Have you ever wondered what school teachers do in the summer?
Well, here is a story you might not expect.
Jason Hardrath, an elementary school physical education teacher at Bonanza Elementary, doesn’t just talk about fitness, it would seem. He lives it.
When school released in June, he took to the roads of the Pacific Northwest with big goals in mind. Since then, he has performed some noteworthy feats in the mountains and on trails. He even took up a part-time position with Shasta Mountain Guides during the peak climbing season. However, his most recent achievement has stirred a bit of conversation in the mountaineering community.
He climbed Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount Hood in a single day.
Hardrath climbed the three tallest peaks of the Northern Cascades in under 24 hours. Appropriately named the Cascades Trifecta, these towering peaks boast summit elevations of 14,411 feet, 12,280 feet, and 11,250 feet above sea level, respectively. They are tall enough that many mountaineers dedicate multiple days to climb just one. Combining all three means covering more than 35 miles on foot with over 20,000 feet of vertical gain.
Hardrath is not the first to take on this endeavor. Buzz Burrell and Peter Bakwin, curators of the increasingly popular Fastest Known Time website and podcast, documented the first known attempt in 2005, taking 28 hours to complete the effort (records include driving time).
And earlier this year, Eric Sanders and Mike Chambers became the first known climbing team to succeed at scaling all three of these skyline-dominating peaks in less than a single calendar day by finishing in 22 hours and 53 minutes.
So what makes this effort by Mr. H, as his students call him, so remarkable?
First of all, he completed the entire effort solo and self-supported. Then there’s the fact that he beat the current record by nearly three and a half hours.
“I really enjoy being out there alone,” said Hardrath, “the solitude allows me to be really in touch with my effort, the conditions around me, and the beauty.”
Regarding the dangers inherent to climbing, “I am always ready to turn earlier than teamed climbers around me if something seems off. Weather, route conditions, effort levels, my body, I am tuned into all of these. Any one of them can be enough to make me call it a day.”
In PE teacher form, Hardrath affirms that fitness is key.
“In an odd way, speed is safety up there. If you can move faster without being winded, keep yourself fed/hydrated, all the while properly performing your skills, that means less time in the elements. And it is the time up there, in those conditions, that get you. It is a huge confidence boost out there to know that at no point am I more than two to three hours from my car.”
With over 37 successful single-day summit pushes, including a trek up to an elevation of 20,564 feet on Chimborazo in Ecuador, Hardrath has a system.
“I have heard it said that it’s the times you turn around, not continuing to the summit, that are the most important to remember,” he said. “I agree. What good are 30, 40, or even 100 successes if you don’t know what made them successful. Maybe you were just lucky. I have to acknowledge that and remain willing to check myself that I am staying reasonable. You have to know when and why you turn around, and know you’ll actually do it.”
Mountaineers frequently call it “summit fever” when they fail to turn around at a time when they should have. Recent films have depicted what can happen when summit fever takes over rational consideration of the conditions.
“It’s tough to remain centered and know when to back down when you are pushing your limits,” said Hardrath. “But I have spent over a decade of my life refining the fitness and building the skills to be in a place to do these things. This feels like a place to really explore with those. It feels like an art. We all have heard stories of the great explorers who pioneered routes and climbs in this country. In a way, this feels like a way to continue that spirit. I admire all the people who are bringing their experience and creativity (and fitness) to do things in a way not seen before.”
When asked to describe Hardrath’s style on the mountain, Clayton Herrmann, a fellow guide at Shasta Mountain Guides in Mount Shasta, California, said, “Calculated, passionate, full of heart, grit, real and authentic tenacity with a fire and a dream in his step.”
As far as his mind-boggling finishing time, 19 hours and 28 minutes to be exact, Hardrath responded matter-of-factly.
“All the metrics of my climbing and descending for this year pointed to sub-20 hours being possible,” Hardrath said. “I just had to be sure to have the logistics between detailed and dialed in. The whole day I had this feeling of enormity for what I was doing, but also a calm sureness it was, indeed, possible for me.”
Though he is serious when reflecting on his Cascade Trifecta, he laughs when he talks about the drive between peaks.
“I did it [the driving] in a Suzuki Swift,” he said.
The Swift is Suzuki’s rebranding of the Geo Metro, a vehicle that is somewhat of an icon of small, gutless cars across the nation.
A sticker on the back window reads: “Undercompensating.”
Follow Jason Hardrath on instagram (@jasonhardrath), on Strava, or on Facebook. Ashly Winchester is a freelance writer and adventure blogger. You can find her on Instagram as @ashly.winchester or at www.wildspaceswildheart.com.