Written by Cave Dog
(Some portions of this
page were adapted from Rick Trujillo's writings. He has given
permission to use his writings freely; however, the responsibility for
this page lies solely on Cave Dog)
The Mighty Mountain Megamarathon( M 4)* has been touted as
the most illustrious megamarathon in the world. Part of the
luster comes from the fact that this demanding megamountaineering
challenge developed from the grassroots efforts of a few diverse
individuals. No organizing body regulates, promotes, or records
this record. It is up to the individual challenger and his
support crew to hold up to the ideals of the M 4 as they have been passed
down through heritage and tradition. One unfortunate outcome of
this informal record is that no one has written down the rules of the
game. Some previous challengers put together tremendous efforts
only to have the mountaineering community not accept their record
because of some unwritten rule. No one that goes through the
intense training, scouting, and logistical organization required of
this challenge should be denigrated for not understanding what is not
codified. Gerry Roach, Rick Trujillo, and Andrew Hamilton have
been among the few to publicly explain some of the idiosyncrasies of
this record. These rules are an attempt at expanding on their
These rules have evolved one
record at a time. Each record has fine tuned the rules as each
competitor has strived to become more efficient than the last.
These rules do not invalidate any previous records that did not hold to
these guidelines. They are records by their own
specifications. These rules only clarify the status of the rules
for this competition up to the record set in the summer of 2000.
Any future attempts should hold to these rules as appropriate for the
individual competitor. If that competitor can climb all of the
peaks in less time by the same guidelines as the last record holder
than the challenger has clearly set a new record. In this
contest, the rules are created not by an organizing body or
association. Instead, rules are created by the act of a new
record being set. It is the individuals that set the new records
that create the rules. If a new record is set, then it is the
which all future challenges of that record aim. The old record is
no longer that target. If the new record has been set with yet a
effective clarification of the rules, than the aim of future
all that more fine tuned.
It is up to that individual to establish a new
record according to the current Colorado mountaineering ethic and
beliefs. As the mountaineering community changes its collective
opinion about what is considered a Fourteener or how it should be
climbed, the new challengers should strive to evolve the rules
accordingly. At the same time, this is an extreme event that will
require guidelines that will be different from the typical Fourteener
example, a person that is not challenging the record may chose to do
less or more than 3,000 feet of gain or loss for a particular
That is perfectly acceptable. Climb in accordance to what is
for you. Meet your own goals. Whether your climb is
comparable to another climb does not matter.
It should be remembered that these
rules, as all rules for any game or competition, are completely
contrived. The rules themselves do not matter. They are
that are a point of reference to compare one achievement to
another. These rules should never be used to denigrate a
challenger's achievements. These rules should never entice a
challenger to do something dangerous or unethical. In fact, there
are nearly an infinite legitimate number of groupings of rules that
could have been created for this one event. In addition, there
are many different reasons to legitimately argue for or against any
particular rule; however, any particular distinction is
insignificant. Having rules is what matters. They provide a
level playing field for competition. Without rules there could
not legitimately be a record because the individual efforts would not
comparable. Each effort would stand solitary by its own
That is fine. Unfortunately, it is not compatible for having a
record. In the end, who holds the record is even less
important aspect of any adventure is the growth of all the individuals
involved and how they can share what they learned with others. It
is to this ideal that we all strive.
Live the Dream.
Below are the rules with explanations and some commentary
in italics about some unresolved issues.
To climb all of the Colorado Fourteeners in the least amount of time.
1. The Colorado Rule:
a) one must ascend at least
3,000 feet in absolute elevation gain on foot from the base of the
first peak of a series.
b) foot traverses of less than 3,000 feet are allowed between peaks
c) one must descend on foot at least
3,000 feet in absolute elevation loss
back to the starting point or end of a traverse.
record attempts have mostly adhered to the Colorado Rule since the
Smith brothers' effort in 1974 (see History ). Although
informal, the rule has been a widely recognized consensus among
Fourteener baggers and record holders. The Colorado Rule has been
controversial for the M 4, mostly because of the
challengers' differing opinions of how to implement the
rule or ignorance of the rule.
