The state of Colorado is chock full of outdoor-oriented badasses, but some overachievers truly impressed us in 2017. Here’s our list of the six mountain athletes who not only made some significant strides when it came to getting after it in the high peaks, but also found ways to prove that you don’t need big sponsorships or lots of social media attention to turn heads or follow your dreams. Live like them.

Alyson Kirk

Age: 34

Basecamp: Morrison

Day job: Entrepreneur, Self-Employed

In a Nutshell: On September 17, Kirk became the youngest person, and second woman to climb all 1,313 Colorado peaks over 12,000 feet. This impressive achievement—676 12ers, 584 13ers, and 53 14ers—took roughly 10 years …including a femur break seven years ago. Kirk fueled her Herculean effort with “a true, pure passion and love for climbing mountains, summiting peaks, adventure, being outdoors and seeing a goal through until the end,” she says. “I learned that anything is possible with the right mindset, passion, hard work and determination.”

What It Took: The ability to suffer, to adapt to adverse conditions and circumstances and to function without sleep as well as the skills and strength to complete extremely challenging peak combinations year-round.

Most Memorable Moment: Summiting the extremely dangerous Turret Ridge (12,260 feet)—an undertaking that gave Kirk nightmares for months before she did it. “It was tough to reach the top, yet reaching it induced the most joy I ever experienced getting to a summit. I’ll never forget the feeling of accomplishing something I once thought was impossible!”

Favorite Colorado Adventure: The Never Summer 100K, a 64 mile-run that summits two peaks and gains 14,000 feet. Kirk has won it three years running and holds the course record.

Up Next: Kirk and hubby plan to tick off as many peaks over 12,000 feet as possible in Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming and California.

Andrea Sansone 

Age: 29

Basecamp: Arvada

Day job: NICU nurse

In a Nutshell: This summer Sansone became the first woman to complete all 15 California 14ers in one push and joined the select club of those to top out on all 74 14ers in the lower 48. With help from her “other half and greatest encouragement,” Andrew Hamilton (see below), she also smashed Jacqueline Florine’s 2006 California peaks record (nine days, 12 hours and 17 minutes) by finishing in seven days, 11 hours and 22 minutes.  Sansone’s main drivers were “Andrew, friends and family following and encouraging me, and the desire to be an inspiration for others because the mountains have so much to offer.”

What It Took: Sansone attributes her success to “knowing this was in reach and not letting the mental aspect take me down. If you dedicate yourself mentally, physically and emotionally to any task, so much is possible beyond what we really believe to be possible.”

What It Meant: “This meant the world to me, not only the accomplishment but also the process and the whole experience. Andrew and I climbed over 150 mountains together. We bonded in a way that I have never experienced before. He was my rock through it all.”

Favorite Colorado Adventure: South Maroon Peak because of its technicality and because she met Hamilton there in 2012.

Up Next: Finishing the Centennials. Becoming the first woman to traverse all 14ers and Centennials in the Elk Range nonstop on foot.

Andrew Hamilton

Age: 42

Basecamp: Arvada

Day job: Seeking a software job…

In a Nutshell: Holding a host of records, including the fastest time for Colorado 14ers (nine days 21 hours 51 minutes) and for an unsupported Nolan’s 14 run (a choose-your-route challenge to link 14 14ers in the Sawatch Range in under 60 hours), Hamilton raised the bar this year by setting a FKT (53 hour 42 minutes) for a north-south traverse of Nolan’s. He made this accomplishment even more incredible by adding Mount of the Holy Cross to become the first person to complete the “Holy Nolan’s.” “My specialty is suffering,” he says. “The pull of the finish line and fear of failure kept me going.”

What It Took: Good weather; a great, dialed, dedicated crew; endless motion.

Most Memorable Moment: “Completely losing my wits on the last night” says Hamilton. At sunrise, his drive to finish in less than 72 hours led to “quite possibly the fastest downhill sprint of my life.”

On Adding Holy Cross: Completing the entire range of these 14ers seemed like an obvious extension of the already grueling route. Focused on finishing the Holy Nolan’s in under 72 hours, Hamilton says, “I had no idea I was setting the Nolan’s north-to-south record and really no idea I was within minutes of my 2015 time.”

Up Next: Setting the Centennial record next summer. He’s also contemplating doing the Nolan’s 14 in winter and spring (he has already has completed it in summer and fall). “Winter would be ridiculously tough and dangerous though.”

Courtney Dauwalter

Age: 32

Basecamp: Golden

Day job: She recently left her role as an 8th grade science teacher to invest all time and energy into ultra-running.

In a Nutshell: In October, Dauwalter crossed the Moab 240 Endurance Run finish line almost 10 hours ahead of the second place—and first male—finisher. She crushed the race; maintaining a pace of 4.5 m.p.h. to finish in 2 days, 9 hours, and 59 minutes on only 20 minutes of sleep and a little more than four hours at aid stations. “Even when our bodies hurt and physically it feels impossible, our brains can help us overcome barriers to keep going,” says Dauwalter. “Knowing this and trying to capitalize on that mental aspect kept me pushing forward, no matter what it felt like for my feet and legs. Completing the Moab 240 has me wondering “what else is possible?” and that’s exciting.”

What It Took: Lots of training miles, never making excuses to slow or stop and amazing support from her husband and crew.

Most Memorable Moments: Dauwalter will never forget taking the time to enjoy it—soaking in sweeping views of red rock canyons and the La Sal mountain range, sharing miles with other runners during the grueling Moab 240.
Favorite Colorado Adventure: Dauwalter holds a special place in her heart for the trails around Steamboat Springs and Buena Vista.

