McMillan fires off 15 volcanoes in 14 days
World-champion extreme skier’s spring road trip takes her through Pacific Northwest on Ring of Fire tour.
By Miller N. Resor, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
May 30, 2012
Everyone loves spring skiing. What’s not to like about a little corn? But when you’re the best in the world sometimes you have to inject a little bit of extreme.
Freeskiing world champion Jess McMillan decided to spice up her spring skiing experience by setting her sites on the highest volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest portion of the Ring of Fire.
In 14 days, McMillan ticked off 15 volcanoes, climbing almost 80,000 feet and traveling more than 140 miles on skis.
McMillan was joined by extreme skiing iron man Chris Davenport, a fellow member of the team sponsored by outdoor clothing manufacturer’s Spyder. Davenport once skied every 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado in a single calendar year — 54 of them. He climbed more than 200,000 vertical feet in the process.
McMillan credits The Mountain Athlete, a Jackson Hole fitness center, for preparing her mentally and physically for the trip.
“You learn to push yourself harder than you thought you could,” she said.
The trip was inspired and made possible largely because of the Spyder “land yacht,” a heavy duty RV that was the team’s mobile base camp.
“We had access to this awesome vehicle,” McMillan said, “so we decided we wanted to take it on the ultimate road trip.”
The trip took her and Davenport from Lassen Peak in California north through Oregon all the way to Washington’s Mount Baker.
After sleeping in the land yacht at a trailhead, they would wake long before sunrise and eat a quick breakfast. The menu was often Barenaked granola and hulk smoothies, a concoction created especially for the duo by a Whole Foods nutritionalist. Then they’d set off for that day’s conquest.
After their descent, they would climb aboard their mobile base camp and head to the next volcano.
The two were joined by friends along the way. Former professional skier Daron Rahlves joined the expedition for the first five volcanoes: Lassen Peak, Mount Shasta, Mount McLoughlin, Mount Thielsen and Mount Bachelor.
The hardest day for McMillan was traversing the Three Sisters in a single day. As the name implies, the Three Sisters offered up three volcanoes. McMillan and Davenport traveled 16.3 miles and climbed more than 10,000 feet in a single day to conquer the sixth, seventh and eighth mountains on the tour.
“You would go up, come down and then look up, and I remember thinking ‘I’ve got to go up that again,’” McMillan recalls.
McMillan also remembers standing on Mount Jefferson, the second-highest mountain in Oregon and the tenth volcano the Spyder team assaulted. When she looked south, she saw the volcanos the team had already summited; looking north, she could see the peaks that lay ahead.
The expedition had uncommonly perfect weather. Two straight weeks of cold, clear nights and sunny days kept snow conditions ideal.
McMillan said she enjoyed the mountaineering side of the trip. The group carried ski crampons, regular crampons and ice axes. On several occasions, it was impossible to ski from the summit, and the team left its skis and climbed on without them.
In a couple of particularly steep moments, McMillan remembers thinking, “OK, don’t fall.”
The sensation of having a giant peak to themselves was McMillan’s favorite part. On the way down the group would choose a route based on snow conditions and steepness.
“We’re skiers,” she said. “We wanted to ski something cool.”
When she reached the top of Mount Baker, the final peak of the trip, “I was filled with this overwhelming joy at accomplishing such a challenging expedition,” she said.
Next year, McMillan wants to take the Spyder land yacht through the Canadian Rockies.