Let’s start off with the numbers. By my best accounts (GPSs are never 100% truthful):
247 Miles. 74,000 feet of elevation gain. Six and a half days (156 hours). Actual moving time was 108 hours. That means I had 48 hours total within this project of time I was not moving for things like sleep, self care, eating food, packing/unpacking, and transport between mountains.
What a hell of a project. With a goal of seven days, I completed Dick’s RASH of summitting and circumnavigating the four iconic Pacific Northwest Cascade volcanoes, Mount Rainier, Adams, Saint Helens, and Hood, with no major hiccups. But with PLENTY of smaller to midsize hiccups along the way.
One of the most incredible experiences I’ve had was climbing Rainier, solo, in a full moonlight, to start the RASH off. I started at midnight from Reflection Lake, and did not even use my headlamp on the entire climb. There were a few small crevasses with ladders and fixed ropes over them I did not have much trouble with; and never needed to use my rope or picket I had with to set anchors to safely cross a crevasse. After so many Rainier summits, it was such a freeing experience to ascend that beauty with no ropes. I was riding high the entire climb, especially on the way down when I glissaded for a couple thousand feet back to Paradise, finishing in under 12 hours for 23 miles and 10,500′.
I aimed to sleep some between the summit and The Wonderland, but with the afternoon heat, the bugs, and the traffic, that was out of the question. I made good time on the first 15 miles of the Wonderland, before I started to slow way down. It was a cold first night out there, climbing up and over Panhandle Gap, with a bright moon to guide me. No real sleep, just small catnaps here or there until I got chilled enough to wake up. In the afternoon of Day 2, I still couldn’t sleep because of the bugs and heat again. I knew I was going deeper and deeper into a sleep hole, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Spirits were still high, despite starting to slow down and developing a horrible sore throat and cough. Day 3, around 4am, I huddle down with my bivy bag for an hour of sleep and start to feel a few sprinkles. I wake at 5am completely soaked. Out of nowhere, a rainstorm had enveloped me. I go into “situation mode” and start beating feet for the finish, still 20 miles away. Climbing high on exposed ridgelines with running shorts, a gortex shell, and one glove, it was close to becoming hypothermia if I were to stop moving. Morally, I was done. How could I continue in weather like this, already with a sore throat? “Just keep moving”, I told myself. You never know what will happen. After many hours, I finally made it to the van, hopefully the worst behind me, in 43 hours for 93 miles and 24,000′. I was in horrible shape and sure I wouldn’t be able to finish, but I couldn’t come up with an excuse to quit. I could still walk, the sore throat was bad but I could still eat, and I had no idea if weather was going to be bad or good the rest of the week. Well, got to try at least, right?
My friend Brody Welch met up with me to help crew and shuttle me to the next mountain, Adams. I started feeling better after some rest, and a few hours of sleep, and was thankfully to see a cloudless day. Adams is a great non technical climb, and it showed for it, with hundreds and hundreds of other climbers on the route. After a tired summit snack and a fantastic glissade down the mountain, I refueled/refitted at the Around the Mountain intersection and started on the loop. My girlfriend Maudie actually happened to be there to climb Adams, and we were able to cross paths for a bit, which was an outstanding pick me up. Next up, the infamous Adams bushwhack! The eastside of the mountain has a nine mile missing segment where there virtually is no trail. This time I decided to take a high route. It involved a bit of glacier crossing, and as it turns out, some serious volcanic choss scrambling. While it took me probably about the same amount of time as taking a lower tree filled route, it was much easier since it did not involve nearly as much elevation loss/gain and distance traveled. Back on the trail, I was disappointed to see how much I had left of the loop I still had to go. The end never seemed to come, and I finally finished hours after i intended to, in 18:30 hours for 44 miles and 13,000′ gain.
After some navigational issues with driving Forest Service back roads with no cell signal, I got a little later start on Helens than I intended. The Loowit Trail was my first backcountry solo run, and has always held a special place in my heart. It’s impossible for me not to have a good time on the trail, and this day was no different. The last time I was on the trail was when I ran it with Candice Burt, and we brainstormed what would eventually become the Bigfoot 200, which I’ll soon be running! Fantastic weather, even better views, and I felt good the entire time. I intersected the climbing route just after dusk, and took the route by storm in the dark. I’ve never been to the true summit in the darkness, and it took me by surprise how tough the traverse along the ridgeline is, especially in the dark. My headlamp was giving me some problems with a connection shorting out, and I almost got benighted on the summit, until I was able to get it working again! There was no way I would have been able to work my way down that route with all the rock scrambling with no light. I made it back to the van in 14 hours, with 38 miles and 11,000′ gain.
