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One Season, 28 Volcanoes: Two Women Take on the Cascades

This post is one of a series that takes a closer look at the lives of Feathered Friends Ambassadors. Written by Mandy Godwin.

Kate and Madeline together in the mountains.Kate Carothers and Madeline Dunn.

Madeline Dunn picks up the phone a few minutes after getting off a plane in Utah. She’s just flown in to meet Kate Carothers, her friend and 2018 Volcano Project climbing partner, in the Wasatch Mountains for a day of spontaneous training. After an entire season of living in different states, planning together but training separately, today marks their first day back in the mountains together—a milestone in the preparation for this summer’s ambitious ski mountaineering project.

From June to July 2018, Madeline and Kate will attempt to summit all twenty-eight major Cascade range volcanoes as fast as possible in one continuous push. The Cascade volcanoes span from Lassen Peak in Northern California to Mt. Meager in British Columbia and include some of North America’s most iconic peaks. The two women will spend the summer living out of Kate’s truck at trailheads, bivying on the mountains, and chasing the tail end of winter north from California.

“I actually grew up skiing and training on Mount Hood in the summers, so I’ve been used to year-round skiing for awhile, and I crave it,” Madeline says. Skiing the glaciers is one of the most reliable ways to lengthen the season, but the glaciers themselves are threatened by climate change, and spending time on them has heightened Madeline and Kate’s awareness of the problem. One scientist, who’s been observing the North Cascades glaciers for three decades, has seen a 25% loss of glacier volume in that time. With this in mind, Madeline and Kate have allied with Climb for Conservation to fundraise for the protection of glaciated terrain. “We decided to partner with a non-profit to make it about more than just us,” Madeline explains, “to help protect the glaciers that are melting that we love.”

Madeline in a Helios Hoody atop Mt. Adams.Madeline on top of Mount Adams.

The two met last year while Kate was working at The Mountain Shop in Portland, Oregon, and Madeline was attempting to climb as many Cascade volcanoes as fast as possible within a twenty day timeframe. Kate laughs about it now: “I was like, ‘Oh wait, you’re a chick, and you’re skiing volcanoes. Would you like to ski some volcanoes [together]?’ A week or two went by, then we reached out to each other and skied Mt. Adams together before the road opened.” They then decided to team up for this year’s project when they realized that they shared the same goals for the Cascade volcanoes and had complementary skills—Kate is a certified SPA Rock Guide and Madeline is an avalanche educator with AIARE.

“You spend a lot of time with your climbing partner and need to trust them in life or death situations,” Madeline says. Especially on the less popular, more remote routes, they may not see anyone else on the mountain, making it all the more necessary to be able to rely on one another’s technical expertise.

Weather especially can be a wild card. It’s been a low snow year across the West, which adds uncertainty to the summit conditions. Plus, climbers have to contend with the erratic ways the volcanoes themselves affect weather patterns. “Those volcanoes create their own weather clouds,” Madeline says. “I’ve been up there when there’s not a cloud in the sky, and then all of a sudden, moisture comes up from out of nowhere and socks you in. Whiteouts above treeline can be deadly if you’re not ready for it.”

Kate with her Plover sleeping bag in the Alaska Range.Kate in the Alaska Range.

In preparation, she’s taken a meteorology course and learned to read the jetstream and track weather models. Kate agrees that weather may make it difficult to link the peaks, but despite the challenges—both those they can foresee and those they can’t—she’s excited. The magnitude of the project requires a significant sacrifice of both time and money, but hearing the joy in both women’s voices as they explain what they’re most looking forward to, there’s no question of whether it’s worth it.

“If I could do anything in the world and money didn’t matter,” Madeline says, “it would be living in inclement weather: digging holes in the snow to sleep, exhausting myself, eating for calories, and just existing. That’s what I’m most excited about: to do what I love for a couple months at a time.”

“Not everyone gets to do that, to spend every day in such a free state,” Kate affirms. “You never regret it. You’re always thankful that you had the time.”


Madeline Dunn and Kate Carothers can be found on Instagram at @madelinececilia_ and @eyeofamountaingoat. Check back here for updates on their progress throughout the season. 

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