Nolan’s 14: 50 Miles of Winter

[Editor’s Note: Coloradan ultrarunner, mountaineer, skier, and filmmaker Ben Clark has twice attempted the fabled Nolan’s 14 line in the Sawatch Range of Colorado. Though Ben’s made it to the top of Mount Everest, he’s yet to complete Nolan’s 14. In this article, Ben walks/climbs/crawls us peak-by-peak through his second attempt.]

Ben Clark

Ben Clark. Photo: Devon Balet

Somewhere deep inside all of us is a person we rarely meet, several people perhaps. Inside me is a dreamer that wants to be actualized into flesh and blood, but born from ideas only. I have spent my adult life conjuring up that person and then, suddenly, I see him in the most outlandish of places. Only in passing, like in a reflection on a puddle, while swiping snot from my sunglasses, in brief moments on my way through epic struggles that almost always come with a price of losing everything trying to reach for them. Places where I give 100 percent. For that reason, I cannot hold onto that person, I cannot sustain him for much length. He challenges me beyond acceptable terms, gets under my skin in a way no other living being could. But he is me and I am bound to him. I am forced by a deep drive to find him again and again and again. I keep reacting to the provocation to let him out, to allow the person I am to become the person I dream I could be.

As I set out at 6 a.m. on September 25 from the Fish Hatchery in Leadville, I knew I would meet myself. I wanted to stretch my imagination to its limit. Even though snow-covered and windswept slopes awaited me, I had a goal of reaching 14 separate 14,000-foot summits in a continuous push, a journey through Colorado’s Sawatch range called ‘Nolan’s 14’. How long it would take, I didn’t know. I had already attempted this a month before, reaching seven summits in 29 hours, 30 minutes. I quit after getting lost for three hours in a whiteout, in the middle of the night. Thinking I could do it faster and better in perfect weather, I returned. This second time, I had prepared to give it up to 65 hours and keep adjusting if conditions dictated. I was ready to irreversibly put my foot on the pedal until I ran out of gas on a ride so significantly out there that coming mentally back from it, back to the valleys, groceries, and thank-you notes, might not be possible for a stretch of days or weeks. For now, I would live, breathe, and eat mountains. I would only focus on that. Traversing nearly 100 miles of snow-covered mountain terrain and constantly climbing and descending does not leave much else for the mind to do.

Plunging shin deep off trail in fresh snow as I approached treeline on Colorado’s second-highest peak, Mount Massive, I knew the day’s commitment was escalating to a higher order, a mountaineering trip and no longer the trail run my shorts-clad legs and t-shirt-covered trunk were armed for. I would greet the summit in approaching wind at 2 hours, 39 minutes elapsed, 6.7 miles, and 4,821 feet of climbing into the day and right on pace as if the snow was never there. But it was. Four hours and only eight miles later, I would crawl through winds gusting to 55 miles per hour to top out on the second, 3,933-foot climb, share a summit briefly with a tattered and struggling U.S. flag, and depart through knee-deep snow. Postholing my way across Colorado’s highest summit, 14,433-foot Mount Elbert, it would be two more hours before I saw grass slopes again and 20 more minutes after that before I would intersect an old, rocky mining trail.

First summit on Ben Clark's Fall 2013 attempt on Nolan's 14

The summit of Mount Massive, with La Plata Peak in the center background. Photo: Ben Clark

This section, a two-mile stretch at 14,000 feet, was the slowest, slickest, and trickiest of them all, the snow waist deep in spots. For some, this may sound miserable. For the person deep inside of me, the mountaineer that I am at my core, this was nothing to be overwhelmed by yet. This was Wednesday and, if I moved slow and steady, Thursday would come and it could get better. I had to forget about the clock. I had to only continue forward, safely. Up and down and up and down and up and down, 12 more times.

