Jason Hardrath - Bulgers 100 Interview

Jason Hardrath - Bulgers 100 Interview

It's big, it's huge, it's scary. I will most likely fail. If one fire starts and fire season starts early, boom, game over. I could be on peak 99 out of 100 and if a fire starts on peak 100 then it is game over. I am keeping it healthily in mind that as poetic as it would be to have this as my 100th FKT, there is a distinct possibility that it might not go and I have to be willing to enter into the process of trying for it anyways.

It has been a while since I last talked with you Jason. It must have been back in early August that I talked with you about some of your infinity loop FKTs and what has been driving you to reach 100 FKTs. On the leaderboard of FKT.com you are sitting at #1 with 98 FKTs, around 27 more since last time we spoke. You are so close! Your Journey to 100 has been a nearly 3 year odyssey and I’m sure you’ve grown and changed during that period. Are there any particular routes or experiences from this journey that really stand out in your memory and that have affected you the most?

That’s a tough question because I feel that each FKT has served a different purpose in my experience and shaped what I hope to leave behind for others. The whole 100 coming together is what makes it magic. However, there are quite a few milestones that I can talk about. I have to say, I loved putting together the Crater Lake High Route. That route was really where I started to find my own footing in the world of FKTs and figure out what kind of routes I wanted to create. The first route that was a big undertaking that I was really inspired by was the Cascade Trifecta, which involves climbing Rainier, Adams, and Hood on the same day. Running the numbers, believing it was possible, doing it in a self-supported fashion (previous people had been supported) and managing to do it in under 20 hrs which allowed me to see sunrise on Rainier and sunset on Hood in the same day was really phenomenal. That experience springboarded me into the Rainier Infinity Loop which was a true breakthrough for me. I had never gone more than 100 miles in an ultra race and in those events you tend to have aid stations and support but for the Rainier Infinity Loop I was self-supported for 137 miles. The Loop involved summiting Rainier twice and completing a full circumnavigation of the mountain on the Wonderland Trail. Pushing into the second night of that effort was a complete experiment because I was going without sleep. It was a wild, wild push. I really had to dig deeper than ever before and find new levels of desire and dedication and tenacity. That effort set the stage for what I was willing to do for every effort going forward. I found that infinity loops were really my style and so in 2020 I did 3 in 3 weeks on 3 different mountains. 

Another aspect of this FKT journey that really stands out in my memory is finding a sense of fun in run+solo or run+canyoneering efforts. For example, the Tuolumne Triple Crown and routes in Red Rock Canyon were amazing. I really enjoyed being a part of the community in Red Rock by establishing some FKTs on local routes, seeing the FKT get taken by someone else, and then going back and retaking it. Rainbow Mountain via Rainbow Direct was one of those routes and it was really fun to work on. It is a hard scramble route where you have to actually rehearse and memorize the twists and turns if you want to be as efficient as possible. It's like a maze. I think at first there were some people who didn't like that I showed up to do FKTs there on their home turf but I believe I earned some respect by really learning the route and then crushing the time on it. 

In the process of chasing FKTs I’ve also fallen in love with canyoneering. I just really like that it is similar to a big maze and it becomes a challenge to find the best, most efficient way to move through canyons. Canyoneering has pushed me to grow as an athlete and an outdoorsman. Once I’m done with the Journey to 100 FKTs I’ll certainly still be chasing FKTs and I would love to do more canyoneering routes, especially some of the classic ones.

Let’s talk specifically about the Bulgers 100 because I’m sure people are really curious about what this route entails, I know I have a lot of questions. Could you give me a short summary of what the Bulgers 100 is? Where did the concept originate? What is the history and significance of the route?

Basically, the Bulgers list is a historic list. It was the first list established for the 100 tallest peaks in the state of Washington. There are specific criteria for peaks to be considered for the list  because they [the Bulgers] didn’t want certain sub peaks of volcanoes to count. They set a rule of 800ft prominence for a peak to be included for the express purpose of not treating Liberty Cap and Columbia Crest as separate peaks, but they still wanted to include Little Tahoma. The main criticism of the Bulgers List is that it eliminates Lincoln Peak, one of the hardest peaks to get to the top of in WA. From my understanding, the intention wasn’t to eliminate Lincoln. 

