It’s one thing to climb a 14er. (That’s any peak above 14,000 feet of altitude.) It’s quite another to climb all 50-plus 14ers in the state of Colorado.
And to bike between every one, completing the trip in just over 31 days? That’s one-of-a-kind.
Joe Grant of Gold Hill, Colorado, became the fastest person to complete this “Tour de 14ers” last week; Denver’s Justin Simoni had done so last year in approximately 34 days 12 hours.
“I did set a speed record, but that wasn’t my goal,” says Grant, 33, an accomplished ultrarunner who finished second at the 2012 Hardrock 100. “The goal was to challenge myself and see the state, although the previous record served as a reference for how long I could take.”
Colorado has 54 official 14ers, Grant says, although there are a few secondary peaks so close to other peaks that they don’t receive their own designation. Including those, Grant says he ran and hiked up 57 peaks for a total elevation gain of around 100,000 vertical feet.
Choosing to Cycle
Numerous people have attempted to climb the state’s 14ers using various means to travel between them: driving, cycling, even thru-hiking the entire route on foot. Grant says cycling appealed to him the most.
“It was human-powered, but you can still cover big distances on a bike,” he says. “You can go 100 miles in a day between trailheads, instead of taking two or three days to hike that far.”
For comparison, Denver’s Andrew Hamilton drove between peaks when he set the overall speed record of 9 days 21 hours 51 minutes in 2015.
“I was also able to carry a lot of weight, like food, water and sleeping gear, on the bike and keep it off my back,” Grant says.
Grant’s sleeping system – a sleeping bag and bivy sack – weighed just a pound and a half. “A couple nights were cold, sleeping above 10,000 feet,” he says. “Most nights outside, though, I had a lot of cushy pine needles and it was quite comfortable.”
“Sometimes it made sense to get a hotel room, too,” he adds.
Grant had no support at all and would raid the nearest grocery store or restaurant when he passed through a town, stocking up on portable, dense calories.
“There were a lot of frozen burritos that would thaw out in the bike,” he says. “And a lot of trail mix, bars and that sort of thing on the run.”
Grant started this year’s Hardrock 100 only about 10 days before he was due to start the Tour de 14ers. But he hit his head around the midway point and dropped from the race with symptoms of a concussion.
“Since I only ran half the race, my physical preparation wasn’t really affected,” Grant says. “There were just the logistical complications of having a big race and then starting this 10 days later.”
He says the quick turnaround was necessary because Culebra Peak, in southern Colorado, required a permit to climb, and July 30 was the latest date available.
“So that dictated my start date, and there were eight peaks on the way that didn’t make sense to come back and do after, so I climbed them on the way,” Grant says.
The route was entirely self-determined, and Grant says his biggest challenges came in southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains – where Hardrock is held – as monsoon season and afternoon thunderstorms added to both his suffering and the sketchiness of some routes.
Other routes ranged from safe – if strenuous – hikes to fourth- or even low fifth-class scrambling, and the last week saw lots of ice and snow. “There were times I was postholing in a foot of snow,” Grant says. “Other times, like Mount Wilson, the rocks were wet and loose.”
Having completed roughly half the state’s 14ers previously, Grant said new terrain invigorated him, while familiar peaks made the days more of a grind.
“It’s tough to have so many big days in a row, so I had to latch onto whatever rest I could find,” he says. “Like, I just spent nine hours in the mountains, now I’ll sit in this coffee shop, drink some hot chocolate, dry off. Focus on those positives.
“The hardest time to keep going was after the weather in the San Juans, when I was pretty worked over,” he continues. “I was at that point where you’re not done, but you’ve already done a bunch of work, just about halfway.”
Grant has no plans to repeat the trip faster, though he says he is looking forward to editing the video he captured along the way into a film.
“I’m going to write about it, work on the film and probably take a pretty easy fall,” he says, laughing. “I’m not sure what I’ll do next year, but I’ve got some ideas.”