John Muir Trail FKT attempt by John Tidd over 72 hours non-stop. Video, personal report and photos.

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Searching for Adventure: Thoughts and Trip report on the JMT FKT Attempt

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Note: this may be a bit long but hopefully with serve those that come after in their search for FKT adventure along the JMT.

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First, I wanted to clear up a misconception…many think I am disappointed with the run. Not. I had an amazing run…running the fastest time ever on the JMT (Yosemite to Mt. Whitney Summit) by like 4 hours and coming within a whisker of finishing at the summit…without pacers or mules in the “supposedly” slow direction all with 53 years of experience. I think this even beats my top 10 at UTMB in terms of running achievements – yes, I came up short but it was still an amazing run. And best of all it didn’t require a suffering death march to the finish and I wasn’t too banged up at the finish (other than a blister) or in the following days. Would have been nicer to reach the summit and bag the official FKT. For sure. But I had the adventure of a lifetime and I’m extremely happy with how things turned out. A magical run. Sure, I was fatigued but no hallucinations, and not once was I thinking oh…I need to sleep. Not once. And all for a first time on a multi-day adventure.

 

Let us go through my video on the go first, then let me tell you all the details about the trip 

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How was the fast result possible? My specialty is long tough 100-mile races. You need to be able to run fast downhill over rocky, rooty, uneven terrain for very long distances to make a fast time on the JMT. I’m pretty good at fat burning which even with poor fueling let me go fast enough on the ups to have a reasonable time. Vibram soles on the speedgoats were key for gripping the rocks. I was able to avoid muscle breakdown through the whole run. My legs were fantastic except for some cramps at the start and on day 3 and I was able to stay in a good place mentally for the fast majority of the run.

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Why did I fail to summit? Limited course knowledge on the last section (tough given the permit requirements for Whitney). No backup battery for my phone (unforced error here). Unlucky to be finishing at night with poor visibility.

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How it started? The JMT FKT idea came about less than 2 months ago. Lying on the floor with sciatica for like 10 days in July (I couldn’t sit down to eat or work) I looked over all the JMT videos from the 2016 hike. I realized I needed a new adventure and while hiking the JMT last year I knew I wanted to come back to do a fastpack but never thought of the FKT. And somehow the FKT idea came into my mind as I was lying on floor and it was impossible to extract. Until like 4 days before the start I still didn’t know if I would do the attempt. I woke up on the last morning of our hike and just knew I had to do the attempt. We hiked over 4 days from Duck Pass to Bishop Pass which was great but getting in the car after the hike I was back with sciatica problems. Given the sciatica issue and the fear of destroying an already fragile body made me non-committal until the last chance.

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Preparation: I switched from the 50-mile Fat dog race to the 120-mile race to train for the JMT in early August. Tried to practice sleeping during the race and get up and run. We spent 2 weeks Mammoth for a bit acclimatizing, running and hiking and ran the Tuolumne to Reds section and hiked over Duck pass to Bishop Pass Junction over 4 days with a heavy pack. I also did several night hike/sleeps in the Spain where I would hike up the Abantos mountain, sleep or rest for a couple of hours and then run down in the dark. All these preparations for sleeping were useless. I didn’t sleep much on Abantos, I didn’t sleep during Fat Dog and I didn’t sleep during the JMT. As mentioned, Luciana and I hiked from Duck Pass to Bishop Pass/South Lake over 4 days. I carried the food/tent/stove for an extra workout and we did 40km, 50km then 30km then 18 km on the last day. So, had some pretty good efforts and got the hiking muscles strengthened and used to long days on the JMT. Could have used faster hiking skills but wasn’t terrible.

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Gear: I used a Salomon 5liter slab pack through the whole hike. Originally, I planned to use a 15L that would have space for sleeping bag/bear bag etc. after Reds but decided at the last minute to cram as much as I could in the 5L. I carried minimal survival gear to Reds…just a rain jacket and space blanket + Garmin inreach. Reds to Bishop pass added rain pants, a pocket knife, a heavier shirt and rain mittens and after Bishop pass added a puffy jacket. For water, I used a 1L Katadyn Bee Free filter. 10 points on that. My shoes were mostly Hoka Speedgoat. I wanted something to grip the rocks. I used some sportivas for a stretch but got blisters. Finally, I used the superlight trekking poles with elastic cord to avoid having to collapse the trekking poles. Pablo Criado showed me this trick and storing the poles on my back quickly was key for saving time and effort. The Bee Free and Elastic cord I think were important parts of my gear.