Huron peak from La Plata peak on Ben Clark's Fall 13 Nolan's 14 attempt

Coming off of La Plata and headed toward the highest peak in the background, Huron Peak. Photo: Ben Clark

Nolan’s 14 is a route completed by only seven people in the last 12 years. Conceived by ultramarathon runner Fred Vance, as the legend goes, when he approached Jim Nolan, a mountaineer who had climbed all 54 of Colorado’s recognized 14,000-foot summits. Said Vance in a story he wrote on how the Nolan’s concept was born, which is published on Matt Mahoney’s website, “I asked how many 14ers he could put in a point-to-point 100-mile course. It took him about a week to give me his answer, ’14,’…” Of the 54 recognized 14,000-foot summits in the state, the Sawatch range west of Leadville has the most 14,000-foot summits that can be climbed and traversed on foot in the shortest span of distance, roughly 100 miles. Perplexed on how to fit the mind-boggling enormity of the terrain into a name, Vance quipped in that same article, “The name ‘Nolans 14’ is stuck in my mind, though ‘Fourteen Fourteeners’ might be a good alternative. What does Jim Nolan call it? He refers to it as ‘the Death Run’.”

In 1998, a group including Vance, Gordon Hardman, and Blake Wood hatched plans to attempt the line supported in 1999. They told their friends and set a 60-hour time limit, simply stating that a Nolan’s finish was however many summits of the 14 one reached in 60 hours. Between 1999 and 2003, with vital crew and aid points staffed by friends and in place the week following the Leadville 100, runners kept in touch using Family Radio Service radios amidst frequent solo entrances and exits into the pain cave, through valley, forest, and alpine, touching 14,000 feet as often as they could while the hours dwindled like their own reserves in the middle of the night. Even though it was so extreme for its time, Nolan’s struck a verdant chord in those who attempted it. Mahoney, a three-time participant, shared in this report written in 2002 on the SummitPost website:

But we were fortunate to have good weather, only one brief snowstorm on Belford. The stars on Harvard were brilliant, and you could see the clear, crisp outline of the Milky Way. There was nobody for miles. About 11 p.m. the sky was lit by a brilliant fireball falling to the south and leaving a vapor trail. A few minutes later I heard a faint sonic boom. They never did find the meteorite that fell about 80 miles away.

Four, 14-summit finishers emerged from efforts like this, the fastest time in 54:57. It was impossibly hard and vanished as quickly as it appeared under threat of becoming too organized. But nine years later, there were three finishers in one summer, in 2012. And seven attempted the line in 2013. The line and the challenge of Nolan’s 14 would never disappear and, as trail and mountain-running endurance events grew, the desire of some endurance runners slowly left the race course and turned to Nolan’s 14 for inspiration. The path between each of these 14 summits requires nearly 45,000 feet of elevation gain and the same in loss as runners navigate frequently off trail, in overgrown forests, over rocky and uneven terrain, and through two nights, even if you’re fast. There are no route markers and the penalty of getting off route often means negotiating steep, big-mountain terrain, the kind that will break you and devour time. “It’s just an ambitious line,” said Anton Krupicka to my filming crew, who was documenting his Nolan’s outing, following his 13:34 attempt over six summits in 2013.

I came to Nolan’s as a mountaineer with 16 years of experience, 10 alone pioneering climbing and skiing routes in the Himalayas. I discovered ultramarathons along the way and got hooked on how far I could go and how simply. Having never entered a marathon before but no stranger to long days on my feet and trail running, I hired a coach to re-tune my endurance base. Under Matt Hart’s direction, I safely gained fitness without major injuries and finished five 50-plus mile runs in less than 12 months, learning a lot, mostly about restraint. Although there are many 100-mile races available to participants today, far more than in 1999 when Nolan’s 14 was first run, I only wanted to do Nolan’s. So that is what I specifically trained for. One hundred miles is an incredibly long way, a distance that demands true respect but that is also attainable in steps. For me to achieve something like that, to run 100 miles, it had to be something I was incredibly driven to do. This was an excuse to explore the heart of beautiful mountain terrain and its secrets. Little did I know how deep and transcendent a journey it would become. It would mean something to me, become something dear and personal. I appreciate why and how any 100-mile runner does what they do.

