Eric Carter says his speed record on Washington’s 14,411-foot Mt. Rainier was somewhat of a consolation prize. He and best friend Nick Elson were aiming to set the record on the Liberty Ridge, but were forced to move to the Disappointment Cleaver route when news broke that six climbers were lost near Liberty Ridge (the six are still missing and presumed dead). Still, last Thursday Eric broke the standing car-to-car speed record up and down Rainier with a time of 3:51:40.
Carter and Elson previously set the record last May, which stood for just 16 days until it was bested by brothers Andy and Jason Dorais. This time, Carter shaved more than six minutes off their time. (Note: Elson lost a ski in a crevasse on the descent, forcing him to walk down.)
We caught up with Eric to talk about his record climb and ski, the tragedy on Liberty Ridge and why Rainier seems to be a focus for speed records.Backcountry: Looking back at your speed record last year, what motivated you to set the record time on Rainier?
Eric Carter: The record has traditionally been a running record. I had climbed Rainier a couple of times before, and we do a lot of ski racing, climbing and running. It just seemed like a good choice for [Nick and I] to put it all together and use our racing skills and try it on a bigger peak.
BCM: What were conditions like on the mountain that day?
EC: The overnight freeze was quite cold, so the surface was really well frozen, which generally makes for good conditions. Unfortunately with all the people on the mountain, especially on a weekend, the track ended up being this enormous, wide path of deep posthole footprints and ski tracks. That was a bit of a pain but not a big deal.
On the descent we actually had better conditions than last year because it was still a bit frozen. We were
able to go significantly faster descending this year compared to last year.
BCM: Any highlights or low points?
EC: Definitely near the top you can feel the altitude and all the effort you’ve gone through so there were a couple times where I wasn’t feeling so great. But once you get skiing down, you know that it’s all downhill from there.
There was a ton of people climbing really early in the morning…guided groups, independent groups. Most of them cheered us on, stepped out of the track for us, let us go by and were really nice about that. Some people are probably not super comfortable getting passed by some guys scrambling along, but they were really accommodating.
BCM: You were up on Rainier during the search for the six climbers on Liberty Ridge. What was the scene like on and around the mountain.
EC: We were actually planning on climbing Liberty Ridge. On Saturday we skied to the base of the ridge to just look at it and get a sense of conditions and that’s when we could see the helicopter searching. We just knew that a party was missing. Then, when we went to get our permit for the ridge from the rangers, that’s when we found out that they closed the route.
BCM: You and Nick were hoping to attempt the speed record on Liberty Ridge, rather than the easier, more well-traveled Disappointment Cleaver route. Why take the more technical route when going for speed?
EC: We do a lot of rock climbing in the summer. Alpine climbing, too. We do skimo racing in the winter, so we were trying to mold those together and pick an objective that would allow us to use our skimo fitness but also our technical climbing skills. We weren’t shooting for the overall car-to-car record, we just wanted to set the Liberty Ridge record.BCM: Any insight into the recent infatuation of speed climbing Rainier? What was the spark that rose people’s interest?
EC: We definitely didn’t start anything. It’s been a pretty common thing for runners to do. The running record is pretty amazing considering they didn’t have skis to come down on. We just wanted to use our skills as skiers to try and beat that running record. It just so happens that [last year] the Dorais brothers were aiming for the same goal.
BCM: If your new record is broken, do you think you and Nick will go back for a third time?
EC: I wouldn’t rule it out. It’s certainly not one of my main goals right now but I wouldn’t say no. We don’t live that far from Rainier so we keep a look at the weather and conditions and if things look good I can pack up and be down there the next morning. I wouldn’t mind if it lasted a little bit longer than a few week, but I know there are some much, much fitter guys out there that could do it significantly quicker.