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Fueling: My plan was basically 1/3 each: gels/blocks, liquid calories (Tailwind/Scratch labs/Aliment (similar to Perpeteum), and solids (bars, real food, jerky) and 300 calories an hour. In the end, I probably ate more like 60% of what I expected with day 2 being the lowest probably. Maybe the heat/fatigue or it was just too much but normally I would eat 300 calories an hour in a 100 miler and here the intensity was lower. Not sure what happened. I took like 1 salt stick per hour at the beginning and less on day 2 and probably none on day 3.

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Why Southbound? I’d hike Southbound and didn’t want to get lost. Plus I thought the easier trails would be better when fresh to actually use my legs and hopefully not get too banged up early on. Also, the FKT times are slower. Yes, you have more elevation gain but it’s not that much. Plus, the crowds in Yosemite turn me off so it’s easier to run from Yosemite to the iconic Whitney. Hopefully that will pull me down the trail. Guess I should have visualized more clearly the actual summit of Whitney!!

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Goals/Mental game: I wanted to finish or quit at Reds. I was determined not to quit in the middle. I also didn’t want to finish with a destroyed body. I didn’t run to splits. I wanted to get to Reds so Luciana could leave on the bus and get too Bishop Pass before midnight to not have a lot of night running before resting on night 2. In the back of my mind I thought running the JMT to Whitney in under 3 days would be great but wasn’t really a goal. Just tried to stay in the moment and take care of my body. I did find that the resupply points become like a destination that you focus on. I guess the unsupported guys have an advantage there mentally.

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Fast times: my guess is a 2.5-day (60 hours) time for the JMT is possible (Mt. Whitney summit to Yosemite). You take my +/- 3-day time and add a younger guy…pacers…mulers and “supposedly” Northbound is faster and better fueling and no rain/navigation issues and you have one fast time. You need the magic though. Men’s times should be 8 to 10 hours faster than women’s and Darcy ran like 76 hours with some issues so that gets you to say 66 hours. Let’s see what Francoise does in October. I imagine someone will run faster than 72 hours in the near future as people see that faster times are possible. What I doubt is that anyone will run faster times with no pacers/mulers in the near future. No one, except the unsupported guys, goes without pacers and I think unsupported will be tough to reduce below 72 hours.

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Trip report of the Adventure: We drove to through Tuolumne to Yosemite on Thursday early. We picked out a crew meeting point in Tuolumne and then drove on to Yosemite for crew lunch at the Awanahee. We couldn’t get too close to the trailhead so headed to a hotel in El Portal 30 min from the trailhead for a good night’s sleep. Didn’t sleep that much and the alarm sounded at 3am. We packed up and drove to Yosemite…bathroom break near the trailhead and it was time to start. It was 4.15 at the trailhead marker when I set off. Nice going in the cool temps but had to continually check the route on my phone. Helped a few hikers find their way to half dome in the darkness and soon light was coming. Hiked almost all this section except the few flat parts. The dawn with Yosemite Valley behind was beautiful at sunrise. My focus was on keeping my breathing easy and heart rate aerobic I had several rather sharp muscle tweaks in my left leg that were highly unusual given that the sciatica is in the right leg. The golden light of the early morning at Cathedral pass was fantastic and soon was bouncing down the trail towards Tuolumne. I tried to move quickly but gently to avoid damaging my quads on the often-large jumps down. Quickly arrived at the first resupply point in Tuolumne. I sat down…took off socks and shoes to air out my feet and had some Lemonade which tastes great though my stomach was a little funky. Luciana noticed that the Salomon pack rear pockets were falling apart and maybe she could get a sewing kit to repair at Reds. After like 10 minutes was on the trail again.

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A few route-finding issues behind Tuolumne but nothing major and soon was running Lyell Canyon towards Donahue. I ran most of Lyell Canyon and then started the hike up Donahue. Donahue came and went quickly. Now came the rollercoaster until Reds…down to a lake and back up the other side one lake after another. I was determined to run this easy…keep the HR manageable and preserve the quads to be strong down the trail. This section is beautiful with the lakes but also technical and difficult. In my test run almost 2 weeks before it took me much longer than expected and I arrived drained at Reds…just from Tuolumne. Figured I would take it easy and try to arrive with good energy at Reds. Alternating between hiking the ups and jogging the flats and downs at a comfortable pace but still fast pace.

