In 1998, the Sierra Club of San Diego published a list of 100 publicly accessible peaks in San Diego County. Amassing over 400+ miles and 180,000+ft of cumulative elevation gain, completing this list is a lifetime feat. To date, no-one has ever attempted to summit all 100 peaks in a continuous non-stop effort.
Another failed project… ‘Ugh’ I sighed to myself while climbing into my rusting Jeep Wrangler. My plan to head out to the UK and attempt a Fastest Known Time (FKT) on their famous 24-hour fell running rounds (Bob Graham, Paddy Buckley and Ramsay Round) had been foiled by a lack of long-term planning on my end. Dreams? I’ve had plenty of them. But they’ll always stay dreams, unless you make a plan.
And that was the exact reason why I found myself opening up the door to a coffee shop in early February… to meet with Derek Loranger and to make a crazy dream a goal. I knew Derek from Gut Check Fitness, a local boot camp I instruct at here in San Diego. Owner of the website 100 Peaks, to call Derek an outdoor enthusiast would be belittling his passion and the copious amount of hours he’s spent roaming and exploring the most remote regions of the county. He is a true steward of the land.
100 peaks… it takes most people two to five years
My reason for reaching out to him though was self-serving, I wanted to know more about the list – 100 publicly accessible peaks, all within San Diego County. The usual mountain culprits were easy to pick out: Cowles, Pyles, Woodson, Iron, El Cajon among others, but as I turned the pages, I read about summits I’d never heard of… Moan, Groan, Puff, Square Top? I’d previously prided myself on being somewhat of a know-it-all when it came to my intimate knowledge of San Diego’s trails and mountains. This list shattered that confidence.
Derek is well on his way to joining an elite and small group of individuals who’ve summited all 100 peaks in their lifetime. With over 70 peaks under his belt, his knowledge bank of the remote lands dwarfed mine. Folding over the pages of mountains I’d never heard of, I looked over at Derek and asked, ‘So how many years on average does it take someone to do this?’ ‘Two to five years for most people,’ came his reply.
He went on talking about their remoteness and my mind wandered to thoughts about the FKT in England, the Nolan’s 14 and the John Muir Trail. But here, here was a sleeping giant right in my own back yard. This was something vast and entirely new. The cogs turned, the wheels spun and the words fell right out of my mouth, ‘So do you think it’s possible…’ I paused on my own thought… ‘To do it in one go?’
The equivalent of running San Diego to Los Angeles four times with six Mt Everest’s along the way!
‘Like non-stop?’ Derek quickly retorted. ‘Ya, I mean just take a week or two and just knock ’em out,’ I said ignorantly flipping through the list. Derek smiled and nearly burst into nervous laughter, before saying, ‘You’re talented Nick, but insane if you’re really thinking about tackling the 100 peaks list non-stop.’
The stern look on my face must have communicated my seriousness. And without word, the two of us started crunching numbers. The numbers were BIG. Roughly 408 miles and 180,000ft of cumulative elevation gain. I quickly translated that to the distance between San Diego and Los Angeles four times with a mere six Mt Everest’s along the way. Easy right!?
My hands shook as I picked up the paper to take a closer glance at the numbers. Derek was right. This project could very well be an impossible dream. Then, just for fun, we devised a rough draft of the route. The draft was three pages long and induced a migraine if you stared at it long enough. Yes it remained a crazy dream but at the same time it was starting to look like a goal.
Get ready for the sleep deprivation
Leaving the coffee shop, Derek estimated the fastest this insane feat could be done was in a period of 14 days. I began scouting these new mountains almost immediately. I quickly realized the enormity of what I was considering. Each new summit only acted to reassure me of my insanity.
That was until I met Mike Trevino. And it didn’t take much to convince the guy to join me. I handed out a brief project proposal to the members of the Enduragive foundation, Mike glanced over it in seconds and said boldly, ‘I’m in.’
On our first training run together, I sheepishly started to reveal the details of the project to him. I’d heard his name before in the endurance world but I couldn’t recall from where. Not wanting to scare him away from the project with me, I said timidly, ‘You know, you’ll have to be pretty good at sleep deprivation in order to do this thing. I’ve done Tor des Geants twice, and been up for periods of 76-80 hours at a time. This? This is going to take something far beyond that.’
100 peaks in 100 hours – definitely audacious, perhaps impossible
Mike smiled to himself… ‘O don’t worry, I’m somewhat of a master at sleep deprivation,’ came his reply. Mike Trevino! The memory came back… I knew where I’d heard his name before –RAAM (Race Across America). The guy had been second place at the world’s longest and most difficult endurance event. 80hrs? He’d done 8+ days with zero sleep. Needless to say, I felt foolish for the comment I’d made.
‘Two weeks though?’ Mike said, referring back to Derek’s conservative estimate of the project. ‘What about 100 hours?’ Again I did the numbers: 4 days and 4 hours for 408 miles and 180,000ft of elevation gain. Even on flat ground, that would be an accomplishment. ‘Maybe,’ I recoiled, thinking back to my recent trip to Anza Borrego where four miles per hour would have been a distant dream.
‘What do you think of the name 100 in 100? Better than San Diego 100 Peaks, ya?’ said Mike. I couldn’t argue. I’d been struggling with a name for the project for over a month now. But I’d seen what he hadn’t. I’d been on the slopes of Ode and Kay, I’d begun whacking my way through thick Manzanita on to the base of Sugg Peak. Four miles per hour to hit the audacious goal of 100 hours? Now that was surely impossible.
It will be the longest and most extreme journey of my ultra running life
‘Well it’s a time window you know, around 100 hours would be cool,’ Mike rephrased after seeing the worry in eyes. For the rest of the run we drifted into the usual running topics: past races, family life, glycogen depletion, metabolism rates of sugars vs fats, ketogenic diets… you know typical running conversation.
We discovered we both had an imbedded and invested interest in one of the leading and paramount issues in not only our county but also our country. Childhood obesity. In partnership with the Nutritional Science Initiative (NUSI) we plan increasing food literacy in our county and ultimately supporting a paradigm shift in the way childhood obesity is currently treated in the United States.
We will start our journey on January 18th 2016. And plan to complete the 100 peaks in roughly 100 hours. I’m nearly shaking with nerves as I write this and think about the reality of making my commitment to this project public. The 100 in 100 will be the pinnacle of my ultra running career and will mark the longest, most extreme journey of my life. Please stay closely tuned and follow us along on our quest for San Diego’s 100 Peaks.