Journey to 100 FKTs with Jason Hardrath
Our friends at Athletic Brewing Company made an inspiring documentary of our KREW member Jason Hardrath's journey to 100 FTK’s.
WATCH THE MOVIE HERE:
''It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.''
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Jason Hardrath is a PE teacher from Oregon. He has also ran and climbed the most Fastest Known Times, ranking on the #1 spot at FastestKnownTimes.com
Photo by Paul Wilson.
Jason climbed 100 peaks non-stop for his 100th FKT: the Washington Bulgers (100 highest peaks in Washington State). Below is a guest post of his journey to 100 FKT's, but first a 1 minute movie trailer of Jason's Journey to 100, a Film by WZRD Media for Athletic Brewing.
Jason Hardrath: My journey to 100 Fastest Known Times (FKTs) had humble beginnings. I didn’t initially set out to do 100 of them, rather, FKTs were a means to explore, adventure, and push my boundaries in the places that I love. They are a way to express myself and my creativity, and as such, have inspired me and forced me to expand my skill set. I love routes that involve a mixture of skills, such as rock climbing, mountaineering, and canyoneering.
I started thinking that it would be fun to be the first person to get to 100, like, how ridiculous is that? As the number of FKTs continued to climb, people started asking what I was going to do for number 100. The Bulger List had been on my mental radar since Eric Gilbertson set the initial FKT of 410 days in 2018. It wasn’t until I neared the 100-FKT mark that I started seriously considering it.
The Bulger List is a list of the 100 tallest peaks in the state of Washington. This list includes iconic peaks like Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount St. Helens, but also includes many peaks that are deep in the wilderness, with little to no trail access. This is a list that most people aim to complete within a lifetime. It takes years for most people to complete the list, but I had a feeling that if the athlete didn’t stop until it was done - no breaks, just climbing mountains every day - it might be possible to finish within a single climbing season.
Years ago, I heard a quote from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf that goes, ''If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.'' That quote has stuck with me throughout this journey to 100 FKTs, and I kept it in mind as I made the decision to take on the Bulgers list. The enormity of it scared me, but it’s within this discomfort and fear that you find growth. Those are the things worth doing. And besides, 100 peaks for my 100th Fastest Known Time? It seemed almost too poetic.
Photo by Paul Wilson.
The first obstacle to overcome was the logistics. How do you make a plan for climbing 100 peaks in under 100 days when there are thousands of things that could derail the effort? Through conversations within the Washington mountaineering community, I decided my biggest concern was fire. Out of everything, fires and fire closures were the only things (besides a catastrophic accident or injury) that could completely stop the endeavor, perhaps indefinitely.
I reached out to a select few who had already completed the Bulgers list, including Alden Grant Ryno, Matt Lemke, Colin Tasker, Trace Gough, and the then-current record holder himself, Eric Gilbertson.
I was surprised at how willing they were to help, though some with reservations due to the recent loss of the beloved Jake Robinson in a climbing accident. I was essentially a stranger to these people. I was someone that they had perhaps come across in the FKT community; someone they were aware of on the periphery. Alden, in particular, was all-in from the start. He spent many hours on the phone with me pouring over maps and discussing mountain linkups, maximizing efficiency, and timelines.
It took about six months of planning to come up with a game plan, with the full knowledge that the whole thing would probably end up playing out completely differently than planned. I knew I would have to be flexible throughout the process and be willing to pivot at a moment's notice.
The mountaineering community responded in a multitude of ways as news spread that I was taking this project on. I received words of encouragement, awe, and, as expected, some skepticism. I read comments from some individuals who doubted my ability and athleticism. They were ''excited to watch me fail.''
But I’m the type of person to use those kinds of comments as fuel for my fire.
Photo by Jason Hardrath.
Achieving the Unachievable
As a school teacher, I had to wait until school was out for summer before I could start. My girlfriend and I waved goodbye to Southern Oregon on June 12th and were staged at the first trailhead in a remote section of Northern Washington that night.