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I arrived at Reds on Schedule at 6:15pm. Luciana had a milkshake (great) and a hamburger (that I couldn’t eat). I spent about 40 minutes at REDs…changed out of my wet shoes and aired my feet. Spent a bit of time sewing my pack so it would hold together for the next leg. I washed up and changed shirts which felt great. Chatted with some PCTers that were also heading south. Luciana took a video as I loaded my 5L pack which was bulging with food and gear and soon I was on my way into the fading light.

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Leaving Reds, I walked most of the gentle climb up to the Duck Pass Junction. I tried to run the flat stretches and soon was moving down to Purple lake. Pretty uneventful this phase of the trek…night-time. Not much visibility except in the open areas. Temperature was great for making progress and I enjoyed the moonlit crossing of Virginia Lake and soon was running down the long downhill on the other side. The climb up Silver was ok but heavy breathing made me realize I had an issue. I had remembered the climb down Silver as horribly technical and was worried about doing that at night. Surprisingly it was better than I expected and was encouraged that it wasn’t that difficult at night. Soon made it down to the turn to VVR and I monkeyed around trying to get cell phone coverage here and on the climb up Bear Ridge and finally could send some WhatsApp to Luciana asking for some Scratch labs powder, another pair of shoes for my sore Soleus muscle and Alkaline foods to help fix my Acidosis. I was having my first few issues…one was limited food acceptance and without calories had limited power on the climbs and very heavy breathing. The second was a pain above my left ankle bone…possibly because I had kicked myself several times on the narrow trail.

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Here is a look at heart rate evolution over the first day or so. Did a good job of maintaining an aerobic HR early but during the night my HR collapsed. I guess it would help having a pacer.

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ALMOST QUITTING
On the descent off bear ridge, twice the modest bother in my ankle screamed sharp pain and I wondered that I might need to exit at Muir Trail Ranch. Fortunately, I had 2 cold water crossings at Bear creek which froze me and my ankle and it didn’t give me much trouble after that. Note to Self: pains come and go quickly at times. I put on my rain jacket after the crossing and used it all the way up Selden. at the first direct rays of sunlight near the top of Selden I stopped took off my shoes… I changed socks and wrung out the inserts to try and get dry and empty the rocks.

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A nice 10-minute break and was soon on my way Up over Selden in the early morning. Nice no horse train to deal with this time…I jogged the downhill and was soon past Sally Keyes and cruising down towards MTR making excellent time. I took the JMT/PCT official route towards Kings Canyon…missing the hiker boxes at MTR (wah…) it was getting hot at only 10am and I was feeling the heat. The trail took forever to join up with the MTR detour and I wondered if I had gotten of course. Not just time was slowing down….at times KMs would click off super-fast and at other times slow motion would set in. Now I started the long hike up to Evolution basin and up and over Muir Pass. I was worried about arriving too late after dark to the Bishop Pass Trail junction so focused on making good time. However, I walked essentially this whole section…I was hot…very hot, uncomfortable and low on fueling with little desire to eat. It took what seemed to be forever to get over Muir Pass at 5pm. So, like 7 hours from MTR to Muir Pass. Dark clouds on Muir and a few drops of rain but luckily no problems. There was no one at the pass or near it and I tried to hustle down the trail but it was quite technical and I had no desire to run. Some snow fields were already frozen and it was a tricky descent and I remembered thinking there was no way I would have made it down in the dark. Alternate trails, multiple water crossings it wasn’t that easy in daylight. The Bishop Pass Junction also seem to take forever to arrive and I often thought I would see the tent but no…I would check the Guthooks app and it was several Kms to go. This happened several times.