The Colorado Rule was created mostly
account for mountains such as Pikes Peak, Evans, and Bross where one
drive to the top or within a few hundred feet of the top.
Obviously, driving to the top of a mountain does not count for climbing
a mountain. But what does count as a summitted climb? This
question over the years has informally been answered by the arbitrary
assigning of 3,000 feet of elevation gain on foot as a requirement to
claim a summitted climb. This rule fits fairly nicely for
Colorado and is only used in Colorado. In most cases, 3,000 feet
below the Fourteeners is roughly just below treeline and where most of
the highest trailheads begin anyway.
For most of the Colorado Fourteeners, 3,000 feet is also where the
foothills and the general landmass begins to level off.
Unfortunately, in a
few cases, namely the Lincoln Group, Sherman, and the Evans
3,000 feet below the summits is too low. These mountains present
difficulty for the purist to find a logical way to gain and lose 3,000
feet. Frequently one resorts to many miles of less than appealing
jeep road climbing. However, a common consensus must be
established at some level, and 3,000 feet works well in most cases.
This rule may from the outset seem
rather clear. Unfortunately in the past, previous challengers, in
their effort to find the most expedient way to the top, have found
complications in the Colorado Rule. Some have used elevation over
3,000 feet from one mountain to compensate for the lack of 3,000 feet
gained and lost on another mountain. This does not count.
The 3,000 feet must be gained on each individual mountain group
regardless of the elevation of the pertinent trailhead. One
challenger found it difficult to observe the Colorado Rule on a
particular mountain, so he did laps on a hill
on the side of the mountain until 3,000 feet of gain and loss was
achieved. This does not count. One must gain and lose 3,000
feet of absolute elevation. Further, one must set some portion of
their body on the top of the mountain. That includes jumping over
to the summit block of Sunlight. The top is the top.
Once one starts a hike and has
ascended the 3,000 feet of absolute elevation, one can climb to other
nearby peaks without gaining or losing 3,000 feet as long as they are
Another fine point to be made is in
absolute elevation gain rather than total elevation gain. That
means that if the first peak in a climb is 14,001 feet, then at some
point in the ascent of that peak one must be at 11,001 feet or
less. If the last peak in a climb is 14,002 feet, then at some
point in the descent one must be at or below 11,002 feet in
elevation. One cannot total individual ups and downs on an ascent
or descent. One cannot use elevation gained on the
descent for their ascending elevation. One cannot use elevation
lost on their ascent for their descending elevation. Some have
driven to a point higher than 3,000 feet below the summit, hiked down
to 3,000 feet below the summit, climbed to the summit, and finally
descended directly to the vehicle, which is less than 3,000 feet below
the peak. In no time on their descent were they 3,000 feet below
the summit. Rather they claimed the initial descent to 3,000 feet
below the summit as part of their actual descent from the peak.
This does not count. On descending, the individual in this
example would need to bypass the vehicle until the 3,000
feet of descent was achieved and then climb back to the vehicle.
To give an extreme example, if one were to start at the West Willow
Creek trailhead on their climb of San Luis, they would begin at
11,100 feet, rise to 12,300 feet, descend to 11,200 feet, summit San
Luis at 14,014 feet, descend to 11,200 feet, rise again to 12,300
feet, and finally reach the trailend at 11,100 feet. They would
gain 5,114 feet with 4,014 feet on the ascent and 1,100 feet on the
descent. However, they still would not have met the Colorado Rule
because at no time were they 3,000 feet below the summit. They
would have to be at 11,014 feet at some point during their ascent and
descent. To meet the Colorado Rule, they would need to start and
finish 86 feet
below the trailhead by doing approximately a mile round trip of road
walking, or in the middle of their climb they would have to descend
another 186 feet down the Spring Creek River Valley by scrambling
about a third of a mile on both the ascent and descent.
(Recently, another strategy to
shorten the course has been tried, however no verdict is out on its
legitimacy. Pikes Peak actually has a road to the top. This
road provides the best access to this mountain by a wide margin.
