Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
On August 2, Oregon school teacher, Jason Hardrath, reached the summit of Loowit (Mount Saint Helens) in Washington, finishing a project that saw him to the summits of the 100 tallest peaks of Washington in only 50 days and 23 hours.
With the final summit, the 32-year-old handily broke the previous record of 410 days, set by Eric Gilbertson in 2018. He became the 81st person in history to finish the list, called the Bulger List, since its inception in 1980. Hardrath covered 869 miles and over 411,000 feet of elevation gain during the 50-day effort.
The feat is the culmination of a three-year pursuit to become the first person with 100 Fastest Known Times (FKTs); however, it is perhaps the product of his years spent as a collegiate runner and Ironman competitor whose identity as an athlete was nearly stolen from him in a horrific car accident in 2015.
“I was told I’d have to give up that part of my life,” says Hardrath. “I knew I couldn’t do that though. I was the ADHD kid who couldn’t sit still in school. Moving my body is paramount to my ability to function on a day-to-day basis.”
Due to his injuries, Hardrath lost range of motion in his right knee and suffered from scar tissue in his lungs. He couldn’t run, but he found that he could hike. “Hills led to bigger hills, which led to mountains, which led to bigger mountains,” he says. “Eventually, my ability to run came back. I’m not as fast as I used to be on flat ground, but I’ve found that I can move extremely efficiently in the mountains.”
His proficiency in technical and steep terrain is what led him into FKTs. Wanting more of a challenge than what was offered in trail races, Hardrath started pursuing speed records in the mountains. The routes he chose became more complex and the skills required to complete the routes became more varied as he gained experience. Eventually, he began creating his own routes that involved climbing, scrambling, canyoneering and running.
As Hardrath neared the 100-FKT mark, it felt natural for him to choose an objective that was significant and symbolic. “One hundred peaks for my hundredth FKT just seemed too poetic,” he says. “I wanted to do this to test myself, I wanted a challenge, I wanted a grand adventure. I wanted to answer the question; What can be done on these 100 peaks if the person just doesn’t go home until it’s finished?”
The announcement of his intentions to complete the Bulger List within a single season was met with some skepticism from the Pacific Northwest mountaineering community. Social media posts were met with a few comments from doubters saying things like, “Can’t wait to watch him fail,” but most just couldn’t believe that mountain conditions and threats of fire would remain stable enough for him to see it through.
The Northern Cascades are rugged and remote, and the logistics alone could have stymied even the most adept trip planner. Hardrath requested assistance from Bulger finishers Alden Ryno, Matt Lemke, and then record-holder Eric Gilbertson for the planning phase, which took about six months. In near-daily Zoom calls, they were able to map out efficient routes, discuss the order in which the peaks should be summited, and create connections that would link peaks for streamlined climbing.
It took about six months of planning before Hardrath was able to set out on his 50-day adventure. He requested the After six months of planning and near-daily Zoom meetings with Bulger finishers Alden Ryno, Matt Lemke and then record-holder Eric Gilbertson, Hardrath set off on his 50-day adventure.
The plan seemed simple enough; start on the Northeast side, move South, then West, then back up North, completing the peaks in a large U-shape and in order of the highest fire danger. After that was done, he moved on to the volcanoes; the very same peaks where he learned most of his mountaineering skills.
“I felt an intense relief when I got to the volcanoes,” says Hardrath. “Somehow, I was able to avoid fire closures. It came really close. The fire that broke out on Bear Creek started quite possibly as we were walking out. The next day we were on Shuksan and we looked back and the whole area where we’d walked out was billowing smoke. The fire was blocking our exit route from the previous day.”
Along the way, Hardrath picked up 21-year-old Nathan Longhurst as a climbing partner. Longhurst joined him for many of the more technically difficult peaks, and due to his extensive participation, Longhurst became the youngest person to finish the Bulger List ‒ an unintentional outcome. “Jason is great at carrying on and enjoying the experience,” Longhurst says, “even when dealing with stifling heat, endless loose talus, or swarms of mosquitoes. The shared experience of daily suffering and bliss in such stunning venues was truly soul-filling.”
As he returned to the trailhead from the final summit, Hardrath stopped his watch and let out a triumphant yell that echoed through the misty forests. “I feel a deep satisfaction of hard work well done. This was exactly the sort of thing that a kid who couldn’t sit still growing up in a small town was supposed to find himself out doing. I am proud of this effort but excited to get back out playing in the mountains on the next adventure.”
The Pacific Northwest Mountaineering community was stunned by the feat. “[Jason’s] logistics – transportation, routes, food, gear, electronics – were as mind-boggling as [his] physicality,” says first ascensionist and fifth ever Bulgers finisher, John Roper. “This is one of the most hugely significant FKTs yet.”
Hardrath uses these big adventures to help inspire his students. “I always tell them to dream big and not let setbacks get them down. When we have something in front of us that feels possible, but also feels scary, and we feel both excited and scared at the same time, then that’s the direction we should go. I have to live that in order to be authentic.”
Production company, WZRD Media, was also along for the ride. Sponsored by Athletic Brewing Company, the mini-documentary about Hardrath’s achievement is expected to be released at select film festivals this winter, and potentially online in the spring under the title “Journey to 100.”
Ashly Winchester is a freelance writer and avid outdoorswoman based in Southern Oregon and Northern California. Find her on Instagram: @ashly.winchester