On my first attempt on August 25 of this year, I was shut down by summer rainstorms where visibility through clouds resting on summits became the biggest challenge to completing the route in a 60-hour, single-push effort. The worst moment came when disoriented on Missouri Mountain’s 14,000-foot summit ridge, when I could not see more than six or eight feet through fast-moving clouds in the dark and lost hours moving to stay warm with nothing gained until daybreak when the skies cleared. I learned the line would require equal parts skill, route experience, ambition, and luck. No one had made a fall attempt on Nolan’s 14 and of the seven who have finished in summer, only three made it their first time. The others tried three times on average, all in separate summers.

When I dropped 32 hours in and still feeling fresh on the first effort in August, I knew I ran the risk of pushing the next attempt too late. The weather could worsen but, at the time, having been absolutely soaked and confused several times, it just seemed reasonable. Now, here, on this effort exactly one month later, delayed until the forecast dwindled to partly cloudy, the sky was clear and the clouds benign. This time I would negotiate extreme winds, cold, and my body’s own governor. I had hoped for Indian Summer’s crisp air and dry, radiant valleys, but hope will not carry you across Nolan’s.

Erik Dalton pacing Ben Clack to Clohesy Lake

Erik Dalton slowly descends the northeast slopes of Huron Peak in the middle of the night. Photo: Ben Clark

In the freezing cold, five feet from the 14,009-foot summit of Huron Peak, at 12:38 a.m., I was 19 hours, 38 miles, and 17,500 feet of gain into Nolan’s. If the wind had not been enough of a threat to demoralize me, I was arriving three hours and 20 minutes later than my previous attempt and had been firing on all cylinders, all day. There I lay on the summit, crumpled over, derelict, and dry heaving so hard that I thought my spine might eject. A moment like this is where the vital component to this endeavor, having a crew to protect me from my weaknesses, truly shone. Erik Dalton was there and knew I could finish what I had started and would not let me stop and skip this summit, the last one before some rest. Erik witnessed my body, having been through such an extreme day of winds, snow, and winter weather averaging nine degrees Fahrenheit with windchill wanting me to go home, to stop, to give up. But it’s that person inside, it’s that driver, that will-er, that wily bastard that I cannot tame, it was him that made me stand up, tag that summit, and get down.

On the dawn of the second day at 7:10 a.m. after a 2 hour, 30 minute nap and timely rest for my nervous system, Jon Miller joined me and we began our way up the west ridge of Missouri Mountain, charging through snow, ice, and a couple ‘no fall’ zones that would have stopped us in our tracks at night, we summited the fifth mountain of the traverse 2:16 later. It was windy again and my hopes for better weather would just have to wait. The peaks to the south looked promising but for now there was more snow and ice. Having Jon share this section with me was incredibly confidence inspiring, as we had skied the Himalayas together on four different trips. There was only one moment in that day where things felt out of control, just around a corner on an exposed ridge as we approached the seventh summit, Mount Oxford, a powerful gust tunneled alongside a small outcropping and struck us in the face with shards of snow and rocks. Rocks flying through the air and painfully pelting us while a gust temporarily lifted us and set us down set the tone for Jon about how epic this mysterious journey had been for me the day before. That, my friends, is a strong wind, mighty, masterful, and mountainous. Jon had enough in that 10 miles to last him until next summer.

Ben Clark - Missouri Mountain

Jon Miller follows Ben along a ‘no fall’ zone on Missouri Mountain on his second attempt. Photo: Ben Clark

Head down through wind on Belford

Ben heads down Mount Belford during his August attempt. Photo: Kendrick Callaway

Eyeballing the clock on Oxford

Ben at the summit of Mount Oxford, summit seven of 14, during his first Nolan’s attempt in late August. Photo: Kendrick Callaway

At 2:34 p.m., I bid adieu to Jon and was more afraid than I have ever been, alone and going on hour 32. I began the ascent of 14,420-foot Mount Harvard’s north ridge. This is an imposing proposition. The ridge is steep, 3,000 feet tall, and off trail. I had not seen a good trail I could use in 14 miles and did not want to bonk hard and navigate in the dark to reach the summit of Mount Columbia, which followed Harvard. I settled my nerves and confidently assured myself that I would give it my best effort and keep everything in check. Harvard turned out to be the most pleasant and easy climb of the trip.

