Rainer Infinity Loop, what an enormous effort. Where to start...
The short elapsed time splits:
Start at Muir Steps: 8:23:xx am 8-14-19
First Summit: 4:19:31
White River Camp: 7:39:30
Paradise: 16:05:xx (7:22 for Wonderland short section) at 12:17:xx am
(start of second lap at 3:22am)
Second Summit: 24:40:xx (5:41 from Muir Steps)
White River Camp: 28:25:xx (9:22:xx second over the mountain)
Long section of Wonderland to Finish: 55hours 40 minutes 45 seconds finishing at 4:03:45pm 8-16-19 (24:47:xx for long wonderland)
Total Time: 2 days, 7 hours, 40 minutes, 45 seconds
Well, it had been 7 days since my Cascades Trifecta attempt and I was feeling pretty good but definitely with some aches, pains, and muscle tightness from those three peaks (35ish miles, 21k-ish gain). Again, I would be completely Solo and Self-Supported...But I was also feeling driven after a conversation with a newly made friend about life and what makes life worth living...one of those being, you gotta have goals that scare you. Rainer Infinity Loop, it was on that list for me. It was one of those goals the metrics said, "Jason, It could be possible" but the enormity of it screamed, "holy $#!+, there is no way". When I checked in for my solo permit, the climbing ranger said both the DC and Emmons were still in surprisingly good shape and still being guided. This got me stoked. I left a tent with a cooler full of food and two pairs of running shoes at White River Campground and then drove around to Paradise with the rest of my supplies and gear.
I knew the logistics would be tight on this one. I needed to be dialed, Jason and Erik had left me with little option to make mistake or fool around. I knew that I have been very quick at the high elevations and on technical terrain this year. but, anything can happen with this many miles and I wasn't coming in on completely fresh legs.
I started at 8:23:xx am in order to face less ideal climbing and descending conditions on my first lap, while I was fresh, in order to line up more ideal climbing conditions while tired on climb number two. I climbed well. found good boot track much of the time through Muir Snowfield and passed Muir Camp around 1hr 55min. I continued moving well up the DC and on the glacier, arriving at the summit in 4:19:31 for my first climb, this made me happy but I knew it had been a little too quick and I was going to have to make up for it with some rest once down the mountain to White River Campground.
But... I was in for a surprise.
As I started the descent down Emmons, I could not find a boot track anywhere. No Flagging. No Boot track. I kept cautiously working down, as it started to sink in... "they aren't guiding this side anymore." This would not be a "low-engagement" route finding exercise. I had already gone the wrong way and had to backtrack 20 minutes back up the mountain before finding the faintest line of melted out tracks. I had lost a good 40 minutes of time in what should have been less than 10 minutes of descent. I had to pull my head back in. "Ok, Jason, its not over. Air down. This is still within your wheelhouse. Dedicate the time to find the safe route this loop and you can follow your own gps track and steps next lap."
The 3 hours of descending, were a process of zigging and zagging to get viewing angles of snow bridges and sometimes to just find spots narrow enough to leap crevasses through open air (but also knowing I would have to make the jump again, with 50 miles on my legs). Occasionally, I could find an old boot track to follow, very occasionally there was not.
The crux of the downclimb was probably a tiny snow and ice ledge that was not even one boot length wide that traversed over a crevasse for about 20 feet. It was a complete "no-fall zone", in as catastrophic of a way as the phrase could imply. I could get solid purchase with each axe placement and worked the foot ledge in as much deeper and more level as I could with each movement. Every tenuous step felt exceedingly solid as I played my weight out onto it a dozen times before trusting the step. Time stretched into eternity as I covered this 20ft. Then I was through.
Below this the zigs and zags didn't improve much, nor the double checking of snow bridges. but alas, I made Camp Schurman paused to reflect on what I had just done. Then I fired off down the remaining snowfield and crevassed sections as quick as I could, which still felt broken and slow due to how melted out the route was. And as I made my way through a bouldery section a small fall snapped one of my trekking poles (luckily I had a back up, unluckily it was all the way at Paradise). I threw the pieces in my pack and continued.
I arrived to my lonely tent in White River Campground just ahead of 7 hrs and 40 minutes into the push. I took 59 minutes to re-stock, as well as let the muscles and metabolism catch up with my output. I was happy to leave my ice axe behind, as I had another lighter one waiting at paradise for my next trip over, but was sad that I would have to throw my Salomon Snowcross (heavy from being wet) and crampons back in my bag for the 30 mile run around to Paradise (they are the only ones I own, what you don't have in money I guess you make up for in toughness)
As described by Jason and Erik, the first 6 miles of that first run lure you into false sense of security about the Wonderland. A security that it will later take away in orders of magnitude beyond what is given. So I cruised into my first sunset of the effort, and started grinding out ascents and descents as the last light waned. In the middle of the night, I got lost during the area of construction as you cross the highway and wandered around for awhile before finding my way, lost maybe 15-20 minutes here. Finally, I fired up the bit of trail and into the lot at around 12:20am. Jogged down to my car (again that suzuki, "geo metro" equivalent) crawled in, ate as much as I could stand, and caught a nap until I would start my second climb at 3:22am.