 

 

Finally, I made it to the Bishop Pass resupply at like 7:30pm…tired, defeated and wanting to quit. It was great to see Luciana and she was surprised to see me. While I was ahead of schedule I thought she would have seen the Inreach before leaving town and seen that I was making good time and be worried at what was taking me so long. I washed up and climbed into the tent to get some rest. And charge up the Inreach and my phone. She gave me the Hammer Recovery drink which I drank easily. Did I want Pad Thai? No. how about the Ramen? Ok. I tried to eat the ramen but it seemed dry and not appealing at all. I rested…tried to sleep and massaged my muscles. Happy to be clean and horizontal. She climbed in the tent and I set my alarm for 11:50pm. I mentioned a couple of times about stopping but she ignored me. I rested tossed and turned and don’t think I slept for a minute…at like 10:30 I started to think I’d better get going.

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How I switched from wanting to quit to continuing wasn’t a clear decision…It was just…oh…I’m not sleeping. I might as well get going. I guess it was the rest. I took my vitamins and BCAAs. A breakfast burrito before leaving? Sure…and coffee… I tried the burrito which I loved on JMT 1 and couldn’t eat. How about oatmeal? Ok let’s try that. And some avocado…both where pretty much failures. I couldn’t eat or didn’t want to eat. The coffee activated my stomach and I was able to go to the bathroom before heading out. Given that luciana had arranged with Lauren to meet me at Kearsarge I didn’t need to take food all the way to the finish. I thought for a split second about taking a backup battery and cable but didn’t…the phone had lasted well during the previous night even while using the cellphone. I somehow forgot how the battery had plummeted quickly to 20% at bear creek in the cold and I had turned it off to save battery. In the heat of the day it went back to 35%. Around 11pm I started off…leaving Luciana to stuff everything in the bear can and sleep in the tent with the smell of food after I had split some ramen. Luckily the ranger station was nearby. So, several hours of rest but almost no calories and no sleep. I had eaten probably less than half my calories from day 2 and less than I expected on Day 1. And I did go to the bathroom which helped restart my stomach.

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RESTARTING
As I started to jog down the trail towards Mather I found my legs in perfect condition. Brand new. Amazing. I made what seemed like great time on the rest of the descent and then started the rollercoaster over to Mather…I thought it was more of an uphill climb but it was very choppy and frustrating. Before this near the bottom I passed a set of “cat eyes” staring at me from the bushes…that was freaky. Those weren’t dear eyes and they just stared at me without moving. I kept moving and check my rear a couple times as I moved up the trail. Within a short distance I encounter a Porcupine I believe waddling down the trail…I walk so he can make his way and finally he turns off into the bushes and I hustle past. I continue the uneven ascent of Mather and I notice that with my balance is off. I didn’t like the light of the headlamp and used the handheld mostly and the narrow beam may have been the reason. It wasn’t terrible but it seemed to take forever. I found 2 snow fields in the dark, the first frozen but with deep enough tracks that I could get traction with my shoes to get across. The second was impossible to cross. I could sink my shoes or my poles in to get traction. I thought I might have to turn around and give up….I looked around and fortunately visibility was good and I could see a way over the rocks to get past the snowfield. Eventually I made it to the top of Mather but it took me a lot more time than I expected.

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Fortunately, a lot of the downhill was runnable and soon I was crossing the creek to start the climb up to Pinchot in the early light. I made pretty good time up this short climb and I think at 8am was sitting in the sun taking a break and getting some calories.
Taking a quick break on Pinchot Pass at 8am Day3

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I had eaten a tums on the way up to Mather and that helped to start getting my stomach in a better place. I had a huge platypus with Aliment 640 from Overstims…similar to Perpeteum that I was able to start drinking. The calories…the new day and the cruising downhill off of Pinchot was fantastic. I marveled at how happy I was after so many miles…my music was on and I thought was crushing the downhill even after like 250km and 2 nights on the trail. Amazed my legs felt great. I started thinking I could make it to Whitney by 1 am… For sure within the 3day marker which is what I had secretly hoped for. After the aggressive downhills, I started to get a little crampy in my legs and I decided I better take it easy. It took forever to get to the suspension bridge with the uneven trail but eventually I was heading up to Rae lakes. I had a blister on my left heel from the new Sportivas that I had swapped into at Bishop pass. And I felt like one coming on in the right heel as well. I stopped on the way to Rae lakes and popped the blister and tried to squeeze out the liquid. My attempt largely failed and I was hiking with an altered gait from then til Kearsarge. I made it to Rae lakes and was dying for a swim in the lake but decided to push on. Dark clouds over Glen and a tight schedule and soon I was pushing up Glen. I had another twinge in my left hamstring on the climb so I backed off the pace a bit. With only 1 burst of thunder I was at the top of Glen which was already deserted this early in the afternoon.

