Vail man joins the short list of runners to complete Nolan’s 14
VAIL — David Ruttum got his first taste of summiting 14ers at age 8 with his father and grandfather on the top of Mount Shavano. On Aug. 30, at age 36, he returned to the top of Mount Shavano, this time having cinched the record for one of the most grueling and challenging routes in the running world.
Ruttum, a Vail resident and anesthesiologist, completed the strenuous 100-mile route known as Nolan’s 14 in a record 55 hours and 38 minutes, joining the dozen or so athletes who have completed the route. To be clear, Nolan’s 14 isn’t a race, but it does have certain rules. The run goes over the 14 summits higher than 14,000 feet in the Sawatch Range from Mount Massive to Mount Shavano in either direction, covering about 100 miles. There’s no set route — in fact, most of the way involves scrambling, route finding and bushwacking — but the goal is to complete all 14 summits in 60 hours. Runners are not allowed to have pacers or someone to help navigate, but they can have support crews. Most people track their route and results with a GPS tracker.
The challenge attracts only a handful of crazies, usually a mix of ultra runners and mountaineers. For Ruttum, an ultrarunner who grew up in Colorado climbing the state’s peaks, Nolan’s 14 seemed like the perfect combination of mountaineering, running and adventure.
“Climbing 14ers is my favorite thing, so what would I rather do for 60 hours?” he said. “Plus I get to do it with my friends and family helping me. I don’t have to think about work, my daily concerns, if I got the right groceries or walking the dog. You’re just in the flow of the moment, just climbing. You’re just in the present. It’s all about what’s in front of you.”
The record-breaking run
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August’s record run was Ruttum’s third attempt at Nolan’s 14. He tried twice last summer the weekend before Labor Day. On the first attempt, he abandoned after five peaks due to heavy rain and snow. He tried again the following week, despite high winds and rain, and finished, but 37 minutes over the time limit.
This year, Ruttum started the route at 9 p.m. on Aug. 27, with the intent of running in the light of the full moon. However, he ran in darkness and heavy snow for the first two peaks, Mount Massive and Elbert.
“I thought about quitting and starting again the following week because I was concerned about safety, but then the skies opened, and I knew right then and there that this was my trip. Never after that did I think I wasn’t going to make it,” he said.
A crew of his friends and family met him at five spots to give him food and water, but on the trail, Ruttum was just equipped with some warm running clothes, a little food, rain jacket and headlamp.
On Aug. 30, in the middle of the night, Ruttum summited his final peak, Shavano, where he met his wife and three of his friends.
“It was freezing, but I was so happy to see them up there and to be finished. The four of us ran down together. You didn’t really need headlamps because the moon was so bright, and my friend was singing reggae songs. We were singing and running down the trail and enjoying the moonlight — it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” he said.
24 years of Nolan’s 14
Nolan’s 14 was created in 1991 by mountaineer Jim Nolan at the request of several accomplished ultrarunners looking for a new challenge. Nolan figured that the 14 peaks in the Sawatch Range were the most 14ers you could fit into 100 miles, and the challenge was on. It was several years before anyone actually completed the route in the set time, and since then, there have been dozens of attempts, but only 11 or so people have ever completed it.
Ruttum broke the record set by Gavin McKenzie in 2014, 56 hours and 19 minutes. Not even a month after his feat, Ruttum is already planning his next adventure.
“There are 15 peaks in the Sawatch Range, and it starts with Holy Cross. I want to climb Holy Cross, the northern most one, and then traverse the 14 peaks.”
Assistant Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.