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October 18, 2019

10/9/2019 1:02:00 PM
La Conner ultra-marathoner seeks new heights to scale
AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH – Yvonne Naughton (l), Minda Paul, and Kelsey Wilmore recently challenged the Mount Rainier Infinity Loop, covering most of its 135 miles and 45,000 feet in elevation gain. Yvonne is a La Conner physician, accomplished ultra-marathoner, and assistant La Conner High track coach.  – Photo courtesy of Yvonne Naughton
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AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH – Yvonne Naughton (l), Minda Paul, and Kelsey Wilmore recently challenged the Mount Rainier Infinity Loop, covering most of its 135 miles and 45,000 feet in elevation gain. Yvonne is a La Conner physician, accomplished ultra-marathoner, and assistant La Conner High track coach.  – Photo courtesy of Yvonne Naughton

Bill Reynolds


Since Yvonne Naughton has completed ultra-marathons all over the globe, you’d think the La Conner physician and assistant track coach has no more mountains to climb.
Not so.
She and two friends, Kelsey Wilmore and Minda Paul, found one in their own backyard.
Last July the trio tackled the rigorous Infinity Loop, which involves two summits of Mount Rainier with a circumnavigation of the Wonderland Trail.
It’s a journey of 135 miles and 45,000 feet in elevation gain.
They ended up covering most of that distance – climbing 35,000 feet and running about 115 miles.
“While we’re a little disappointed not to have completed the Infinity Loop, we’re so grateful to have enjoyed this amazing adventure together,” Naughton told the Weekly News. “And we’re excited for future adventures together.”
The Infinity Loop was imagined by legendary climber and U.S. Olympic luge team aspirant Chad Kellogg. Kellogg died in a rockfall while climbing in Patagonia five years ago and never had the opportunity to attempt the loop.
It was left to others, such as Gavin Woody and Ras Vaughn, to realize Kellogg’s vision, Naughton said.
“Since hearing about their adventure,” Naughton said of Woody’s and Vaughn’s 2016 conquest of the Infinity Loop, “I’ve been absolutely fascinated by the idea. It represents an amazing challenge, an opportunity to perfect the necessary mountaineering skills and a test to push the limits of one’s endurance.” 
Naughton, Wilmore and Paul trained for six months on trails and in the mountains.
For Naughton, who began distance running as a youth in her native Ireland, there was much to learn.
“Mountaineering is a technical and expensive pastime,” she stressed. “I’m grateful Minda was able to teach me the necessary skills.”
Unlike the popular cliche, Naughton said she and Wilmore and Paul weren’t motivated to climb Rainier simply because it is there.
“We wanted to demonstrate that a group of ordinary women could come together and teach others the necessary skills to undertake a challenge of this magnitude,” she said. “We all have jobs and families and none of us are sponsored athletes but by working together we developed the endurance to go the distance, the mountaineering skills to climb Mount Rainier, and gathered enough gear to make our attempt possible.”
As one might expect, it wasn’t easy. Wilmore fought nausea repeatedly from about the 9,000-foot level.
“Kelsey managed to eat and drink some more and we moved slowly upward,” Naughton said. “Her symptoms resolved and we trudged along happy to be feeling just the ‘normal’ effects of altitude.”
Near Rainier’s summit, the wind picked up significantly. The climbers dealt with gusts approaching 45 miles per hour.
Still, they continued on.
Exhausted, but grateful to have reached 14,410 feet, they took a celebratory summit selfie.
“We huddled together on our knees, hugged and got ready to get the heck off the mountain,” said Naughton.
If the women thought it was all downhill from the summit, they were in for a surprise.
The Upper Emmons Glacier proved difficult to maneuver, and Wilmore showed signs of being behind on nutrition and hydration.
“The next few thousand feet of descent were slow with multiple breaks to refuel and rehydrate,” Naughton said, “and finally Kelsey started to feel better.”
After clearing the Lower Emmons Glacier, with its late season low snow conditions, the women reached Camp Schurman, the last team off the mountain.
“Conditions on the Inter-Glacier required us to remain roped up and we were never so happy to finally get out of our harnesses and boots when we reached the dirt trail to White River Campground,” said Naughton.
But an unfavorable weather forecast forced tough choices from there.
“Our options were to do the ‘short leg’ of the Wonderland Trail and sit out the weather at Paradise or do the ‘long leg’ and be productive while the weather wasn’t suitable for climbing,” Naughton said.
They chose the latter.
“So we started out of White River counterclockwise along Wonderland,” she said. “That night the rain started and continued through most of our trek to Paradise. As we climbed the seemingly relentless uphill from the Wonderland Trail to the Paradise parking lot, past Narada Falls and Ruby Falls, we couldn’t deny how exhausted we were.”
That weariness was an overwhelming factor.
“We finally admitted that the second Rainier climb wouldn’t be safe,” said Naughton, “due to the fatigue of having done the ‘long leg’ of Wonderland first and also the changed and possibly worsened climbing conditions following the bad weather.”
While having to turn their backs on the mountain, Naughton, Wilmore, and Paul took solace in being able to enjoy the Wonderland Trail one last time.
“We left Paradise and headed toward White River,” Naughton said. “This section of Wonderland has to be the most beautiful and we took the time to soak it all in and enjoy each other’s company.”
They took inspiration not only in what they accomplished, but also in knowing the impact their Infinity Loop experience can have for other women.
“Watch out, boys,” said Naughton, tongue only slightly in cheek. “The women are doing it by themselves, for themselves.”







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