Why did you choose this route over others?

The goal of summiting 100 peaks in one effort for my 100th FKT seemed very poetic. Other factors that led to this specific route, include it being close to home, and it having a fastest known finishing time. I have to admit I was hesitant at first about choosing the Bulgers because I wasn’t sure if the community would appreciate such an effort. After interacting with Eric Gilbertson (fastest known finisher) and the cool community built up around the Bulgers List it felt right for me to pursue it. Eric’s record isn’t really comparable to what I’m trying to do because he was really limited by work and just trying to bag peaks when he could. It wasn’t a true ‘won’t go home till I finish every peak’ type of effort and that is what I’m bringing to this. I’m not some elite athlete but I’ve got this chunk of time in the summer since I’m a teacher, I have a ton of passion, and the skills to possibly get this done. Another thing I hope to accomplish with the Bulgers is to push it forward as an objective that people vye to complete in a single season. Historically, it is one of those long term objectives where people slowly tick off peaks over the course of years. Some people have asked me, ‘oh are you going to do it by bike’, well maybe someday but not this time. It would be cool to have it done human powered but that can be a challenge for someone else to set. I’m inspired by all the different iterations of linkups and the creativity in Colorado and I think Washington is ready for that. 

Eric Gilbertson’s time was 410d 20h 29m 0s. That’s a long time, but it’s also not that long for climbing 100 peaks, given changing seasons, conditions, fires, injuries, and all other potential obstacles. What is your timetable for the effort and how worried are you that this will take over a year?

I’m going to start on June 13th. There’s a possibility I could start on June 12th if I can get out early from the checkout process for school. If I can’t get out fast enough from that I will probably drive up and focus on getting a good night of sleep so I can get a fresh start on the 13th. My timeline for completing the effort, best case scenario, is around 40 days. That timeline is very unlikely given closures for fire, damage to roads, trails, inclement weather, etc. The Canadian border is still closed which adds a marathon of bushwhacking both ways to access the Chilliwacks. A more likely timeline is around 50 to 60 days. That timeframe is still doable for me and even gives me a buffer still because as a teacher I have 80 days off for the summer. I’m pretty confident in my timeframe estimates because Eric actually helped me to crunch the numbers. His belief in the timeframe gives me some more faith. The vast majority of the peaks I’ve never seen or climbed before so I am super thankful for help from others to help me build out maps, logistics, and timing.

The Bulgers 100 is really a monumental undertaking. With such a high number of peaks spread over such a distance, what is your strategy for tackling this? How have you designed your approach?

Some peaks are certainly very separated geographically but others are stacked together. You’ve got the Sawtooth slab, the Regan Ridge traverse, the Enchantments have all been done as a group. So anytime I've been able to do my research and find that someone has managed to link a group of peaks in an efficient way, that has become my desired path. I may spend some cold nights out by overestimating my own ability to move efficiently but it is worth it. On the biggest linkup days I may get as many as 9 or 10 peaks. On more frequent big days I’ll get 5 and 6 and then on some others just 3. But not every day will involve a linkup. Some days I will just bushwhack all day, sleep, then bag a peak the next day. My goal is to execute linkup days as effectively as possible so bushwhack days don't cost me as much in the long run.

What sections of the route or peaks in particular are most daunting to you and represent the biggest unknowns?

