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andy dorais

[TR] Mount Rainier: Skiing Speed Record 5:00:57 - Disappointment Cleaver 6/29/2012

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Trip: Mount Rainier: Skiing Speed Run 5:00:57 - Disappointment Cleaver

 

Date: 6/29/2012

 

Trip Report:

For the full report with annotated pictures see www.slcsherpa.blogspot.com (Andy) or www.jasondorais.blogspot.com (Jason)

 

Sometimes life dictates our opportunities. We take them or leave them, but I'm finding that if I just take action, the excuses melt away and positive things happen. This was the case over the last couple days when while looking for some fun and to escape the heat, Jason and I tried to pull off a smash and grab speed attempt on Mount Rainier. Our goal was to establish a standard for skiing Rainier as well as to break the all time speed record of 4 hours and 40 minutes held by Willie Benegas.

 

Leaving Salt Lake around 7 AM on Thursday morning, our chances appeared slim. We reckoned we had a 5-10 percent shot at even making the summit given the dismal weather forecast. We almost didn't go. Debating alternative plans, while heading north on I-15, we were indecisive so the car kept going. "You never know till you go" was the theme.

 

Arriving at the Whittiker Bunkhouse 12.5 hours later, we made some last minute gear adjustments, ate pizza, and drifted off to sleep as dusk gave way to darkness. We set the alarms for just before five local time, making for a relatively civilized start by Mountain Standard Time. The day was already dawning when we awoke and still needing to secure climbing permits, we drove up to Paradise laughing at the weather. It was foggy with a light drizzle. Visibility was a couple hundred meters as best. The rangers said Camp Muir was in the clouds and the winds were gusting to 60 mph.

 

This forecast, and our unfamiliarity with the Disappointment Cleaver, led to a "safe" speed attempt. We did not cut corners and brought the following items:

 

1. Full avy gear

2. Glacier travel kit including rope, harnesses, prussiks, Tibloc, spare sling/carabiners, ice screw, ice axe, crampons

3. Extra clothes including puffy, shell, 2 pairs of gloves, beanie, extra pants

4. Misc items such as headlamp (starting at 7AM) and googles

 

As it happened, we did not need a single item listed above. We did rope up on the upper mountain while ascending but that was because we initially thought we would have poor visibility and did not adjust our plans on the fly (Disclaimer - the first rule of glacier travel is to always rope up).

 

Our Story:

After securing our permits, we started by running up the melted out stairs from the parking lot at Paradise. A race transition saw us skinning toward the Muir Snowfield under threatening skies and poor visibility. We followed the marked route and had to transition four or five times as parts were melted out, exposing sections of rocky trail. Our pace was steady but slightly limited by the lack of refreeze overnight (snow level was 10000 feet) and slushy conditions. Jason's altimeter ticked over 3000 vertical gained at just over one hour. On Willie's record run, he tagged the summit in 3 hours and 20 minutes. We were on pace but knew we would slow as the air thinned.

 

On the Muir Snowfield, we followed the veritable highway of tracks. A section of clouds to the east appeared brighter than the rest and I thought the sun might be trying to show itself. Drawing closer to Camp Muir, the clouds parted and the entire upper mountain was basking in the morning light. Still passing through the cloud deck, we couldn't tell if the ebb and flow of the clouds would swallow it back up. A descending party sneered that our clear weather wouldn't last.

 

Rolling through Camp Muir at one hour and 34 minutes we were still holding 3000 feet/hour. We nodded a hello to a large guided party and immediately began crossing the Cowlitz Glacier toward Cathedral Rocks and the Ingraham Glacier. 10 minutes later, we turned the corner and were greeted by striking views of the Ingraham, Emmons, Disappointment Cleaver, and Little Tahoma Peak. The undercast clouds magnified the position and we were sufficiently in awe of the crevasses to pull out the rope.

 

This proved to be a deterrent to speed, not only because of the weight, but more so because of the hassle of adjusting pace and dealing with slack through switchbacks and over slight changes in pitch. The skis came off a couple more times through rocky sections while ascending the Cleaver and then the ski crampons came out once the slushy snow gave way to a bulletproof mix of snow and ice. The sun was strong, but I was fearful that a moderate breeze would prevent any significant softening. I was worried about the descent under the pressure of the clock.

