During the first 16 days of June, Washington natives Kyle Miller and Jason Hummel pulled off an enormous traverse along the crest of the North and Central Cascades, travelling 120 miles and climbing a total of 60,000 feet. Dubbed the American Alps Traverse, it was initially envisioned as a ski route by Lowell Skoog, his late brother Carl, and Jens Kieler in the early ’90s. The route launches from the North Cascades Highway and travels through much of the rugged North Cascades National Park, eventually arriving at the remote mountain village of Holden. From there it connects with the Suiattle High Route, hits the summit of Glacier Peak, and finally makes its way out to the Whitechuck River Road near Darrington.
The difficulties of the logistics, scale, and weather never permitted the original visionaries of the route to pull off their lofty goal. Today there are but a few adventurers with the knowledge, abilities, and steely motivation to attempt the undertaking, but Hummel and Miller were the clear candidates for the job. Hummel, a telemarker, began backcountry skiing with his father on Mount Rainier around the time he learned to walk, and has authored at least 50 substantial first descents and numerous pioneering traverses around the state. Miller, a splitboarder, has been diligently ticking off snowboard descents of the most treacherous and remote Washington peaks for the past several years, and recently became the first person to ride (ski or snowboard) lines on the 10, 9,000-foot-plus non-volcanic peaks in the state.
For their successful bid at the traverse, the duo installed two food and gear caches, one near Cascade Pass and another at Holden Village. With a solid weather forecast on the radar, they headed into the mountains on June 1. In a region renowned for its terrible weather, the two managed to hit the tight, but sufficient window.
“We summited the last high point, Glacier Peak, minutes before an electrical storm crashed into it, and made it to our car minutes before a torrent of rain let loose,” says Miller. The weather in the region hasn’t cleared in the week since. I’m blown away by how fortunate we were.”
While different sections of the traverse have become more well known and more frequently visited recently, no one has linked these classic high routes in one continuous push. The American Alps route connects the Isolation Traverse, the Ptarmigan Traverse, the Extended Ptarmigan, and the Suiattle High Route.
Even more, the trip nearly failed to launch at all. Last summer, Miller’s demanding training regimen—jogging the equivalent of multiple marathons a week—gave him a serious ankle injury. Though he had recovered in time for the 2013 winter season, just two days before leaving on the American Alps trip, the ankle injury became aggravated again. “I feared I wouldn’t make it more than a few days, but I just took it a day at a time. My ankle held up and somehow we made it all the way,” says Miller.
For Hummel, the trip represents the lifetime of work he has put into exploring these mountains. “To me the Cascades are a treasure, and in a way they raised me like they were my parents. I’ve learned to be who I am from these mountains—progenitors of ultimate suffering to unimaginable reward. So to link a traverse like the American Alps together, well, that’s like saying, ‘Hey, Mom and Dad, I made it!’”