Mount Rainier Infinity Loop: Bringing a Vision to Life

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, we talk to Gavin Woody and Ras Vaughan about their completion of the Mount Rainier Infinity Loop.
Ada Love Ada Love
Former Development Associate
September 10, 2019

“You’re doing what?!” I gasped. It was a typical Monday evening in July and we were sitting at the Elliot Bay Brewery for the launch party of The Mountaineers first peer-to-peer adventure based fundraising campaign, Our Parks | Your Adventure. Being the year of the National Park Centennial, we hoped our campaign would inspire individuals to seek an adventure of their choosing in a National Park while fundraising for The Mountaineers youth programs.

We sat, patiently waiting for the adventure unveiling chosen by the faces of our campaign: “UltraPedestrian” Ras Vaughan, a long-time Mountaineers member , and Gavin Woody, a former Mountaineers Board president. Beside them sat Richard Kresser who was gearing up to complete the R.A.S.H.; a consecutive climb and circumnavigation of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Saint Helens, and Mt. Hood. I couldn’t help but feel like I was sitting among super humans. “The Mt. Rainier Infinity Loop!” they exclaimed. My head spun its own infinity loops thinking about what this meant. Their announcement came only days before they planned to complete it.

Chad Kellogg’s Vison

Departing paradise on July 23, 2016 at 5:02 pm, Gavin and Ras set out to bring to life the vision of legendary Seattle climber Chad Kellogg: the Mt. Rainier Infinity Loop. Unfortunately, Kellogg could not complete his vision due to his untimely passing in a climbing accident in Patagonia in 2014.

Kellog coined the route the “Infinity Loop” because of the figure eight, or infinity sign, trail it would make on Mt. Rainier. Here’s the breakdown of his vision: start with a summit on one side, run the Wonderland trail back to the starting point in one direction, carry on to traverse the summit again, and end with running the Wonderland trail the opposite direction back to the starting point. Oh, and do all of this unsupported, meaning carry your gear, food, and trash from beginning to end, only taking water from natural sources. Seems doable, right?

On July 27, 2016, 99 hours and 7 minutes and over 120 miles and 40,000 feet of elevation gain later, Gavin and Ras proved that it was, and successfully completed the first and only attempt of the Mt. Rainier Infinity Loop.

Ras Vaughn and Gavin Woody.

Redefining What’s Possible

“I keep a quote from Chad Kellogg on my mirror: ‘The story you tell yourself becomes your reality.’ I think that we as humans are far more capable than we might think – we just have to keep telling ourselves the right story,” Gavin said.

Ras and Gavin are no strangers to Mt. Rainier. Gavin has summited the mountain eight times and successfully completed the Rainier Triple Threat, riding his bike from Seattle to Mt. Rainier, summitting, then running around the Wonderland Trail. Ras has run the 93-mile Wonderland Trail ten times and became the first person to run it twice in a single push. The Infinity Loop, however, was a first for both of them.

Gavin and Ras’s Infinity Loop consisted of climbing the Disappointment Cleaver route to the summit, descending the Emmons Glacier and Inter Glacier to White River campground, and running and hiking the Wonderland Trail clockwise back to Paradise. After a very brief rest and resupply of food in Paradise they went on to again climb the Disappointment Cleaver, descend the Emmons back White River, and run and hike the Wonderland Trail counterclockwise to Paradise. 

“When we began our second summit climb the reality of it began to sink in and I realized that we were going to be able to do it,” Ras says. “It wasn’t going to be fast and it wasn’t going to be pretty; it was going to be a sufferfest, but from that point on I knew we had it and all we had to do was grind it out.”

With the successful completion of the Infinity Loop, Gavin and Ras officially redefined what was possible on Mt. Rainier. “I find that I have a continuing fascination with the Infinity Loop paradigm,” Ras said. “I see it as a way of having the most complete experience of a mountain possible.”

Ultraneering

Gavin and Ras would have made Kellogg proud.

“I believe we completed the Infinity Loop in the style Kellogg would appreciate and just as he intended,” Gavin said. “Adhering to the principles of alpinism and minimalism, we moved quickly and efficiently through the mountains with all of our gear and without a support system.”

Ras Vaughan ascends Rainier. Photo by Gavin Woody.