 

We stopped a couple more times above the DC. Once was to put on my Ferossi jacket as from Camp Muir to well above the Cleaver, I was in a T-shirt. We also found that booting felt easier, at least subjectively, on the upper reaches. This allowed us to stay in the well worn and marked track, eliminating any of the cognitive aspects of glacial travel. Our only focus was moving onward and upward.

 

Initially, we thought the altitude would give us fits, coming from Utah where we rarely exceed 11,000 feet. This concern was especially poignant given Jason's only other experience on Mount Rainier two years ago when he essentially came straight from sea level (Indiana) to 14K where he moved more slowly than I have ever seen him move in the mountains. This time however, we remained relatively impervious to the moderately high altitude. Sure we moved more slowly than lower on the mountain, but our cadence was acceptable and we began to catch and pass the parties that had started long long before.

 

Suddenly, we crested the crater rim and could see the true summit rising slightly on the other side. We ditched the rope and packs and nearly ran across the crater on skis. Another race transition ensued but we used a minute or two for some obligatory summit shots. The watch read 3:54.

 

Then it was a bone jarring descent across the crater to pick up our gear before side stepping up the rim to find over 9000 feet of insanely beautiful terrain between our skis. We tried to safely rally the bullet upper mountain by following the up track and looking for the smoothest, least wind affected surfaces to negotiate on our race skis. Maybe 1000 feet off the summit, the sun was doing its job and the snow was becoming edgeable.

 

Soon we were back on the Cleaver where we found perfect corn. We skied this section relatively fast and then transitioned to skins on for the short rising traverse back to the Ingraham Flats campground. A couple parties of mountaineers cheered us on and provided great motivation as we came off the Cleaver. Then, a couple skis on/skis off transitions got us through the rocks and back to the Cowlitz, which we straight-lined to Camp Muir.

 

At this point, the overall record was out of reach but we could still feel sub 5 hours. The Muir Snowfield is long and gentle but we would have to deal with near isothermic snow, poor visibility as we descended into the clouds, and the numerous patches of rocky trail that would require multiple transitions.

 

Without concern, we made sweeping GS turns past the rising zombie like mountaineer figures that were appearing last minute in the clouds. We followed the wands along familiar terrain. After the fourth or fifth transition through the rocks, I knew we were nearly home. We had come to Rainier with little hope for success and were going to steal a fast time and set what we believed to be the skiing standard for the mountain.

 

Then I made a wrong turn. The terrain became unfamiliar in the disorienting fog. There were no more wands. No more zombie like mountaineers. We continued on. Gravity would take us to Paradise and our "record". Jason checked his watch and by the elevation, we should be standing in the parking lot, gloating at our success. The elapsed time was 4:53. I skied into a gully that cliffed out. I followed Jason up a small rise that also cliffed out. We decided to split up and would hopefully meet back at the car.

 

I reversed direction and went what I assumed was farther west. I totally gassed myself sprinting up another rise to try and get a view. What I saw was alarming. A huge glacial basin was below me and I felt as if I were standing on the edge of the world. I turned back.

 

Finding Jason's tracks heading into the trees, I hunted him, hoping to find Paradise. He had climbed, traversing east to a small saddle. My heart sank as I saw his tracks drop to the west and towards the gigantic basin I had just avoided. Left without a choice, I followed through rocky debris and dirty snow until the game was over.

 

5 hours, 0 minutes, and 57 seconds had elapsed and we had climbed Mount Rainier from Paradise and skied it to what we would later find out was the Nisqually River, some five hundred feet below Paradise. We were going to claim this as a speed record for climbing and skiing Rainier but since the route isn't likely repeatable, we'll call it a speed run. And, even though we could debate times and route, it's all moot since this time is soft and we think we have identified a few ways to go perhaps 30 minutes faster.

