Thursday, June 6, 2013

Mt. Rainier Speed Run - 3:57:55

Andy and I went up to Rainier last year with the intent of skiing from Paradise to the summit and back as fast as we could.  Conditions were slow and the snow was lacking but everything went pretty well until we were 3 minutes from the finish.  In a white out, a set of tracks tricked us into turning away from Paradise.  We skied an extra thousand feet until the snow ended and then stopped our watch at 5 hours even.  After being so close to a sub five hour car to car trip we ended up angry and walking in the Nisqually river basin.  This left a sour taste in our mouths.  Although this was a not a repeatable course,  given the lack of a ski standard, we felt the rough 5 hour mark would be a starting point for future speed attempts.  With the hope of returning the next year, we both scheduled vacation for the first week of June with the hopes of finding better, faster conditions.

Since then, for some reason, Rainier has kept coming to mind.  Over the year, we've had multiple discussions about the running standard of 4:40 which we thought could be bettered on skis.  It certainly became my biggest goal for the spring.  Two weeks before we were planning on leaving I was trolling the Internet and came across this Cold Thistle writeup.  Wow.  Eric, Nick and Stano had beaten us to the punch and did so in impressive fashion.  They came from sea level, carried a rope and avy gear, and crushed the running record going 4:19.  We were jealous.

With the joke now being "take the record from Canada," we headed up to Washington last Saturday.  The mountain had been getting hammered with snow and wind for the past week or so but it looked like a weather window was forming.  Once in Paradise we kept getting reports of dangerous avy conditions (wind slabs) and were repeatedly told that no one had been to the summit for more than a week. With that in mind we sat and waited. It's kind of stupid but the added security the guided parties give by wanding the route and putting in a massive trail had us waiting for them to summit first. We think the most direct route might be the Gibraltar Chute but the added effort of breaking trail and safely navigating an unmarked glacier made the choice of using the standard route for our attempt easy.

About to start
Given the mixed conditions reports we'd been hearing we decided to bring avy gear, harnesses and a small rope.  After our six o'clock start we were immediately unhappy to find mushy snow out of Paradise.  The past few mornings the snow had fully solidified but on Wednesday this was not the case.  We were able to stay in other peoples boot/skin tracks and it wasn't too bad but it certainly wasn't ideal.  Part way up the Muir Snowfield the surface snow firmed up and we were free to skin where ever.

While on route the positive vibes from other parties was quite encouraging.  Coming into Muir  roughly 10 people were out watching and shouting to go faster!  Each of the other parties we passed also shouted encouragement and allowed us to pass without any delay.  It's funny how strangers yelling at you can be motivating.

Andy traversing toward the Cleaver
The DC was icy and felt steep so we booted the first half and then transitioned to skinning/ski cramponing once the angle eased a bit.  While transitioning I fumbled a ski and helplessly watched as it started sliding toward the abbiss. Andy raced over to get in front of it but somehow it caught itself up and the crisis was averted.

Above the Cleaver conditions remained good with a mix of consolidated powder and frozen patches which made for reasonably efficient travel. Thanks to the guides and rangers for all the "trail" work.  The route was well marked and they had placed a ladder across one of the crevasses that was opening.  Apparently most people walk upright across the ladder but when I came to it, crawling on hand and knees seemed more appropriate.  I'm sure to two guys in tights crawling looked like fools. Once we were about 100 feet below the crater rim we climbed into a cloud and would have had a hard time finding the true summit if it weren't for Noah who was up there yelling at us to come over to the little bump he was on.

Andy about to enter the clouds
We hit the summit at 3:15:39 and, as a playful gesture to our Canadian friends, planted a small American flag.  Then we transitioned and slowly started making our way through the clouds and back down the route.  The upper portion was a touch variable and with multiple cracks in the glacier making us ski slowly and cautiously. Once again we crossed the ladder on hands and knees and, luckily, by the time we made it to the DC the snow had corned up perfectly.  The snow stayed perfect until the lower Muir where we once again found mush.  Straight lining the boot pack was the easiest way out and after Andy tomahawked twice in the slush we made it back to Paradise in 3:57:55.  A guided party was heading up as we came down and may not have appreciated our (Andy's) excitement (yelling).  Sorry guys.

This will go faster.  3:30?

It'll be interesting to see what shakes out as the faster method of travel, running or skiing.  I suspect running will be considerably faster on the up but it's hard to say if it will make up for the advantage skis have on the down.

Which route is the fastest?  The Gibraltar Chute seems more direct.  The Ingraham Direct is also shorter but was too broken up this year.  Seems like drafting off the masses is probably the best bet speed wise.

Andy's thoughts can be found here.

Camp Muir: 1:22
Summit: 3:15:39
Camp Muir: 3:46
Paradise: 3:57.55  

Done and tired
5 powergels mixed in 16oz gatorade
16 oz Red Bull

SCARPA Alien 1.0
Ski Trab World Cup Skis
Ski Trab TR Race Bindings
Outdoor Research Helium 2 jacket
Ski Trab Dragon Race Suit
Julbo Dust glasses
CAMP race pack
CAMP ALP 90 Harness
Dynafit ski crampons
CAMP 290 race crampons


  1. Wow, huge congrats!
    And just to add some perspective for how fast this is relative prior records, I'm pretty sure that all the sub-5hr running records were done solo, with cached and/or ditched gear, yet with no rescue gear (avy or crevasse).

  2. Not bad for a couple of bros from a state with no 14'ners!

  3. We were cheering for you guys up here in Ogden. Congrats! Glad it all worked out and you made it safely.

  4. Amazing work! I'm no speed demon. but on a few occasions the Gib Chute has proven a very quick and effecient way to the upper mountain for me on skis. I reckon that folks who excel at quick booting on steeper terrain would knock 20-30 minutes off the ascent time by going up that way. Would love to see a comparison!

  5. Woot! But now there are jealous canadians...

  6. Very impressive considering the winds were doing whatever they wanted.

    Thanks for letting me witness the fitness.

  7. Superb performance boys! Congrats from the Big White North :)

    I think I see Andy on Pierre Gignoux boots, eh ;)

  8. Congrats boys, great to see more progression!

  9. I was on the crater rim when these two came blasting over and about got air headed up. There was a cap, but I saw them headed towards columbia crest. Way to go guys! I want some of those boots...

  10. Thanks guys, it was a great day! Can't wait to see the time get faster...

  11. Congrats that is huge!! Congrats Funny story I went out there this past week thinking I was going to run up to Camp Muir in 1:20 or so thinking there was a trail going up. I was averaging about 15 minutes a mile until the trail ended and all there was in front of me were ice and rocks. I ended turning around at about 7500 feet as it was getting dark and I had no idea where to go. The mountains down in Tucson are much different. Again great job!!