adventure”
Despite what seemed like a defeat, Hamilton’s attempt seems to only be the start of other adventures. His support crew called the trip “a cool adventure” and said they’d be on board to help him make the attempt again.
Siedlaczek said that even if Hamilton had broken the record, it would have been by an hour or two, and the mountaineer had hoped beat the previous record by much more.
“It was a good call,” said Siedlaczek. “He was limping, and it would have been painful with some serious consequences. Had he done it, it would have been by one or two hours, and he wanted to blow it out of the water. He got home and was already talking about the next time he’s going to do it.”
Hamilton is recovering from his attempt at home in Denver but doesn’t rule out another go. “I still feel very positive about the whole thing,” he said. “In hindsight, knowing the conditions up there, I would have done things differently. I felt like I was a victim of the snow,” said. “I think I could still try this again in a year or two if the record is still there. I know those mountains pretty well.”
“He’s admitted that there are people who are faster than him, but he can just suffer like no one else.”