A couple weeks ago I climbed Mount Hood via the South Side route to try and see how fast I could climb the route. To my surprise I came within 6 minutes of the official foot summit record! Once down I realized that I didn’t give it my all, and there is a good chance Id be able to climb the route faster. After a few weeks of climbing other mountains, I decided to give the speed record a go. I figured that having spent a month climbing above 10,000 feet 1 to 2 times a week probably had me in good aerobic shape. I had also spent the last couple weeks perfecting my fast and light concept using a Salomon trail running vest to carry my mountaineering axe and crampons along with my hydration, clothes and food.
A few days before my trip I asked a mountaineering group on Facebook if anyone had first hand knowledge or photos of the route from the last couple days. A few people responded with very helpful information and photos that helped me understand that the conditions were significantly different than when I was up there two weeks earlier. I also received one of the “you might die” posts telling me not to climb the pearly gates. This is exactly why I usually keep to myself and not ask other peoples advice and why I specifically only asked for recent first hand experience. This post really bothered me and had me thinking really hard about my plan. In the end I decided to stick with my plan and make a split second decision on route as to whether I was going to do the Pearly Gates or the Old Chute. The Pearly Gates is faster and more direct to the summit with potential for rock fall, and the Old Chute is slower with more opportunity to dodge rocks and falling people. All of the previous speed records have used the Pearly Gates.
On summit day I woke up around 3:15 skipped breakfast and started up the mountain at 4:06 am. I started off on a maintenance road that was decent gravel with not too much volcanic sand. Then maybe half way to the Silcox Hut I moved onto a foot path that was a little slower going. Eventually I made it onto some snow and put on my micro spikes. It was my first time ever using micro spikes and I was loving them! I made it to the top of the ski are in 00:50’35. I was hoping for 45 minutes, but I was just going to have to deal with it!
About 20 minutes before the Devils Kitchen I passed my first climber. He was on his way down. While continuing to move I asked him how it went and if he had seen any rock fall. He had not summited as he felt it was too steep for him and he said that he had seen some rock fall on the right. After this interaction I realized I had been able to carry on a conversation and continue moving! this was exciting because that last two time on hood I had not been able to converse well moving and even struggled to drink. My time at altitude was helping!
When I got to the Devils Kitchen there were two parties, one two person party and a three person party roping up. There was also a party or two in the Old Chute. I asked the party of three if they had heard and seen any rock fall. The responded saying that they had only seen rock fall on the cliffs to the right and that they saw no rock fall on the Pearly Gates. This was decision time! I only had a few minutes before I was going to have to make my choice. As I moved up to the Hogsback I watched the Pearly Gates intently and paid attention to the hardness of the snow.
At the Hogsback I tightened my shoes, put my crampons on and left behind my trekking pole and microspikes. I had decided upon the Pearly Gates. I had seen no rock fall, the snow was still very firm and it was before sunsrise! I made my way up to the Bergschrund, traversed under it and then climbed in and around some small crevasses that will eventually connect to the bergschrund. I accessed the snow slope above the Bergschrund and used a combination of walking and front pointing using my mountaineering axe and whippet. Once out of the Pearly Gates I still had another 50 feet or so of open slope to ascend towards the summit. The whole time on this slope I was looking up at the bare rock on the summit thinking about how I didn’t want to walk on the rocks with my aluminum crampons, but I realized that I just needed to do it since it was a speed ascent.
I stepped onto the summit after 2:51’51. I beat the official foot record! I took a few photos on top and then started descending the Pearly Gates. Once out of the gates and under the Bergschrund I was able to run across the snow slope down towards my equipment on the Hogsback. The snow was perfect and my crampons were gripping beautifully. I put took my crampons off and replaced them with microspikes and continued on my way down. At the Devils Kitchen I saw the party of two from earlier and asked them to take a picture of me and then continued running down. On the way down I was able to link more snow fields and spend a little less time on the hiking trails. I made it to the parking lot with a round trip time of 2:55’09 beating the previous foot record of 3:07’45!
The conditions I had for my speed ascent were quite bad. I think that the route was significantly slower than it had been a few weeks earlier when it was completely covered in snow and the Bergschrund was not an issue. I think that the current and old foot records are quite slow for good conditions. In good conditions someone should be able to easily make the summit in 1:30 and round trip from the Timberline Parking lot in less than 2:20 on foot. The current fastest legal means time is 1:44′ held by Jason Dorias on skis.
As far as official and unofficial times, I am not a fan of official times. There is basically only one person in the PNW doing official times. Every round trip speed record on Rainier has been unofficial. With GPS watches and GPS enabled cameras, I don’t think we currently need officials to vouch for times. Maybe this will change, but I hope not.
My GPS track is located here: http://www.movescount.com/moves/move166832808