Jul 14, 2015 at 4:45 am #2214549Bob MoulderBPL Member
@bobmny10562Locale: Westchester County, NY
Latest ping has him arriving at Garnet Lake around 4:24am.
Looks as if he took a sleep break just past Reds Meadow, no?Jul 14, 2015 at 7:39 am #2214568Allen CBPL Member
I got a Check In/OK from Ralph's Spot at 7:14 am near Garnet lake. Can't tell exactly where on my phone.Jul 14, 2015 at 7:41 am #2214569
> Looks as if he took a sleep break just past Reds Meadow, no?
Yeah–somewhere around Red's. No two of his SPOT messages came from the same place, so it's difficult to tell where.
His last two messages were manually sent (he pushed the button to say "OK". No tracking points in the same time period. Those last two points appear to be heading back towards Agnew Meadows along the river trail.
SPOT accuracy being what it is–hopefully the SPOT is erroneous. Otherwise, given how close the two points are in space, and how far apart they are in time, I'd guess that he might be hobbling back towards Agnew Meadows.
Anyway, below is the table, updated through Garnet Lake. Messages were sparse last night, so it's hard to add intermediate points with any accuracy.Jul 14, 2015 at 8:09 am #2214571Bob MoulderBPL Member
@bobmny10562Locale: Westchester County, NY
back towards Agnew Meadows
OK, I saw the subsequent pings and they were off JMT…Jul 14, 2015 at 8:53 am #2214578
Last SPOT update at 8:35am shows Ralph back at the Agnew Meadows trailhead.
I think it's safe to say that he's done with this attempt. I hope he's fine–or as fine as you can be after going 175 miles in three days.
What an incredible feat to get as far as he did, as fast as he did.
And credit to all those who have done this before–especially the current FKT holders Andy Bentz and Leor Pantilat. Just watching Ralph's SPOT updates gives me a great reminder of what an incredibly challenging thing this is. Superhuman!Jul 14, 2015 at 12:17 pm #2214627Lydia KBPL Member
@lydiack-2Locale: Northern California
Totally agree! I'm incredibly impressed with what Ralph and the FKT record holders have accomplished.
I hope Ralph is getting some much needed rest and will be back to share his experience and insights from this trip soon.Jul 14, 2015 at 12:27 pm #2214633
He's okay–he's at the Alabama Hills Cafe, doing some much-needed face-stuffing, I imagine.
He developed a chest infection, and couldn't continue. He'll share an update in a few hours.Jul 14, 2015 at 1:23 pm #2214642Peter BakwinBPL Member
Bummer! He was doing really well! That section around Reds has so much horse crap on the trail, I'm not surprised a person would get a respiratory problem. You breathe a lot during one of these! Great effort Ralph – very impressive.Jul 14, 2015 at 3:35 pm #2214673Dan DurstonBPL Member
@dandydanLocale: Canadian Rockies
Yeah great effort. I'm super impressed.Jul 14, 2015 at 3:56 pm #2214683
So, as Adam said, I got taken out by a respiratory infection that came on fast at Red's. Some things you can push through in the hope that they will improve – and believe me, I tried – but sometimes your body just won't have it.
I was feeling really good as I came down the fast forest trail from Duck Creek toward Red's – I'd recovered well again the third day, and kept right to my planned split times that day. I planned a short final rest at Red's, and I thought I was certain to post a good time. Andrew's record was a long shot – I would have needed a super strong 4th day, and more likely I'd fade somewhat after just a short sleep. I'll have to check again how optimistic my planned split times were for the 4th day, but I thought I was solid to do about 3d15h, and maybe challenge Brett Maune's time.
Deeply disappointed to come away with nothing.
I'll write more later.Jul 14, 2015 at 4:09 pm #2214686rubmybelly!BPL Member
@sleepingLocale: The Cascades
Hi Ralph. Your disappointment is certainly understandable, but you most certainly didn't come away with nothing. That was a helluva effort, exceptionally impressive. You certainly have my respect, and I imagine others' as well.
Best of luck on the next attempt, since I'm sure there will be more. And we'll be rooting for you just as hard the next time.Jul 14, 2015 at 5:40 pm #2214708Adam KilpatrickBPL Member
@oystersLocale: South Australia
Totally agree, sensational effort Ralph! Not much you can do with about a chest infection, you did everything just right.
Especially the way you document and share your experience with everyone, right down to techniques and split times, TRULY COMMENDABLE.
:-)Jul 14, 2015 at 5:51 pm #2214714
> Deeply disappointed to come away with nothing.
