Rindge man breaks Mount Monadnock summit record, shares journey from rock bottom to peak performance 

  • Larsen Ojala of Rindge broke the 24-hour Mount Monadnock summit record over the weekend, climbing up and down 17 times from Friday to Saturday morning. Courtesy photo—

  • Larsen Ojala of Rindge broke the 24-hour Mount Monadnock summit record over the weekend, climbing up and down 17 times from Friday to Saturday morning. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Larsen Ojala of Rindge broke the 24-hour Mount Monadnock summit record over the weekend, climbing up and down 17 times from Friday to Saturday morning. Courtesy photo

  • Larsen Ojala of Rindge broke the 24-hour Mount Monadnock summit record over the weekend, climbing up and down 17 times from Friday to Saturday morning. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/26/2021 3:33:05 PM

Six years ago, Larsen Ojala of Rindge was in recovery for drug addiction. On Saturday, he was breaking the Mount Monadnock 24-hour summit record to the cheers of friends and family.

The 27-year-old from Rindge hiked up and down the oft-climbed mountain 17 times, starting at 6 a.m. Friday. He finished his final descent down the White Dot Trail with just seven minutes to spare, collapsing in the parking lot on Saturday at 5:53 a.m., surrounded by celebrating loved ones.

“I’m super pumped about it for sure,” Ojala said Sunday afternoon, relaxing on his couch with a mug of coffee after the grueling challenge. “I like to set goals and challenge myself to achieve them.”

Before he could achieve the record-breaking Monadnock goal, Ojala had to come to terms with his addiction. He said he began drinking around age 13. After it, it was “a lot of prescription drugs.”

“And then cocaine and heroin and pretty much anything I could get my hands on,” Ojala said.

At 21, he’d had enough and he entered rehab. He was already physically weakened from addiction, and it only got worse during the ensuing detox process.

“When I was in rehab, I couldn’t even make it up a set of stairs without stopping at a landing to let my legs rest to go up to the next story,” Ojala said. “I would have to stop and take a break.”

Rehab worked for Ojala. He’s been clean and sober ever since and attends weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. With drugs and alcohol out of the picture, he sought his rushes elsewhere, trying adrenaline-filled activities like skydiving before discovering hiking and ultramarathon running. Now, Ojala said, he’s chasing a cleaner high - the natural ecstasy of summiting a mountain, pushing yourself through mind-bending fatigue and extreme physical discomfort, and coming out on top.

“It’s a different type of high,” Ojala said. “There’s a saying: ‘Run steep, get high.’... It just gives you a whole sense of freedom being up there, in the mountains. So for me, that’s what it is. It gives off a clean high.”

Like any high, endurance hiking also has its share of lows. Even as he achieved the 17-summit goal Saturday morning, Ojala was as physically low as he’s ever been.. After his 10th lap of the White Dot Trail, Ojala’s stomach turned on him and he spent the final seven laps intermittently vomiting.

“People ask me, ‘What’s worse: coming off of drugs or trying to push through that on the mountain?’ ” Ojala said. “Well, physically [the mountain] was a lot harder.”

At 3,165 feet, Mount Monadnock is no Mount Everest, but for Ojala, the 17 summits totaled just under 30,000 vertical feet; Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, is 29,032 feet. The round trips added up to 61 miles, which would be considered an ultramarathon distance.

Ojala completed the Midstate Massive ultramarathon in October 2020. After that, he began training for the 24-hour Monadnock challenge. He would squeeze in summits after his work finishing concrete for S&S Concrete, and hike with his wife Sarita and their children on the weekends.

“Larsen’s a concrete man – that’s hard work,” said Fran Rautiola of New Ipswich.

Rautiola worked at S&S himself for years, blowing off steam from his office work with daily Mount Monadnock hikes. He tallied his 5,000th summit in 2020, and for a time, held the 24-hour summit record with 14, which he set at age 56. But, Rautiola pointed out, laboring on the jobsite finishing concrete takes a lot more out of you than sitting behind a desk, which makes Ojala’s achievements all the more impressive.

“The guy’s phenomenal,” Rautiola said. “A real powerhouse.”

A family friend and former co-worker, Rautiola offered Ojala some coaching trips during his training, and Rautiola visited the base of Monadnock on Friday to offer some words of encouragement around lap 11. Once Ojala was down from his 17th and final trip, Rautiola got word to Garry Harrington, the peak-bagging ultramarathoner who broke Rautiola’s record in 2006 with 16 summits, letting him know the record had changed hands once again.

“(Rautiola) was my inspiration for going after the record to begin with,” Harrington said Sunday. “I had so much respect for him and what he did, and now for somebody to finally surpass us – that is just remarkable.”

Harrington, a former New Hampshire resident, is living and running in Arizona now. When he moved out west, he owned both the 24-hour summit record and the White Dot Trail roundtrip speed record (40:50), both set in 2006.

“To be honest, I expected that [speed] record to be broken first,” Harrington said. “I didn’t think anybody was going to be crazy enough to do 17 summits on Monadnock.”

There’s no official record book for the Mount Monadnock records; it’s all on the honor system, just like it was back when Rautiola broke Ken Peterson’s record and when Harrington passed Rautiola.

“It’s the hiker’s code,” said Ojala, who did document his trip on Strava, the run-tracking app.

“Larsen’s probably got the only one that’s electronically recorded,” Rautiola said. “When I did it, there was no such thing.”

Harrington offered his congratulations to the new record holder and said the 17-summit could only be achieved by “sheer determination.” Later this year, Harrington hopes to summit North America’s tallest mountain, Alaska’s Denali, which would complete his own challenge of bagging the highest peaks in all 50 states. But, he said, Monadnock “is still my home mountain.”

Home was also part of the draw for Ojala, who grew up with Monadnock always on the horizon.

“It stands alone in this area, you know?” Ojala said. “Any way you drive, you can see it, in Fitzwilliam, in Milford, and it just kind of stands out in this area as the highest peak in southern New Hampshire. And it’s got the views on top like no other.”

The 24-hour summit challenge didn’t allow Ojala much time to take in the scenery. He said he didn’t even notice the sun rising as he headed down for his final descent, passing recreational hikers on their way up to soak in the view from the summit. When he’s on more leisurely hikes, his mind often turns to the friends he’s lost to addiction over the years. One close family member died just a year ago, he said. Someday, Ojala hopes to organize an ultramarathon in his memory.

“I’ve had a lot of friends that died from addiction and died from suicide and that’s weighing heavy on my mind,” Ojala said. “They never made it. Now look at me, I live a life of luxury now, compared to before ... I speak at rehabs and talk about the life I have, the good life that I have after. God’s been good to me, you know? I’ll definitely say that my faith in God has gotten me through. It’s faith to move mountains.”

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