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Serious Injuries Didn’t Stop Jason Hardrath
Story by Lee Juillerat, Photos courtesy Luke Webster

When Jason Hardrath goes searching for adventure he literally takes it to new heights.

  Jason Hardrath on ridge peak   Jason Hardrath astride peak  
Jason Hardrath on ridge peak...
...and astride another

During a 51-day period in the summer of 2021, the then 32-year-old climbed the 100 highest peaks in Washington – from Mount Rainier to dozens of highly technical lesser-known summits in the rugged and ragged North Cascades. Distance wise, Hardrath covered 869 miles with a staggering elevation gain of 411,00 feet. The previous record for summiting Washington’s 100 highest peaks – the list of those peaks is known as the Bulger List – was 410 days.

Setting the record for the Bulger List was actually setting a record on top of a record. When he stood atop Mount St. Helens at 6:04 a.m. on August 3, 2021, to complete the Bulger List, Jason recorded his 100th FKT, or Fastest Known Time.

“The views, the sensation of being up there. I love the feeling of the clouds, the breeze, the feeling of looking down and saying, ‘My legs brought me up here,’” he says of summiting towering, technically challenging, often trail-less mountain peaks. “I love bringing my skills to the test. The feeling I climbed a mountain the best I could. The feeling I’m bringing the experience of my best nature to nature.”

  Jason Hardrath and crew   Jason Hardrath climbing rock face  
Jason and crew
Jason climbing rock face
  Jason Hardrath climbs to wall ledge   Jason Hardrath makes it up to the ledge  
Jason perseveres up the wall...
...and makes it to the ledge

His success hasn’t happened without overcoming obstacles. Until the day in 2015 when he was nearly killed and severely injured in a driving accident, Hardrath had been competing in Iron Man competitions, which combine bicycling, swimming and running, and other competitive outdoor activities. After a difficult day at work, while driving home he briefly took his eyes off the road and his car went off the highway. Hardrath, who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, was ejected through the open side window, resulting in several potentially life-threatening injuries.  

  Jason Hardrath sees mountain goat   Jason Hardrath climbing steep snow  
Curious mountain goat
Jason ascends a steep snowfield
  Jason Hardrath, PE teacher   Ashley Winchester  
Jason Hardrath, PE teacher
Director Lauren Steele

Hardrath, a physical education teacher at tiny Bonanza Elementary School in Southern Oregon, aggressively worked his way back into shape. He couldn’t run, but he discovered that he could climb. He developed skills, stamina and efficiency.      

Climbing, just like triathlons, were outlets for his ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder). “As a kid I couldn’t sit still … I found athletics as this realm where I can be successful.” After the accident, “I was told I’d have to give up that part of my life. 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.”

His ADHD manifested itself in middle school when Hardrath wanted to, and eventually did, run a mile in less than six minutes. In high school he ran track with a goal of earning a college scholarship, which led to his attending Corban University in Salem, Oregon. “I had to work my butt off to keep my scholarship,” tells Hardrath, who earned a degree and a teaching certificate in physical education.

  Jason Hardrath hiking Ptarmigan Traverse   Jason Hardrath on glacier  
Jason hiking Ptarmigan Traverse...
...and on a glacier

Climbing opportunities proved abundant, from Hogback in Klamath Falls, the Southern Oregon city that’s been his home since 2011, to Mount Shasta, a 14,180-foot mountain he’s summited more than 25 times. He also learned and honed technical skills in Utah slot canyons, Castle Crags in far Northern California, Red Rocks near Las Vegas, Smith Rock in Central Oregon, Joshua Tree in Southern California and numerous Sierra-Nevada mountains, while increasingly focusing on complex, technical routes.

“I cut my teeth on volcanoes,” explains Hardrath, who stands 5-foot-9, and weighs 170 pounds.

  Jason Hardrath stands on summit of Sinister Peak   Jason Hardrath reaches summit of Mount Formidible summit  
Jason stands on summit of Sinister Peak...
...and reaches summit of Mount Formidible

When he neared his 100th FKT, he decided to make reaching that century mark special. Likewise, he wanted that 100th climb to be symbolic. When he stood on the summit of Mount St. Helens at 6:04 a.m. on August 3, 2021, the then 32-year-old Hardrath, who had launched his 100 Washington summits effort at 6:21 a.m. on June 13, shattered the previous Bulger record of 410 days set by Eric Gilbertson in 2018.