I’ve done some promo of my effort on my own channels and it’s been interesting to see some of the shade passed my way. Someone said ‘can’t wait till you drop out on Custer’. So I guess it will be hard then. I’m not too worried about it though. I don’t shy away from challenges. What I’m more worried about is the uncertainty in access to some peaks. Right now with the Canadian Border closed the Chilliwacks scare me because regardless of whether I take a boat up on Ross Lake and bushwhack for a day from the east side up a valley just to get to the first peak, I still have to go and tag 6 peaks. That group of 6 includes what is considered to be the hardest peak to climb, Hard Mox, which has 5.6 crumbly rock. That whole situation is kind of nerve wracking because you’re so far out there, you’ve done so much work to get there, you’re exerting yourself getting up the peaks, then you still have to get yourself all the way out. All of that really tightens the margins a lot on a clean execution. If I get bad weather it will make it really hard to bail out, and if I bail out it will be hard to get back in to finish tagging the peaks. Dome and Sinister are two other peaks I’m worried about since I’ve already heard about the fire closures. People were already telling me they were pretty scary and technical from the standard approach but now with the closures I have to approach them from a side that people don’t usually approach them from. That adds weight to my shoulders so to speak. There are some other big days, technical peaks, and bushwhacking but the big question marks for the ones above make them the most daunting.

Will you be self-supported or supported for this effort?

A lot of people have been part of my journey to 100 FKTs and I want to recognize them and allow people to join me in this effort. In the strictest sense if you are self-supported you can’t even ask other people you see about the weather, or even ask them about climbing conditions. It seemed ridiculous on a big 100 peak effort to not talk to anyone, let anyone come climb with me, share a meal or beer with me, or camp with me. It didn’t seem like the right way to do this 100th. A lot of people will join me at various stages and I’m hoping to have a friends and family vibe to close out a journey that has really defined the last few years of my life and that just feels right.

I imagine going self-supported on something like this, the isolation alone would be a big challenge.

I did the whole Rainier Infinity Loop and didn’t listen to music at all, didn’t listen to a podcast. I was in my head the whole time. 2 days 7 hrs alone. I love being out there alone but I don’t think I could do 50 days without talking to anyone.

What will you be bringing with you on this effort? It seems like you will need a bit of everything considering all the different types of terrain and conditions that you will encounter.

Gear is definitely specific to each peak. Some peaks have glacier travel, so glacier kit. Another reason to do this supported as well is the glacier travel element. No one is going to be able to join me for every single peak but I want them to join me so I can climb in a safe manner on glaciers. With the Bulgers community recently losing Jake Robinson in a crevasse accident it felt really disrespectful to even consider soloing all of the peaks, even though potentially I could. Especially when some of the people who helped me build out my maps and gave me micro beta with photos and their own trip reports, were friends with Jake and they openly shared the accident with me and what a weight it was on the community. I wouldn’t turn around and say ‘oh yeah I’m going to go out and solo on this terrain’.  So I’m definitely going to approach this in a more conservative manner than some of my prior efforts where I was just willing to run and free solo and do solo glacier travel like on Rainier. I will rope up on glaciers, will put rock pro in when available on loose, dangerous rock. To circle back around, it depends on what i'm going to be facing on any given day. Up to low 5th class I am fine with no pro. On days like that I will probably go with my trail runners whether its Dynafit 100s or if there's going to still be some snow on the trail or maybe some ice I will wear the La Sportiva Blizzards with microspikes built in. I will also carry along a set of aluminum crampons, ultralight ice axes, and Leki trekking poles. I really love the trigger lock system on the Leki poles because I can really whale on them without tiring out my hands from gripping. So if I am going to get on a scramble at the top of a climb after having charged up, it has been a game changer. On higher risk terrain I will play it more conservatively and go with a partner. The hardest climbing of the entire list is supposedly 5.8 on the Dorado needle. It is reportedly 5.8 after a chunk of rock came off, making a small section of climbing harder. But that isn’t really a concern. I will make gear calls when I am out in the field but show up prepared for anything.

How are you going to coordinate people joining up with you?

I just finished up my calendars. The best case version and the more conservative timeline. I will put those into a spreadsheet and share it with people so they can tell me which days they want to join me. I’ll color code it with ‘this is a peak where I need a partner’, ‘this is a peak where I welcome a partner’, and ‘this is a peak where I’m really going to be pushing myself hard so only show up if you’re willing to go hard too’.

Should people be on the lookout for anything else leading up to the start? Will you be providing updates during the effort? Can people track your progress?

