What'd you do on summer vacation? Oh, just scaled Washington's 100 highest peaks
One of the premier peak bagging objectives in the Pacific Northwest is to scale the 100 highest mountains in Washington state. That challenge is called the Bulger List. Two years ago, an Oregon man became the first to conquer all 100 peaks in a single season. Just in the past few days, a duo from Ellensburg, Washington, repeated the feat — not quite as fast, but with an extra-hard twist.
Around a year ago, Ellensburg High School science teacher and running coach Jeff Hashimoto hatched the idea for an epic summer vacation. He took a mountaineering challenge that few people have ever done and made it even more difficult. Instead of driving a car into the Cascade Mountains, he would bike to the trailheads, climb the nearby summits, return and bike to the next place until he attained the hundred highest peaks in Washington.
"I love the mountains. I’ve traveled around the world to go to mountains," Hashimoto explained. "It has a huge carbon footprint. I wanted to have a cool adventure that leaves no trace in the atmosphere."
One of Hashimoto's former student-athletes, who is also a neighbor and family friend, heard about the Human Powered Hundred Peaks project early on. Langdon Ernest-Beck, 23, was smitten by the idea and trained until Hashimoto, 52, consented to make it a team effort. On Aug. 18 — day 70 of the quest — they reached the final summit.
"We’re on the summit of Mount Adams, peak 100!" exulted Ernest-Beck on camera, temporarily concealing the accumulated tiredness.
"Get ready for that big hug," Hashimoto responded, before adding a weary apology. "There’s going to be a better one, but that’s alright."
Adams (12,276 feet) is one of five snow-capped volcanoes on the Bulger List. Mount Rainier is the highest (14,411 feet). Crags and pinnacles in the 8,300 to 9,500-foot range in the central and northern Washington Cascades fill out the list.
The views are so nice, home videos more than once showed the grown men bursting into song. On top of Mount Adams, Hashimoto appropriately enough channeled one of pop star Bryan Adams' greatest hits, with updated lyrics.
"Climbed more until my legs were dead... was the summer of ‘23," Hashimoto warbled. "Oh, if I had a choice, I wished that it would last forever."
Before setting out, Hashimoto and Ernest-Beck consulted the first person who finished the hundred peaks list in a single season — minus the biking part. That would be Bonanza, Oregon, elementary school physical education teacher Jason Hardrath. He's an experienced endurance athlete who said what makes the Bulger List especially taxing are the long approaches, bushwhacking, glacier travel and steep scrambles on loose rock. There are also some technical ascents and, occasionally, orienteering in fog.
"The Bulgers by and large, if you're super generous with your definition of a trail, four of them have a trail to the top," Hardrath said. "Most people say two of them have a trail to the top."
Windy Peak, Remmel Mountain, Mount St. Helens and Little Annapurna fall in this category.
Hardrath offered lots of advice on logistics and how to mitigate risks. So many things can go wrong ranging from bad weather, falling, illness, surly bears and mountain goats, to gear failure, wildfire closures and simple exhaustion.
"It's really difficult to convey just the level of fatigue you have to be willing to endure," Hardrath said. "How do you do it? First and foremost, it’s pacing."
"Pacing, pacing, pacing," Hardrath preached.
Still, the schedule sometimes calls for scaling four or five summits per day to finish in one season and to stay ahead of inevitable wildfires. The Ellensburg team were soaked by the same thunderstorm that started the Sourdough Fire in the North Cascades on July 29. By this point they'd become a trio, having met up with Hashimoto's adult son, and fortunately they'd all moved along by the time that wildfire blew up and forced the closing of the North Cascades Highway, which provides access to many Bulger List approach trails.
"I think I've surpassed what I thought my physical limits were," Ernest-Beck said between gulps of a beefy burger and milkshake at a rest stop. "There's been lots of exhaustion. I’ve fallen asleep while riding my bike countless times. Never fallen off, but have come close. I've done lots of swerving."
The choice to swear off fossil-fueled car and ferry travel led to some monster days. During the quest's final week, Hashimoto and Ernest-Beck described leaving a motel in Chehalis in the morning on their mountain bikes, bound for Mount St. Helens. The shortcut they had in mind did not pan out though, resulting in a circuitous 125-mile bike ride to the trailhead. At that point, postponing the climb to the crater rim was not an option. Permits to climb the volcano are issued in advance for a specific date. There was no time to rest. Instead, the trio climbed and descended from St. Helens in the dark.
Why punish yourself like that? One reason these guys gave was to experience the alpine high country before global warming changes it even more. Ernest-Beck recorded his reaction to the retreat in snow and ice on the approach to Glacier Peak earlier this summer.
"According to our map, this entire basin including what we’re walking on here should be a relatively flat glacier," Ernest-Beck observed from a rocky hillside looking down on a lake where a glacier used to be. "Yeah, kinda sad."