On its top, I sat in a wind-less cove formed by the summit rocks and reflected for a brief moment on how far I had come and how awesome and spectacular it was to be eight summits in on a 14-summit push and finally, finally out of the snow. The southern peaks of the traverse were clear and I had the will to continue forward. At that time, I was living the present moment that I had hoped would be in my future for nearly a year. It was here that I met that person I wanted to be. At this moment, I could do anything and this was exactly what I wanted to be doing and in the conditions I needed. I was finally free of the constraints of a limiting environment. It really had passed and I had persevered and received a truly god-given opportunity. I ran six peaks that day for a negative split over the first two thirds of the course, sharing a final summit on Mount Yale, navigating in a sleeping stupor, joined by my patient friend Chris Horton, and descending through another round of hellish winds. When I lay down, warm, tired and more than 70 miles and 33,000 feet of vertical climbed at 4:08 a.m., I knew I would finish in the next 16 hours and planned for a 64-hour total. All I had to do was wake up, run a little, and pull off less than a 30-mile day on dry peaks, totally doable in that time.

Erik woke me at 5:30 a.m. and I changed clothes, reoriented myself, and began asking questions. Slowly I ate some pesto pasta, had a protein shake, and familiar voices starting encouraging me to get out of the tent and get on the three-mile stretch of road that led to the trail to Mount Princeton. As I began to process getting out of the tent and moving, a dull pattern began to speckle its fly. It was raining. I never anticipated rain.

The forecast, a detail of great importance that I watched like a hawk leading into the attempt, had been spot on each day and called for cold, windy weather getting better as the week wore on, not worse. After hitting my stride on the previous summits before putting my head on a pillow, I believed that I had overcome the crux and was now going to be treated to a pleasant and well-earned last day. I got out of the tent, looked up, and the sky was a mysterious blanket of clouds. There is only one thing that occurs to you when you have come this far into an adventure so committing and a battle so hard won, you just kinda’ got to get it together, you know, and run, man. It is not over until it is over. Things change.

I jogged down the highway, joined my friend Max Orcutt, and onto the soft and sandy Colorado Trail we went, headed toward Mount Princeton’s burly northeast ridge and a cloud system that was dropping rain and inching down the mountain. I went all the way to the last place to make the call, to leave no shadow of doubt. There, in the golden leaves of autumn’s aspens, Max and I laughed away the morning while fury unleashed above us, covering us in pellets of rain and washing over me the drenching veneer of another failure to time a highly committing execution correctly. Another failure, sigh. But this time, well, this time, I couldn’t have been happier.

Ben Clark - Approach to Mount Princeton

The approach to Mount Princeton and the waxing storm that ended this Nolan’s attempt. Photo: Ben Clark

I deal with a life driven by insatiable ambition, for better or worse, all the time. Even if I didn’t get all 14 summits, I actually reached what I believed to be my full potential during the hours climbing on Mount Harvard. I was 100 percent the best I could be, alone, tired, in the high mountains, achieving my wildest dreams, and led there by friends who believed in me and faithfully plodded forward through all conditions and terms to support me. Yeah, it wasn’t comfortable most of the time but I’d rather hurl, lose my way, get cold, and put up with failing than to silence that part of me, the driver, the will-er, the curious mountain man. There is something to it. Every day I give that person within me a chance to come out. The more he stays, the richer my life becomes in some areas, the more complex in others.

No other experience has ever made it as clear as this one that, if I put my mind to something, I may damn well really accomplish it as long as I have the right team, the right goal, and carry forward an indomitable will that I will not waste a moment of the opportunity in appreciation of those who supported it. I’m willing to give it 100 percent again to finish it. When I do, it will only be because I was willing to try and that meant willing to meet that person I always wanted to be, if only temporarily, to draw him up from the basement of my soul for a few hours on the roof of America.

9300' between Mt. Princeton and Mt. Yale on 9_27_13

The end of Ben’s 2013 Nolan’s journey. Photo: Caroline Treadway

There are 48 comments

  1. Joey W

    An excellent read .. Thanks for sharing your report and your PASSION with us! The "inner-being" really struck a chord with me. Thanks Ben!