Up Next: Pushing to run farther and faster. Many races including Taiwan’s 24-Hour Ultra Marathon, December 2017.

Justin Simoni

Age: 36

Basecamp: Boulder

Day job: Intern at a web startup, which, incidentally was also his job at 18.

In a Nutshell: On September 16, Simoni, aka “The Long Ranger,” finished The Highest Hundred Tour, an unsupported, self-powered push to summit all the Centennials (Colorado’s 100 highest peaks). In roughly 60 days and 15 hours, Simoni covered 624 miles by foot, 1,720 miles by bike and ascended a total of 384,184 feet. “Unless I injured myself, I was most certainly going to keep going, no matter how difficult it got. Proving that you can count on yourself is empowering.”

What It Took: Training like a beast until he could hike Boulder’s Green Mountain 13 times in a row in 24 hours, ride over 100 miles on a fully loaded fat bike across the Continental Divide, and climb 5.12.

What It Meant: “Trips like these are practices in self-discovery, as you also explore the terrain around you. It’s a moving meditation. You develop a relationship with the landscape itself as you grow internally as a person.”

Driving Force: Simoni set out to test the limits of his own human endurance. He also sees projects like this as a type of performance art in self discovery. “I don’t actually have all the answers on what I’m doing or why, but I’m going to find out in the only way I know how,” he says.

Most Memorable Moment: Finding a window of sunshine to summit Jagged Mountain and Vestal Peak—some of the most intense scrambling of the whole trip—in one day.

Favorite Colorado Adventure: Longs Peak, which he has summited more times and by more different routes than any other peak. “It’s just on another level when it comes to what a beautiful mountain is supposed to look like.”

Up Next: Training, growing, and progressing. Simoni also plans to start writing a guidebook which will serve as a starting point for others who want to complete a similar trip.

Elaine and Dan Vardamis

Ages: 27, 43 respectively

Basecamp: Eldora

Day Jobs: Both work at Larry’s Bootfitting and Boulder Nordic Sport

In a Nutshell: In spring 2017, this power couple placed second in the co-ed division of The Expedition Amundsen, an annual 100-kilometer cross-country skiing race in Norway. In summer, they hiked the CDT from Canada to Mexico, a journey made more unique with the addition of a San Juan ski traverse, something never done before as part of a completed thru hike. “There are many days you just want to quit,” says Dan. “You need to fight through those moments. Walking through the vast, amazing West is a fantastic way to meet and engage people completely different from yourself. That’s important in this day and age.”

What It Took: Both credit time, persistence, stubbornness, flexibility and adaptability. Also, they honestly wanted to be there doing it. “Even when everything hurt and I was frustrated, angry or afraid, there was honestly nowhere else I really wanted to be,” says Elaine.

What It Meant: The couple set out to complete the hike with integrity, while enjoying every moment. They agree they pushed their limits and discovered their potential while achieving this goal.

On Expedition Amundsen: Going to Norway, where skiing is part of the heritage, was intimidating. “We had no expectations other than not wanting to embarrass ourselves,” says Dan. Thus, doing well was especially rewarding. “It was a humbling and gratifying experience to earn the respect of Norwegians in a sport that is unequivocally theirs,” says Elaine.

Most Memorable Moment: The couple of hours they led the pack through a completely treeless expanse on the unmarked course of Expedition Amundsen. The pair traded off tasks: one breaking trail, the other navigating. “There was no wind, it was bitter cold and the northern lights were dancing overhead. It felt like we were the only human beings on the planet,” says Dan.

Favorite Colorado Adventure: The Indian Peaks in their backyard: Elaine loves Mt. Toll and Mt. Audubon’s Crooked Couloir while Apache Couloir ranks among Dan’s favorite climb/skis.

Up Next: A ski traverse across the Greenland Icecap and a thru hike of the Great Divide Trail (a continuation of the CDT from the Canadian Border to the Yukon).

 

MORE BADASSERY 

 

It was close to impossible to narrow this list down to just the six athletes above. These Colorado-based badasses also did plenty to impress us in 2017 and we will be watching them for more inspiration  in 2018.


Clare Gallagher

After a DNF at Western States 100 in June due to an injury, the 25-year-old Gallagher came back to win the UTMB CCC Ultra 100 in France by 13 minutes—an accomplishment many deemed an upset.

 

 

 

 

 

Joseph Gray

The Colorado Springs resident, and hot pepper connoisseur, was named USATF Mountain Runner of the Year for the 8th time while recording an undefeated season in the U.S. in 2017 including a big win at the Xterra Trail Run World Championships in Hawaii (the third time he took the title).

 

 

Margo Hayes

In February, 19-year old Hayes became the first woman to send 5.15a with her ascent of La Rambla in Siurana, Spain. She hit that high note again in September with the first female ascent of 5.15a Realization/Biographie in Céüse, France.

 

 

 

 

Cat Bradley

Twenty-five-year-old Bradley crushed the Fastest Known Time on the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim. Her 7:52:20 mark bested the previous women’s record set by Bethany Lewis in 2011 by more than 20 minutes.

 

 

 

 

Darcy Piceu

The 42-year-old Boulder resident set a new Fastest Known Time on the John Muir Trail at 3 days, 4 hours and 12 minutes besting the previous FKT by over 11 hours.

 

 

 

Eric Larsen

The Boulder-based polar explorer led a 600-mile, human-powered, multi-sport ColoradATHON, bringing his three-person team from the state’s eastern border to western border in a mere 12 days. The team rode bikes, hiked and rafted along the way.

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