A Backyard Adventure - Boulder's Fab 15
Boulderite Adam Stack has a day job, but "as a climber of 23 years, I refuse to sit on the sidelines"...
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Like most people reading this post, I work a day job. Expeditions to far-off exotic places are out of the question. But, as a climber of 23 years, I refuse to sit on the sidelines. To deal with this I have created what I call “Backyard Adventures,” the ony requirements being that they must fit into a weekend, and push you outside your comfort zone.
Fortunately, my best friend and climbing partner is Tommy Caldwell. Most people now know Tommy as a world-class climber, but I’ve known him since I was 10 years old, and we were both in our early years in the sport. Tommy’s dad was actually my gym teacher and was responsible for introducing my brother and I to climbing. Today, I know firsthand that Tommy is a dedicated father who prefers not to be away from his family. This makes us ideal local adventure buddies.
Once a year, we try to make time for an all-day epic adventure. Two summers ago, we completed the first car-to-car ascent of Mt. Hooker. Clocking in at over 17 hours, we climbed a 2,000-foot, 5.12 big wall and ran through 30 miles of Wyoming’s Wind River Range.
This past year was a little too busy for me, such that even a weekend escape to the Winds proved impossible. Regardless, I was still determined to keep up with my annual tradition and have an epic day outside. Big goals in the mountains enrich my daily life and help me maintain focus.
While walking to work one morning, I was brainstorming ideas for a local goal. Looking up I realized that the Boulder skyline is filled with beautiful, hard rock climbs. I decided to try to climb and run Boulder’s most prominent summits in a single 24-hour push.
The link-up would include 50+ pitches of rock climbing up to 5.12c and around 29 miles of running. The route I envisioned would connect the Boulder Skyline Trail’s five summits with 10 beautiful rock climbs along the Front Range. A friend, Chris Weidner, dubbed the entire project Boulder’s Fab 15.
I had made the decision to attempt the Fab 15 link-up during the summer, and for the next six months my training reflected the specific challenges this objective would pose; pre and post-work sessions at Eldorado to rehearse the climbs, trail running with friends in the Flatirons a few times a week, and doing laps on a rope in the gym on weekends, when the crowds were minimal.
Initially, I had hoped to do the link-up in early January during a few week window of dry weather that graced the Front Range. Unfortunately, a large project at work forced me to postpone. Still, I was committed—I had told friends I was going to try the Fab 15 this season to add an element of accountability to ensure I didn’t bail. I finally settled on January 29th, the only day with good weather before the climbs would close for falcon nesting that would also fit into my work schedule.
The forecast predicted a bluebird day with a low of 35 degrees, ideal for running and climbing. Other than the snow and ice left by a recent storm, it would be a perfect day. Unfortunately, one of my three partners disagreed.
The day before the climb, I received a text message from Maury Birdwell: it’s too snowy and icy… not an honorable way to die.
I considered his input. But, people like Colin Haley go to the ends of the earth to climb snow-covered peaks. I came to the conclusion that I was lucky to be able to do the same right here in Boulder. Maury, did not agree with my logic.
Finding myself down a partner, I called longtime friend and coach, Justen Sjong, for help. Always up for an epic adventure, I knew he would be the perfect addition to the team.
Ever since I was a little kid I have had night sweats the night before a big climb—possibly how my body processes my anxious energy in advance, allowing me to have fun come morning. This time was no different. Knowing this would happen, I drank a bottle of Pedialyte (hydrating solution) to ensure I did not start the day dehydrated before setting off.
Section 1. Sending in Eldorado
Partner: Tommy Caldwell // Time: 8:15 am - 4:30 pm
After driving into the park together, Tommy and I started climbing at 8:15 a.m. With 23 years of experience climbing together, we floated up each formation. As we simul-climbed the routes in perfect unison, we ascended as if climbing 5.8, pausing only for crux moves.
•Window Tower – “Metamorphosis” (5.10a)
•Tower Two – “Naked Edge” and “T2” (5.11b)
•Two One – “Astroman of Eldo” (5.12a)
•Shirt Tail Peak – “Gambit” (5.8)
•Bastille – “North Cut” (5.10d) and “Hairstyles and Attitudes” (5.12b/c)
Throughout the day I was very fortunate to have such a supportive crew; for the most part my partners carried my food, water, and clothing. The only thing I carried was Ultimate Direction’s Fastpack for quick access to water and snacks. The great thing about attempting this in winter was that I didn’t need much water. Clothing was a little more interesting—Tommy and I spent part of the day climbing shirtless in Eldo, but hours later after sundown, I would be three-layers deep in a down jacket and long johns.
