Before I get started recapping this pretty crazy adventure from last week, I am happy to say our trip for Everest Base Camp (EBC) this October is full. But we are looking for people who are interested in going to Kilimanjaro in February or EBC in March-April. These are non-technical trips for people of all walks of life. Please contact me if interested! Last, there is a full set of high resolution photos for the adventure below in an online album. You can flip through those if you want the picture version. Now back to getting ridiculous on Mt. Adams last week:
So…I took the picture below of Mt. Adams last March while running in the Columbia gorge with some friends. I remember coming up a ridge and finding a view of Adams that dwarfed the landscape. I stood there for a while, completely slack jawed, before recovering enough to take the photo below. At some point, my reverie was interrupted by the ridiculous, Matt Palilla saying something about trying to run up Adams someday. Ummm, ok. Sure. Yeah.
Matt and I kept in touch through the months and bounced around dates and ideas about alternatives. Adams was a clear stand-out. Unlike many of the other volcanoes in the pacific northwest, Adams does not have any crevasses on the south glacier, it has minimal avalanche danger and minimal exposure with respect to falling or sliding to ones demise. While virtually everyone still gears up with mountaineering boots, crampons, and ice axes to climb it…along with a two day itinerary, we were willing to bet we could climb it fast and light with running shoes, mini crampons, and trekking poles.
Our speed climbing dream got a little more ridiculous when we starting discussing tacking on a circumnavigation of the mountain in the same day. Three friends had run around it last year, including a gnarly ~six miles of the circumference where there was no trail. Michael Chastain was kind enough to send us the GPS file of their run, and I merged it with a two-day climb I had done on the mountain in 2009 with friends Stacey McConaughy and Alex Uy. The result looked positively epic in Google Earth. I’m trying hard not to use the word ‘epic’, but the picture begs to use the word.
Adams Mash up. Elev profile is circumnavigation
All of this is my long-winded way of explaining why I had my gear spread all over a bed of pine needles at 10:30pm last Tuesday at the Cold Springs Campground in southern Washington.
We managed about three hours of sleep before the alarm went off at 2:40 am. We were moving by 3:20. There was a small 1.3 mile stub that we had to run up before the junction between the ‘around the mountain trail’ and the climb up to the top of the mountain. We wasted a good 20 minutes finding a place to stash a cache of food and smaller packs for the run around the mountain.
At the last minute I decided that I was going to leave my ice ax behind with the rest of our cache. My memory of the route was that there was minimal need and I would have two trekking poles to use as well. I hate running with a pack and I didn’t want the extra weight. Matt felt likewise and we were off. It was maybe a foolish decision, but it was done.
We ran as hard as we could, usually up tight switchbacks. It was something like 6,700 ft in ~6 miles or so, the first couple hours by headlamp. As we got higher, our running turned into power hiking and we encountered snow fields, stopping briefly to strap mini-crampons to our running shoes which we soon took off because they were a hassle on the rock. In the end, we were almost always entirely in just running shoes, which felt even more ridiculous as we passed climbers in heavy boots and crampons.
As the sky lightened, I could see the summit massif above Matt.
And to the east, I could see climbers on the glacier making their way slowly ever upwards.
Here is the last few feet to the summit and the false summit is behind me. Thanks to Matt for taking this shot.
And we made it in ~4:15 hrs! Here I am cross-dressing in my Patagonia women’s down jacket (long story) while also managing to look a bit like a deep sea diver. We ran around on the top for a while looking for the register. As usual, I had to freak out thinking I had lost something (a video camera) only to find it later in a weird pocket.
Camera safe in hand, running back down was indescribable. I have some great video that I will share some day. It needs a lot of editing first!
And we were able to glissade (slide) on our butts for a huge portion of the upper mountain. We controlled our speed by digging in with our trekking poles as a sort of brake.
When the snow ran out, we simply ran. And ran. And ran.
Eventually we made it back to the ‘around the mountain trail’, 6:15hrs after last visiting the junction. This trail name is a bit of a misnomer as it only extends a handful of miles in each direction. Otherwise you are on a patchwork of other trails or no trail at all.
After a little trouble locating our cache (we had hid it in the dark!) and changing into smaller packs, we started running east (counter clockwise) around the mountain. We chose this direction partly so we would not run the risk of negotiating the off-trail section in the dark.
We ran through meadow after meadow, each one filled with more wild flowers than the one before.