"The glaciers are shrinking. So, when you step off of ice onto rock, that rock has not seen the sky in a million years or more," Hashimoto added later. "It's crazy to see the changes firsthand."
Hashimoto's son Uhuru joined his father and Ernest-Beck for the majority of the trek and had a realization near the end.
"My takeaway is, holy crap, go see the glaciers before there is nothing left and appreciate them," Uhuru said.
Mountaineering challenges evolve
Hardrath says he enjoys watching the evolution of trail running and mountaineering challenges. He said the confluence of technology and rapid information sharing makes mixed adventure/endurance projects of this kind more achievable. He specifically mentioned the ease of sharing GPS waypoints, getting up-to-date advice on the condition of climbing routes and the posting of new treks that others can tackle. While rare, he said he has seen the self-propelled commute to the trailhead tacked on as a variation on speed hiking attempts in Colorado's mountains and the European Alps before.
"I was actually asked, when I announced I was attempting to be the first to climb the Bulgers in a season, if I would do it 'human-powered,'" Hardrath recalled. "I responded in that moment, 'No, that's not mine to do. I just need to show that this can be done. And then someone will come. That will be for them.'"
"I never expected it to be so soon. I am so excited for them," Hardrath said, referring to the Ellensburg biker-climbers.
Websites where mountaineers post routes and submit potential record setting times (aka FKTs) classify the achievements into supported, self-supported and unsupported categories. The style differences pertain to whether the adventurers carry all their own supplies from the start (unsupported), or receive external support along the way from friends or family, or only resupply along the way from sources that are equally available to all (self-supported). Hashimoto and Ernest-Beck described their approach to their quest as self-supported.
It’s been a busy summer in the Northwest for adventure athletes. Pierce County ultramarathoner Van Phan, 52, finished the 100th 100-mile race of her career at the Hamster Endurance Run near Bellingham on Aug. 13. That earned Phan a profile in the Tacoma News Tribune. Meanwhile in July, Snohomish County father Eric Eames scaled Needle Peak (7,880 feet) and Lyall Ridge (7,760 feet) to complete the conquest of the 300 highest peaks in Washington state. The Seattle Times featured details of that accomplishment, which took Eames 17 years.
Before tackling the Bulger 100 List in 2021, Hardrath posted numerous other fastest known times for analogous challenges, such as summiting Oregon's five highest peaks in one push. Oregon's Five Highest starts with climbing all three of the Three Sisters, then trail running to Mount Jefferson and then onward to the top of Mount Hood. Still on Hardrath’s to-do list is the Eagle's 33 Challenge, which entails summiting all 33 peaks over 9,000 feet tall in northeast Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness.
Hardrath spoke from Wyoming where he was visiting acquaintances and recovering from setting a new record time for the Rocky Mountains Grand Slam. That route entails climbing the major peaks of the U.S. Northern Rockies – the Colorado 14ers, Wyoming 13ers and Montana 12ers – in one push. Hardrath summited 122 peaks in 39 days and 23 hours. He had assistance with logistics and driving from a support team.
The Bulger List dates to the late 1970s
Around 90 people are known to have completed the Bulger List since it was drawn up in the 1970’s by an informal climbing clique from Western Washington. According to a history essay posted online by Bruce Gibbs, the Bulger name derives from the mispronunciation of the word Bludger in a bawdy Australian poem as recited by one of the originators of the mountaineering challenge.
There is another version of the 100 highest peaks list that adheres to a stricter rule for "clean prominence" of peaks for inclusion. A few of the Bulger summits were stricken and other peaks added to this list by virtue of having or lacking at least 400 feet of prominence and separation from surrounding terrain and peaks. The newer list, the Washington Top 100, incorporates more accurate, modern measurements of some peak elevations resulting in a slightly different order to Washington's highest summits. But the unchanged, historic Bulger List remains the more popular standard for Northwest peak baggers to aspire to, judging from records kept by the outdoor sports website Fastest Known Time.
Hashimoto and Ernest-Beck are the third and fourth climbers to complete the historic Bulger List in a single season, according to tracking by a committee of previous Bulger finishers. A mountaineer from Spokane, Nathan Longhurst, was the second one to do it in one season and also holds the record as the youngest finisher of the Bulger List. Longhurst was 21 years old at the time two summers ago. Hardrath and Longhurst climbed together for a good portion of the 2021 summer season.
Longhurst took 94 days to finish the challenge. This summer, Hashimoto and Ernest-Beck had company climbing one group of Bulger peaks from Andrew Okerlund who is also methodically checking off summits to accomplish the 100 highest list in one season, in his case from mid-June to the end of August. Hardrath's fastest known time of 50 days and 23 hours to complete the Washington Bulgers with the help of a support team is safe.
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