Race – Mount Rainier FKT

Packing gear and waking up under clear skies and Mt. Rainier

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!

Following the Disappointment Cleaver

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.

Parking lot start, summit shot, and time on the watch at the finish

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.

Enjoying the rest of the day.

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.

Time Splits:

Paradise  (1647m )- 0
Muir (3105m) – 1:35
Summit (4392m) – 3:36.43
Muir – 4:04.20
Paradise – 4:19.12

SUUNTO HR Data is HERE on Movescount

Garmin Track should be visible on Garmin Connect HERE

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!

Check out the press on our speed attempt here from backcountrymagazine.com and here from skintrack.com

And an interview with National Geographic Radio here.



12 thoughts on “Race – Mount Rainier FKT

  • Whew! Good work, way to bring all the necessary equipment and still break the record! Keep up the good work!

  • Wow, huge congrats!
    This is so amazingly impressive at so many different levels, but also note that unlike the prior sub-five-hour record holders, these guys not only brought rescue gear for avy & crevasse danger, yet also did not resort to gear caching/ditching (e.g., prior on-foot record holders would have crampons cached for them at Muir to be retrieved on the ascent, then ditch them for the descent). Plus all the other sub-five-hour record holders were solo, so obviously no companion rescue for avy or crevasse, even outside of the lack of their rescue gear.

  • Watched you guys come through in both directions at Ingraham Flats. You were definitely movin’! Nice work. 1:35 to Muir is enviable.

  • Thanks all – it was a great day out made all the better by being a team effort.

    Dane – I wouldn’t really call it a climbing feat – Im not brave enough of a climber to make a mark there so skiing easy ground is kind of my thing…

    Carl & John – We did have most of the equipment but it was a group decision to bring what we all felt comfortable with. None of us had been on the mtn this year previously so only had a cursory idea of the conditions. If I were to go back again knowing the conditions would be identical I think we would opt to bring almost nothing – just a matter of comfort level.

    JBO – my race setup this season was Dynafit PDG skis with Plum 145 bindings. Nick was sporting Trab skis with older Dynafit bindings (and TLT5s!). Whats the story on this skim.co site?

    Chris – sorry we didn’t stop to say hi. Everyone we bumped into was very nice. Hope you had a good day on the mountain! Keep after it.

    • Interesting…I guess you’ll need a team tether for Nick to pull you up if he gets race boots!

      Skimo.co is an attempt to spread the “light is right” philosophy on this side of the pond. Could be an *uphill* battle…

      Congrats again!

  • Solid work, guys. Andy and Jason can hardly sleep thinking of the throw down that’s going to happen if they get the window. Brace yourself for impact! Love this shit!

    Obviously, you guys will go faster with even lighter gear. Some would argue that ditching certain safety gear is foolish but some of those guys think the “10 essentials” are still relevant to modern alpinism. Pah! I agree with Jonathan that carrying everything is fair. Of course, “rules” are only relevant if we decide and agree that they are. It’s simply a way to control certain elements of our little game. Conditions and weather…well, that’s a whole other story. Looks like guys had that in spades.

    The safety issue is a real one if things go sideways. You can only imagine the finger pointing and general unpleasantness that would ensue if someone playing this game were to require a rescue due to lack of equipment. But these same people understand little of what you are doing and likely never will. That said, it would be a nice luxury on efforts like this to have one or two friends on hand ready to help out if something unfortunate happens. Admittedly, this removes some of the risk involved, which is not necessarily a good thing, but might mitigate some of the more ominous bullshit that would transpire in such an event. We certainly don’t operate in a vacuum.

    But whatever…most of the time teams like you are going to rage, slay all expectations and set the bar higher still without incident. The speed community will simply watch and celebrate. Chapeau!

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