  2. Charlie M.

    Your relationship with the mountains seems healthy. Well, maybe there is just a tiny bit of obsession, but in a good way :) Major props…

  3. Shelby

    "Even if I didn’t get all 14 summits, I actually reached what I believed to be my full potential during the hours climbing on Mount Harvard. I was 100 percent the best I could be…" That defines a successful adventure in my book. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

    I paced Julian over Princeton in his Nolan's attempt and like Jon, I had enough in that 13 miles to last me until next summer. Huge props to you and best of luck as you prepare and go after it again.

  4. Mark Swanson

    One of the most beautifully written "race" reports I've ever seen.

    "I actually reached what I believed to be my full potential" – I'm not in your class, physically, but I know that feeling, I got it when I finished the Hardrock 100 in spite of developing HAPE that slowed me to the point that it took 22 hours to do the last 30 miles. Almost 10 years later I still look back to that as the one time I found that special place and the memory of that experience gives me strength time and time again.

  5. Fernando N Baeza

    Ben,
    That was an amazing and epic second go round, thirds a charm I'm sure! You can do it! ;D
    Fernando N Baeza
    San Antonio, TX

  6. J Tuggs

    I agree with Michelle. Ben Clark is phony. There is a trail of duplicity and debris in his wake. Running may be what he does, but better is he at running away; like from paying his bills, employees and fulfilling his obligations. He is a serial bilker of investors and probably hoodwinked some rich people to "sponsor" him on this latest reboot of himself. He masquerades as a journalist, filmmaker, and entrepreneur, and now he is selling himself as an extreme runner? Give me a break. Do your research. You have to wonder who he stepped over to summit Everest. He is a double-talking grandstander.

    1. Meghan Hicks

      J Tuggs,

      Your comment contains unfounded accusations and deconstructive language, which are not tolerated on iRunFar. If you wish to speak negatively about a person or event, please do so constructively and with data/evidence to back your claims. Thanks.

    2. Mike R

      The message board of irunfar is the perfect place for unreferenced – and potentially unfounded – personal attacks (just kidding). Aside from the sensationalism ("trail of duplicity and debris" makes me think he lives a James Bond-like lifestyle), the idea that "selling himself as an extreme runner" is going to bring home the cash cow is ridiculous. I'm not sure what to say, except that the personal attacks under this article come off as silly and unfounded.

      Regardless of Ben's past (I don't personally know him, can't comment, and am really not that interested), this was a great read and a great run.

    3. Hilly Alvarado

      I doubt any "rich people" would sponsor this type of pursuit but if there are I want some digits, pronto! I did research but all I found was a denial of service website for godu productions. So what? Are you from verizon trying to collect an overdue bill? Ben Clark what is this deconstructive language about? Maybe you pissed off the wrong web designer?

      1. Ben Clark

        Hilly,

        This deconstructive language is about causing distraction. As you read, I put myself out there. A level of examination is fair about my credibility, but I think only on the account above and the facts that surrounded it. I had fun doing Nolan's and was happy to share the joy that it brought to me and hope others might discover it for themselves. If people want to comment on me personally in this venue where I shared that-they have every right, with however inappropriate a topic or claims. I support free speech and iRunfar's stance of letting people have at it within fair means, but that's not what's going on and they've been called out.

        Upon a simple google search of Ben Clark, in addition to not re upping a domain name, one can find that I do in fact live a lavish and exciting James Bond lifestyle while balancing all the "masquerading" I apparently do above-also as an english soccer player*. When I'm done getting the rocket launchers replaced this morning at the garage and change out of my "Been climbing peaks for 56 hours straight gangsta outfit", I will be happy to have the Brits send you the numbers of all the "secret sponsors" out there who are funding the rise of millions of shillings in African accounts that fund my running when I'm not "defending turf". Maybe you could be the next benefactor…an e-mail from Nigeria will come later-disregard the grammar errors-it's cool ;-)

        *For anyone without a sense of humor, the above statement is a joke…I really like the community here at iRunfar and thanks to everyone for reading.

        1. Hilly Alvarado

          Running is a solitary pursuit even when done in groups. It is nice to share our experiences here.I know you were joking about millions of shillings, but do you get any cash from "rich people" ? Boy, if I understood how to do that I'd be available to train five hours a day maybe. Like I said, I can't imagine that possible.

