Youngest Finisher of the Bulger List: Nathan Longhurst climbs Washington’s 100 Highest Peaks at 21

Join us as we talk with Nathan Longhurst, a 21 year old ultra runner and Mountaineer who has set a new record as the youngest finisher of the Bulger List, the highest 100 peaks in Washington.
Hailey Oppelt Hailey Oppelt
Communications Manager
January 14, 2022
Youngest Finisher of the Bulger List: Nathan Longhurst climbs Washington’s 100 Highest Peaks at 21

At 21 years old, Nathan Longhurst has accomplished what most would consider an impossible feat – climbing Washington’s 100 highest mountains in just 94 days, a group of peaks also known as the Bulger List. Now the youngest finisher (and only the 82nd finisher since the list’s inception in 1980), Nathan undertook many of these climbs with Jason Hardrath, the recent holder of the Bulger List’s Fastest Known Time (FKT).

The two record-holders first traveled together on June 13, 2021, covering 47 miles and 4 peaks in one blistering day. The trip was a success, and they embarked on Jason’s meticulously-planned push through the remainder of the list, climbing 66 peaks together in a single climbing season. Wearing through pair after pair of trail runners and pounding as many calories as their stomachs could handle, they pushed the limit of what was possible. It was ultrarunning-meets-mountaineering, the ultimate in fast-and-light style.

Jason was thrilled to have the company. “[Nathan] was phenomenal. A strong climber, and incredibly mentally poised for his age. Fit enough for ultra-marathon distances involving bushwhacking and mountain terrain. And just a good, humble kid. It’s rare to find someone so put together, someone you can trust with your life, at the age of 21.” 

Previous to Jason’s record, Nathan’s finishing time of 94 days would have bested the previous record by an astounding 316 days.

We asked Nathan to talk with us about his outdoor background, what it was like climbing the Bulger List, and what else he has in store (hint: it’s another big one!).

20210702_090645.jpgPhoto courtesy of Jason Hardrath. 

What is your outdoors background? How have you found yourself able to complete the Bulger List at just 21?

I’m fortunate to have parents that are invested in spending time outside, so as long as I can remember we would go camping, backpacking, and fishing in Eastern Washington, North Idaho, and sometimes Montana. When I got into middle school I started running, doing cross country and track at school. And then I found rock climbing shortly after that in eighth grade, and fell in love with both of those really quickly and started spending all of my free time outside. My first marathon was when I was 13.

When I got into high school, it evolved. I still did cross country and track for the first couple years, but eventually I phased out of that when I discovered trail running and ultramarathons. I decided that an organized 5k race was too short and too structured for me. I had a lot more fun running on the trails in the woods behind my house for hours and hours at a time. And then at the same time that I was really getting into ultrarunning, my rock climbing was also changing. I started doing longer, multipitch rock climbs out in the mountains, because it combined my love for climbing with the joy of really long days outside. It was the summer of 2018 that I spent a lot of time in the North Cascades, out peak bagging. That was also the same summer I ran my first 100-mile ultramarathon. The summer of 2019 is when I first became aware of the Bulger List, climbing 15 or 20 Bulger peaks that summer.

I did a lot of stuff on my own, a lot of long, moderate days in the mountains. I realized that scrambling and low fifth-class soloing was perfect for me, because it was a combination of my love of trail running and rock climbing. I could run up to a mountain, do some easy rock climbing on it, and then run back down. It was my favorite way to move through the mountains.

IMG_20210919_115724_982.jpgNathan on the ascent of Mount Logan with Forbidden peak in the background, Nathan's favorite peak. Photo courtesy of Jason Hardrath. 

What drew you to climbing with Jason?

I knew of Jason because of the FKT website. I had seen his name on a lot of routes and records that I had done or I'd looked at doing. I idolized him a little bit - I really respected and looked up to him and the things that he'd achieved. I was planning on doing the Rainier Infinity Loop, which is a route that he had the current FKT on at the time, so I got in touch with him over social media to ask him about the route and get tips. He was really friendly and open to sharing information. We’d never met in person, but just chatting online we kind of hit it off.

That was in late May or early June, and he soon mentioned his Bulger project and casually asked if I had time to join him for one or two peaks here and there. I immediately jumped on the opportunity. I was like, “That's awesome, I would love to. When do you start?” I was actually working at the time in Sandpoint, a town in North Idaho. Our target day was on a weekend, so I drove from there to the Pasayten Wilderness to meet up the night before.

Within the first five miles of the first day we hit it off - we just clicked. I think we have a really similar style of moving in the mountains, a similar pace and drive, and shared perspectives on why we like to do the things in life that we do. I thought it was awesome, and that if he was open to it, I wanted to come along for as much of this project as I could.

IMG_20210919_115724_804.jpgHardrath and Longhurst on Goode summit after simul-climbing the classic Northeast Buttress. Photo courtesy of Jason Hardrath. 

How many of your Bulger climbs were solo, and how many were partnered?

Of the Bulger climbs that I did the summer of 2021, I think Jason and I did 66 together, and most of the rest I did solo. We also climbed with Alex King one day, a prolific mountaineer and runner from Trout Lake, Washington. And then, on my final climb, my dad and younger siblings came along as well, when we climbed Mt. St. Helens.

What would you say your most memorable day was?

It was probably the day we climbed Dome and Sinister, which I’d done solo a couple years prior. We climbed them from the west, which is not normally done. It ended up being really, really cool scrambling. We were up there early in the morning and we popped up through a sea of clouds in the morning light. Everything was glowing orange as the light shined across it. We were having such a great time climbing up this ridge and romping in this gorgeous, gorgeous orange light.

