You know that sticker that says, “My best vacation is your worst nightmare”? Josh Holley is planning a summer vacation that’s jaw-droppingly difficult. Time will tell if it turns out to be a dream or a nightmare.
Holley, 20, is going to attempt to climb every 14er in the Lower 48, solo and self-supported, without ever getting into a car or plane. Holley, who lives in Fort Collins and works at Noodles & Company (and also builds and sells single-speed and commuter bikes for extra cash), is building a custom bike on which he’ll carry all the gear for his three- or four-month odyssey. We asked him to describe his plan in more detail:
I got the idea for this journey about four years ago, just after I got my first car. I was then able to get to the mountains on my own, which was huge for me. While on the long drive to Holy Cross one day, I had a lot of time to think—and watch my gas gauge go down. I remember thinking that I could save so much money if I just rode my bike to the 14ers I wanted to climb.
I was a triathlete at the time, and doing a lot of cycling, and the idea stuck in my head. A couple of years ago, I had the idea of riding to all the 14ers in Colorado and climbing them. But I never got the opportunity, and then I found out that it had been done by a couple of people. So I just decided to take it further than anyone and add the 15 or so 14ers in California and the one in Washington. Now the planning takes up at least four hours a day and is all I think about.
My trip will start June 1 next summer in Fort Collins. The first stop on the list is Longs Peak. It’s one of my favorites of the Colorado peaks, and I wouldn’t want to start anywhere else.
From there I will progressively work my way south, zigzagging across Colorado for approximately 1,250 miles on my bike. I will be paying the $100 to climb Culebra to ensure that I complete all 54 of the recognized Colorado 14ers. I also will be climbing some sub-peaks that don’t get officially ranked due to prominence issues, but those will be for fun.
I will be ending up the Colorado segment on Pikes Peak, where my family will easily be able to greet me at the top of my last Colorado 14er. From there I will be heading 1,200 miles west to California. I’ll start climbing Langley and then head north, climbing in the Sierra and Palisades, then go to White Mountain, and end on Shasta. I will be climbing the 13 recognized peaks in California plus two extras that have prominence issues. From Shasta, I will be heading to Mt. Rainier. I hope to arrive on the slopes of Rainier sometime toward the end of August or early September.
In total, I will be climbing every recognized peak over 14,000 feet in the Lower 48—the “official” count will be 68, but it will actually be 73 peaks in all. The total on the bike will be somewhere around 3,500 miles.
I will be riding a loaded-down bike with front and rear panniers, probably carrying around 60 pounds. Tent. Ice axe. Crampons. Food. The bike is a touring frame that I am building up—I need very specific things on this bike as far as gear ratios and frame geometry, so building it was the only comfortable option for me. I’ll have a 2,500-cubic-inch pack for packing into base camps for multiple 14ers. I will essentially be a backpacker on wheels.
I will be riding and climbing completely solo. I will stay every night in a tent, so no bed and breakfasts or hotels. I will be buying and making all of my own food along the way to cut down on costs, and I will not receive help from anyone along the way except in case of emergency. I’ll do all bike maintenance and repairs myself, too. I’m building the bike now—it’s about halfway completed. I’m trying to keep to a true self-supported solo.
The problems along the way are mostly going to be in California and on Rainier. In California, all of the areas that I will be climbing require backcountry permits, and a lot of these areas have quota systems and permits are hard to obtain, especially in the Mt. Whitney area. I’ll hang around as long as necessary to get the Whitney permit. Mt. Williamson will also be a problem, seeing as it is closed most of the year due to mountain goat protection, so any ascent on this mountain would be illegal. And the last problem will be Rainier. I am confident in my abilities on Rainier and will be attempting a solo ascent up either the Disappointment Cleaver or preferably the Emmons Glacier route. The only way to do a solo on Mt. Rainier is to have a meeting with the superintendent of the park and receive the OK. So that meeting will be inevitable, but I am hoping by the time I have made it that far they will at least give me a shot at Rainier.
I have climbed 21 of the 14ers in Colorado and a lot of those a couple times. But this time around it will be that much more special, for sure. I will be turning 21 along the way, which will be really cool as well. I just want to look back in 20 years at my journey and know that anything is possible. In the future, when I have kids, I want them to know what I did and know that they will have a lot of catching up to do if they want to top their old man!