          1. Ben Clark

            Hilly,

            I am an Osprey packs athlete and they financially support me and some projects every year including Nolan's. Product manager Chris Horton crewed both attempts and did Yale with me even-they are legit! Dish Network supported two Himalayan climbs and a film that was released when I started climbing big mountains. MHW, Sterling Ropes have supported film tours or full athlete sponsorships with retainers in the past. From 2002 with my first Himalayan climb until Nolan's 14, I've always worked to have that type of industry support for this type of stuff and time commitment…sorry, that's the only answer I have.

            1. Hilly Alvarado

              Wow. you are the man! No need to be sorry. Osprey packs must have a lot of money, but have never heard of those other companies. Those haters are crazy to think someone could hit up rich people for this sort of thing, jelous much! Your write so comfortably about your failures, it is fascinating. I love this community here and learn about things I can't just think up even on my longest and hardest runs.

        2. Jason

          Looks like you also moonlight as a musician using the moniker Banjo Ben Clark. I should have known when I was watching The Rest of Everest back in the day that you were nothing but a no good banjo slinger.

        3. RunDC

          "This deconstructive language…"

          While your critics do speak indirectly to the intrinsic presence of your adventures, I think you mean destructive language.

          Sounds like a fun adventure, keep it up!

  7. Amanda

    Sounds awesome! Hopefully attempt #3 does the trick. And hopefully these naysayers aren't talking trash for no reason… but who knows?

    1. Ben Clark

      This is a good question montecervino! I'm not sure if you qualify it as cheating or not as the rules we place on ourselves in the mountains vary.

      At 23 years old 10 years ago, I ran out of oxygen between the 2nd and 3rd step on the North side of Everest, summitted and then made my way back down in the next 24 hours to base-camp without it. You can find out more about it here: http://www.therestofeverest.com/category/show-sea

    2. Meghan Hicks

      montecervino,

      Ben summitted Everest with oxygen and, to my knowledge, he's not made claims to the contrary. Much has been published about his 2003 expedition on Everest because Ben was very young at the time and because a camera crew accompanied his expedition and made a film as well as a couple dozen video podcasts about it. To see Ben climbing Everest with oxygen, check out this video, http://vimeo.com/14191028, one of the video podcasts made about Ben's climb. At about 3:30 into the video, Ben's in the red suit and climbing with oxygen.

  8. Adventure1

    Toughest 1 man race in the West IMO. Loved reading the story. I also wonder if the storm would have cleared up later in the day and you could have still finished? Princeton is a long climb but the other three are not technically difficult mountains. It seems the few people who have attempted this tend to bail out if they think they won't make cut-off, rather than push themselves through just to know what it feels like.

    1. Ben Clark

      Adventure1, the storm at the end was a big one with no visibility and lasted 20 or so hours, here is a photo from that afternoon: http://instagram.com/p/e8HPExlKH7/

      60 hours is a long time to be in this awesome environment and most of the time 2 or 3 hours from aid or help if something happens! When people bail, I think that they are often more worried about their safety than their results. The altitude and enormity of the terrain magnifies the experience quite a bit.

      1. Adventure1

        I agree, still a worthy accomplishment. The task looks much less daunting when sitting in the warmth of your home with coffee and topo maps.

        1. Ben Clark

          adventure1, I highly encourage people to get a taste of Nolan's on the last section you describe from Antero to Shavano-it's a great intro and has some safe bailouts. What a fun place!

  9. Charlie M.

    From reading the other comments below, I guess maybe "not so healthy"…oh well, sounds like you need to re-brand yourself now…

      1. Charlie M.

        Well I hope I'm proven wrong. Must be that gangsta hood in the last photo, and the way his shades are titled. Seems like a shady character…

        1. Charlie M.

          I meant "tilted". FYI, as always, I'm just having fun. I didn't think my original comments was going to negatively impact anyone. Time to go for a clown run…

  10. Shaun

    Love it! Thanks for putting yourself out there and telling us all about it. Adventure facilitates discovery of the world and self.

