I didn’t want to admit it, but I was nervous. I arrived at the bustling coffee shop 15 minutes before our designated meeting time. To quell the jitters in my stomach, I ordered a blueberry muffin and a caffeine-soaked chai latte. ‘Get it together,’ I sternly lectured myself. As a writer, I’m accustomed to chatting with interviewees of all types. What was the matter with me this time? I was meeting Andrew Hamilton, mountaineer extraordinaire whose blistering pace set a new speed record for all of Colorado’s fourteeners (peaks above 14,000 feet.) To mere mortals, his accomplishment is mind-boggling: he hiked all 58 peaks in nine days, 21 hours and 51 minutes, concluding on July 9, 2015. As for me? I’ve been patiently working on my home state’s fourteeners since the early 2000s. If I stick to this pace, I should knock them all off the list before my hypothetical future children have children of their own. No wonder I had butterflies in my stomach: This guy is superhuman! But here is the thing about Hamilton: He is utterly and completely normal. He arrived promptly on time for our meeting, his strawberry blonde hair slightly tousled from the gentle breeze outside. “Looks like my 15 minutes of fame extended a little further than I expected last year!” he laughed with a tone of self-deprecation. That’s Hamilton. We chatted for almost two hours, watchful of the clock so this stay-at-home dad was sure to pick his kids up from school on time. Because truly, Hamilton is a father and husband first, elite athlete second. Born in Salt Lake City, Hamilton’s parents divorced when he was a child. He split his time between his dad’s place in Salt Lake and his mom and stepdad’s home in Cortez, Colorado. Hamilton credits his stepdad and southwestern Colorado for introducing him to the world of high-altitude peaks. “I climbed my first fourteener (Wilson Peak) when I was 11 years old,” Hamilton said. When I asked him whether it was difficult to hike such an arduous peak at a young age, he scoffed. “My oldest son hiked his first fourteener when he was four.” For many, this is astonishing, but for Hamilton and his family of mountaineers, this is the norm. His oldest son Calvin ticked off all the fourteeners by the time he was eight years old. It just took a little ingenuity by Hamilton. For Calvin’s first summit, Hamilton chose Mt. Antero. Located near Buena Vista, this peak isn’t technical, but it can be long. Thanks to the 4x4 approach road, Calvin and Hamilton hiked 16 miles round trip. Hamilton was carrying his second son, Axel, on his back so Calvin couldn’t catch a ride even if he wanted. In order to make the summit more appealing to a 4-year-old, Hamilton hid a special jewel for Calvin to find once they reached the top. It worked. “Kids go through such a huge roller coaster of emotions while hiking,” he explains. “Calvin was exhausted when he reached the bottom and almost fell asleep in the dirt, but now all he remembers from that trip is the jewel he discovered up top.” The jewel technique carried Calvin through many peaks, but the jig was up when the Hamilton family hiked Mt. Sherman with some friends and their children. Hamilton knew the other kids weren’t going to find a special jewel on the summit, so he broke the truth to Calvin. Unfortunately, Calvin used that logic to ascertain many questionable truths in his life: the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus all came down next. “I really tried to hold onto Santa,” Hamilton laughs. “But it was like a house of cards after that. He took it really well though.” As a father to four kids—ages 12, 9, 6, and 4—and a husband to a very busy doctor, Hamilton’s family life is obviously important to him. In fact, it was his family that aided in his training for his record bid last year. Rather than grueling trail runs filled with lung-busting climbs and steep descents, Hamilton used the at-home Insanity workout system and his kids’ academic schedule to train. The school was located 3 miles away from the Hamilton house. Instead of driving his kids back and forth each day, Hamilton plopped his two youngest in a jogging stroller and his two eldest on their bikes. He then ran them to school, dropped them off, and ran home. He repeated the exercise at the end of the day, clocking up 12 round-trip miles. “It was the perfect way to work in my training while taking care of the kids,” Hamilton says. “A 12-mile daily run would take a large chunk of time out of each day, but these running commutes took the same amount of time as driving, especially if you include all the traffic.” Combined with Hamilton’s self-proclaimed need for minimal sleep, the training runs did the trick. After 9 days, 21 hours and 51 minutes, Hamilton descended from Longs Peak in the predawn hours of July 9. His feet, covered in his favored La Sportiva Core High GTX® Boots, were swollen and ugly. But the sight of the bobbing headlamps welcoming him below was the highlight of the entire endeavor. As for what’s next on the family man’s short list of adventures? More peak bagging. “I’d like to target the state’s 100 highest 13ers (peaks above 13,000 feet),” Hamilton says. “I think a record time could be somewhere around 20 days.”
Heather Balogh Rochfort sits down with Andrew Hamilton, the Colorado man who completely dismantled the 14er speed record last summer.