 

Regardless of how badly we botched up the finish, we had fun and felt surprisingly strong throughout the whole day in spite of not having skied in the last month and a half. We learned a lot and will definitely be back to push the ship out a little farther and see how fast we can go on this iconic peak.

 

Thoughts on how to go faster:

1. Conditions matter - The snow on the lower reaches was near isothermic after multiple days without a good freeze and the coverage was poor enough to require multiple (7-8) skis off transitions. This makes a difference as far as effort is concerned on the up but on the down it cost more. (10+ minutes?)

 

2. Cut the margin of safety - We chose to go fully equipped with both avy gear (rangers had given warnings of moderate to high danger earlier in the week), and glacier travel gear. While I don't advocate this for anyone and it's a personal choice, we could have left it all behind given the conditions we found that day and the nature of a trade route like the DC with its heavy traffic and marked path. (10 minutes minimum both for weight and eliminating rope management?)

 

3. Weather matters - Similar to snow conditions, sunny weather allows for faster descents and eliminates our propensity for stupid mistakes like getting lost within a mile of Paradise. (10 minutes?)

 

4. Fitness/Sport specificity matters - While I feel that we both had pretty good days, not having been on snow for over a month and a half led to increased muscular fatigue given the different biomechanics. This one was all off of strength for me as I've been putting in longer days but have lacked intensity. (5 minutes?)

 

5. Route familiarity matters - Knowing where to go and having a sense for check points along the way makes a long effort psychologically easier (??)

 

Gear Used:

1. Race skis, bindings and boots by Trab, Dynafit, and La Sportiva

2. Outdoor Research Ferossi Pants/Hoody, and Stormtracker gloves

3. Black Diamond Whippets

4. CAMP Speed Helmet/Packs, CAMP Crampons (Jason only)

 

Final Notes:

1. We are going to call the official time 5:00:57 even though this took us far beyond and below Paradise. Others can follow and end up in the Nisqually River but this isn't recommended. Future speed attempts will likely start and end at Paradise.

 

2. Running through rocks in carbon boots is a bad idea.

 

3. Earlier in the season is the time to go...

 

4. Sub 48 hours door to door from SLC is funny to us. I used to think that if I only had 24 hours I could run up to the Tetons and climb something cool on the Grand or elsewhere. Now I have a new measuring stick if I only have 48 hours.

 

5. Mount Rainier is HUGE and we would never play this speed game on any of the other routes without full safety gear.

 

6. I believe that in the future the speed record for climbing and skiing Rainier will be pushed under 4 hours. It won't be by me but that is fully possible.

 

7. I also believe the standard mountaineering speed record could be dropped well under 4:40. Again, this won't be by me since I don't like moving fast down snow unless I have skis on. Perhaps Jared Campbell should give it a try since he doesn't seem to care about risking life or limb glissading?

 

8. Skiing is so fast and efficient it's beautiful. The equipment is getting better and better and the things that we collectively can do are limited only by our imaginations. For anyone out there that would like to get started, get faster, ask for tips, share tips, or make suggestions, feel free to contact me, Jason at jasondorais.blogspot.com, or Jared at slc-samurai.blogspot.com as we would all like to progress and help others along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by andy dorais

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Cue the skeptical haters . . . 3, 2, 1. Oh wait - too late.

 

Nice work on your climb.

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Pretty cool. So if I'm reading your TR right the 4:40 time was on foot all the way to and from the summit? Is that sort of trend true for stuff on the Grand or some of the SLC stuff you guys do? And keep the spray out of TRs, I'd sure rather read about something like this than non climbing stuff. Thanks for posting it up.

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Thanks to all those for the positive remarks. For the haters, I'm just reporting the news. Although we have talked about it and are not going to claim anything as a record as we screwed up the finish in a moment of stupidity and our route isn't able to be standardized.

 

Rainier is such a cool mountain. We are just psyched to have been able to ski it and have a break in the weather. Sitting here in SLC in 98 degree desert heat I wish I were back there...

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I can appreciate the 3000 ft/hr ascent rate and it sounds like you guys are great skiers. I think you dodged more bullets than you realized on the trip.

 

You got lucky with the conditions, coming from out of state.

