Thursday, August 07, 2008

A month of records: Liam O'Sullivan claims new speed record

Less than a month after Justin Merle broke the speed summit record of Mount Rainier from Paradise to Columbia Crest and back, Liam O'Sullivan, a mountain guide employed by International Mountain Guides (IMG), raised the bar once again, beating Merle's time by 3 minutes with a new record of 4 hours, 46 minutes and 29 seconds (FYI: Both Merle and O'Sullivan had small amounts of supplies cached at Camp Muir and dropped crampons on the descent). O'Sullivan left the upper Paradise parking lot at 4:20:08 a.m. and arrived at Camp Muir 1 hr 24 minutes later, putting him well on the way to a new record. O'Sullivan then beat his own personal time to Columbia Crest by 5 minutes, with a one way time of 3:11:22. On a previous attempt this month, O'Sullivan had been on pace to beat the record, but then faced fierce cramps on the descent which prevented him from setting a new record. This was almost the case again, but he was able to pull through this time.

"Any long or awkward step (which the Cleaver has plenty of by now) would cause me to cramp, so I descended cautiously to Muir, by which time I had lost all but 1 minute of the lead I had gained on Justin Merle's pace. I descended the (unfortunately) still firm Muir Snowfield, reaching Pebble neck-and-neck with Justin's time. Then battling the rocky, stepped trail, I commenced. Below Glacier Vista I kicked, breaking away from the pace, opted for the more direct east side of Alta Vista (complete with skin-shredding steep asphalt descent), and reached the trailhead in 4:46:29!"

Climbing conditions on Disappoinment Cleaver (DC) are some of the best conditions seen in years, which could account for the recent trend of speed ascents this month, including record attempts by O'Sullivan and Alpine Ascents International (AAI) Guide Michael Horst, and an amazing combination bicycle ride and speed ascent by Randall Nordfors. Despite the phenomenal conditions on the DC all summer, the season is moving along and things are beginning to break up, so future speed ascent attempts may be more difficult due to less direct route and slower climbing conditions. However, this may not stop would-be record breakers like Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa, a guide with Alpine Ascents International (AAI) and previous Everest record holder. Check out a recent article by The Seattle Times, covering this new competition for the "Rainier Speed Summit".

In addition to his record breaking climb, O'Sullivan has had a pretty good month - he made his 100th summit of Rainier on a tough Kautz route in less than ideal conditions, he guided Nordfors' Puget Sound to Summit trip and now begins a new path: medical school. After 10 years of mountain guiding on Mount Rainier and around the globe, we wish Liam the best and look forward to hearing more great things from him in the future.