One left, but boy, is it a monster. After five days and almost 60,000′ of gain so far, I was just wore down. On the drive down I-5 to Hood, I cried. Just bawled. About nothing, about everything. It was the first time in days I was stationary and didn’t have anything else to think about. All of the emotions from the previous three mountains flooded over me, all the positives and all the negatives. And to think I was only one mountain away from being done. So close…
Just like waves in an ocean, if you have a crest, you have to have a trough. After my crest on Helens, my trough came on the Timberline Trail around Hood. I never seemed to really get my mojo back, but I was able to slowly keep moving forward, and that’s all that mattered. Going CW, the Timberline Trail is one long hill for many many miles, with some good downhill at the beginning and the end. The Eliot crossing was nothing to worry about at all, and in fact, I never got my feet wet ONCE from any river crossing on ANY of the four mountains. I was always able to find a way to cross on logs/rocks. After a sunset that made me cry again, I finally crawled in to my van far past my estimated time, with over 14 hours for 41 miles and 10,000′ gain.
I slept for three hours, and started off on the last effort, the last push, summitting Mount Hood. This one was different. I wore ski boots and carried skis on my back. I was determined to make this one fun. I knew I hadn’t enough enough after the Timberline, as none of my food supplies I had appetized me anymore. Only 5,400′ gain, Hood’s summit should be the easiest of all the individual challenges in the RASH. But I could hardly move. I wasn’t sore; I never really got sore the entire trip. I just no energy. All my reserves were spent. I tried to do what I do best, and eat. Slowly, but surely, I made progress up Hood. It kept getting closer and closer. To the Hogsback, to the Old Chutes. Ice axe, crampon, crampon. To the summit ridge. I was crying again. It was so beautiful. I was at the summit.
Nothing more could be said. I descended. I skied some of the happiest turns of my life the entire way down to base. I could not stop smiling. It was over. 6 hours, 8 miles, and 5,400′ gain.
And then I went and destroyed a lunch buffet at Timberline. Pretty sure they lost money that day.
During the push, I kept comparing this to an effort I did a few years back, running RAGBRAI, a 416 mile bike tour crossing my home state of Iowa, in the full summer heat. My conclusion is that RAGBRAI was definitely more physically challenging, with so many miles of undulating small hills, the heat, and worst of all, running on pavement for every single 416 miles. However, the RASH I gave a much smaller probability of success. There are so many factors that went into the RASH that had to line up perfectly. There are really only two to three months in the year when it is even reasonable to attempt it. I needed to wait late enough for the trails to be snow free, but not too late for the climbing routes to be out of condition. While attempting the RASH, there needs to be a week of near perfect weather, as the “fast and light” approach really can only be done if weather is solid. With the four climbing routes, and the extreme backcountry nature of the circumnavigation trails, there is just a whole host of things that could go wrong and kill the project. Injuries are more likely, forgetting one item can turn critical, staying on top of navigation, etc. Running RAGBRAI was simply painfully running in a straight line and never stopping; where the RASH was a much more full and multifaceted experience.
I won’t give a detailed gear list of what I took for every climb, but there are two pieces of gear that I always had with me. I switched a lot of gear out for summits versus circumnavigations, but these two are the things that never left my side the entire trip. My Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z Poles, and my handheld water bottle. With the proliferation of clean streams in the PNW, I just had to reach down with my water bottle, fill up, and that was that. So quick and easy. I switched off between the Ultimate Direction Peter Bakwin and Fastpack 30 packs. The Arc’teryx Norvan gortex jacket was my go to layer and usually all I carried for extra clothes. Except for the Rainier and Hood climbs, I ran/climbed in my Altra Lone Peaks and Olympus. I had the Suunto Ambit 3 Peak GPS watch, with extra long battery life, to last me on the long hours. I’m totally a gear junkie, so thanks to these companies in particular for making some outstanding gear!