Unfortunately, it is against the rules of the managing organization of
Pikes Peak to hike along this road. This has created a number of
tense, in one case almost violent, situations. It is possible to
hike from but not along the Pikes Peak Road, thereby staying within the
rules. This was the course I chose. Another challenger has
driven to the top of Pikes Peak, descended down to 3,000 feet below the
summit, and climbed back to the vehicle on top. This could be a
brilliant solution to a nagging difficulty for this megamarathon.
In essence, the M 4 requires the fulfilling of
the Colorado Rule, doing the course, and maintaining a mountaineering
spirit. Challengers go beyond the bounds of the Colorado Rule by
not ascending or
descending 3,000 feet. They are not doing the course by
altitude from one route to another. Climbers lose the spirit
of mountaineering by using vehicles to aid them in their burdens.
It is this later criterion that I believe is broken by descending a
mountain first and ascending it second.
all about climbing mountains, achieving the top and finding one's way
back down. Using vehicles and technology in this way goes beyond
anything a person could achieve without them. One could take this
strategy to its logical absurdity by taking a helicopter to the top of
all of the single mountain climbs and climbing them all backwards,
dramatically reducing the effort required to climb the 55 peaks.
It is my opinion that this strategy loses the sight of the goals of
mountaineering, to be achieving the summit, but rather distills it down
to something more purely athletic. It is true that doing Pikes
Peak backwards while staying within the Colorado Rule requires all of
the physical effort and technical skills of doing it traditionally;
however, one loses some of the spirit of mountaineering. However,
I am but one voice. It requires the mountaineering community and
a new challenger to make such a decision.)
(The point of the 3,000 foot rule
is to establish consistency between competitors and establish what is
the minimum amount of effort required to climb a mountain since some
mountains, without the rule, require no climbing effort at all.
This Colorado Rule is only applicable to competition. If
one is not competing, it is not an issue.
It would be best if every mountain had to be begun
and finished at its base. Unfortunately, the base of a
mountain cannot be clearly defined and varies from side to side.
Furthermore, such an effort would not at all be comparable to
past efforts, anymore. When establishing rules, one must take
care to make them clearly definable and consistent for everyone.
The Colorado Rule meets
these two particular criteria better than any other alternative
Colorado Rule is not a perfect rule. Apart from sending out
surveyors, the exact location of 3,000 feet below a summit can only be
estimated. There are inaccuracies in all of the measuring devices
available to the average mountaineer such as, topographical maps,
altimeters, and GPSs. It is up to the challenger to honestly find
were they believe 3,000 feet below the summit is located. It is
not necessary to add mileage as insurance that the Colorado Rule was
met. A few feet here and there is not going to matter. To
put so much stress on such an
arbitrary rule is not good for anyone's health. Remember your
goals and have fun.)
Once the 3,000 feet is
started, no form of aiding is allowed except by those that are sharing
in the M 4
This record is about the total
accomplishments of those that challenge the record. No one is
allowed to carry food, water,
clothes, headlamps, ropes, or the like for the challenger in case they
should need them. The only
exception to this rule is in joint efforts. If two or more people
complete the entire course together, they can help each other out as
much as they like. One could carry the rope for two. One
could lead the other in routefinding. Their accomplishments are
shared jointly and completely.
(In my opinion, this also includes advice. Before
the route is started, the challenger can get as much advice as they
want. Once started, it is up
to the experience and ingenuity of the individual challenger to
find the top of each mountain and their way back down. If
a challenger wishes to carry maps, altimeters, guidebooks, or
other instruction and use them on their way to the summit, that is
perfectly acceptable. All of these navigational aids are
available to everyone. However, it is not acceptable to bring
guides that use their mountaineering abilities to show the challenger
the most expedient route. It is up to the individual mountaineer
to use all of the traditional mountaineering techniques and tools in
summitting each mountain by their own skills.
In the terms of M
4, pacing is another form of
muling because it leads the way. It is recommended and advised
that challengers have climbing partners for safety reasons.
However, the challenger must lead. If a person needs help before
they have met the elevation requirements, they must start that group of
mountains again without stopping the clock.
This is my opinion only and one not widely shared.