The body was tired. In the darkness on the Muir Snowfield I could not find any of the uphill boot track from my first time up, just blown out, boot-skiing, downhill steps. It was slow going. I hit Camp Muir a full half-hour slower than before, so I just kept marching. I knew my time would be significantly slower up this time. I was praying I would not be a 6 plus hour uphill effort. My load out of calories + water hadn't accounted for that much slowing. I finally stepped over into the summit crater marched across the flats (wishing I could jog it again) and made the true summit in 5:41 from Muir Steps...I was hoping that I could make up a little time on my second time down Emmons because I would know my way. but the conditions of the legs made that section 30 minutes slower that the previous lap as well. I knew I was in trouble when I could hardly jog 14:50 miles on the mellow smooth downhill sections of the last bit into White River Campground.
As a quick aside, I was struck again with the enormity of this effort and what I had navigated when the teams that were now at Camp Schurman told me both professionally guided teams had turned back on their attempt (and then later they messaged me that they also turned back).
I rested I had crossed the mountain the second time in 9:22:xx, and my legs hurt. I knew my lack of recovery from the prior effort and strong starting pace were coming to get me. So I only rested long enough for the aching in my muscles to subside a bit and to provide time for some nutrition/hydration to get in there. At 30 hours and 53 minutes into the effort I started off for the "long section" of the Wonderland Trail. Immediately, I knew I wasn't moving well up the climb to get up on level with Sunrise Lodge. This was confirmed when on the near-perfect, smooth pitched downhill I could manage no better than 15-16 minute miles (normally 9s and 10s would be casual on such a section). I was in big trouble. I was going to be significantly slower than the record holders on this section. I ran numbers in my head. I needed to march all night, pushing into the pain to jog those 15s, then 16s, then 17s...and forgo sleep to be sure that when the sun came up I still had a chance. So I steeled my mind to this fact. "let's see if we get those hallucinations they talk about, Jason" was a humorous bit of self-talk that popped through. (and boy did they come).
I marched until I was nodding off on my feet at 11:50pm layed down, powernapping (kinda), until the cold woke me at 12:18am...I felt marginally better, but I knew margins were all I needed.
It is difficult to gauge if one has any of the better qualities we name for mankind, probably the most spiritual moment of this experienced happened for me as the night wore on and on, the pain of each muscle firing unrelenting... I had a deep connection and feeling that "this was tenacity", I am living out the quality of "being tenacious" right now. It seems a little silly now. but was deep and meaningful in the deep exhaustion and sleep deprivation of the moment.
That fortitude was broken for a bit by the simplest of malfunctions only shortly after sunrise when I tried plugging my wet Garmin 935 into a wet plug in, into a wet charger battery, and something told it, it was connected to a computer, and to power down and cut off my data. (I couldn't dig my head out of the gutter, due to not being able to see if I was ahead of the total hours anymore for the next 6 or 7 miles). I was also deeply sad, in my tired mind, I wouldn't get to have the whole effort as a single gps track. I did get it to charge while I lost tracking on about 6 of my middle miles. Luckily, my Spot was Live Broadcasting through this section so people could see I definitely was moving through here (plus there is no access in these areas, so I had to still be just me moving on foot). But it mentally threw me.
All in all, I marched 24:47 around that long side, if my math isn't wrong. I should have been so much faster, having run similar distances with similar gain and loss in closer to 15 hours. but such, was the cost of deciding to attempt such an epic, ridiculous effort on legs noticeably NOT at 100% to start.
I was so slow up the finally climb from Longmire to Paradise, stopping at creeks to wonder, in my tired mind, about drinking it (I had tapped out my water well before the suspension bridge), having hallucinations about my heart failing due to dehydration even though I still had good moisture in my mouth while swallowing (cause that is an expert way to know hahaha). I wandered the wrong way once or twice before getting back on track up to Paradise. I didn't expect the struggle but the sleepiness came back on full force here.
I finally found my way to the steps at 4:03:45pm which was still a record breaking 55 hours, 40 minutes, 45 seconds or the other format 2 days, 7 hours, 40 minutes, 45 seconds after starting.
I powered down my Spot. Killed the watch. Took a crappy selfie wearing a "totally spent" face.
found some pizza in the visitor center while imagining them thinking me high as I nodded off while walking, paying, and eating it...
then slept from 5pm until 6:55am the next day...
Would do again. I absolutely think with better route conditions and fresh legs this goes significantly under the 2 day mark. Even for a slow guy like me. Excited to see what a real mover and shaker does on this route. But I definitely have the logistics sitting in a notebook for a sub-2 day effort myself.