by Ras Vaughan
Rainier is the mountain that made me the man I am. I find myself constantly drawn back to simply invest time there, to delve within myself, and to try yet again to experience The Mountain as completely as possible. This recurring drive is what has led me to complete the Wonderland Trail ten times (detailed HERE and HERE), including a Double Wonderland (detailed HERE), and 2015’s Cowlitz Connection project with Richard Kresser (detailed HERE, HERE, and HERE).
In researching and preparing for the Cowlitz Connection, I learned of a dream project of legendary climber Chad Kellogg which he was never able to attempt due to his untimely passing in a climbing accident on Mount Fitz Roy. He called it the Infinity Loop. The idea was to traverse the summit, run the Wonderland trail back to the starting point in one direction, traverse the summit again, and then run the Wonderland the opposite direction back to the starting point, thus tracing a figure eight, or an infinity sign.
I was gobsmacked the first time I heard this route described. Everything about it sounded huge and simple and elegant, and so far out of my league as to be laughable. But it became one of those ideas that my mind refuses to let go of once gotten ahold of. It became my go to thought whenever my mind wasn’t actively engaged in something else. Whether I thought I was capable of attempting this route or not, my brain was already making plans to do so.
The Rainier Infinity Loop inhabits the extremely nichey grey area that I find so fascinating, somewhere in between mountaineering, fastpacking, thru-hiking, and ultrarunning. Ultramountainpacking? Fast-hikaineering? Such potential descriptions are far too clunky and awkward to express what to me is a very simple and elegant idea: covering long distances in beautiful and challenging places by fair means and in good style. For the record, I’m not claiming to have ever achieved this, merely to be actively pursuing the goal.
Routes such as the Mount Rainier Infinity Loop have a beauty and elegance to me that equal that of the Expressionist masters. I experience it as a something akin to a symphony, an idea that sends my heart and mind soaring and can bring a spike of adrenaline and the sound of blood rushing in my ears simply by calling it to mind. Learning of this beautiful and crazy route, fully conceived but left on the table incomplete, could be compared to finding a color-by-numbers canvass left behind by Monet. It’s an opportunity to play a part in the realization of a grand idea, something otherwise beyond my ken and conception. Attempting to make the Rainier Infinity Loop a reality is an honor of which I am unworthy, and an opportunity impossible to pass up.
On Saturday, July 23rd, 2016, around 4:00 pm Gavin Woody and I will begin our attempt to color in the masterpiece Chad Kellogg sketched out in his mind, a unique approach to experiencing The Mountain by a man with a singular understanding of that mountain. Gavin and I will depart Paradise, climb Disappointment Cleaver, descend the Emmons Glacier and Inter Glacier, run the Wonderland Trail clockwise back to Paradise. There we will rest briefly and resupply. We will then again climb Disappointment Cleaver, descend the Emmons Glacier and Inter Glacier, and then run the Wonderland counterclockwise to Paradise once again. Each of the two loops will be unsupported, carrying all of our gear, food, and trash from beginning to end, and only taking water from natural sources. Seventy-two hours would be a great performance for me on this project, but I suspect it will take more in the ninety-six hour range.
Our progress can be tracked on our SPOT transponder beginning around 4:00 pm on Saturday, July 23rd, 2016:
SPOT Transponder Tracking Page
On the rare occasions when we have cell reception we will post updates to our Facebook and Instagram profiles:
Our Mount Rainier Infinity Loop attempt is meant to be a celebration of the amazing and extraordinary things that Human Beings are capable of. Gavin and I are drawing our inspiration from the life and adventures of Chad Kellogg, and hope to send that energy and inspiration reverberating out into the world to inspire others as it has us. And we also hope to use this project to inspire future generations of climbers, runners, thru-hikers, fastpackers, backpackers, and adventurers of all stripes by helping raise money for The Mountaineers Youth Programs by means of the Our Parks / Your Adventure initiative. Please click here to learn more about the program and to donate. Whether you give $10 or $5,000 your donation will help introduce deserving young people to the fulfillment and enrichment of outdoor adventure, essentially helping to reintroduce them to their natural habitat.
What a Blessing to be Alive! Give Thanks for Life!
* Footnote: According to some MRNP Climbing Rangers there is a local climber who completed the Infinity Loop a couple of years ago. It was done as a project of personal accomplishment with no announcement of intent, no live tracking or transparency, no trip report, and no time posted or made public. I have the utmost respect for efforts of this sort and am not trying to detract from it at all. However, Gavin and I are playing the FKT/OKT game according to the established rules: declaring our intentions, posting tracking links, opening ourselves up to public scrutiny, and establishing a time for others to challenge in the future. Since baseball is popular, I'll use a baseball analogy. A pitcher might be able to throw the world's fastest pitch under perfect conditions outside of a game. That would be a matter of great pride and personal accomplishment. However, it would not be the same as throwing the world's fastest pitch against a batter and in front of a crowd. The pitcher throwing in perfect conditions has accomplished something impressive, but is not actually playing the game. Our Rainier Infinity Loop OKT attempt is being made according to the established methodologies of Peter Bakwin's Fastest Known Time website. We are playing the game.