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I hustled down as quick as I could to try to meet Lauren at Kearsarge which I didn’t know exactly where it was and had never met Lauren…I wasn’t too worried – if she wasn’t there I had enough food to get to the finish. I called out to Lauren at various intersections or passing others but no luck. It was hot in the late afternoon sun. I thought there might be cell phone coverage as it seemed like a civilized lake down below…no luck. I cross what seemed to be a dried-out lake with some people waiting around…I call out Lauren? A voice from behind a large rock behind me…John? Nice…I took a nice break and changed shoes/socks ate some cheese (which seemed to have no salt in it) a nice shot of coffee and reapplied sunblock and loaded up for the final stretch. Lauren had some moleskin/cleaning wipe that I used on my left heel blister. It didn’t seem like it would stick. But it would do the trick and I didn’t feel the blister until the descent to Whitney Portal.

Soon I was down the trail with super energy…it was downhill…and I was cruising. I came upon Kurt Achtenhagen the current record holder for the Southbound FKT who was starting out a Northbound FKT. We chatted for a bit…he said I was cruising and all I could say was yes! I was! He took a quick picture as I swallowed a piece of Epic Bar and we were on the trail in opposite directions. I continued the cruiser down to Vidette meadows but my muscles started to complain about the effort and I had to back off. I felt like I had a micro tear in a hamstring. I took all the Calcium/Magnesium and cramp pills I had and asked my legs to hold out to the finish. I walked the long gradual climb towards Forester in good spirits. Arriving at the base of the final ascent at 6pm thinking I could arrive at the top of the pass at 7pm. The climb takes an incredibly long meandering route to the pass. I double checked with other hikers how the alternate trail was…before the second snow field you go down and you’ll see the trail. Of course, I get to the second snow field and trudge right up it in the fortunately soft snow. But from there the trail goes nowhere and I see a clearly defined trail off to my left. So, I scramble cross country down to the trail and continue the ascent. How dumb. Anyway, I make it to the top of Forester around 7:30 pm with extremely dark clouds all around and a few drops of rain. One of my big worries was doing Forester in the dark and I managed to get over in daylight. Nice.

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RAIN/COLD/WINDY AND DARK

On the descent off of Forester it starts to rain harder as it gets darker and I message my brother to ask about the weather – mentioning that it was drizzling when it was raining quite hard…not wanting to worry Luciana. Not sure why but the rain really threw me off my game. I was worried. I had been up for 3 days with no sleep and while I had good energy and was eating again I had had a cough from day 1. And figured this could easily turn out badly. I had a rain jacket and rain pants but no shelter and temperatures were fast descending as was the battery on my phone and Inreach. I hadn’t had a weather forecast in 3 days. I asked someone in a tent if they knew the forecast and they said no…but they had an inreach and could look it up…I said no…don’t bother and continued down the trail. I would hide under a tree and check the trail on my phone and continue on making intermittent progress as the wet trail became very difficult to follow with the wet ground obscuring the trail. Often I thought I was lost and running around in circles. I thought…maybe go to the ranger station…get warm…charge my cellphone battery…for sure he would have some emergency gear. Or maybe just find or build a shelter and ride out the storm. I got to where I thought the ranger station was and there was a sign that it was 0.6miles in one direction with no identifiable trail. No, I wasn’t doing that. I continued on trying not to check my cellphone to save battery.

Why I got in this line of thinking of hunkering down is beyond me…I like running in the rain and have run plenty of races in the rain. I guess my brain was searching for excuses to stop. Finally, I checked the weather on the Inreach and it said like a 10% chance of rain on Monday…so this must blow over soon. I had my rain jacket over my pack to keep the pack and puffy dry which was also in a zip lock so if worse came to worse I could get warm. I kept fueling as best I could and make a Starbucks via and drank half. I didn’t feel tired or sleepy at all. As there are only like 3 signs for Whitney or Whitney like locations after forester I wasn’t comfortable at all without the cellphone. While it largely stopped raining and I could see the moon off and on it still rained off and on and I seemed to be crossing the same streams and clearings. Was I running in circles? I had loaded the track of the JMT on the Inreach but never used it to navigate. I loaded the track and look at the 30% battery would it be enough? I try and toggle in the rudimentary navigation of the Inreach and the device freezes and won’t do anything for like 5 minutes as I wait… I continue on…giving up on the Inreach as a navigation tool.

