San Juan Mountains

San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains: Grenadier Range

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Andrew Hamilton: Did He Have Any Fun?

Type A, obsessive-compulsive people mystify me.  Living, as I do these days, among thousands of Yuppies I find myself continually surrounded by these fire-breathing go-getters.  Anything that can possibly be conceived of to do is turned into some sort of extreme competition by the OC types.  Well, almost anything.  Being OC about not being OC never happens.  Being OC about being relaxed and enjoying life at a slow pace never happens.  And being OC about smelling the roses is always verboten.
I opened my morning paper today to be greeted by a front page story entitled "High Speed Trek."  The story details the efforts of a fellow by the name of Andrew Hamilton who is endeavoring to establish a new speed record for ascending and descending the 58 Colorado fourteen thousand foot peaks, known collectively as the 14ers.  According to the report, if everything goes as planned Hamilton should be running down Long's Peak as I am typing these words.  If things do go as planned he will crush the old speed record by climbing all the 14ers in less than 10 days.  Good for him.
Hamilton has an entire team of support personnel who are aiding him in his quixotic quest.  He is shuttled from trailhead to trailhead in a van driven by other people.  While in the van he is given massages and fed specially designed foods.  He sleeps when he can, apparently having developed the ability to sleep while walking, just like a zombie.  Many of the peaks find him accompanied by another hiker/climber who is apparently there to make sure he does not walk off a cliff while sleep-hiking his way to the top.  Thousands of fans of this sort of thing are following along via electronic media, anxiously awaiting news that he has established a new speed record.  Good for him if he does.
In an interview prior to embarking upon this project Hamilton described himself as a "ridiculously slow" climber.  According to him, his success is not based upon the fact that he is unusually fast but the fact that he is able to climb for days on end without any rest.  As he put it, he has developed the ability to suffer at a level unknown to most human beings.  Hallucinations are accepted as a part of the journey.  Physical exhaustion on a scale unknown to most human beings is the norm.  Those who have seen him in recent days describe him as a hollow-faced zombie that is just a mere shell of a human being but who, nevertheless, never stops walking towards his goal.  Good for him.
Many of the summits he attains are attained in total darkness.  Even those summits that he reaches during daylight hours pass by unnoticed as he plods along in his trance-like state of mind and body.  The summer monsoon has descended upon Colorado the past few days so Hamilton has also found himself hiking and climbing in rainy conditions.  He crossed the infamous and exciting "knife edge" on Capitol peak in total darkness and in the rain.  The wildflowers are coming out in their annual resplendent glory but I doubt Andrew has noticed them.  He did manage to climb a good portion of the Sawatch range 14ers in a single day however.  Good for him.
Hamilton's obsessive-compulsive nature has been gifted to his children as well.  They claim having climbed all of the 14ers by very tender ages.  The story described how before reaching their teenage years both of his children had accomplished the "grand slam."  They talked about how proud they are of their accomplishment but neither of them said anything about how beautiful the mountains are.  Instead, they informed the reporter that they had already told their dad that they want to climb all of Colorado's 13ers in the next couple of years.  There are over 600 of them.  Good for them.
These OC activities seem to be universally praised by those in the media and the small group of mountaineers in Colorado who attempt them.  Everyone seems to be excited by what Hamilton is doing, except me.  I feel sorry for him.  I feel sorry for his kids.  I feel sorry for everyone who thinks that what he is doing is some sort of amazing accomplishment.  It disturbs me that such freakish acts of obsession make the front page of the newspaper.  It bothers me that many in society see obsessive-compulsive activities as some sort of major achievement to be praised by all of the rest of us mere mortals.  The glorification of OC behavior, whether it be on the mountain tops of Colorado or in the corporate boardroom, is a sign of seriously unstable personal character and massive insecurity in my opinion.  Making a concerted effort to become a zombie in order to accomplish a meaningless goal is not a sign of advanced moral character or personal development in my world.  To me the entire thing reeks of self-protection and the desire to flee from reality.  So I suspect by the time I finish this post Andrew will have accomplished his goal.  But, I wonder, did he have any fun?

Update July 16, 2015:
I  read a story this morning on the front page of my newspaper about a fellow who just completed the Appalachian Trail in a new record time, under 47 days.  The story was about how much he suffered during the 47 days he spent on the trail.  He was described as being a mere shell of a man, like someone who had just seen six consecutive months of  combat in WWII.   The author of the story said the man was inspirational.  I don't know about you but I don't aspire to look or feel like an Auschwitz survivor.


