As Seattleites languished in hotels and lined their windows with foil during last week's historic heat wave, Trevor Kostanich and Scott Rinckenberger reached a mountaineering milestone. They climbed, summited and skied down the state's five volcanoes in five days.
In what Kostanich and Rinckenberger called the "Five in Five," the two became the first mountaineers to climb and ski Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, Mount Baker and Glacier Peak in five consecutive days. They started at Mount Rainier's Glacier Basin trailhead at 1 a.m. on June 24, and finished up at Glacier Peak's North Fork Sauk River trailhead at 9:30 p.m. on June 28. In between, they traversed Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams and Mount Baker.
The closest precedent Rinckenberger could find to their historic first was a 2017 attempt by a group of Ellensburg police officers, who summited the five volcanoes in five days and 15-plus hours, but didn't ski.
Another climber, Peter Avolio, "got the vision" of "Five in Five" from reading about the Ellensburg cops, said Kostanich. The two made an attempt in June 2018. They hit four mountains, but bailed on Glacier Peak due to weather concerns: An inch of rain followed within 24 hours.
Avolio, Kostanich and Rinckenberger made an attempt together earlier this summer, but stopped halfway through when they realized they wouldn't complete their objective in time.
Kostanich said he'd felt confident he could get it done in his latest attempt, but then June's heat dome arrived above the West Coast — and lingered. "This forecast started to add additional concern," he said.
High temperatures present added obstacles for climbers. With exaggerated and quicker melt, there's an increased risk that snowbridges will collapse, with the more glaciated areas the most at risk.
For this reason, said Kostanich, he and Rinckenberger "didn't want to be on Mount Rainier with more objective hazards" on the hottest days, so they started their attempt with Mount Rainier, getting it out of the way before temperatures spiked on June 28.
Normally, climbers making an attempt like this would make an alpine start early in the morning, and Kostanich said he and Rinckenberger "exaggerated" this concept, leaving at 10 p.m. for both the Mount Adams and Mount Baker stretches of the journey. Departing after dusk, they traveled throughout the night and skied down the mountain first thing in the morning.
This limited the time they spent in the hot sun, reducing the risk of heat exhaustion, sun exposure and dehydration, and made it possible to travel efficiently and safely despite the extreme weather scorching the state, as Seattle logged its three hottest days in recorded history and temperatures peaked at 108 degrees, all between June 26 and June 28.
Counterintuitively, the warm temperatures brought a few unexpected advantages. Normally, said Kostanich, climbing through the night means "the snow surface is icy, with cold winds," but instead, he and Rinckenberger found the temperatures were pleasant and the snow surface smooth due to the hot weather.
At the beginning of their trip, a full moon allowed them to travel safely without headlamps.
"The trip requires a lot of planning," he said, but success also depends on what conditions crop up in the moment. "What we saw was more advantageous than expected, and there's plenty of times what we see, we don't like, and we turn around."
Still, he said, "we knew we were in trouble for heat on our last volcano" — Glacier Peak, which required about 36 miles of travel. They timed the trip so they'd summit in the morning and spend the most sun-exposed hours of the day returning to the trailhead, dipping their heads in streams and creeks along the way to cool off. They completed the journey on June 28, at the heat wave's peak.
Kostanich and Rinckenberger didn't camp along the way, but summited all the volcanoes "in a single push without any overnight gear," said Rinckenberger. In between mountains, Kostanich and Rinckenberger took turns driving while the other rested.
A friend, Chris Shalbot, picked up the driving on the final two mountains, when "the double shots of espresso weren't lasting as many minutes as they were supposed to," said Kostanich.
The real MVP of the trip came in the vehicle belonging to Rinckenberger. He drives a Ford F-150, Kostanich said, and "his truck had great A/C."