 

There are a ton of local people on this site who have seen "12 hour" car-to-car conditions on Rainier, as well as "48 hour" Paradise-to-Pebble-Creek conditions.

 

The fact that you totally missed Paradise and ended up down on the Nisqually (the bridge?) is understandable-yet-disconcerting.

 

I would not be bragging about a "speed record", under these circumstances. I think it's a good trip report, but needs a little more humility.

 

 

Edited by Stinkydog

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Hey Stinkydog,

 

We totally got lucky with the weather opening up last second as we climbed to Muir. We really thought we would be driving up, skiing the snowfield, and then driving home. I still can't believe the cloud deck lowered and gave us a great morning. Part of the problem is that we both work some bad hours and when we get a day or two off we have to at least go check things out.

 

Ending up at the bridge was a dumb mistake but by that point and by the route we took, I don't think we were exposed to objective hazard or could have gotten in too much trouble. I made the wrong turn (or actually didn't turn to follow the correct route) within a mile of Paradise and by that time we were following trees and rock outcrops. Stupid.

 

As far as "bragging" about a speed record, I edited my TR to call it a speed run as again, our route will never be standardized and future speed attempts/records for this route with start and end at Paradise. My predictions above are based on the fact that there are a lot of people way way faster than me out there.

 

I know it's a distasteful game for some but it's really fun to us and I guess that's the main reason we play in the mountains. One of the reasons I write about these type of days is that I'm an advocate for the "light is right" mentality, especially on skis. It's not for everyone, but perhaps some might find rando racing or enjoy going farther or faster than they thought they could by finding the right gear.

 

Thanks for weighing in.

 

AD

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3,000 vertical feet in an hour - nice. I only have on of those in me. Sounds like you have transitions wired. Wether you have a record - who cares. Did you have fun? Did you challenge yourself? Check and check.

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In my humble opinion, these mountains are to be treated with a god-like respect, where any summit should be viewed as a gift, and any failure to summit should be treated the same (the gift being your life in this case). The moment you take this for granted, and start treating it as sport, adding trophy variables like speed records etc, is the when I feel the mountain is most likely to revoke your priveleges and teach you a one-time lesson. I can tell you aren't someone that needs this lecture, but I hope in your journeys you retain that humility that can be lost when you have so much success in the mountains.

And congrats on surviving, because in my opinion that is the most amazing thing about your trip.

Edited by Sanchez

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WTF?!?! tough crowd around here I guess. Sweet trip and very impressive, especially since you carried safety gear and chose to rope up. I'm on the fence about whether coming from out of state makes something like this more difficult. Sometimes it's nice to be ignorant of "the normal way we do it around here" mentality. Hell of a trip boys!

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WTF?!?! tough crowd around here I guess.

 

Agreed. I read no arrogance this this TR.

 

Glad to know you guys are not dead. Getting lost in the mountains can be scary.

 

 

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I disagree with the connection that convention=respect

 

Respecting the mountains is about knowledge that they are bigger than you and your experience alone. I don’t think that going fast or light or in a smash and grab style is disrespectful if you are knowledgeable regarding the decisions you are making, as I would suspect (from cruising their blogs) that these guys are.

 

 

I admire what these guys are doing out in the Wasatch and appreciate them bringing their efforts to push boundaries and advance mountaineering here.

 

 

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Hats off!!

 

I did not read one line of disrespect here. They actually made an attempt and wanted to be safe about it - it's right there in the TR, you just have to read between the lines ;)

 

You totally have this one in the bag next time.

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While probably not qualified to offer an opinion, I know how both sides feel about this. I've done some speed stuff, mainly solo. I've broadcasted some of the more entertaining of those here, but have remained silent on many other, more personal trips, impressive to the outside or not. Just remember getting off the couch is half the battle. Just getting into the mountains, considering speed or not, is a worthy endeavor. I think speed gets in the way of really enjoying the moment but that's just how some of us are wired. We love goals, ect. Whether the juxtaposition of media and climbing is good is still to be seen. I'm just waiting for a death to be captured and broadcasted out to the real world. (not that I want that to happen). It will take something like that for us realize that we do play a very dangerous game when pushing limits for personal recognition, fame, or affirmation.

