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 suggestions.

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 target by 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 more effective clarification of the rules, than the aim of future competitors is 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 climber.  For 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 climb.  That is perfectly acceptable.  Climb in accordance to what is right 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 only guidelines 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 be comparable.  Each effort would stand solitary by its own achievements.  That is fine.  Unfortunately, it is not compatible for having a record.  In the end, who holds the record is even less significant.  The 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 through traverses.

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.
Fourteener speed 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 to account for mountains such as Pikes Peak, Evans, and Bross where one can 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 Group,  3,000 feet below the summits is too low.  These mountains present a 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 not aided.

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 transferring 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.
    Mountaineering is 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 suggested to date.
The 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.)

2.  Muling:

Once the 3,000 feet is started, no form of aiding is allowed except by those that are sharing in the M 4 attempt.
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
, 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 equipment 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.)

3.  Vehicles:

Once on a route, one cannot use any form of mechanical or biological devices for carrying or propulsion.
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 biological aid.

(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 essentially be a completely different game with different measurements and difficulties.  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 private land 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 opinion, a 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 hesitant 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 romantic about having the whole support crew hike up the glorious Chicago Basin the 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 Chicago Basin two or three days before setting out for the record.  It would have provided a pleasant and awe inspiring couple of days for the support crew to experience together before the mayhem of competition.  In this case, I believe that it was worth the minor price of doing something a bit out of the realm of mountaineering because it significantly increased the enjoyment of the experience for us.  Similarly, somehow ending such an extraordinary outdoor experience in a parking lot or next to a vehicle seems a bit odd.  In some bizarre way, stopping at this illogical spot met the spirit of mountaineering more for me than almost anything else I have done in the great outdoors.  After such an intense ten days, to stop under the spires of Longs with Spearhead lit up by a brilliant full moon...  it was simply incredible.  I had found that grace, that complete tranquility.  As if the universe revolved smoothly and effortlessly.  And nothing mattered.  The race did not matter.  The record did not matter.  Only the 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.

6.  Notification
        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, the 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.
In 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 personally 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 achieved my goals beyond any of my expectations.  Breaking my record cannot take away that victory.  I encourage anyone and everyone to challenge my record as long as they have a good perspective, are well prepared, and remain 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 supplies, 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 which is probably seventy percent of the rules of this page.  In such an effort, 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.

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