  11. Adam

    I don't know anything about the man either way, but his Wiki does suggest he's far more active in self-promotion than any runner since Dean Karnazes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Clark_%28mountai

    He does look to be sponsored by Osprey, and to have done some big climbs. I suspect it's his enthusiasm for monetizing, documenting, and promoting these exploits which has angered some people. It also seems odd (and perhaps opportunistic, given how popular ultrarunning is becoming) to go from mountineering to running. What would you think if Timothy Olsen announced he was going to specialize in 5ks from now on? No disrespect to runners (that's all I am, and all I'll ever be), but mountineering is a whole 'nother game (as I think the likes of AK, DJ, and KJ would humbly agree).

    1. Mike R

      Seems like Sage takes flack for self-promotion as well with his V02max productions videos and the book he wrote about his experience with the Hansons. Maybe this is just because it is running, but in basically every other sport out there, athletes regularly promote themselves and document what they are doing through videos/movies/tvshows/whatever (say for example: skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, rock climbing, etc). Being that for some of these people it is actually a job, money certainly enters the equation as well.

      I'm really not sure why it would be opportunistic to go from mountaineering to ultra running (and I would certainly have no problem with Olsen switching to 5k's if that's what he was interested in doing…though given his top end speed it probably wouldn't be a competitive decision).

      Besides all of that, the lines of ultra running and mountaineering are really starting to blur, and the Nolan's project is an example of that (along with a lot of the stuff Krupicka and Jornet are doing).

      I'm having a hard time figuring out why everyone is so negative about this guy.

      1. bmj

        Yep, this is true. Rock climbing is a great example. 15 years ago, there were precious few climbing videos, and most were very low budget affairs. Fast forward, and we're watching Reel Rock 8, with slick, well-funded videos about climbers and boulderers (and alpinists and mountaineers). There is some grumbling about this "commercialization" (also see Katie Brown and Alex Honnold in a VISA commercial), but most folks instead would prefer to enjoy the top-notch films. Certainly, the climbing community is dealing with many of the same concerns that runners have voiced here–more people out on the trails, more people racing, more issues with land managers, and more concern over the use (and abuse) of natural resources.

        Ultra-running shares one very fundamental thing with mountaineering/alpinism: at its core, it is about burning the proverbial wick at both ends and seeing exactly what you can do. Ultras carry significantly less risk, though, than climbing in the Himalaya.

  12. courtney

    This is like painting with words:

    "Inside me is a dreamer that wants to be actualized into flesh and blood, but born from ideas only. I have spent my adult life conjuring up that person and then, suddenly, I see him in the most outlandish of places. Only in passing, like in a reflection on a puddle, while swiping snot from my sunglasses, in brief moments on my way through epic struggles that almost always come with a price of losing everything trying to reach for them. Places where I give 100 percent. For that reason, I cannot hold onto that person, I cannot sustain him for much length. He challenges me beyond acceptable terms, gets under my skin in a way no other living being could. But he is me and I am bound to him. I am forced by a deep drive to find him again and again and again. I keep reacting to the provocation to let him out, to allow the person I am to become the person I dream I could be."

    So beautiful and poetic and authentic. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Mark B

    I am Canadian, so please cut me some slack here. What I think would be really cool would be to do a Nolans attempt, and take really cool pictures, and not promote yourself, or the attempt, or make a movie, or have a film crew, and not have a sponsor. Don't make it a big deal. To just truly take on the challenge, train hard, all while having a real job. Like most people in real life. While supporting a family. And take in the beauty and extremeness of the whole adventure. And keep it between you and your family and friends.

    Why do so many (or is it just the narcissists?) feel compelled to share their their life's mediocre accomplishments ( or repeated failures) and believe that other people are actually interested? Or that it is compelling in any way? I read so many stories on this site that fascinate me. There seem to be few authored by someone as as self absorbed and full of hubris as this guy. Then they write about it as a failure as if it makes it all ok. Help a child learn to read, or learn to sign so you can communicate with someone who cannot hear. Help to feed someone who is hungry. Then i will respect you. But this?

