One hundred little hands shot up into the air when we opened to the floor a Q&A session with Jason Hardrath and myself. The Ross Ragland Theater - in Klamath Falls, Oregon - was packed with almost 500 kids from the area’s school district. Jason Hardrath and I were sitting atop tall, wobbly stools on the elevated stage after a presentation of his documentary film, Journey to 100.
A little girl approached the microphone and quietly asked, “Ms. Winchester, how happy did it make you to see Mr. Hardrath climbing 100 mountains?” The bright floodlights beamed down from overhead as I considered my answer. I couldn’t help but smile at the question because I get a kick out of discussing how supporting the people you love can bring you joy, and how surrounding yourself with people who also lift you up can help you grow.
A Shared Vision
Jason and I started chasing Fastest Known Time records (FKTs) shortly after we met. We were both ultramarathoners and loved the race scene for the community, but we really thrive in long, solo days in the wilderness. The draw to FKTs revolved around planning our own logistics and mapping, being immersed in nature without distraction, and the creativity behind creating new routes for submission. We dedicated our weekends and work breaks to exploring new spaces. FKTs satisfy our need for engaging with nature, adventure, and pushing our physical and mental limits.
As we became more engrossed with chasing these speed records, we started setting goals for ourselves. Jason decided that he wanted to become the first person to reach 100 historical FKTs – a lofty goal, but within his scope of abilities. Without question, I made the decision to support him in his pursuit no matter what, and to snag FKTs for myself along the way. Chasing FKTs became a lifestyle for us.
As Jason approached 100 FKTs, he had a decision to make: What would FKT number 100 be?
The answer came to him easily – The Washington Bulgers.
The Washington Bulgers FKT
The Washington Bulgers is an iconic list of the 100 tallest peaks of Washington. Many of the peaks on this list are extremely remote, requiring a long approach and what we like to call “extreme bushwhacking.” Since its inception, the list has only seen 84 finishers, most of whom took four years or more to complete. In 2018, Eric Gilbertson set the speed record in 410 days, climbing peaks in between life’s usual responsibilities. But Hardrath saw the possibility of completion in 100 days or less, and being a school teacher, he would only have a summer available to give it a shot.
Since climbing the 100 tallest peaks of Washington had never been done in a single season before, Jason had what most people would consider a logistical nightmare in front of him. On June 13th, 2021, after six months of planning involving gathering and memorizing climbing routes, creating peak linkups, making a nutrition plan, and creating a support crew strategy, Jason took his first steps towards 100 peaks.
And I was along for the ride as crew captain.
I didn’t fully understand the scope of my position as crew captain on that first day. It wasn’t until I got an urgent call from Jason in the late afternoon on day four of the project that I realized what my role might actually involve.
Jason was asking for an unplanned resupply in a group of peaks within the Pasayten Wilderness. He and his climbing partner, Nathan Longhurst, were taking longer than expected in the area, and instead of having them hike 20 miles out to get food, it made more sense for me to hike food into them. I quickly packed a plethora of snacks, dehydrated meals, and camp gear into my backpack and started the trek into them at 5pm with about 40 pounds on my back. At 1am, I reached our predetermined meeting place. After only a few hours of sleep, we woke at sunrise, divided up the food between the two of them, and they continued peakbagging while I hiked back out.
That was the start of many days and nights spent hiking solo into the backcountry with a resupply and basecamp for Jason. I played the part of crew chief, basecamp manager, cook, masseuse, housekeeper, and driver.
Aim High, Lift Others
When I speak of my role in Jason’s journey to 100 FKTs, and especially in the Bulgers FKT, I often receive a response of “wow, he owes you!” I dislike this line of thinking. Our relationship isn’t transactionary. I don’t do something for him with the expectation that he does something of equal “value” in return.
When that little girl asked how I felt about Jason climbing 100 peaks, I told her that when you love someone, you support them in chasing their dreams. When you lift others up around you, not only does that bring a special kind of joy, but good people will also lift you up.
It made me happy to see Jason take on and succeed in not only reaching his goal with the Bulgers List, but also in reaching his goal of 100 FKTs. And because I have chosen to spend my time with someone who also lifts other people up, I have received his support in innumerable ways. This support in one another has led me to be able to collect 54 FKTs (and counting!), become a professional mountain guide, and develop my career as a writer. It’s mutually beneficial.
As Jason says – Aim high, and lift others.