Gavin describes the carefully calculated preparation as one of the most challenging aspects of the Mt. Rainier Infinity loop. “You really have to think about what gear to bring, specifically footwear. We needed to find a shoe that we could both summit and run in.” Gavin and Ras each succeeded in using one type of shoe for the entire Infinity Loop. Gavin in La Sportiva Crossover GTX, a waterproof shoe with an integrated gaiter, a fairly stiff sole, and deep outsole lugs for traction, and Ras in Altra NeoShell Lone Peak insulated, waterproof trail running shoes. They carried 20-liter packs weighing 24lbs at the start of the first loop, 20lb at the second, and finishing at 15lbs. Their kits were a mix of minimalist, light-weight, multi-functional gear — much smaller and lighter than what is carried by most climbers for the push from Camp Muir to the summit. However, it was important for them to not compromise safety, thus they used full glacier travel gear including a lightweight rope, harnesses, and crevasse rescue equipment. 

“We are living in exciting times: enabled by lighter and more functional gear. Humans are blurring the boundaries of ultrarunning, fastpacking, mountaineering, and skiing into what could best be described as ‘ultraneering’,” said Gavin.

Overwhelming Support

Establishing the fastest and only known time for the Infinity Loop required transparency. Gavin and Ras provided a link to a satellite transponder page where their progress could be tracked in real time.

“We recorded GPS tracks during the trip, photographed and filmed our adventure extensively, updated our social media accounts en route when possible and told numerous people we saw on and around Mt. Rainier what we were attempting,” Gavin said.

They received overwhelmingly positive support from MRNP Climbing Rangers, friends and loved ones of Chad Kellogg, climbers and backpackers on the trail, and the general public, though not without a bit of confusion.

“The climbing ranger, who issued our climbing permits, as friendly and helpful as he was, took a few run-throughs to fully understand what we were doing,” Ras said.

Inspiration For The Next Generation

Inspiration was an ongoing theme throughout Gavin and Ras’s challenge. “The Infinity Loop project was all about inspiration. Chad had the dream that inspired Gavin and me. And we want to forward and amplify that inspiration out to the next generation of adventurers, not just by bringing Chad’s vision to life, but by helping fund and train that new generation by working with The Mountaineers’ Our Parks | Your Adventure fundraising initiative for their youth programs,” Ras explained.

When asked about their most inspiring moment of the Mt. Rainier Infinity Loop, both Gavin and Ras agreed whole heartedly. Near the beginning of their second summit traverse while climbing up to Camp Muir they met Hakim Ali and his two daughters, 8-yearold Aisha and 5-year-old Anisah. Seattle-based Hakim, originally from Tanzania and raised at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, was taking his daughters to Camp Muir. Amazed to see these two little girls trekking up ambitiously, Gavin asked to take their photograph. Hakim recognized Ras from the Washington Climbers and Hikers Facebook group and they ended up chatting for a bit.

“Happening upon a father who was introducing his daughters to the world of adventuring really struck a chord with me on so many levels,” Ras explained. “Not only was our meeting a perfect portent in light of our goals with The Mountaineers Youth Programs, but it brought to mind so many memories of my own daughter, Angela, and our family thru-hike of the Wonderland Trail when she was 7 years old. I thought of Hakim and his daughters many times throughout the second loop and drew inspiration from our chance encounter.”

The feeling was mutual. For the past five years, Hakim has been taking his two daughters to Mt. Rainier, along with many other popular hiking spots in Washington. This was Aisha and Anisah’s first attempt at Camp Muir and they were successful.

“After hearing Gavin and Ras’s story of what they were doing and why, my girls were really motivated to continue on. They could not believe that Gavin and Ras were doing Camp Muir twice,” Hakim said. It wasn’t until the following week that Aisha and Anisah really understood what Gavin and Ras has completed. “I showed them the website and links that Gavin gave me. They thought it was amazing. Aisha wanted to be a part of it, and immediately asked when she could go hiking with them.”

Adventure Never Ends

Gavin and Ras don’t intend on ending their adventure here. Ras is plotting other Infinity Loops routes that could be completed on notable volcanoes in Washington and Oregon. He’s also planned adventures with his wife Kathy to yo-yo the Grand Enchantment Trail, The Oregon Desert Trail and the Hayduke Trail. Gavin is traveling to Italy to compete in the Tor de Geants, a 205 mile trail race through 25 mountain passes with a total elevation gain of 80,000 feet. The Mt. Rainier Infinity Loop raised the bar.

“By completing this adventure with Ras, I hope we can inspire others to seek their own adventure outside,” says Gavin. “As a father of two young kids, I want our next generation to experience the same wonder, peace, and challenge in the outdoors that I did during my own upbringing. And, in turn, they will protect the outdoors too — because when you love and experience it, you want to make sure it’s around for future generations.”

Ras and Gavin with Aisha and Anisah en route to Camp Muir. Photo courtesy of Gavin Woody.


This article originally appeared in our Fall 2016 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.


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