  1. I understand your point of view, but have also been in the mental/emotional state that Mr. Hamilton lives in. At a young age I concluded that I wanted to swing on every vine in my neck of the woods (jungle, actually) in a single week. Now, my territory consists of over 11 square kilometers and there are ten of thousands of vines in that immense area. I planned the route meticulously, spacing the banana trees throughout the endeavor so that I'd have lots of calories and potassium just when I needed them. I started well rested and fully hydrated, and thoroughly enjoyed the first ten hours of swinging. Then my gangly little arms started getting really tired and I started getting sleepy. My hairy little wife, Mata, would scream words of encouragement to keep me going, but after two days of non-stop swinging I fell asleep mid-swing and missed a branch I wanted grab. The only thing that saved me from certain death was the fact that there was a large pond between the tree I was swinging from and the tree I was swinging to. Mata said I performed the best belly flop she had ever seen. Thus ended my dream. The worst part of the whole event was that since my arms were fully extended continually, my armpits got terribly sunburned. I had to walk about for the next week with my arms in the air. Every time I saw a cop during that week I would scream, "Don't shoot! I'm unarmed!"


    1. Mr. Link:
      Given the laid-back nature of jungle living I am surprised by the story you tell of your ape-like obsession to swing through every tree in the jungle. The problem with your arms made me think.....if I were a cop and encountered you in that condition I would have shot you and then explained that I felt threatened by the fact that you claimed to be unarmed when, in fact, you still had two of them.

  2. Just curious, how many 14ers have you hiked? Have you seen Andrew or any of his team this week?
    I saw Andrew last night. He was funny. His crew is incredible and full of energy. I saw everyone having a lot of fun (while at the same time very hard at work).
    Go read his thread on and look at the inspiration quests like this one provide. People cite Andrew's efforts as their motivation to work a little harder, run an extra mile, etc. Go back and read previous threads when John Prater, Brett M, and Andrew made previous attempts at the record. I'd say there's quite a bit of fun to go around.

    1. Mr. Fah:
      You have me at an obvious disadvantage since I am not a personal friend of Hamilton whereas you are. I am basing my comments upon what was reported in the newspaper, including extensive quotes about him and from him. I am also basing my comments upon a rather extensive history of experience with Type A/OC people I have known, especially those involved in an assortment of outdoor activities. If you tell me he is having a "lot of fun" I am not going to dispute your claim. I also do not doubt that Hamilton's activities "inspire" other obsessive-compulsive types. I also do not doubt that John Prater, Brett M and Andrew have had a lot of "fun" competing with each other for the speed record. What I am going to dispute is your definition of "fun."
      I believe the practice of obsessive-compulsive activities is a sign of a personality flaw and a character defect. I believe that people who engage in them do so not because they are drawn into that activity but because they are running from something else in their lives that is painful, difficult, usually personal and that they are unwilling to face. My experience with these types of people is that they are usually sad, miserable individuals in their personal lives and the OC activity they practice is just a way to anesthetize them from that truth. Nevertheless, I do not know Hamilton nor do I know you. I will grant that you two may be exceptions to the general rule.
      By the way, and only since you asked, I have 152 ascents of 59 14ers, as well as 298 ascents of 253 13ers. I have completed the Colorado 14ers with the minimum 3000 feet/peak and I have rarely made more than one summit per day. All of that, and much more, has taken me a luxuriously slow 40 years to accomplish. I have especially enjoyed the views from along the way and the aroma of the flowers at my feet. And I would not describe any of the thousands of days I have spent in the mountains as an act of suffering...they were all pure pleasure.

    2. Curses, limited to 4,096 characters! Let me break this up ...

    3. Fair enough, I respect your perspective and appreciate your point of view. Full disclosure, I'm not a "personal friend" of Andrew (although he's the kind of person I think anyone would love to call a friend). I had never seen Andrew in the flesh before Tuesday night and never shook the man's hand prior to last night. I've simply paid attention to his contributions to the mountaineering community because I respect his opinions and particularly hope to replicate some of his success in hiking with children. I hope mine take interest in the mountains, and Andrew is happy to share his experience with what worked and didn't work in the mountains with his kids to anyone that will listen.

      Like you, I'm also at a disadvantage in this discussion because I have virtually no experience with Type A/OC people. Or stated more accurately, it never crosses my mind what "Type" of person I'm interacting with, I simply base my interaction choices on whether or not I enjoy being around someone and my perception of whether or not they enjoy being around me. I don't have to know what "Type" they are to make those decisions. Since I feel like I'm capable of changing my "Type" to fit variable conditions, I think the label is meaningless and may unnecessarily influence our interactions with people.