In fact, on one occasion I was surprised to find myself having a
hard time explaining to someone that I did not need nor desire their
advice. The point is to be safe and follow the spirit of the
rules and not to be consumed by the minutia of details. Just
because somebody coming down the trail says, "Hello, you only have a
couple hundred feet left and be sure to stay left of the cairn", you do
not have to go down and start the mountain over. At the same
time, to pay for a team of guides to lead you through all the difficult
spots would not be in the spirit of the game, either.)
(There has been one related
scenario to arise that has some complexity. In the Hourglass
Couloir of Little Bear, the Class 4 section can be completely avoided
by the use of fixed ropes. If the fixed ropes are not used, it is
in my opinion that this is the most dangerous and technical section of
the entire M 4
course to be logically considered. I did
not use the fixed ropes in my effort. This certainly cost
me a small amount of time. However, I have found that gear
left on the rock detracts from the rock. If I cannot climb a
mountain without leaving litter, it may very well be that I should
find a more suitable mountain for my skills. Within reason,
I do not hold it against climbers that do leave a small amount of
on the rock when it is the only way to complete their goals; however,
to this date, I have found it not to be aesthetically pleasing for my
own efforts. That being said, I personally believe that it is
acceptable to use the fixed ropes in the Hourglass Couloir. These
ropes have been installed for everyone's use. It is analogous to
the cables on the standard route to the top of the Half Dome in
Yosemite. Everyone that does that route uses the cables.
The National Park Service has installed the cables for everyone.
Only the purest
of souls would be esoteric enough to claim that those that use the Half
Dome cables did not actually summit the Half Dome. In this same
way, I believe that the fixed ropes of the Hourglass Couloir should be
considered. I did not use them because I enjoy climbing more
without them; however, had the Hourglass been iced over or clad with
hail, I would have probably chosen to use them. In the end, it is
up to the competitor to
do what is reasonable and safe.)
Once on a route, one cannot
use any form of mechanical or biological devices for carrying or
Once one has descended 3,000 feet from
one mountain group and reached the end of the route, overland travel in
a vehicle to the
starting point of another mountain group is acceptable. A vehicle
can be any mechanical device such as cars, trucks,
ATVs, bicycles, helicopters, etc., and/or any animals such
as horses, mules, people, etc. One must finish the route back to
the road before vehicles can be used. Being plucked
off the mountain just below 3,000 feet by a helicopter is not
acceptable nor is using a bicycle or horse on the trail acceptable,
either. This is a record that is set by the skills and power
of the individual mountaineer not through the use of mechanical or
(There has been some discussion about
banning the use of any kind of
aircraft. I believe that this would be a legitimate addition
to the rules. Coordinating helicopters or ultralights would
take away from the mountaineering experience. It would
be a completely different game with different measurements and
In addition, there would be a whole new set of controversies and
need for more specific rules on the use of such aircraft. The logistics for such crafts would be tremendous.
One should be careful to not violate the ban on such devices
in wildernesses and many other public lands. Weeding out permission to use such aircraft on
would be a logistical nightmare. One should also respect others
and not detract from their outdoor experience. Some have felt
that such an effort should be considered a different event with a
different record. I disagree. There are probably enough
distinctions for records already. The mountaineering community
should make a decision to allow aircraft or not.)
4. The Clock:
The clock starts 3,000 feet
below the first peak climbed and stops 3,000 feet below the last peak.
The clock never stops until all
mountains have been climbed in accordance to the rules including the
ascent of the first mountain and the descent of the last mountain.
(There has been some discussion about starting and
stopping at a traditionally
accepted trailhead rather than
at 3,000 feet below the summit. I agree that it seems a bit
ridiculous to start and stop in the middle of the route. In my
climb starts at the beginning of a route and it finishes at the end of
a route. If it were not for the arbitrary Colorado Rule, it would
simply make no mountaineering sense. At the same time, I am
to recommend such a change for future challengers; after all, it is up
to them to bring the record to that level. There is something
about having the whole support crew hike up the glorious Chicago Basin
day before. If it were not for logistical requirements with the
support crew and vehicles, I would have had all of us hike up the
two or three days before setting out for the record. It would
provided a pleasant and awe inspiring couple of days for the support
to experience together before the mayhem of competition. In this
I believe that it was worth the minor price of doing something a bit
of the realm of mountaineering because it significantly increased the
of the experience for us. Similarly, somehow ending such an
outdoor experience in a parking lot or next to a vehicle seems a bit
In some bizarre way, stopping at this illogical spot met the
of mountaineering more for me than almost anything else I have done in
great outdoors. After such an intense ten days, to stop under the
of Longs with Spearhead lit up by a brilliant full moon... it was
incredible. I had found that grace, that complete tranquility.
if the universe revolved smoothly and effortlessly. And nothing
The race did not matter. The record did not matter. Only
serenity of that moment... the peace.)
