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Ken Nolan on ‘The Grid’

December 11, 2009 Hike 1 Comment
Ken Nolan below Rio Grande Pyramid in February 2008. Photo by Ken Nolan

Ken Nolan below Rio Grande Pyramid in February 2008. Photo by Ken Nolan

Climbing all of the 14ers is challenging enough, and only three people are known to have climbed them all in calendar winter. Now imagine climbing each of the 14ers in every month of the year. Welcome to “The Grid,” a peakbagging concept that will seem utterly impossible to most people and yet inspiring to a few.

Ken Nolan, the third man to climb all of Colorado’s 12,000-foot peaks, is inspired. At age 62, Nolan says completing the requisite 708 ascents (59 14ers X 12 months) in his Grid is a “no hoper,” but that’s not stopping him from trying, and he’s more than halfway through the list. We decided to ask him about it.

Mojo: When did you climb your first peak in Colorado?

Ken Nolan: I came to Colorado from the San Jose area in 1978 and climbed Longs Peak two days after arrival. During a pre-move business trip, I picked up a copy of the Borneman and Lampert 14ers guide and was obviously itching to get started.

Mojo: Who came up with the Grid idea?

Nolan: My friend John Prater got me interested with a thread on FourteenerWorld. He’d stumbled on an article about a White Mountains 4,000-footer Grid. I soon updated my peak management program to compute a 14er Grid by month and by season. I’ve now filled in 182 of the 236 slots in the Four-Season Grid, with spring being my least active season.

Mojo: Are you now specifically working on filling in the 12-month Grid, or are you just happy to fill a blank space when it happens? Put another way, are you hoping that someday you’ll complete the Grid?

Nolan: Complete the 14er Grid? That’s a no-hoper for an aging arthritic cripple. As you would imagine, the snowy months are the issue. I think I can complete the Grid for the Mosquito, Tenmile, and Sawatch ranges, although Holy Cross can be ornery when the snow lies deep.

The only real problem in the Front Range is Longs; if I stay sort of functional for a few years, I can probably bribe friends to winch me up for several more winter ascents. Coaxing a single winter summit out of the tougher Sangre de Cristo, San Juan, and Elk range peaks is an accomplishment.

Bottom line: I always have several peak-list projects under way and have been delighted to add the Grid to those.

Mojo: What’s the appeal of the Grid to you?

Nolan: I completed the 14ers in 1984, the 13ers in 1992, and the 12ers in 2003. I naively imagined that I’d call it good with that and play with non-elevation-related projects (like the 125 named peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park—that’s a fun list that took some years to finish). What I need is a tangible goal that lures me back into the alpine world during the summer months. The 14er Grid is perfect, although, come to think of it, the Centennial Grid might be even better. It’s an entertaining game and just another excuse to be hanging out with the mountain gods.

Mojo: Have you done any of the 14ers in all 12 months? Any others that are close?

Nolan: I’ve climbed eight of the 14ers in all months (Elbert, Antero, Yale, Columbia, Grays, Torreys, Democrat, and Sherman) and have six others with at least 10 months.

Mojo: Which 14ers have you done in the fewest months?

Nolan: I’ve been up El Diente three times, but always during September, and my ascents of the Chicago Basin group have all been in August. My computer tells me that I’ve currently made 562 14er ascents, but only filled in 356 of the 708 Grid slots, so from the Grid’s perspective, I suppose I’ve wasted more than 200 ascents.

Mojo: It sounds like you must be counting 59 14ers in the Grid. Is that your official total?

Nolan: I like to count 59—the more the merrier, eh? It’s the list that Steve Hoffmeyer uses on FourteenerWorld. For the moment, as long as the Grid (or any other list) is being pursued for personal satisfaction, I suppose the number is whatever anyone wants it to be. Maybe 20 years from now, the Grid will be a popular goal with who-knows-how-many people claiming completion, and it’ll be useful to establish some criteria.

Mojo: Which peaks do you think will present the greatest challenges to someone intent on completing the Grid?

Nolan: No surprise: the Chicago Basin group, the Wilsons and El Diente, Crestone Peak and Needle, Little Bear, the Maroon Bells, Pyramid, Capitol, Snowmass. Surviving multiple ascents of those puppies in winter will be a notable accomplishment.

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Kimberly says:

    Thanks for the inspirational interview with Ken Nolan. I continue to be amazed at the grit of Coloradoans! He sets the bar high for many of us that enjoy mountaineering in this magnificent state. I’m pretty new to climbing fourteeners and I really enjoy the inspirational stories. Thanks!

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