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I stopped at a tent and asked the occupant if he could charge up my cellphone a bit. He was a well asleep Chinese student who took a while to decipher what I wanted. He obliged…I asked about the trail to Whitney and he said I was on the right path. I charged my phone for what seemed like forever and it only went to 10%. I decided to take off as he showed me a sign that said 2.7 miles to guitar lake. I remembered guitar lake from last year and it at the base of Whitney was a comforting landmark. I continued down the trail and with say half a dozen tricky turns I was soon near Guitar lake. Not sure why but I couldn’t see the lake…. I never saw the moonlight glistening off the water – I guess the cloud cover. It was super windy at Guitar lake and I knew the summit of Whitney was supposed to be around freezing so I got behind a huge rock and put on all my clothes and changed socks. As I imagined the wind chill would be very cold.

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I called out to the tents…Anyone awake?? Where is the trail up Whitney? One guy pokes his head out and indicates more or less the direction…I see a light up on the mountain. Someone is already on his way. On my way to the trail I pass another tent…Are you going up Whitney I ask? We aren’t sure due to the weather…Well I have to go up I respond and trudge off. She mentions they will probably leave in 20 minutes. I find the trail and check the path with some other tent occupants as it doesn’t seem like the well-defined trail I remembered from last year. Water was pouring down the trail and there was a lot of overgrowth. Soon I reach a series of switchbacks that take forever to walk and have a nice drop-off on the side and I do have the balance issues I had seen on Mather but with the straight trail here it wasn’t nearly as problematic. I calculate that each switchback adds 20 meters of elevation – this is going to take a long time. I drink a sip of my coffee bottle and continue to fuel on the way up. Soon I come about the hiker I had seen half way up the mountain. He seems to be just sitting/waiting and eating. I tell him my activity and make my way up the trail alone.

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Soon I am at the trail junction sign: 1.7 miles to the summit. I can’t believe it. I never saw the campsites we used last year which were just below the junction. Ok. I continue on…I walk and walk what seems like forever…on some of the turns on the mountain the wind picks up fiercely and at other times there is no wind. The “chutes” the drop-offs on both sides were super windy and I crawled on at least one on all fours not wanting to get blown off the mountain. Somehow happy no one was around to see me crawling on the mountain. At some point on the hike up I had taken off my puffy jacket and stored as I was too warm. At the higher elevations, I was in the clouds and visibility was very poor at times. I was using my handheld light to avoid the reflection from the headlamp and I could see the trail well but not long distances…I remembered the snowfield from last year and how we had moved up diagonally across it towards the summit and I continued to look for that to no avail. No lights from the summit building. Limited visibility. I came upon a large refrigerator sized block laid sideways that was seeming marking the end of the trail. There were footprints in the sand but I couldn’t identify any route up through the rocks. I looked around….shined my light up and couldn’t see any path with the limited visibility. Well, I can’t find the route…I can’t see the summit. I’ve come far enough. I’ve done enough.

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So, at 4:07…in a split second decision and 7 minutes short of the 3 day/72 hours mark I radioed in with the fixed message “I’m stopping here” and turned around and started walking down the mountain. When I saw the 4:07 am time I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was much earlier. I wasn’t that tired…I had a bottle of 5-hour energy that I had carried since Reds Meadow and never used. I had 2 caffeine pills and a caffeine gel and plenty of food in my pack. It was windy and cloudy but I had my puffy jacket in reserve. I could have gotten out of the wind and hunkered down till morning or reinforcements arrived. No… I had done enough – I had the distinct feeling that I had done enough. Those alternative thoughts of waiting around never crossed my mind. I had come the entire length of the JMT alone and it never occurred to me to wait for others or daylight. What…sit around? Never crossed my mind.

