Aspen’s Eric Sullivan hopes to become the first to ski notorious Nolan’s 14 route
Only a handful of people have ever completed the Nolan’s 14 course during the summer, and as far as anyone knows it’s never been done during the winter on skis. Aspen’s Eric Sullivan hopes to become the first by the beginning of next week.
“I’m going to have to go deep, but I can’t go too deep where I can’t recover,” Sullivan said. “I’ve learned a lot on this thing and it’s time to put it all together. But I feel confident in it. I’m relaxed going into it.”
Sullivan, who goes by “Sully” and has likely delivered a Big Wrap order to most Aspen locals, is an accomplished endurance athlete and once held the world record for most vertical feet skied in a 24-hour period.
Nolan’s 14 will be a much different animal, as the idea is to climb and ski 14 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains in one go. The target time for the summer races is to finish within 60 hours; Sullivan is aiming to finish within 100 hours for his skiing attempt.
“Just finishing it is going to be good enough. Getting under 100 is the whipped cream on top,” the 39-year-old Sullivan said. “With there being no previous FKT, or fastest known time in the endurance world, anything is going to be a record. But, like I said, I want to go quick.”
Nolan’s 14 is named after famed Colorado climber Ken Nolan and came to be in the 1990s. It’s not a race, but an “endurance test piece,” as Sullivan puts it, an athlete vs. mountain affair that few have conquered. Among those to finish during the summer is Aspen’s own Ted Mahon.
The fourteeners to tackle are centered on the Sawatch Range, just over Independence Pass from Aspen. Sullivan, who plans to start Friday morning, will begin with Mount Shavano near Salida and ultimately finish with Mount Elbert — the highest peak in the Rockies — and Mount Massive, both near Leadville.
Sullivan said the course is roughly 100 miles with 48,000 vertical feet of climbing. He’s attempted the feat before, but did it later in the season with less snow and far less support. He’s incredibly confident going into this weekend’s attempt.
“It’s just so hard. It’s probably the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever tried,” Sullivan said. “It’s all just doing the math and keeping it simple and staying within yourself at all times.”
Sullivan’s endeavor is being sponsored by Justin Douglas and Corvus Janitorial Systems, as well as The North Face. Aspen Custom Vans even set him up with a set of wheels to use along the way.
It’s not just about the feat, either, as Sullivan is trying to raise money for SEAL Future Foundation, which supports Navy SEALs after their service. Sullivan, who is from Kansas before moving to the Gunnison area and eventually Aspen, said he had always dreamed of being a Navy SEAL but was denied that opportunity because of poor vision.
After starting off with Shavano, Sullivan plans to then summit Tabeguache and Antero in succession. He’ll be able to rendezvous with his support team after that before attempting to ski Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Harvard, Oxford, Belford, Missouri, Huron and La Plata before the Elbert-Massive finish.
In one of his previous attempts, Sullivan skied nine of the fourteeners in 36 hours with only 40 minutes of sleep. He’s going to prioritize more sleep on his first night but will “go for broke” after that. He hopes to finish by Monday evening.
“The last five or six are going to be pretty hard and fast and trying to get it done,” Sullivan said. “Patience is going to be the key, and having a good time. All my friends are going to be out skiing with me. Last time I skied by myself the whole time. This time I’ll probably ski 25 percent of it by myself. So it will be a lot safer and more fun.”
Sullivan will wear a tracking device linked to his Facebook page so friends and fans can follow along. His support team will post photos, videos and other updates on both his Facebook (eric.sullivan.549) and Instagram (@aspensully) accounts.
“I’m feeling good going into it,” Sullivan said less than 48 hours from the start. “It’s all about perspective, and my perspective on this is whatever it takes, as long as it takes. As long as I feel my effort was properly executed with no mistakes.”
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Competitive and recreational cyclists hit the road in droves on Sunday morning for the annual Ride for the Pass bike race and fundraising event.