I'm sure it's disappointing, and I don't have a lot I can offer to help with that.
+1 to what both Doug and Adam K. said above.
You didn't come away with nothing–we've arbitrarily decided where the JMT starts and stops. You covered 175 miles of challenging and spectacular terrain in under 72 hours. That is an AWESOME feat.
You didn't get the thing you really wanted–an under-four-day JMT. But I think you know now that you can do that. We all do.
Great job. Awesome job.Jul 14, 2015 at 9:04 pm #2214766Ito JakuchuBPL Member
Understandable initial disappointment. But you made some really great time – and did the smart thing and got out when you had to.
Looking at Adam's tables of your progress, would love to hear a bit on how you felt – what worked, what didn't, pace and feel of
Bet it was a great learning experience and you might have another go?Jul 14, 2015 at 11:08 pm #2214783Cameron MBPL Member
@cameronm-aka-backstrokeLocale: Los Angeles
Ralph, congratulations on an amazing accomplishment, and thanks for sharing it.Jul 14, 2015 at 11:12 pm #2214784Scott BentzBPL Member
@scottbentzLocale: Southern California
Andrew Bentz is out on the CDT (just crossed into Wyoming). I gave him a few updates letting him know your progress. Sorry to hear you had to pull out due to respiratory problems. It is a brutal trail to fast hike…just so relentless. Kudos for your attempt. We'd love to hear a more detailed report when your are up to it.Jul 15, 2015 at 7:55 am #2214817Art …BPL Member
interesting article today on irunfar about How and Why records fall.
only tangential to Ralph's attempt, but …Jul 15, 2015 at 10:51 am #2214856Ryan SmithBPL Member
@violentgreenLocale: East TN
That's a very insightful article. Agree 100%.
RyanJul 15, 2015 at 11:42 am #2214871Brendan YeagerBPL Member
@byeagerLocale: New England
Nicely done Ralph!
That is one heck of feat regardless of where you ended up stopping. Now the big question; is there another attempt in the offing?Jul 15, 2015 at 1:27 pm #2214898jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
You're a better man than me, Gunga Ralph, in terms of this effort, which I couldn't begin to approach. Congratulations.
I may be the better man when it comes to, ummm, sleeping. I'm a marathon napper.Jul 16, 2015 at 12:24 pm #2215162
I arrived at Whitney Portal too early, only to spend twenty minutes walking up and down the road in the pre-dawn chill, trying to stay warm before my 5am start. The weather the prior week had been dramatic, with high-energy storms dumping rain and snow onto the mountains, and temperatures plummeting. I had delayed my start until the improved forecast for July 11th, but as it turned out the unstable air mass persisted a little longer than expected, with dense dark clouds the prior afternoon, and precipitation falling as snow on Whitney. But, as expected, the skies had cleared overnight.
I set out at what felt like a steady pace, passing dozens of early-starting hikers. I encountered snow from about halfway up the switchbacks at ~13,000 feet, a thin layer of crunchiness that was far better than the patchy ice I'd found up there the previous week. For the trip to the summit, I hid my pack at the trail junction at 13,500' with a Neeson-esque note attached (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SXsCkKuvOU) and continued on up. I signed the register at 8:53, just under 4 hours elapsed time – slightly quicker than the planned pace, but adrenalin and excess energy are difficult to manage at the start. The snow was providing good grip, almost better than bare rock, and without the burden of my pack I mostly ran the trail back down. When I re-passed a group they shouted something about "FKT" and "Leor Pantilat". Temporarily pack-less, they had guessed I was going for Leor's supported JMT record – but it turned out they were friends of the unsupported record holder, Andrew Bentz! (I see now that one of the group, Alan Hackney, has kindly posted verification – sadly no longer required – on the FKT site. Thanks Alan.)
Whitney was quite beautiful (it usually isn't!) in the clear morning sunshine, frosted with a thin layer of snow. I was full of energy, and thoroughly enjoying myself running back down, no doubt channelling Julie Andrews. But stupidly, I lost concentration for a moment and turned my ankle. My attempt was almost over before it had started. It felt like a very minor ligament strain, something that I'd normally expect to just rest for a day and it would be forgotten. But since rest wasn't an option, it was quite a concern. It wasn't really inhibiting my walking, but it was making me tentative on the fast downhills, and I would occasionally feel a painful twinge if I stepped on a rock at a certain angle. But there was nothing to be done, except to avoid any more stupid mistakes that might exacerbate the problem, so I pushed on down the mountain toward Crabtree.
