15 Minutes With...Colorado Super-Athlete Ben Clark

August 12 2014, 3:00 PM

—Photo by Andrew Maguire Photography

Name: Ben Clark

Age: 35

Job: Commercial Filmmaker


In 2002, at the age of 23, when most of us are still trying to find our first real job, Ben Clark hit a career high, both literally and figuratively, by becoming the youngest American to summit Mount Everest. He spent the next 10 years pioneering routes in Himalaya. Today Clark lives in Telluride, with his two-year-old son, Charlie, and looks for new challenges, like his next one: Nolan’s 14.

Nolan’s 14 is an unofficial race where super-athletes like Clark try to summit 14 Colorado fourteeners in less than 60 hours. The routes go through Colorado’s Sawatch Range, and vary between 80 to 110 miles. According to the official website, seven people have completed the run since its inception in 1998. Clark’s first two attempts in 2013 both ended because of extreme weather conditions, but this year, he hopes to complete the route after Labor Day. We sat down with Clark to discuss the Nolan's 14 challenge, fatherhood, and life in Colorado.

5280: As an experienced mountaineer, what is the appeal of Nolan’s 14 run?
Clark: I retired from the Himalayas in 2012 and I wanted to go to the mountains and see what potential was left. Right here in Colorado I reached places that were much more challenging, rewarding, and fulfilling personally.

5280: It seems that you started preparing for Nolan’s 14 about at the same time you became a father, in 2012. Did fatherhood influence your decision to attempt this endurance challenge?
Yes, the two are completely tied together because I retired from Himalayan climbing for my son, Charlie. I live with a pretty unique sense of purpose in that I'm a single dad. That commitment to him has been so rewarding, and it has definitely inspired me to be a stronger and better person.

5280: How is Nolan’s 14 different than your other mountaineering experience?
I look at golf as a way to translate how I feel about Nolan’s 14 compared to what I might have been doing in the Himalayas. In the Himalayas, I was just trying to hit a hole-in-one every time. With Nolan’s, I’m hitting peak-after-peak-after-peak, and some might be a par two and some might be a par five.

5280: You attempted Nolan’s 14 twice last year, but ultimately got held up by extreme weather conditions. What lessons did you learn from those attempts?
On my second attempt last year, I showed up, and it had snowed heavily. Although conditions really didn’t get better for a while, I pushed through it and made it one peak farther than I had on my first attempt. I think that was the highlight of my mountaineering career. I will now always believe that there’s a little more left in the tank—a little longer runway.

5280: Do you also hope to climb all of Colorado’s fourteeners?
I don’t keep a list—I’ve done over 40 fourteeners now, but I’m not rushing to get them done. I think if I live here my whole life, I’ll be able to eventually finish them and maybe some of them will be with my son, or maybe it will be other friends down the road.

Follow Clark’s Nolan’s 14 journey on Instagram: @BClarkMTN.