These were my thoughts. Back to researching for my thesis.

 

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Nice Andy!

 

1:34 to Muir and not having been on the mtn much is rock'in. As is the time to the summit and back.

 

There are many much better routes to run up and down in skis. Nice to see you high light the game here!

 

Not sure what all the prattle is about. Might simply be a zombie thing. Pays not to piss them off as you run by in a T-shirt ;-)

 

 

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Though speed climbing is not my thing, the fitness required to pull of a RT time like that is truly astounding. Very impressive, especially considering you carried all the typical safety gear and roped up for sections! Maybe everyone would have been happy if you had roped up, AND slowed down.

 

 

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"We did not cut corners and brought the following items:"

i couldnt' even think of going up rainier with sooo little! Perhaps that's because Ive been up there before, and saw the weather come in very fast, unexpected, and that changed everything!!! (a white out for 2 days once) If that would have happened to you above Muir, and you took a wrong 'corner', or turn, with so little gear, wow! Perhaps that is what the others are 'bent up' about.

I feel we should be able to do what we want in the mountains, (as long as it doesn't affect someone else) ... including die! It s just that, that is a park, so dieing there takes on a whole new meaning, as to search and rescue!

THAT SAID.... WOW! what a amazing trip you pulled off. That is REALLY BEING IN SHAPE!! I couldn't even imagine skiing down from the top, to the cleaver!!! ( ive only climbed rainer in winter, as i found the 'summer' crowds are just to much for me)

 

I still feel one of the most amazing feats in the north west, was the 24hr accent of north peak of 3 fingers, from the north!!! That is true mountain climbing, starting from the valley floor, ( not driving 1/2 way up the mountain) and true route finding! Even their decent was an amazing feat!!!

 

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Thoughts on how to go faster:

1. Conditions matter - The snow on the lower reaches was near isothermic after multiple days without a good freeze and the coverage was poor enough to require multiple (7-8) skis off transitions. This makes a difference as far as effort is concerned on the up but on the down it cost more. (10+ minutes?)

 

2. Cut the margin of safety - We chose to go fully equipped with both avy gear (rangers had given warnings of moderate to high danger earlier in the week), and glacier travel gear. While I don't advocate this for anyone and it's a personal choice, we could have left it all behind given the conditions we found that day and the nature of a trade route like the DC with its heavy traffic and marked path. (10 minutes minimum both for weight and eliminating rope management?)

 

3. Weather matters - Similar to snow conditions, sunny weather allows for faster descents and eliminates our propensity for stupid mistakes like getting lost within a mile of Paradise. (10 minutes?)

 

4. Fitness/Sport specificity matters - While I feel that we both had pretty good days, not having been on snow for over a month and a half led to increased muscular fatigue given the different biomechanics. This one was all off of strength for me as I've been putting in longer days but have lacked intensity. (5 minutes?)

 

5. Route familiarity matters - Knowing where to go and having a sense for check points along the way makes a long effort psychologically easier (??)

 

 

6. Skin-tight Euro rando race unitard.

 

Seriously though, noce job. 5 hours is blazing, especially for never climbing or skiing Rainier before. Hopefully, you'll be able to come back and ski some more interesting routes on it though.

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Thanks for posting up about your trip. Sounds like a great time. I've spent the last few years booting or slow shoeing up the cascade volcanoes and then, at best, sliding part of the way down on my ass. Based on my previous experiences, your time up and down would have seemed impossibly fast and I'd have said you were lying, crazy, dangerous or some combination of the three.

 

This year I learned how to ski (kinda) and my view of what's possible on a volcano has completely changed. Although I'll never be making speed attempts on RainyR I can appreciate those that are out there pushing boundaries and redefining the "normal".

 

Nice job and ignore the haters!

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Super! Nothing unsafe about moving fast, if the weather comes in you ski down real fast without too much fuss. Sounds fun to me. Walking uphill for a few days with heavy packs, not so much fun.

 

-Nate

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