People should be looking out for me to put out my live tracking link. I’m going to put that out publicly and will make my announcement on FKT.com pretty soon. My live tracking link will be on FKT.com and it should let you see where I am and what peaks I’ve done. If you’re interested, follow along! It’s at least something to do during the summer, sitting on your porch having a lemonade, you can look it up and go ‘I wonder what Jason is doing’, say ‘oh that looks terrible, glad I'm not there’.

Q’s from livechat:

What is your nutrition and recovery plan?

I am still establishing exact rules for myself. I will basically be following my usual plan while moving. I’ll have things I like to eat, like salami and cheese, maybe some sweet snacks like fig bars, but those foods are mainly for the psychological benefits because most of my calories will come from Tailwind or Gnarly Nutrition mixed in with my water. As far as afterwards, as soon as I get back to my van I will be drinking a protein shake ASAP, then go straight into eating a good quality, full meal within 2 hours. After eating I will quickly start resting or sleeping. I’m going to try to keep a really strict schedule with those things so that I will have a good routine for taking care of myself, and get ahead of the inevitable wear and tear. I will be doing the same with self care such as massage, active release, and stretching. When I feel something that needs to be addressed I will address it right then instead of putting it off.

Any peaks you’re not looking forward to climbing?

I don’t think there are any in particular that I'm not looking forward to climbing. People have told horror stories about Custer. People say you're going to hate it. I’m kind of a weird person. I don’t hate scree. When the suffering pours on I'm like oh yeah. When it turns all choss and scree I’m probably going to be having an ok time just because I'm weird like that. Especially when I’m above the treeline; I’m almost always having fun above the tree line. I’m fine being up in situations where I’m soloing 5th class terrain and I’m completely composed but what’s really going to be difficult for me is, put me in a bushwack with bugs and that’s when I can start to become unglued.Things that want to bite me that fly in the air, that’s my kryptonite. The possibility of being in a brutal, day long bushwhack with mosquitoes is what I dread. That’s where I’m really going to have to bear down mentally and march through the rain, march through the bugs.

What do your students and coworkers think about this project?

My students think this is pretty cool; they think their PE teacher is pretty awesome. My coworkers think I have a weird hobby. They say they appreciate how much passion I have for my hobby though.My aim is to put a smile on their [my students] faces and inspire them to believe that they can go do big things, whatever it is they’re interested in. I just tell them, I'm just a kid from a small town. Look here we are, you’re just a kid, this is just a small town. I’m out doing these crazy things I never even dreamed of, you probably can too. I hope to live out what I teach people. So I think by going out and doing these big ambitious goals that people are sometimes critical of or don't understand or doubt, it gives me permission to tell them that they can go and try the same. It would be inauthentic to tell kids they can go do big things if I weren’t out there myself pursuing big things that are daunting to me and that challenge me.

How can we join you?

DM me @jasonhardrath.

Most scenic, non technical FKT you’ve done in the PNW?

I want to say Oregon’s 5 Highest which was super awesome but that includes some technical for Hood, Jefferson, and North Sister. The McKenzie River Trail is super awesome and a great trail run. You see Sahalie Falls, Blue Pool. That one is awesome.

Jason, thank you for talking with me today. I’d say your odds are better than most peoples for completing this in 40-60 days. Certainly, your cumulative years of chasing big efforts will pay off for this. 

I would never claim to be more prepared than any other given person for this effort. There are way more mountaineers who are probably better suited to this but they just aren’t interested. They are probably off climbing bigger, harder objectives, in other parts of the world but this is what is available to me. I’m a school teacher and this is in my neck of the woods. It's big, it's huge, it's scary. I will most likely fail. If one fire starts and fire season starts early, boom, game over. I could be on peak 99 out of 100 and if a fire starts on peak 100 then it is game over. I am keeping it healthily in mind that as poetic as it would be to have this as my 100th FKT, there is a distinct possibility that it might not go and I have to be willing to enter into the process of trying for it anyways.

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