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PV Instructor Climbs Tallest Mountains in Colorado

October 23, 2014 -- Mark Nolan, a part-time photovoltaics (PV) instructor at CNM’s Workforce Training Center, has reached rarefied heights, climbing to the summit of 53 of the 54 Colorado mountains that rise 14,000 feet or higher.
PV Instructor Climbs Tallest Mountains in Colorado

Jul 17, 2015

These mountains, called 14ers, are often very difficult climbs and jut into the sky far above the timber line, an altitude where trees don’t exist.

Nolan says the only reason he hasn’t scaled the 54th 14er is because it is on private land and, in order to access it, climbers have to pay $150 to the land owner. He’s passing on the fee to summit No. 54 because “the mountains should belong to everyone.”

Some of the 14ers are uniquely arduous  – like the ‘Knife Edge’ on Capital Peak – where Nolan and his climbing partners had to scoot, straddling a precarious ledge that had a 1,000-foot drop on both sides, for several hundred feet.

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Nolan, born and raised in New York City in a large Irish family, began climbing as a teenager, when half of his family moved to New Mexico. At age 15, then an Eldorado High School student, he climbed Truchas Peak in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, 26 miles northeast of Santa Fe, with his two triplet brothers, Joe and Bill, under the guidance of a friendly adult neighbor. He was immediately hooked and started climbing when he went camping with his high school buddies.

“Camping naturally led to climbing,” he said. “It was the means to get to a goal. There seemed little sense in packing in, setting up a camp, and then doing nothing.”

Nolan joined CNM as a full-time lab tech and part-time electronics instructor in 1992, eventually becoming a full-time instructor. He retired in 2012 from the School of Applied Technologies, but then came back as a part-time instructor teaching electronics in 2013, and he’s teaching photovoltaics for the first time this fall. During his early years at CNM, he discovered a cadre of people in AT who enjoyed camping, and they would go off together on weekends to hike, climb and enjoy the New Mexico wilderness.

It was in 1998 that Nolan took on his first 14er – a half-marathon running race up Pikes Peak. He spent the next 16 years climbing the highest mountains in Colorado, sometimes by himself, but more often with friends from CNM, like former AT instructor Eric Krosche, (who has climbed all the Colorado 14ers), AT laser technology instructor Kevin Ryan, and former geographic information technology instructor Amy Ballard, who is now an associate dean in AT.  His most recent climbs were organized by Krosche for “The New Mexico Backpackers Meetup Group.”

On all of the major climbs, he and his fellow climbers first establish a base camp, where they leave their tents, food, cooking gear, sleeping bags, etc., before starting the ascent at dawn or earlier the following day. They always return to base camp around 1-2 p.m. in order to avoid any storms and lightning that usually occur later in the day.

Besides being a mountain climber, Nolan was also a marathon runner, and now a marathon inline-skater. He plans on running in the Nov. 2 Albuquerque Doggie Dash & Dawdle with his eight-year-old Golden Retriever, Moses.

His next big challenge will come next year when he plans to climb Mt. Rainier in Washington state.

“I’m really looking forward to this climb,” Nolan said. “It’s dangerous but should be rewarding, because it is a guided-climb where you begin at sea level and climb the Cascade Range to 14,410 feet, atop an essentially snow and ice covered volcano.”

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