Mountaineer shatters climbing record — in his undies

Jack Kuenzle was taken aback by all the people cheering him on as he raced up Mt. Hood to break the record for climbing up — then skiing back down — the massive Oregon volcano. Now, he wonders whether it was really his speed getting all the attention.

"I think it might be because I was in my underwear," Kuenzle told FOX Television Stations. "I think that stood out a little more."

On April 24, Kuenzle finished his half-naked ascent and descent in 1 hour and 31 minutes, beating the previous record of 1 hour and 44 minutes. For an average climber, getting up and back down Mt. Hood takes anywhere from five to nine hours. As for why he broke the record wearing nothing but his underwear, it’s simple: "I get so incredibly hot."

"I found as a larger athlete, both height and weight, I have a lot of trouble keeping myself cool when exercising," Kuezle said. "I think a lot of people don’t realize that heat production and cooling is a big limiter to physical exertion."

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Mt. Hood was Kuenzle’s first record in his underwear, but it’s not the only record he’s beat. According to Fastest Known Time, a website that tracks speed records on mountains and trails, Kuenzle has set 17 such records up and down the East and West coasts since October 2019, including the ascent record on Mt. Shasta in California.


Jack Kuenzle ascends Mt. Hood (photo courtesy Jack Kuenzle and friends)

This ski season alone, Kuenzle, a coach and trainer for Uphill Athlete, has skied 900,000 feet, he said. That’s the equivalent of 689 trips up and down Mt. Everest.

On Mt. Hood, Kuenzle said his attire could lead people to think he wasn’t carrying any gear for the climb, but he had more gear with him than prior record-holders. He also had two friends waiting at the summit and had skied the route two days before the big climb.

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"I knew with the underwear, if I fell and injured myself my friends were going to help me out," Kuenzle said. "And part of what enabled me to go so light on the gear was to ski the entire route."

"I didn’t look at my watch at all the whole way up," he continued. "I don’t really see a lot of reason to look at my watch as I go up. When I was 300 feet from the summit I looked at my watch, and I was so excited."


Photo courtesy Jack Kuenzle and friends

So, how does an ultra-athlete train for record-breaking runs? Kuenzle, a Connecticut native, said he spent a minimum of 24 hours a week skiing, mostly in the backcountry. Once a week, he wore a 30-60-pound pack and hiked for an hour "at a pace that was difficult for me." From there, the hikes turned into running and treadmill workouts.

The key, he said, is to be trained for high altitudes. Kuenzle spent two-three months sleeping at Mammoth Lake in California — about 8,200 feet above sea level — before this ski season.

Kuenzle will be vying for more records this summer in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. And look out, New England, "it’ll probably be warm," and he’ll probably be in his underwear. 


Photo courtesy Jack Kuenzle and friends