His 100 peaks journey included 51 days of challenges. Conditions varied, from sometimes stifling heat, ravenous mosquitoes, devising ways to access normal climbing routes from Canada because of Covid-closures, teetering on knife-edged ridges, being soaked by heavy rain, navigating technical rock terrain, traveling across glaciers, and readjusting schedules to avoid forest fire closures. Hardrath was joined on 65 peaks by then 21-year-old Nathan Longhurst, who later became the youngest Bulger record holder.

As his seemingly impossible quest – some in the climbing community had predicted he would dismally fail – came closer to reality, Hardrath earned sponsorships. Bill Shufelt, founder and CEO of Athletic Brewing, which brews non-alcoholic beer, insisted, “We need to make a movie of this.” Film crews from WZRD Media documented Hardrath’s final four climbs. The result is a 30-minute documentary, “Journey to 100,” which has been shown at film festivals, and, following its premiere in Brooklyn, in screenings in Denver, Seattle, Portland and elsewhere. “It definitely speaks to people who love mountains,” Hardrath says of the film, noting a theme is, “It gives us permission to chase our dreams and goals.”

  Jason Hardrath descending ridge   Jason Hardrath balancing on ridge rocks  
Jason descending ridge...
...and pausing to balance

Completing the Bulger List in less than two months – a time frame partially necessary because it needed to happen during the summer break from teaching - wasn’t done without forethought. After wondering, “How realistic is this?,” through near-daily Zoom calls over a six-month period, Hardrath sought logistical advice from other Bulger finishers, including former record-holder Gilbertson.

Why does he climb? Hardrath says he genuinely appreciates the challenges and rewards of climbing, explaining “When I get out there (on mountaintops) it’s like complete silence. I can feel the breeze across my skin. It’s more of a sanctuary than any church I’ve been in, and that’s a pretty powerful calling.”

He talks about giving his body a rest, but he’s also planning more adventures. He plans to rejoin Longhurst for the Norman 13, summiting 14,000-foot Sierra-Nevada range summits, this summer. Goals for 2023 and beyond include the Rainier Infinity Loop, which involves making two summits of Mount Rainer and two circuits of the entire Wonderland Trail, adventure climbs in South America, and outings like the “Teton Picnic,” which includes biking 23 miles from Jackson Hole, to Jenny Lake, swimming 1.3 miles across the lake, climbing 10 often-technical miles to the summit of 13,775-foot Grand Teton, then reversing the route and returning back to town.

“I have a laundry list of things,” Hardrath laughs. “It’s been kind of a wild ride to where it is now.” Others have joined the ride. He’s also sponsored by Path Projects, Norda Run, and Coros, outdoor-related companies that provide him with watches, trail shoes and clothes.

  Jason signs the register for Mount Formidible   Jason Hardrath kicking back  
Signing the Mount Formidible register...
...and kicking back

But Hardrath’s immediate focus is on teaching, which includes instilling a sense of you-can-do-it for his students and encouraging others of all ages. He helped build a climbing wall at his Bonanza school, where he also leads hikes and bicycle rides. In Klamath Falls he received a $10,000 grant from Athletic Brewing to help build a new Bike Skills park.

“This desire to help and lift others has been engrained in me,” Hardrath explains, “I’m most passionate about getting the kids in the outdoors more. I like the idea of a real, full-on adventure, and I hope to instill that in others, too.”

Jason Hardrath and Ashley Winchester
Jason and partner Ashley Winchester


  Lee Juillerat is a semi-retired reporter-photographer who lives in Southern Oregon and is a frequent contributor to several magazines and other publications. He has written and co-authored books about various topics, most recently "Ranchers and Ranching: Cowboy Country Yesterday and Today.” Lee has produced photo-stories about U.S. and worldwide travels for High On Adventure for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at 337lee337@charter.net.   Lee Juillerat