      What struck me from your blog post was the negative connotation of what you describe as "OC activities" like Andrew's quest for the CO 14er FKT. You may be correct in that Andrew exhibits OC behavior citing this effort as a prime example. You then draw negative conclusions about his impact on society (at least that was my take away).

      My issue is that you seem to be ignoring tremendous upside with OC activities. Again without a full understanding of what OC really means, it feels like virtually every major advancement in human life likely benefited from OC activities. I'm thinking of things like electricity for the masses, clean/running water, food production and mass distribution, etc. Were any of those advancements possible without the efforts of many dedicated people, quite possibly a bit of OC behavior required to accomplish those feats?

      Obviously, Andrew is not going to bring about world peace by speeding through the CO 14ers faster than anyone has ever done before. It's certainly possible (likely in fact) that Andrew has a character flaw here or there. So do you and I. So what if he focuses tremendous time and attention to his strengths to avoid flaws? Seems like human nature to me. In my opinion, any sort of negative consequences of this type of behavior pales in comparison to the fun, joy, and comradery that Andrew brings to the CO 14er community.

    4. I feel I'm bouncing around a little here, but will blame it on very little sleep the past couple nights. Hey, I'm not Andrew Hamilton. I will close with words from the previous record holder who was in attendance last night. I think his words sum up very well the point I'm trying to make and provide insight on the source of Andrew's joy/fun in this journey (acknowledging that there was suffering involved and potentially even flaws to hide from). I believe Andrew experienced "fun" in sharing his gifts with the community ...

      "It was great to meet so many of you last night. It is a testament to the magnitude of the event that, by my calculation, about 50 people would come from all around to hang out at two in the chilly morning along the slopes of Longs last night. In no small part because of, Colorado has such a warm and inviting mountaineering community.

      I cannot think of a more deserving recordholder than Andrew Hamilton. He has put in the time and energy to learn about and respect the mountains. He has put in the true grit of multiple attempts. And, he has mastered the enormously complex routes and logistics. He pushed the limits of the human experience, and has shown all of us how that spirit, that is in all of us, is capable of so much more than we would have dreamed. Andrew clearly has a gift, and he used that gift to bring a group of people together, to work upon a common but daunting purpose that has now come to fruition. Thank you, Andrew, for letting us bear witness to your gifts and inspiring us all to work on achieving our own dreams.

      Live the Dream,

      Cave Dog"

    5. Lastly, thanks for sharing your summary of CO mountain experience. You and I play in the mountains at a similar pace. I've got ~40 ascents of 14ers in eight years. Although there are a few experiences I'd rather not repeat, I can recall some form a pleasure from every single hike, be that the views, scenery, or other people along the trail.

    6. Mr. Fah:
      You surprise me. I had expected you to ignore my reply to your comment. That is what most people do on this blog. And then you surprised me again. I expected you to tell me that I am stupid and ugly, both of which are true by the way, but you did not do that. Instead you presented a well written, rational and cogent argument in favor of your position while, at the same time, acknowledging a couple of points of strength in my argument. As a result of that I am pleased to pronounce you to be a scholar and a gentleman.
      You are completely correct when you assert that OC people are some of the most valuable people to society. It was not my intention to assert that they are not. Many, if not most, of the people who drive our society forward both economically and artistically are OCs. Without them we would not have advanced as far as we have. I appreciate the benefits of their behavior while, at the same time, feel sorry for them in their personal lives.
      The Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises describes the OC character well in his book entitled, "Human Action." It is a rather long quote but it gets to the point. "Far above the millions that come and pass tower the pioneers, the men whose deeds and ideas cut out new paths for mankind. For the pioneering genius to create is the essence of life. To live means for him to create. The activities of these prodigious men...are not labor because they are for the genius not means, but ends in themselves. For him there is not leisure, only intermissions of temporary sterility and frustration....Many a genius could have used his gifts to render his life agreeable and joyful; he did not even consider such a possibility and chose the thorny path without hesitation. The genius wants to accomplish what he considers his mission, even if he knows that he moves toward his own disaster...Creating is for him agony and torment, a ceaseless excruciating struggle against internal and external obstacles; it consumes and crushes him."
      My point, which is clearly from my presupposition about what is valuable and important in this life, is that I would be happy with a little less technology in the world and a little more human interaction and friendship. So, along with you, I can admire the accomplishments of the OC, but I still feel sorry for him.