As I was prepping for the following morning’s departure, a headlamp appeared in the darkness and approached the van. It took a moment to recognize the man standing in front of me, but there he was, Eric Gilbertson. The current record holder made the effort to come to see me at this remote trailhead and wish me luck. I was stunned and stoked; some would call it a good omen.
The next morning, we woke to the pinging of rain on the roof of the van. It was cold and dreary outside - expected weather in the Cascades. I stepped out of the van to find yet another unexpected presence, Nathan Longhurst. Nathan and I had chatted a bit on social media prior to the effort, and he had expressed interest in joining in on the first day, but I wasn't sure I should expect him to show up.
That first day was pretty huge, summiting four peaks and covering almost 50 miles, raining off and on the entire time. But Nathan just kept chugging along. He’s a solid climber and is able to efficiently cover mileage. This young man ended up climbing more than 60 peaks with me. His strength, tenacity, efficiency, and comfort in the mountains were exactly what I needed.
The whole adventure is still a bit of a blur and I’m still mentally processing and integrating it all. How do you boil down all of those experiences into one trip report? It’s almost impossible. I could write a whole series of books about it. What I can say is that it was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. It was a true test of my grit and who I am as a person, partner, friend, and athlete. I endured a record heatwave, climbed near-infinite amounts of choss, picked my way through countless talus fields, had a few close-calls, and experienced some of the most incredible vistas in the world. And I must say, you’ve never truly experienced bushwhacking until you’ve bushwhacked in the Northern Cascades. The dense vegetation growing on steep slopes makes footing treacherous. I sometimes found myself hanging from a sapling tree trunk, it bowing under my weight, not knowing whether the ground was six inches away or six feet away.
Photo by Nathan Longhurst.
In a period of 50 days and 23 hours, I climbed, scrambled, ran, hiked, and bushwhacked to the summits of 100 peaks. The Cascades hold beauty and wildness that are unmatched. Each and every peak is unique and memorable in its own way, and every summit view is breathtaking.
If I knew what I know now, would I go back in time and do it again? Absolutely, yes. Would I do the whole thing again going forward? Probably not. My goal was to prove that the impossible is possible. To redefine what was thought possible on these incredible PNW peaks. I want to show that you don’t have to be an elite athlete to have great athletic achievements, to contribute in an inspiring way to your community. That you can be some PE teacher from a small town with a dream and a drive, and accomplish something amazing. I feel like I accomplished what I set out to do, and I’m proud of the way I did it, honoring all land closures and obtaining all necessary permits.
I had a mentor who used to say, ''Humans are like a tube of toothpaste, you find out what’s inside when they get squeezed.'' So I like to ask myself the question: Who am I when I get squeezed? And there is no better ''squeeze'' you can choose to put on yourself than facing a major physical undertaking.
I always tell my students to dream big and believe in themselves. I want them to learn to not let things get in the way of their dreams, and that it’s often the difficult, scary things that are worth doing. Sometimes, when it feels like something might not be possible, but it excites us and scares us, then that’s the direction we need to go. I feel like I need to be living that in order to be authentic. I can show them that the ADHD kid from a small town is out doing amazing things and that they can too.
Photo by Jason Hardrath.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give thanks to those who supported me. This whole FKT wouldn’t have gone as smoothly or as fast without the support of my partner, Ashly Winchester, who hiked in basecamps and carried gear so that I could go light and fast and save mileage. She shared my stoke, vision, and love of adventure, all while being the cook, the driver, the masseuse, and the crew chief.
Nathan Longhurst, who showed up on day one and stuck around for 65 of the peaks, and who, at the age of 21, became the youngest person to finish the Bulger list (Seriously, watch this kid! Amazing things will almost certainly come!)
I also need to thank Athletic Brewing Company, who not only sponsored the adventure but also sent filmmakers out to document it.
WATCH THE MOVIE HERE:
Follow Jason on Instagram for updates.
PATH projects gear Jason uses:
- Pyrenees T19 hooded shirt: ''I am a mountain guide on weekends and breaks from teaching elementary school. For someone living on the mountain, the sun hoody is a quintessential piece of mountain gear.''
- Graves PX shorts and Tahoe base liner make the perfect combo for a mountain runner who's engine runs hot
- Big Bend Trucker Cap