Section 2: Suffer Fest
Partner: Justen Sjong // Time: 5:00 pm - 11:30 pm
Justen and I left Eldorado Canyon at sunset, hiking north into the Flatirons.
A question lingered: How much snow were we going to encounter?
Approaching “The Matron,” we hiked along a trail buried in knee-deep snow. We kept hiking this way for the next six hours. As we traversed a snow-covered, exposed slab, Justen commented, “It could be worse. We could be waiting in line at Movement.” We smiled and pushed on to the summit of “Devil’s Thumb.”
During my time with Justen, I realized a powerful motivational tool—with the right partner, suffering is transformed into fun.
•Matron – “East Ridge” (5.5)
•Maiden – “East Ridge” (5.10c)
•Devil’s Thumb – “Toponas” (5.8)
Section 3: Self-Doubt
Partner: Solo, Ryan Smith, Tommy Caldwell // Time: 11:30 pm - 5:00 am
Later on that January night after parting with Justen, Shadow Canyon was a deep, dark, frozen hell. One of the steepest trails in Boulder, the 75 minutes it took me to hike a mile-and-a-half in the dead of night felt like forever.
After a mental battle up Shadow, I found myself sitting on top of South Boulder Peak, completely out of food. I considered giving up and going home. Then, I noticed a distant headlamp moving in my direction. When the light came closer, I discovered that it was Ryan Smith, a La Sportiva ultra-runner. After a few beers at The Mountain Sun, he had decided to take a midnight “casual” run to the highest point in Boulder to offer his support.
Ryan’s positive energy and his backpack filled with food brought me back to life. Up until this point, I had been trying to eat 300 – 400 calories per hour. If you keep eating, you can go forever. Over the course of the day, I subsisted on Clif Bars, Goo’s, Turkey Sandwiches, and Sour Patch Kids.
After running out of my own stock though, Ryan’s surprise supplies were a welcome energy boost.
His support and company renewed my enthusiasm and encouraged me to push onward to Chautauqua where I met up with Tommy at 2 a.m. to climb the Third and First Flatiron. Normally the First Flatiron is treated as a dragstrip for Boulder’s fastest climbers. That evening it took Tommy and I over an hour and a half to ascend the face because it was still dotted with snow and ice.
- South Boulder Peak
- Bear Mountain
- Third Flatiron – “Standard Route” (5.easy)
- First Flatiron – “Standard Route” (5.easy)
Section 4: Race to the Finish
Partner: Clare Gallagher // Time: 5:00 am – 8:30 am
Tommy handed me off to my final partner, Clare Gallagher an ultra-running champion, at the backside of the First Flatiron. Clare’s experience and legendary stoke made her the perfect partner to help me finish. After 21 hours of nonstop movement, the wrong partner can accidentally bring you to your knees. The right partner can help you dig deep and find energy reserves you thought were depleted long ago.
We reached the summit of Green Mountain via the Amphitheater Trail and seeing the morning dawn with alpenglow along with a Red Bull brought me back to life.
As we descended the Ranger Trail, over Flagstaff Mountain, over Red Rocks and up to the Main Ridge Trail on Sanita’s, it became clear that we would not make it under the 24 hour mark. However, we both still wanted to see how close I could come. With an hour left to reach Sanitas’s summit, we started running. Every moment my pace slowed, Clare’s encouragement helped my quivering legs to move a little faster.
As the summit came into view, the clock passed 24 hours only 300 yards from the finish! After a short break, I tagged the summit pole fourteen minutes later—at 8:29 am.
The Beauty of the Backyard Adventure
Standing on the final summit, I looked south along the skyline, smile spreading ear to ear. It's hard to believe this adventure was possible, only five minutes from my house. And, after a nap and shower I would be back at work.
Preview Photo: © Adam Stack
Photos: © Samuel Crossley
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adam Stack as been climbing for 23 years, since age 10. His climbing career includes early years of competitive sport climbing, at one point taking 2nd in a world cup. This led to his pursuit of the discipline outdoors, repeating "Kryptonite" (5.14d), the 2nd hardest route in the U.S. at the time, and eventually moving on to free climb big walls in Yosemite. After deciding on a career path other than being a “pro climber,” Adam took six years off from the sport, before re-falling in love with climbing. Today he lives in Boulder where he climbs when work allows.
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