200,000 feet, 30 days

by ERIC BARKER Lewiston Tribune
| October 3, 2020 1:00 AM

This summer, Brent Jacobs set and achieved a goal that relied as much on logistical planning as it did on conditioning, stamina and mental toughness.

A flat tire, a nasty blister, bad weather or any number of seemingly minor setbacks could have thrown the Lewiston High School math teacher off his tight schedule and blown his chances of climbing 200,000 vertical feet in just 30 days.

“One scary part about starting this trip is there were so many factors that were out of my control,” he said. “If I had one thunderstorm day or if I had car problems, or if I got an injury of any sort, or if there were road closures or fires — if I get thrown off one day, the whole challenge is over.”

Simple fatigue could have doomed the effort as well. But fate and fitness were on his side as the 35-year-old originally from Genesee bagged peak after peak in the Washington Cascades. Jacobs logged 466 miles in 254 hours between July 6 and Aug. 5 and averaged about 7,100 feet per day. He hiked and scrambled to 61 high points and ultimately gained 213,612 vertical feet, all while never covering the same trail twice.

The achievement, as far as he can tell, has never been done before. That was part of the plan.

Jacobs enjoys setting goals for his summer months. He has twice bicycled across the country and hiked the John Muir Trail.

“Basically, I just take off for a month and do something I enjoy doing,” he said.

Inspiration for this summer’s adventure can be traced to a viewing of the Banff Mountain Film Festival — an annual collection of short adventure films that often highlight people accomplishing amazing outdoor feats.

“You just watch people push their bodies to the limit and do things that a lot of times they are the first ones ever to do,” he said. “I just wanted to basically prove to myself I could be that type of person, someone who could inspire others, and just do something I don’t believe anyone has ever done.”

The hard part was first coming up with a unique goal. Once he landed on gaining 200,000 feet in a month, Jacobs went through four drafts of meticulous planning. He looked for hikes that could be clustered together with only short drives between trailheads. He sought trails that averaged at least 1,000 feet in elevation gain per mile.

“The trail had to start going up right away from the trailhead,” he said. “I couldn’t waste time hiking in and then going up, and I had to find enough mountains close enough together because I was basically climbing two mountains a day.”

He chose the Cascades, started with Mount Adams and made his way north. None of the climbs involved ropes, and there was only one overnighter. The rest were a mix of hikes and technical scrambles. Some included crossing snowfields, where he had to use an ice ax and crampons. Most followed trails, but many involved cross-country treks.

For the most part, they were all solo ascents, though a few times he hiked with people he met on the trail.

“I got to see all aspects of the Cascades, the Washington Cascades. I was on the east side toward the Leavenworth area and the Enchantments and back on the west side by Snoqualmie Pass and Stevens Pass.”

He cooked dinners on a camp stove and slept in the bed of his pickup truck. He woke early every day and sometimes started hiking before sunrise. Breakfast and lunch were consumed on the trail.

“I lost 12 to 15 pounds. I was trying to stay light, so I didn’t pack a ton of food on every hike,” he said. “I was probably eating a couple of thousand calories during the daytime and then a big dinner at night.”

His knees were sore from the pounding endured while hiking downhill, but his feet held up well.

“The first thing I did when I got back to my pickup was get my sandals on and let the feet breathe and I changed my socks out every hike and just tried to take care of them as best I could.”

He wore trail running shoes instead of boots. On most hikes, he carried only a small trail-running pack that held two liters of water. On hikes with snowfields, he carried a larger pack that accommodated his ice ax and crampons.

Through it all, there were no doubts or demons, no days where he wanted to give up and no mental or physical obstacles that threatened to make him quit.

“I really enjoy climbing mountains, so every moment was fun. There were no dark times, which usually make the best stories. I don’t have any of those great stories where I was in some predicament. I was calm, confident and basically just ready to try anything. It was all good. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, that I could push myself past that limit and just kind of show if you set a goal, anybody can do whatever they want to do.”

Jacobs hit his goal of 200,000 feet on Day 29. On the last day, he celebrated by continuing to push himself.

“The final day, I ended up doing 23 miles and 11,795 feet of gain and three summits, which is a really really big day on its own,” he said.

Eric Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at 208-848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.