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Here is the map/track from suunto. I guess the trail was up to the right where I turned around and saw the footprints in the sand. I clearly shined my light up through the boulders and couldn’t see a path. Given that there are no blazes or markers of any sort I was out of luck in the dark with no navigation aid. It’s like 0.4 kms and 125 meters of elevation to the summit – pretty darn close!
Mt. Whitney Summit Track (Suunto)

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On my way back down to trail junction I passed the hiker that I had passed on the way up. I asked him if he had seen the sign for the summit. He said yes. Good…I wasn’t hallucinating! I told him I couldn’t find the trail to the summit and was going down. That soon it would be light and others would be ascending and he would be ok. Soon after the junction I was passing others as they ascended from the portal…no I didn’t make it to the summit I answered to their questions. I stopped and talked with several hikers…mentioning my quest and adventure. Never once thinking of going back to reach the summit. I commented to one group that I had a great story for my grandkids. Ja ja. I was happy and sad at the same time and repeatedly I broke down on the descent as the emotion and fatigue of the three days effort came out.

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It didn’t register on me that it was such a long hike out and the descent to the portal seemed longer than the whole JMT. I had a tough time following the trail in parts and getting wet feet perpetually/rocks in my shoes and the blister was bothering. I was hating Whitney portal by the time I met Luciana and made my way down the trail over the final kms. My quest was over and I wanted to be done. Originally I had thought of making quick time to the portal but after stopping short of the summit that idea went out the window. After like 6 hours I made it to the portal store and I had an ice cream sandwich, a chocolate milk and a water. That tasted great. Soon I was fast asleep in the car on the way to Mammoth.

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I was amazed I didn’t sleep for days after. Slept pretty normally…maybe a couple of hours more per night. I was able to go down stairs with agility in the days following the run. I went for my first run with my brother on day 3 post-JMT and ran the first 20 miles of the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler on day 4 – though that was a mistake.

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Key Learnings:

• If you can dream it you can do it. Ha…from the floor to JMT. If you put in the effort and train/plan and know what is required you can achieve amazing things.
• Getting Banged up: I thought my body would be destroyed. I almost didn’t do the attempt out of this fear. I had seen “the Long Haul” and I had seen the videos. But no…other than 1 blister I was in good shape and easily in much better shape than after a 100 miler. Three days later I went for a run with my brother and 4 days later ran the first 20 miles of Run Rabbit…though that was probably a mistake.
• Carry a backup battery – this one simple error caused my much delay and to finish short of the summit. I had backup batteries to charge my cell phone but didn’t take it with me on leaving Bishop pass.
• Cell phone and other Batteries don’t last at all in the cold. Even if you put them in your shorts to keep warm! I had ordered a slim backup battery for my phone that was small and I could just replace but it arrived the day we went to Yosemite and Luciana didn’t have my phone to be able to charge it
• Know all the ins and outs of the Inreach. The inreach arrived a few days before our test hike and I never used the navigation feature. If I had been more used to using as a navigation device I could have used it at the summit.
• Course Knowledge: always key for me… my brain needs to know what is required. I paid the price at Whitney. I had wanted to go to Whitney before the run but lack of time and a permit made it impossible and I wasn’t that worried about Whitney. I was worried about Forester.

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I wasn’t the only one to have adventure…Luciana hiked in alone 20 kms over Bishop Pass with a huge pack and set up camp and waited for me to arrive. She waited on my every desire as I attempted to eat dinner (failed), sleep (failed) and eat breakfast (failed) and then at 11pm I abandoned her to sleep alone in the woods with a smelly food odor infused tent and hike out the 20km over the pass in the morning. You can’t ask for more. She supported me on the whole crazy idea even after watching The Long Haul. Thanks!

I also have to thank my Mother for showing me the power of reading which I credit a lot of my ability/success and my brother Bill for 1) giving me my first running book 2) teaching me how to run downhill like a deer (or maybe more like a goat) back in 2009 and 3) all the support and advice he gave to both Luciana and I pre and during the run. Thanks!

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Try Again? Well when I finished I thought I would never try again – my run had been good enough jaja. As time has passed I’m not so sure. We’ll have to see what others do. It would require a large effort on many levels but it is a fantastic trail and was largely an enjoyable 3 days in the wilderness. The downside is I could easily run a slower time for any of a multitude of different factors or not even finish. Time will tell.

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JOHN MUIR TRAIL YOSEMITE TO MOUNT WHITNEY FKT ATTEMPT.

Photos by John Tidd /Luciana Moretti. 

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MORE ON SKIMO, TRAIL RUNNING AND MOUNTAIN GEAR

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Info by Mayayo Oxígeno for Trailrunningspain