5. Do as Much or More as the
Last Record Holder:
At a minimum, to set a new record, one must do as much or more, as the
current record holder, in less time.
The Mighty Mountain Megamarathon has
evolved over the years to meet the expectations of the Colorado
mountaineering community. This evolution has occurred by one
record at a time. For example, if the record was established when
52 peaks were recognized as Fourteeners, it is up to the challenger to
up the ante to 54 peaks, if that is the convention of that time and 55,
if that is the convention of this time. This is true for all of
the rules. Essentially, no additional or more restrictive rules
can be established except by the person that makes the next record by
following the existing rules and their new rules. One must do at least as much as the last record holder to
be considered the new record holder. In addition, one must do the challenge in less time. One cannot break the record by adding more requirements and take longer to do the course.
If one does add more to the effort with a longer time span, then
they can claim a different record for a different game that goes by a
different name. For example, one
could climb all of the Fourteeners without support or without motorized
vehicles. It is up to the Colorado mountaineering community to
decide if such a distinction is worth noting as a new type of record.
In the end, for this record, if one does as much and more, in
less time, they have set the new standard by which all future
challengers must adhere.
Notify the current record holder of intentions to
challenge the record before the attempt.
A challeger, out of respect, should make an effort to give the current
record holder a couresty call before an attempt. In doing this,
attempt is tied to the history of the event. It also makes for an
easier acceptance of a new record.
7. The Honor System:
The Mighty Mountain
Megamarathon rules are informal and essentially voluntary.
fact, in the M
4 all is essentially informal and
voluntary. The 55 peaks must be climbed; however, there is no one
set course, there are no officials to record
the times, no competitors alongside to provide a gauge of
reference. There is only you, the 55 inanimate peaks, the
currently recognized record, and your word of honor that you have
actually done what
you report to have done.
(I hereby decline to take part in
any decision as to the validation of any future competitor's claim
to hold the record. I do not believe that the current record
holder should have any part in such decisions. That is for the
mountaineering community to decide. Furthermore, I do not want
any part in passing judgment on another person's honor. I
am not concerned about holding the record. For me the goal was
to strive to do my best in this competition and to learn about myself,
others, and nature in the process. The record was only a
guideline for which to focus my endeavors. In these terms, I
goals beyond any of my expectations. Breaking my record cannot
away that victory. I encourage anyone and everyone to challenge
record as long as they have a good perspective, are well prepared, and
within a reasonable margin of safety.)
(Andrew Hamilton has been striving for a selfpowered
attempt of the Fourteeners to add to his previous Fourteener record.
He plans to set a new record without ever
getting into a vehicle. He will use a support crew to carry
fix gear, cook meals, and other such activities. He will use
unpowered mechanical devices such as mountain and road bikes to aid his
progress between mountains and on four wheel drive roads. In this
effort, he will effectively eliminate the need for the Colorado Rule
probably seventy percent of the rules of this page. In such an
it does not matter if he bicycles to the top of Evans or hikes to the
top; it will all be under his own power. He will never get into a
motorized vehicle. Everyone should encourage him on his quest.
It would be a tremendous feat.
Good Luck to You, Andrew. My hat's off to you.)
Live the Dream.
*Megamarathon is a continuous or series
of ultramarathons where the course record exceeds five days. This
term has arisen both because of
the physiological changes that one tends to experience after many days
of incredibly intense exercise and the many more logistical
requirements such as scheduling sleep and eating, running a support
crew, routefinding, or driving that do not have such a significant role
in a race that lasts for one or two days.