I always love being in the mountains, and a lot of times it feels really emotionally powerful or significant, but I rarely get to the point where I'm choked up. That climb, both of us were on the verge of tears going up because it was so beautiful and so special. 

IMG_20210705_172527_905.jpgNathan descending Dark Glacier after the infamous Bonanza-Dark traverse. Photo courtesy of Jason Hardrath. 

Were there any days when you were concerned you might have a hard time making it off the mountain?

I don't know if I was ever actually thinking that we wouldn't make it down, but one of the hardest times getting down was when we did the Bonanza-Dark traverse, which is a technical ridge traverse. We got to Dark Peak around sunset. From the summit of Dark we crossed the glacier and got up to a saddle. And from this saddle we were probably a mile and a half away from the PCT. We were also vertically about a mile above the PCT. It was a very, very steep but pretty low elevation bushwhack to get down. And, you know, going uphill is hard, but bushwhacking downhill in the dark when you're going up and over logs is worse. We would step onto a log and on the other side it’s a 15-foot drop off into bushes. It was pretty heinous terrain and we'd started at 4am that day. I think it was actually one of the biggest days that we had on the entire project.

It took us maybe three or four hours to get down this bushwhack, but it felt like a month. Then we finally got to the PCT. The original plan was to walk up the PCT to meet Jason’s girlfriend Ashly, who had our camp set up for us. We got to the PCT and we probably walked a quarter mile, but we were both just falling asleep on our feet. So we just crashed. I think we had our sleeping bags, but we didn't have any pads, any extra food, or any bivvy gear. We went to bed right on the trail.

What were your gear choices and why?

I wore trail running shoes on every single peak. I never wore mountaineering boots because they’re heavy and I don't like them, and I never wore climbing shoes because I’m a pretty good climber and the climbing routes are all mid-fifth class. We had aluminum crampons for glacier travel because they were light. There wasn't ever really any steep, technical ice, it was all just snow and rock.

I also used trekking poles every day because they make the up and downs easier. It's amazing how much they save your legs. What else? A lightweight aluminum ice axe I didn't actually use very much. I spend a lot of time skiing and ski mountaineering, so I'm pretty comfortable in steep snow. I think I only pulled the ice axe out maybe 10 times. But I had it with me just in case. The only pieces of gear that were not technically essential that we were pretty adamant about bringing were a rope and a glacier kit. But beyond that, we went pretty light, wearing shorts and maybe a couple extra layers. We were definitely approaching our gear as being more like a running kit than an old-school mountaineering kit.

IMG_20210705_172527_990.jpgNathan on Bonanza-Dark Traverse. Hardrath and Longhurst climbed peak to peak along the 5th class traverse in under 3 hours. Photo courtesy of Jason Hardrath. 

What did you eat to make it through 100 peaks in just 94 days?

Ooh. Lots of deliciously calorie-dense fatty foods. It was kind of great. One of my go-to snacks was a tortilla with peanut butter, Nutella, and like five Oreos in it. So I ate a lot of those. We ate lots of pie and lots of pizza, and very few vegetables. Maybe fruit every third day and no vegetables. At that point when you're moving that much, the only way to sustain it is to cram as many calories into your stomach as you can, all the time.  

Do you have any other big outdoors objectives in mind right now?

Me and a gentleman named Travis Soares are going to try to complete the entire Sierra Peaks Section (SPS) List, which is 247 peaks in the Sierras. We're going to try to do it in a style similar to how Jason and I did the Bulgers, and to do it in a single summer climbing season. I'm really excited for that because like I mentioned earlier, I’m really into backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering, and for the SPS List we're planning on starting in March. So we're going to ski as many as 100 peaks in addition to the running, scrambling, and rock climbing involved.

Planning it is almost overwhelming. I have this big Cal Topo compilation of all the climbs, and I've been spending quite a few hours just staring at that thing, looking at all the routes. I’ll be really zoomed in working on one little area, trying to figure out the best route between two peaks. That feels kind of manageable, but then at the end of a working session, I’ll zoom out and look at the whole thing and think wow… that’s rather intimidating!

If you could give any advice to a Bulger List hopeful, what would it be?

My number one piece of advice is that, in order to complete and especially to enjoy the list, your motivation should come primarily from a love of the mountains and moving through them, rather than trying to check the boxes off a list. The list was a great experience, but if I had broken my leg on peak number 99, it wouldn't have been any less of a wonderful experience for me. It was cool to have the list as a reason to go out and climb all these mountains and go to a lot of places that I probably wouldn't have gone to otherwise. But at the end of the day, the driving force and the end goal was just enjoying being in those places, and that’s what I would recommend for anyone hoping to undertake the list.  

Pic 4.jpg
Forbidden Peak, from Nathan's camp at Klawatti Col on a ski of the Inspiration Traverse. Photo courtesy of Nathan Longhurst. 

Lead image of Nathan Longhurst on summit of Storm King with the classic Northeast Buttress of Goode in the background. Photo courtesy of Jason Hardrath. 

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Karen Wallace
Karen Wallace says:
Jan 15, 2022 09:24 AM

What a great mindset for anyone and not just because he is young. And to Hailey, what a terrific article, thank you!

Maya Magarati
Maya Magarati says:
Jan 17, 2022 07:14 PM

Amazing! Looking forward to reading, listening, or watching Nathan's SPS List adventure.