Running trails and scrambling up and down mountains — that’s all in a day’s work for Chattanooga native Andy Anderson.
At least in the spring and summer, when he’s a climbing ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park. Then he switches to avalanche predicting in the Lake Tahoe area for the fall and winter.
But speed mountaineering also is a sport at which the 35-year-old Baylor School graduate excels. In fact, within two weeks last month he set records for going up and down both Long’s Peak — the highest in the Colorado park — and Grand Teton in western Wyoming.
Anderson first set a Long’s round-trip record — or, more accurately, “fastest known time” — last year. On Aug. 8, 2012, he cut almost four minutes off his “car to car” speed from the trailhead parking lot at 9,450-foot elevation to the 14,255 summit and back, dipping under two hours to 1:56:46, and broke a 30-year-old standard with his 1:14:08 ascent. Some of that is a 5.4 grade climb.
The math leaves a truly breakneck-type descent of 42 minutes, 38 seconds.
“I definitely got a lot of funny looks on the way down,” Anderson said last week while moving out of his Colorado home for the move to Truckee, Calif.
In a narrative he wrote about the Long’s Peak achievement for the blog site The Logic of Long Distance, Anderson included this: “Once I hit the base of the climbing, I am running again, dodging boulders and aiming for loose scree that will help me slide down the mountain.”
Noting that he fell twice, he added, “Fortunately this technique may have actually made me move faster as I rolled down the hill. It’s too bad I couldn’t figure out how to roll all the way down the mountain.”
He rolled his ankle toward the end of his return but still made it in record time. And 14 days later he broke — by 59 seconds — a Grand Teton FKT set on Aug. 11 by Spanish ultrarunner Kilian Jornet, the 2011 winner of the World Championship of Ski Mountaineering.
Anderson was interviewed after the Teton feat by Jeff Edmonds of The Logic of Long Distance, and in both that interview and his first-person narrative about Long’s Peak his humility and sense of humor shine through.
He tells Edmonds, who teaches philosophy at Vanderbilt and was Anderson’s best friend growing up — and a cross country teammate at Baylor and Williams College: “Although I love both sports, when taken separately, I am pretty mediocre at climbing and running. I guess for some reason I am able to combine them well, probably because I have always done them together and because most climbers don’t really like running and most runners don’t really do much rock climbing.”
Over the phone he elaborated: “I think there probably are a lot of people who can do this stuff. They just haven’t had the idea yet.”
Anderson missed the Long’s Peak ascent record by one second in his 2:02 up-and-down record of August 2011, and that had been nagging at him, so on that morning six weeks ago he woke up and decided he had just enough time to drive to the trailhead, set a record to the summit and back and get back home by 10:30 a.m. to take over babysitting his son Huck for the day. Which is what he did, powered by “the thoughtful soundtrack of ‘Push the Tempo’ by Fat Boy Slim on repeat at full volume,” according to his first-person account.
Andy’s brother John, an emergency room doctor in Boulder, Colo., is an accomplished ultra trail runner, and they plan to visit their parents in Chattanooga in mid-October. Unfortunately, Andy said that would be after Rock/Creek’s StumpJump 50k race in which he finished second last year.
In the Logic pieces he cites his local roots, including the Tennessee Climbing Wall and the beginnings of the Rock/Creek racing series, and said he fueled his passions while working for the company that continues to sponsor him as a member of the Rock/Creek trail racing team.
He has been a climbing ranger for five years at Rocky Mountain after five years at Mount Rainier, but he began that career as a volunteer for three years in the Tetons. Same with the avalanche forecasting — he used to help a professor at the University of Colorado and taught classes in avalanche science. He volunteered in field work in that and now makes it a paying job.