To set a world record, all University of Colorado doctorate student Will Levandowski has to do is climb the same 10-foot tall boulder on Flagstaff Mountain about 2,500 times in 24 hours.
He starts today at 5 p.m. And though he hasn’t started climbing, he’s already met one goal in this endeavor — to raise money for Operation Smile, a nonprofit that provides cleft lip and palate surgery to children for free.
Levandowski, a 27-year-old geophysics student, feels confident he can climb 25,000 feet in 24 hours. For several years now, he’s been doing laps on Flagstaff’s boulders for a few hours every morning before heading to campus to work, “just to get on the rock and enjoy moving.”
He knows he can do it, but he still needs a few more strangers to come and watch him, since Guinness World Record rules say he can’t be “familiar” with witnesses.
“I still have a few gaps in the witness schedule, but I’m trying to entice people with beer and pizza,” he said.
Levandowski has been climbing for 14 years, and though bouldering is his least favorite discipline in climbing, it’s logistically the simplest, he said — no planning partners, and Flagstaff’s boulders are a short walk from the road.
“So every morning, it’s get up, eat breakfast, get out the door, hit the rocks, go to work.”
Boredom never haunts him: He falls into a rhythm, he said. And he listens to science podcasts while climbing.
A marathon runner, Levandowski suffered a stress fracture two years ago. But he discovered a bouldering problem on Flagstaff that suited his injury and allowed him to keep climbing.
“I found that this particular problem, it was easy enough that I wouldn’t fall off of it,” Levandowski said. “It was challenging enough that I actually got a workout and I felt I wasn’t wasting my time, and the walk-off didn’t hurt my foot.”
For two weeks, it was the only thing he could climb. He became proficient, fast on this problem. It got him thinking.
“When I found myself hucking an absurd numbers of laps, I started to wonder what had been done and what could be done,” he said.
He started searching for a record.
“The greatest number I could find just Googling around was about 15,000 feet, that Tommy Caldwell did in 24 Hours of Horeshoe Hell, an endurance thing in Arkansas,” he said. (Caldwell, of Estes Park, and partner won the points-based climbing competition in 2009.)
“I thought, ‘Well, I do about half of that most days,'” he said.
Guinness didn’t seem to have a world record on it. So he contacted them. They sent him 10 pages of rules in return.
Sara Wilcox, of Guinness World Records, said Levandowski’s attempt is for a new record category: Greatest Vertical Distance Rock Climbing in 24 hours.
Based upon other climbing records, Guinness set a minimum of 25,000 feet for him to climb, she said.
Levandowski realized the unnamed bouldering problem he’d repeated during his injury, which has a fast, easy walk-off, had the greatest vertical distance-to-time ratio out of all the problems he did. So he set a date, and set up fundraising with Operation Smile, just a couple of weeks ago.
He says he’s confident he can make 25,000 laps tonight and tomorrow. In fact, he’ll get forced rest, sleep.
“I’m taking off between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. — the parking area is closed,” he said. “So it’s really 18 out of 24 hours that I’ll be clocking.”