Who says volcanoes are just there to look imposing and spout occasional fireballs? For Vail, Colorado's Jon Kedrowski, 35, they were there for the climbing. Why? Because he figured, “Why not?” The mountaineer had already climbed and camped on all 55 of Colorado's fourteeners (14,000-plus-foot peaks). Oh, and bagged Everest in 2012. What was another new mission to climb, camp, and ski down from the summits of 20 of the Pacific Northwest's highest volcanoes in a single month? Apparently just another day (or 30) in the life of this mountain geologist and avid adventure seeker.
Kedrowski completed the feat—and lived to tell about it. So we thought we'd catch up with the go-getter about mountaineering—the good, bad, and the ugly.
What inspired you for this particular challenge?
I've always loved the Pacific Northwest. Last year I skied a couple of days with Chris Davenport here in Colorado. He is well known for some of his ski projects. I wanted to find a challenging project that mixed part of what I've already done (sleeping on summits) with something that not many others know I can do so well, and that’s skiing. In 2012, Chris Davenport and some of his friends skied 14 of the volcanoes out there, and I knew I wanted to camp on many of those summits, so the lightbulb went on.
What was the toughest weather moment you overcame to complete the mission?
I arrived on the summit of Mt. Adams (12,276 feet) on May 22, with my overnight gear and every intention of spending the night on its large flat summit. I had just taken off my skis and stuck them in the snow to pull the skins and start setting up my tent. I pulled my ice axe off my pack to use it for one of the tent anchors and it was hot to the touch. A storm had been coming from the direction of St. Helens. As I was pulling skins, the zippers on my jacket were buzzing, then "flash, crash, boom!" lightning struck right in front of my face and knocked me over. Before I knew it I was down the peak several thousand feet skiing away from the danger.
What the coolest thing you learned about volcanoes during your adventure?
Everyone gives Mt. St. Helens all the attention in terms of eruptions, but each of the volcanoes has a unique eruption history, and nearly all of the volcanoes I skied are what we would call "semi-active." I was very intrigued that Mt. Lassen in Northern California had two major eruptions in three days (in 1915) that were almost as devastating as St. Helens'. Also, Mt. Rainier used to be almost 17,000 feet high, but a series of eruptions, and one about 15,000 years ago, blew the top off Rainier, making it its present height of 14,410 feet.
Is it lonely out there, solo climbing?
You learn a lot about self-reliance and what your true limits are. Honestly, when I'm out in wilderness areas and on peaks, there is so much to see and so much going on that time goes really fast. There are so many things to think about: weather, conditions, personal nutrition, and especially getting the photography, video, and the sunrise and sunset shots. When it comes to skiing, there are times I invited friends to come along. There's something great about having good climbing partners on these ski descents.
What exactly are you packing in?
Overall my gear and philosophy is fast and light on the peaks. When I spend the night on a summit, I carry an ultralight down sleeping bag, tent, and inflatable air-mattress pad—and an optional stove to melt snow. An ice axe was always great to have in order to chop out tent platforms on these summits. For a day trip, I was only carrying a light pack with an extra-stuffed ultralight down jacket, some snacks (Honey Stinger and Clif Bars) and a steripen to purify water. Sometimes skiing with a Whippet [a special backcountry ski pole] is nice so that if I were to fall I could self-arrest. My primary ski set-up for the volcanoes was the Kästle TX 97 in 174 and Dynafit bindings; Scarpa Maestrale backcountry boots; and GoPro, Olympus, Canon, and iPhone cameras.
Set the scene of one of your most dramatic photographs.
A full moon was rising on a completely calm night on my birthday, May 12. I had just skied and climbed for 7 hours over 14 miles and about 4,500 feet of vertical to get to the top of South Sister (10,378 feet) in Oregon. The summer road was closed, so I had to skin all the way from the Bachelor Ski Area parking lot. I was exhausted and was starting to put my tent up on the crater rim. As the sun went down, the dramatic sunset colors and fading lenticular clouds in the northern and eastern sky were amazing as they were positioned next to the pyramid shadow of the peak and the full moon rising. There was no wind at all, and I had the summit all to myself without another soul within 10 miles of me. What a great moment of solitude and wildness.
How do you hope to inspire everyday athletes to challenge themselves in other, perhaps more attainable, ways?
Through my journeys and adventures I try to use social media in a unique way to inspire others. When I post to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram I usually do it in the mornings when people might see it and allow the photo or the inspirational message to resonate toward their day ahead. I think everyone can set goals to climb their own metaphorical mountains. Their goals might be personal, professional, or family-oriented. When it comes to climbing mountains and backcountry skiing, I think people ought to set goals to train with daily workouts, and then choose to tackle peaks on weekends, vacations, or in teambuilding exercises with friends and family.
You've written a book about bivying. For people who don't even know what that is, please explain, and tell us a little about the book.
"Sleeping on the Summits: Colorado Fourteener High Bivys" chronicles a journey I took in 95 days in 2011 to became the first and only person to spend the night on the top of each of Colorado's 55 14,000-foot peaks. Bivy is short for "bivouac," which is French for "a long night of suffering." Ha! If you are a mountaineer and have to bivy, something has probably gone wrong (bad weather, getting lost, injury, etc.). I chose to bivy and the journey was an incredible adventure. The story relates to everyday life, a journey of uncertainty, teamwork, and incredible sunrises and sunsets.
You've always been a go-getter. What in your background/upbringing/personality do you attribute that to?
I had many strong role models and mentors—my parents for one. They were no-nonsense, no-excuse-type parents. I had to work hard for everything I earned. My dad was a former college basketball player and he made me not only work hard in the gym, but at his construction company. I spent so many days in between climbing, high school, college, and graduate school working on these job sites—lifting tons of wood and doing tough labor. The disciplinary aspects are immeasurable. Then, I trained for high school football and basketball, and more basketball in college, by climbing mountains. I think mountains teach you so many things, but I also had some awesome coaches and teammates along the way who helped me stay focused on the big goals ahead.
What's your next adventure?
While I can't tell you the exact details, 2015 involves a fun ski project in the U.S. and a visit to Asia, likely to climb and ski an 8,000-meter peak. Also, be on lookout for my next book, "Sleeping on the Summits 2," which chronicles skiing the cascade volcanoes and California fourteeners.
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