But eventually we had to pull up short. Why? Simply because the trail had stopped. Matt had his GPS out and was consulting the route provided by Rich, Michael, and Justin. “They went down here”, Matt said with a vague motion toward a huge drop off into a rugged valley. No f’ing way. The GPS has to be wrong.
But it was right. Let me just say those six miles were like nothing I have ever done. Take a look at these tracks rendered in Google Earth. It was insane. And yes, epic.
The river crossings were sketchy as hell. Hellroaring River and the Big Muddy will leave lasting impressions on my psyche. I think if we had crossed these earlier in the day, before the glacial melt really picked up, we would have been safer. If you look at the google earth rendering above, there is an almost straight line in the GPS tracks as we traveled north up the Big Muddy looking for a crossing point.
And then we got to the second huge valley. It was bigger than the first. Our pace had slowed to about one mile per hour.
There was nothing to do except slide down thousands of feet of scree.
Crawl up the opposite ridge and pause for a moment, taking in the view.
I wish I could say it ended well. But the truth is that my legs were pretty beat up after running up and down the mountain, the ~6 miles that were off trail took a further toll, not to mention an impossibly slow ~6 hours. When we finally regained the trail, I was done running and we still had something like 22 miles left to run. It turned into a run/walk/hobble. Huge thanks to Matt for his patience.
Mt Rainier says hello
The number of river crossings the last 10 miles or so was mind boggling. I could hear the white noise of each one several bends in the trail before the river came into view, in each case the noise triggered anxiety in me like a Pavlovian bell. Luckily they were nothing like the crossings we had encountered on the eastern side. We had also become quite expert and barely changed our stride, frequently walking directly through the water.
After many twists and turns, we finally arrived back at the junction, 16:06 hours since our last visit to the sign post. To tired to deal with setting up a camera, we just took pics of each other.
Following some arrows drawn in the sand, we located our cache, and then we headed down the last ~1.3 miles to the campground. It was both the longest and shortest stretch of ground I have ever covered. But the end was sweet, as are the memories. As a testament to how tired I was when we were done, I didn’t even drink a beer.
Our GPS Tracks
Profile of climb then circumnav.
All in all, a great experience with lots of literally highs and lows. Thanks again to Rich, Michael, and Justin for their trail blazing on the circuit. Big thanks to PROBAR for keeping us fueled the whole time. Huge thanks to Matt for being good company, especially with handling the majority of the navigation and slowing down to my speed. We hope others will consider this epic run, or maybe even include a climb. Finishing in under 24 hours seems like a good goal. We were unable to find any other reports of people climbing and running it in a single push. If we could do it again, I think we agreed we would have crossed the first valley closer to the mountain. The earlier in the morning you cross, the lower the rivers will be. Bringing an ice ax to the summit would have been smart, self-arresting with trekking poles did not work that well in practice, and there was at least one sketchy spot we crossed.
Left Campsite: ~3:25am
Arrived junction with loop: 3:45am
Arrive Junction with loop, start circumnavigation 10:00 am.
Arrive Junction with Loop, finish circumnavigation) 2:06am
Arrive Campsite ~2:42am
Total Elapsed Time according to Matt’s watch: 23:16 hours.
Garmin: Campsite to junction and back again: 2.6,
Garmin: Summit roundtrip from junction: 8.9
Garmin and Delorme: Circumnavigation: 27.1 (likely closer to 30.6 miles*)
Total mileage covered by GPS’s: 38.6 miles Total mileage covered using Rich, Michael, and Justin’s circumnav tracks which we followed: 42.1m
*GPS Notes: There are some caveats with distance. The Garmin was missing tracks for a good part of the second half of the loop due to a battery issue I neglected. But I was also recording our GPS location with a Delorme SE satellite tracker; in the tracks above I have merged these two GPS files into one complete track. I included way points for where the Delorme portion starts and ends. By and large, the Delorme portion grossly underestimates distance as it assumes travel is in a straight line for 10 minutes before another way point is taken. Our overall mileage was 27.1 for the circumnavigation. Mileage measured by Rich, Micheal, and Justin using their GPS tracks (which we closely followed) was 30.6 miles. This additional 3.5 miles makes sense given the loss in accuracy with the 10 minute Delorme data points. I am more than happy to provide our tracks as GPX or KML files on request.
Big thanks to PROBAR for fueling 100% of this adventure!