Adventurer Andrew Hughes has spent most of his time during Washingon’s stay-home order preparing for one of the most ambitious endurance challenges of his career.
For weeks, he has been running staircases in his Fremont neighborhood while wearing a weighted vest, training to tackle the daunting steps of his front porch that, this Friday, he will climb 5,683 times.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hughes was forced to cancel both a marathon and an attempt to climb Mount Everest and Lhotse back-to-back within 24 hours, a conquest only 40 people have achieved. An accomplished mountaineer, this wasn’t the first time he’s had to put his goals on hold.
“Cancellations are a part of climbing,” he said. “There is no guarantee you’ll reach the summit. You have to abide by the storms that alter your path, whether it’s due to the weather or a pandemic.”
So, instead of battling fierce winds and extreme cold and altitude in the Himalayas this week, Hughes will capitalize on his months of training to take on a local “summit.”
Hughes will “summit” #AtHomeEverest and Lhotse from his front-porch stairs that peak at 30 inches. He will climb that set of steps more than 5,600 times to equal the elevation gain from Everest Base Camp, for a total of 28,414 feet.
To the recreational hiker, this undertaking may seem absurd, but to endurance athletes, it’s about adapting to the circumstances and redefining the art of the sufferfest. Hughes is just one of many local endurance athletes who’ve shaken off the disappointment of events, races and milestone attempts that were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and found creative ways to challenge themselves, make the most of their training efforts and stay sane in isolation.
Like Hughes, Kaelee Butner was also hoping to climb a mountain this summer: Mount Rainier.
But her planned June climb seemed less likely as the state’s stay-home order extended from weeks to months.
Determined to bag the peak regardless, Butner traded dirt paths and Cascade views for an urban hiking feat on Seattle’s longest staircase: the Howe Street Stairs.
With 388 steps and an elevation gain of 160 feet, Butner climbed “Mt. Stairnier” 95 times, totaling just over 14,411 feet, the same height as Mount Rainier.
How did “Mt. Stairnier” compare to the real thing?
“I’m really excited I did it,” she said. “My identity is tied to doing epic outdoor adventures and I found that same identity after completing Mt. Stairnier. Accomplishing this challenge gave me a weird sense of hope and proved that I could be adaptable and resilient.”
In Snohomish County, Adam Braddock of Mukilteo left his home the same morning he was supposed to run the postponed Boston Marathon and set off instead on a 6x6x48 challenge. A modification of the 4x4x48 challenge spearheaded by ultra endurance athlete and retired Navy SEAL David Goggins, Braddock would run 6 miles, every six hours over the next 48 hours.
A founding member of the Japanese Gulch Runners and race director of the Gulch Countdown, Braddock missed his group’s weekly runs. So he and club founder Abram Elwell devised a way to keep the challenge going among the group: the 4x4xOutlastCovid relay that would replace group runs and allow members to continue running together, apart.
Through a spreadsheet, runners sign up for a four-hour time slot, during which they run 4 miles and post a photo and tag the next runner on the list. The relay will continue until they can resume group runs once again.
“The challenging part are the runs that take place during the middle of the night,” said Elwell. “But we haven’t missed a slot since we began on April 25.”
To take his mind off his beloved Issaquah Alps trails, Issaquah resident Zach Szablewski challenged himself to run every street in the city, and over 17 days, clocking an average of one-to-three hours per day, Szablewski ran 203 miles covering every cul-de-sac and dead end in his city’s 13 square miles.
The exercise led him to several new discoveries about his town. “I found some cool city trails that I didn’t know existed, including neighborhood connector trails to Squak Mountain that I wouldn’t have otherwise known about,” he said.
While swapping trails and mountaintops for concrete and monotonous stair repetitions doesn’t compare to finish lines and standing above the clouds, there is a certain allure to taking on a solo endurance challenge from the comfort of home.
The at-home effort requires more grit, in some ways, Hughes says, adding that he feels more trepidation about the thousands of sets of front-porch steps that await him this Friday, than he did about taking on a lofty Himalayan goal.
“The mental side will be more difficult,” he said. “The barriers of exiting are far easier. I can just quit and go inside. If you decide to quit on a mountain, you still have to trek out.”
Hughes opted to do the climb from his front porch because he wanted to be respectful of the stay-home order. But to mimic the Himalayan conditions as closely as possible, he will carry a backpack weighing between 25 and 45 pounds, wear his approach shoes and will change into his down onesie as he makes his final push.
Awed by the valiant efforts of essential workers and the human spirit he has witnessed during the pandemic, Hughes saw #AtHomeEverest as an opportunity to give back. He has partnered with the Seattle Foundation to raise money for the COVID-19 Response Fund, a program that supports local workers and families most affected by the coronavirus, and he’s encouraging supporters to donate.
Hughes will stream his “climb” live on Instagram Live, under his handle “@Andrew_I_Hughes.” Or you can support him in spirit by doing a few sets of stairs on your own and sharing your efforts on social media using the hashtag #AtHomeEverest.
Want to try a different endurance challenge while stuck at home? The following events are open to the public: