Runners blaze trails with new FKTs and records across the country.
As gratifying as it is for trail runners to complete a race, set a personal record or simply hit the trail, sometimes nothing satisfies quite like tackling a big project.
When you are talking about some of the best trail runners in the world, those projects are often challenging a fastest known time (FKT) on an iconic route. FKTs have no prize money, no awards ceremony and usually only a few close friends around to offer encouragement. According to many runners, gratification comes in the sense of personal accomplishment and achieving long sought-after goals.
RELATED: Inside the FKT Trend
So far this year, runners have planned, researched and run their way to more than a dozen new FKTs across the country. Let’s take a closer look at them:
Four Pass Loop, Colorado
Megan Lizotte, 6:02:35
At 27.1 miles in length, the single-track, high alpine loop is only slightly longer than a marathon. But the close distance is about the only similarity this burly route over four mountain passes above 12,000 feet in Colorado’s Elk Mountains and the Snowmass Wilderness has to a road marathon. With total climbing (and descending) of more than 7,700 feet, legs and lungs are constantly battered. Yet the sheer beauty of is enough to make the pain worth it, especially for the new women’s FKT holder, Megan Lizotte.
“I’ve wanted to run this loop for a long time. I grew up hiking around this area—not sure why I waited until I moved to sea level to attempt it,” says Lizotte, 31, who now lives in San Diego. “The hardest part of running the Four Pass Loop is trying to keep on pushing and not to take so many pictures—it’s just so incredibly beautiful.”
Lizotte’s time is 27 minutes faster than the previous record set by Boulder-based runner Sandi Nypaver.
Elks Traverse, Colorado
Rickey Gates, 27 hours, 25 minutes
“This was special for me,” says Rickey Gates, 34, about why he wanted to run the Elks Traverse. “Some people may not understand that, but it really drives me.”
The roughly 65-mile route with 25,000 feet of ascent entails climbing the seven fourteeners (mountains at least 14,000 feet in height) in Colorado’s Elk Range. That’s going up and over, moving along thin ledges, scrambling terrain better suited to a mountain goat and navigating moving scree fields—seven times. And Gates chose to do it as fast as he could. Now a resident of Wisconsin, Gates grew up in the midst of the Elk Range and had been thinking about this project for more than a decade. He completed five trail reconnaissance missions over two years to familiarize himself with the route.
The previous record of 36-plus hours was set by mountaineers Neil Beidleman and Jeff Hollenbaugh more than 20 years ago.
58 Fourteeners, Colorado
Andrew Hamilton, 9 days, 21 hours and 51 minutes
It’s hard to fathom how physically demanding it is to climb a 14,000-plus foot peak unless you’ve done it. Imagine thin air, steep climbs, punishing descents, exposed terrain and wildly unpredictable weather for a start. Then take into account just how punishing it is to make your way up and down one such peak in a day. Between June 29 and July 8 of this year, Denver-resident and father of four, Andrew Hamilton climbed all 58 fourteeners in Colorado, summiting five to seven peaks daily. His extended grind earned the 40-year-old a new FKT, one almost 24 hours faster than the previous record.
He’s climbed the peaks many times and first tried for the record in 1999. In addition to being physically challenging (an understatement given the stats—265 miles covered with more than 139,000 feet of elevation gain), the feat is a logistical puzzle, with mountains spread across the state. Hamilton’s crew not only provided food, medical attention and encouragement, they drove him from trailhead to trailhead—of note because in 2003 he completed all of the 14ers by riding his bike between trailheads!
Nolan’s 14, Colorado
Andrew Hamilton, 53 hours, 39 minutes
Anna Frost, Missy Gosney, 57 hours, 55 minutes for the women’s FKT*
The lure of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks runs deep. Nolan’s 14 entails traversing 14 peaks linked in a 100-mile route through the Sawatch Range—from Mt. Massive to Mt. Shavano in either direction—in 60 hours. Missy Gosney, 48, of Colorado, and Anna Frost, 33, of New Zealand, are the first women to complete the route. Gosney,who considers the route, with 44,000 feet of climbing, to be North America’s most aesthetic 100-mile line, first began thinking about running it when Matt Hart and Jared Campbell set a new men’s record in 2012. She even put in her own solo attempt in 2014, stopping after the 12th peak, an experience she describes as heartbreaking.
“I’ve been working on the route for three years. In my mind it’s different than an FKT because it’s a set time goal,” says Gosney, who was contacted by Frost last winter. “I never approached it as ‘I’m going for an FKT.’ I thought about it as I’m doing Nolan’s… within the time limit.”
With trail finding being a challenging aspect of the project, Gosney said much of her initial training was previewing the route.
“I wanted to know the route really well, so we didn’t have to tackle energy-wasting decision making and route finding during our trip,” Gosney says. “Anna is faster than me, so I wanted to be sure I had the route dialed and could be efficient.”
Andrew Hamilton, of the 58 fourteeners record, also just completed Nolan’s 14, setting the overall FKT in 53 hours and 39 minutes.
* The mark set by Gosney and Frost is a bit controversial, in that they completed a southbound route from the northern trailhead to the top of Mt. Shavano (the 14th peak) in under 60 hours to claim the FKT, but they did not report their time at the southern trailhead. The endurance community is split as to whether a Nolan’s 14 FKT includes merely reaching the 14th peak in 60 hours or actually descending the peak and finishing at the trailhead at the opposite end of the range in 60 hours. Either way, Gosney and Frost earned an FKT for their strong effort from the northern trailhead to the summit of Mt. Shavano.
Manitou Incline, Manitou Springs, Colorado
Roger Austin, 1,300+ calendar-year ascents
Joe Gray, 17:45 for a single ascent
Most runners have a standard go-to route. Roger Austin’s daily grind is the Manitou Incline, and with 2,000 vertical feet of climbing over a mile, it is far from standard. Originally built as a cable car track, the steep climb consists of a stair step, railroad tie route up the incline and a trail run back down. As of September 20, Austin had climbed it 1,300 times in 2015. The previous records are 1,100 ascents for one calendar year and 1,400 for a twelve-month period between 2013 and 2014 (due to a trail closure), both held by Greg Cummings. Given that the 50-year old Austin is still climbing, with 13 ascents alone on September 20, something Austin calls an Incline-athon (he’s done that 20 times so far this year), he may set a new record for ascents in 12 months as well. Austin says his quest ends on December 31. After that he and his girlfriend are going to focus on climbing all 58 fourteeners in Colorado.
As far a one-time ascent? Well that was broken, too. Going fast up the Manitou Incline is a torturous feat, but Colorado Springs, Colo., resident Joe Gray, 31, made it look easy (almost) when he set a new FKT of 17:45 on Sept. 25. In addition to spending his summer running for Team USA at the World Mountain Running Championships and winning the Mt. Washington Road race in the second fastest time ever, Gray broke the previous official record of 18:31, set by another Colorado Springs runner, Matt Carpenter, in 1998.
RELATED: Joe Gray Breaks Manitou Incline FKT
Kokopelli Trail, Colorado and Utah
Scott Jaime and Nick Pedatella, 30 hours, 20 minutes, 58 seconds
Formed in 1989 by linking existing trails and roads, the Kokopelli Trail covers 142 miles of Southwestern desert from Loma, Colorado, to Moab, Utah. The popular singletrack, double-track and road route is runnable, but sand and the final climb (up to over 8,500 feet in the La Sal Mountains) looming for 100 miles in the distance present their own unique challenges. Nick Pedatella, 30, and Scott Jaime, 46, both from Colorado, set the new supported record, by over two hours, in March.
Logistics and the harsh environment (think limited water and vast temperature swings) generally make this route more popular with mountain bikers due to their ability to move faster and carry more supplies.
John Muir Trail, California
Amber Monforte, 5 days, 37 minutes from Whitney Portal to Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley (4 days, 19 hours, 15 minutes from the summit of Mount Whitney) for the women’s FKT.
According to a report on Amber Monforte’s blog, the 37-year-old California resident had been considering the John Muir Trail for a while. She put her name in the permit lottery for 2015 and the luck of the draw meant this year was her time to try it. The John Muir Trail includes summiting Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States, and passing through rugged and remote terrain. Monforte was solo and unsupported. She carried everything she needed, including a bear canister for her food. The previous women’s record was 6 days, 11 hours, 35 minutes.
Appalachian Trail, Georgia to Maine
Scott Jurek, 46 days, 8 hours, 7 minutes (supported)
Heather Anderson, 54 days, 7 hours, 48 minutes (self-supported)
Most people explore the Appalachian Trail by reading books about it and possibly hiking short sections of it, if at all. Others thru-hike it and their journeys become the stuff of legends. Champion ultrarunner Scott Jurek, 41, took yet another approach—he ran and hiked the entire route, from South to North, three hours faster than former record holder Jennifer Pharr Davis. Three hours over 46 days doesn’t give much room for error and Jurek had to contend with injuries, sickness, sleep deprivation and bad weather to make it happen. In the end, he covered about 47 miles a day. He also recently paid a $500 fine to Baxter State Park for public consumption of alcohol at the end of the journey.
On Sept. 24, Heather Anderson, 34, arrived at Springer Mountain, Georgia, 54 days, 7 hours and 48 minutes after she left Mount Katahdin in Maine, setting a new solo, self-supported record for completing the Appalachian Trail. In 2013, the Bellingham, Wash., resident, set the solo record for the Pacific Crest Trail with a time of 60 days, 17 hours and 12 minutes.
Wonderland Trail, Washington
Gary Robbins, 18 hours, 52 minutes
Jenn Shelton, 22 hours, 4 minutes (women’s FKT)
Not only did Gary Robbins, 38, break Kyle Skaggs’ seemingly untouchable time of 20:53, he also broke 19 hours for his 93-mile journey around the base of Mount Rainier in Mount Rainier National Park. A few scouting trips, including a three-day hike on the Wonderland Trail last fall, helped to get him comfortable with the route and prepare him for the incessant peaks and valleys. The daunting profile includes a low point of 2,300 feet and a high point of 6,400 feet and is either up or down for the entire journey. Robbins considered running the loop in 2013, until the government shutdown closed parks, and decided to this year after not getting into the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run. He ran supported, meaning he had a crew, and traveled in a clockwise direction.
In a nod to the tight knit world of ultrarunning, 31-year-old Jenn Shelton, somewhat on a whim, decided to run the Wonderland Trail. She felt strong and, despite some bad weather, managed to best Krissy Moehl’s and Darcy Africa’s 2013 FKT by 18 minutes. In 2014 Shelton and Moehl, friends and teammates, set out for a supported attempt at the John Muir Trail FKT before Moehl had to stop due to giardia. Shelton went on to finish in 4 days, 9 hours, the second fastest women’s time for the route.
Santa Rosa Range, California
Nickademus Hollon and Robert Hunt, 20 hours
An FKT was the reward for Nickademus Hollon, 25, and Robert Hunt, 45, after they literally belly crawled at times across trackless hillsides filled with surprisingly thick and sharp vegetation on their 41-mile trek across the Santa Rosa Range north east of San Diego. The self-supported duo began the traverse on the eastern edge of the range and western edge of the Salton Sea—at about sea level—summited five peaks, topped out at 8,700 feet on top of Toro Peak and finished at an elevation of 4,000 feet at the base of Santa Rosa peak. Given the relatively short distance they had to cover, Hollon admits it wasn’t the “easy” adventure he was expecting.
“I take pride in finding weird places close to home, and Santa Rosa is a beautiful ridge line,” Hollon says. “What makes this FKT so challenging, besides the lack of trail, is the moment you step away from your car, you are completely self-supported. There’s no water, no cache points and no road crossings.”
Tahoe Rim Trail, California and Nevada
Sean Ranney, 51 hours 45 minutes for the unsupported FKT
Krissy Moehl, 47 hours, 29 minutes for the supported women’s FKT
The Tahoe Rim Trail is a 165-mile, singletrack loop around Lake Tahoe. In circumnavigating Lake Tahoe, the trail winds up and over the peaks and ridges, across high alpine meadows and through forests. Incredible ridgeline views come with roughly 30,000 feet of elevation gain and loss on the route, which ranges in elevation from 6,240 feet to 10,338 feet. It also overlaps with about 50 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Constructed with many easy access points, the TRT has been a focus of speed attempts since before its grand opening celebration in 2001.This past July, Ranney, a 37-year old from Sacramento, Calif., ran strong on his own for an unsupported FKT of 51 hours, 45 minutes. He beat Mike Tebbutt’s mark, just set in June, by two and a half hours. On Sept. 30, Krissy Moehl, 37, set the new women’s supported record of 47:29, besting the 49:17 set by Amber Monforte in 2014. Moehl was hoping to finish in about 48 hours. According to her crew, they had clear weather and Moehl was in good spirits the whole way. Moehl managed to break the record even after being stopped in her tracks on the second night by two bear cubs and their mama hanging out on and near the trail.
Other Notable FKTs
Timberline Trail Mt. Hood, OR
Ryan Matz and Ryan Ghelfi, 7 hours, 29 minutes, 56 seconds
Matz and Ghelfi covered the 40 miles around Mount Hood unsupported.
Pemigewasset Loop in White Mountains of New Hampshire
Ben Nephew, 6 hours, 10 minutes, 7 seconds
Nephew reclaimed his title on the 31-mile loop with four minutes to spare.
Adirondack Great Range Traverse, New York
Tom Goth, 5 hours, 44 minutes, 21 seconds
The 25-mile route has 9,500 feet of elevation gain, including a climb up New York’s tallest peak, Mt. Marcy (5,344 feet).
North Cascades Traverse, Washington
Jessica Kelly, 17 hours, 30 minutes, 59 seconds
Kelly is the first woman to set an FKT for the North Cascades Traverse. The route includes 12,000 feet of elevation gain, crossing three mountain passes and approximately 50 miles.