Taking advantage of a possible break in the forecast over the May long weekend, Stano Faban, Nick Elson, and I drove down to Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. We hoped for good conditions to try a speed attempt and had heard that the Disappointment Cleaver route was in good shape, following a direct line with minimal crevasses.
Most (or all?) previous speed records were completed in late summer conditions when it was possible to run the majority of the route with minimal equipment. Willie Benegas set the record in 2008 – typically these records seem to be set by guides on the mountain with good acclimatization, solid route knowledge, and up to date weather awareness. In summer of 2012, the ridiculously fast Dorias brothers of SLC set the bar for skiing with a 5 hour paradise-summit-paradise trip. Our goal was to pass not only the 5 hour skiing mark but also go under the overall speed record. Hopefully this will spur some interesting competition between the skimo and running crowd!
With a 4am wake up under a clear starry sky, we pulled into Paradise and started skiing just before the sun crested the ridge. The route to Camp Muir was relatively quick and frozen. We eased into our pace and made good time. We passed Dane Burns on the snowfield and said hi but didn’t have time to chat. By Muir, Stano had fallen back off the pace and as Nick and I crossed the Cowlitz Glacier he gave is the signal that he was stopping. We pressed on over Ingraham Flats and under the Cleaver where we put skis on our packs. The cleaver went quickly and we started meeting rope teams descending from the summit. At the top of the Cleaver we put on crampons. The track continued fairly directly up with two crevasses bridged by ladders.
High up, a roll gave us a false hope of the summit but cresting it we saw the crater rim further up off in the distance. At the rim, we dropped our packs and threw our skis on for the run to the tippy top – Columbia Crest. A small group and two climbing rangers were enjoying the windless conditions on the summit and obliged us with a quick photo while we did our transition. We cruised back to the packs and then began the descent. The upper mountain was wind blasted crust with powder pockets. I took my skis off for the ladder crossings and for one slight climb but the Cleaver was was perfect slush all the way down to Muir. We hit Muir around 4:05 and knew if we kept it together we would be under our goal of 4:40. The snowfield was still hard and fast and didn’t turn to slush until list Paradise. Stano was waiting at the trailhead as we survival skied down the final stretch, finishing in 4hrs and 19min 12sec.
Snow conditions were a little slippery on the ascent in the morning but coverage was decent and skiing fast. We could have saved a few min with better route finding descending the cleaver and by skiing a little more recklessly but we were comfortable with ourselves. We carried avy gear and a rope but were happy not to have to take either out of our bags. A few crevasses were opening up but nothing that made us too uncomfortable. Conditions were definitely “in” but the snow seems to be melting quickly. All of the guided teams were exceptionally polite, giving us plenty of space to pass. Thank you! Also a big thank you to Stano who, despite feeling off and pulling the plug at Camp Muir, still cheered us on and drove the whole trip!
We took our time getting back to Vancouver with lots of skiing/climbing/training discussion during the long car ride. The day was capped when the car broke down literally at the border station, Nick and I pushing it back into Canada. Can’t get bothered after a day like that though and the sun was shining so it was all good and a short wait for the car to cool down and we were on our way home!
Rainier has been high on my to-do list (actually the top since ticking off the Spearhead) for some time. My dad and I saw a presentation on climbing Rainier at the REI in Minneapolis when I was in high school. I was shocked that a mountain so high and snowy existed in the US and we agreed to climb it some day. The plan was pretty far on the backburner but when I moved to the Pacific NW it became much more real. We set a date and slogged up it in two days in 2010. Since, I have been back several more times, faster each one. Now it’s time to focus on picking some more interesting lines to climb and ski – I’m looking forward to coming back later this season and heading up the Kautz Glacier with Sarah. It will be great to enjoy the views and take lots more photos.
SUUNTO HR Data is HERE on Movescount
Nutrition – Triberry GU x4, Roctane GU x1, Peach Tea GU Chomps x1, 700 ml Q Energy drink, 1.4L water.
Gear – Dynafit DyNA race boots and Speedup racing suit. SUUNTO T6 watch. COLLTEX PDG racing skins. LEKI Aergon carbon poles. Patagonia capilene t-shirt, rain shell, micro puff hoody. CAMP Race pack, crampons, and nanotech ice axe. I didn’t use any of my spare clothes. It was warm and windless so light gloves and race suit were hot!
And an interview with National Geographic Radio here.
Dynafit Summer Athlete Eric Carter & Nick Elson Break Mount Rainier Speed Record… fb.me/ArEBF9UQ
— Dynafit(@dynafitNA) May 23, 2013
Elson and Carter set the round-trip speed record on Rainier. Here’s how it went down (and up):bit.ly/13NCRTA
— Backcountry Magazine (@backcountrymag) May 23, 2013