    Ben, while you do seem to devote an amazing amount of time training (I hope you don't have kids and that your community has no problems to solve), you obviously have friends at Osprey for them to "sponsor" you as an "athlete" for this type of running. It's obviously not for your journalism or film making skills based on your previous body of work. I commend you on pulling this off, and although I think Hilly's comments are a bit over the top, he (i think it us he) is on the mark. Kudos to you Ben! I think you have found your true calling. Getting paid by a backpack company to train and run in the mountains, while taking pictures and writing about yourself? Unbelievable. You win. Game over. It's not like we need people who have free time to help out around Colorado with the hungy, the homeless, the needy. No lessons need to be learned here other than sometimes, narcissism can get you everything you need.

    NARCISSIST: a person who is overly self-involved, and often vain and selfish

    Mark B

    1. Eric Lee

      Mark B, who is to say there haven't been unadvertised attempts (and successes) on Nolans14? I personally know all the people who have attempted Nolan's 14 this year, several of whom had no film crew, no high level sponsors, and didn't seek out publicity. They merely went out to do Nolan's.

      If someone finishes something of this magnitude it will get a fair amount of attention, regardless of the amount of self promoting, just the nature of any big line. Even Matt and Jared didn't highly publicize their attempt last year, despite being sponsored athletes, different strokes for different folks. A majority of the seven finishers have been your standard working stiffs, who trained in their 'free time' and just love the mountains, the challenge, and the experience a line like Nolan's 14 offers.

      In regards to Ben being able to promote himself and eek out a living off outdoor adventures (these people don't make tons of money), I can say that many of us are extremely jealous. I've heard people talk down on the self promoters (like Dean), but why? Just because you didn't think of it first, or because that's not how you like to approach your outdoor endeavors? I can't fault anyone who does this, would I? No, but as long as they are not hurting anyone in the process, its their decision to live their lives how they wish.

      Eric Lee

      Working stiff and Nolans14 finisher

      Some pretty pictures just for fun :)
      http://www.ericjlee.com/Photo/thumbnails.php?albu

    2. Shelby

      Mark,

      I for one am grateful for these stories. They are the main draw for me keeping this website in my Feedly reader. Frankly, your comments come across as someone who is bitterly jealous of those that have gone after and accomplished some amazing athletic feats. You should ask yourself where the line is drawn between simple storytelling and grandstanding. Can you really judge the heart of the author with absolute certainty?

      When Krar shares his experience of setting the R2R2R FKT or Eric shares his experience of completing the Nolans 14 in his blog or Pam Smith gives us her humorous account of winning WS100 or even when TK tells us about his failed Nolans attempt, do you really feel that no one is interested? I know that even for a tortoise with no aspirations of accomplishing anything of that magnitude, I still enjoy reading about their successes and failures because a) I relate to them on some say and/or b) I want to embody more of their positive characteristics. Their stories inspire and move me to be a better person.

      Hell, I even write about my relatively tame experiences because they're BIG for me and I want to put it out there for those who may be interested. Apparently, a few people are and I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

      “You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.” ― Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

  14. J Tuggs

    Eric great pix! Congrats. I think those of us who have been burned by Clark are jealous. We are jealous (thankful, really :) that we too aren't shallow and callous enough nor as brazen as he at deceiving people.

  15. Mark B

    I love the Nolans 14! I have been a huge fan. And have respect for those who train and run.

    And i think Dean is cool, a great writer, and NOT a narcissist.

    But there is a big difference between Dean and Ben.

    Sorry Eric. I am just doing what it says. "Speaking my mind", like the site states above.

    I have a pretty good idea (after doing minimal online fact checking) about Mr C that he may have hurt more than a few people "in the process". He certainly can and does live his life how he chooses. I just don't want to read about it on a site like this, where everyone else seems so genuine, and not so phony.

    Mark

  16. Mark B

    Erin, your making my point for me.

    I enjoy all of those stories too. They are real and seem so genuine and honest.

    I just don't get the same feeling from BC. His story is a production.

    I just smell bullshit here. I think the guy is a phony. So i look into him a bit. And based on the comments here (and in a lot of places) it appears I may be correct.

    Like I said, forgive me. I am Canadian. We can smell bullshit when it's in the Province.

    Thats all. Love this site. Can't say it enough.

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