Touching the Edge: A Nolan’s 14 Journey with Osprey Athlete Ben Clark

On Friday September 25th at approximately 6:00 am MST Osprey Athlete, mountaineer, filmmaker and ultra-runner Ben Clark kicked off his 6th attempt to complete Nolan’s 14. Nolan’s 14 is a challenging traverse that links 14 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot summits, one that covers nearly 100 miles of some of the Sawatch Range’s toughest terrain, one that must be completed in less than 60 hours.

Ben shares his reflections on “touching the edge” during this attempt:

In frigid air and with dreary gaze I saw that an ascending moon lit the long and toiling spine of rock that sends mountain climbers down the East side of 14,196′ Mt. Yale and back to the lowest point along a route called Nolan’s 14, connecting 14 Colorado 14,000′ peaks-14er’s.

Just 3 hours in from the summit of Mt. Massive, Ben Clark points to the third of 14 peaks, La Plata Peak (19 miles away)

I was alone in the dark past midnight on my second sleepless night — 10 peaks and 43 hours into a single push across these mountains. An hour after reaching the summit, I laid down in a small pocket of pyramid shaped rocks and layered my storm shell over my legs barely blocking the winds and sub freezing chill. It was my second chance for a 15 minute nap that night. It was here that when I awoke around 3 am, I knew I had pushed my limits and that moving forward was only part of the answer. I had just ramped up the pace for a few hours and I was hypoxic-altitude sick and making slow decisions — my best option since rushing anything through this maze of rock in the predawn hours could lead to amplifying an already temporarily suspenseful fate in what was to be a full and focused effort to descend.

I like challenges — I do.

I am ok chipping away at the most complicated ones that I engage a piece at a time. I can.

An aerial view of Mt. Massive and the northern end of the Nolan’s 14 route.

But there are some challenges that transform us. If even once, then maybe twice in our lives we will have an opportunity for that.  For me, it is being open to the hard work and reality that those challenges require to execute that reveals the value of the knowledge inside a challenge, the virtue of a transformation I need to make.  I completed an effort like that in my early 20’s, climbing Mt. Everest’s North/NE Ridge.  I think I’m on the second great challenge of my life with Nolan’s 14 and this line has revealed to me more about who I am than any other.