I'd like to say that there was something that felt heroic or uplifting about the next three days, but there really wasn't. It was intense, but somehow quite mundane.
On my southbound hike last year, although I was going quite fast, it was nowhere near this fast. On that southbound hike, I felt much more that I was experiencing the trail in a positive way – that I was "at one" with the trail, to use the hackneyed expression. Last year, there were many times when the beauty of the trail inspired me to get through bad moments.
I'm not sure why the experience felt so different this year. I know the trail better, but that shouldn't really matter – its beauty is still breathtaking. I think the unrelenting effort and intense concentration required to maintain a higher average speed is probably the big difference. This year, the trail didn't inspire: it felt like an obstacle course; it did not feel like anything out there was ever going to help me. At the end of every lung-busting uphill came the inevitable pressure to push hard at high speed on a rocky descent. It felt like I had to beat the unrelenting difficulty of the trail into submission. It felt like all of the strength and inspiration had to come from within me. It felt so much harder.
On the climbs, I try to settle into a rhythm that pushes my heart rate to the correct level – and I know my body well enough to judge the highest pace that I can sustain. Although the climbs hurt more, the superficial pain can vary and is soon dismissed. I judge the pace from breathing and heart rate, from the general sensations of my cardiovascular system. In fact, I find that I can enjoy the trail and the ambience of the mountains far more when pushing uphill. In a climb, where the limitation is purely cardiovascular, there is minimal risk of a fall, so there's less of a constant pressure to coordinate your movements perfectly, and to some degree you can look around – and perhaps feel almost like a normal hiker enjoying the mountains.
By contrast, I found that the greatest difficulty was in maintaining concentration on the downhills and on all but the few easy flats. Here, constant attention is required – you are always pushing on hard to maintain pace, and the smallest misstep can mean disaster. The JMT has very little smooth easy trail. Constantly dancing over and through the rocks, with no respite, the constant risk of a trip or fall that may end your attempt in a second if you lose concentration for just a moment. Far more than the physical, it is mentally exhausting. And here's what I mean by "mundane": I remember coming over Selden Pass at sunrise, to the view of Marie Lake, perhaps one of the most gorgeous vistas anywhere in the world. Yet all I could do was stare down at the hot mess of exceptionally rock-strewn trail that I needed to charge down and wonder if the trail crew (more friends of Andrew Bentz, perhaps?) were messing with me.
Back to the first day: my ankle was a concern, but apparently not slowing me significantly. As I'd hoped, without pushing too hard, on fresh legs I managed to get ahead of my schedule by about 45 minutes at Forester, which I summited in just under 10h30m. However, the weather was not cooperating. The forecast had been for a last few convective showers that afternoon, the tail end of the prior week's bad weather. But north of Forester came a gloomy overcast, and I was soon in continuous drizzle. Had the forecast completely missed a new frontal system, as it had ten days before? This could be a terminal problem for me, because I was carrying no shelter. In the event of showers at sleep time, my plan was just to hike further until they stopped. But this plan would not work for extended frontal rain. If it was still raining at my planned sleep location at the Woods Creek junction, I'd face a tough decision. Turning right to continue along the JMT up to higher elevations and lower temperatures on Pinchot Pass in sustained rain – without a shelter – would be a dangerous gamble. I might be forced to abandon the JMT, to turn left and head for safety down Woods Creek.
But I had to deal with Glen Pass first. Glen is an evil beast. Every crossing seems to come at the end of a tough day, and although it's not long, it has steep gradients and rough trail. Exacerbated my the stress of worrying about the worsening rain, and climbing into a cloud with decreasing visibility, this was a difficult time. I made the top of Glen without losing any time, but the treacherous wet descent was sure be a different story. I hoped that the wet rock would only slow me on the really difficult steep & rocky part of the descent from the top of the pass, but as I approached foot of this first stage of the descent at nightfall, I realized that the heavy rain had made the long section of trail past the Rae Lakes down to Woods Creek into a soggy mess.
I was losing time in darkness on the marshy trail, but the good news was that the skies reluctantly cleared about an hour after dusk. Still, the humidity was 100%, and the ground and every plant that I brushed against was soaking wet. Any place where the trail was not rocky it was marshy. I haemorraged time, dropping almost an hour on this section, all the time that I'd gained earlier in the day and more.
The camping area at Woods Creek was full, as usual, but with no shelter my needs were modest. I chose a few square feet of slickrock where I could avoid the excessive ground moisture. I decided to allocate a few extra minutes to get a full 4 hours of sleep from when I actually got my head down to when I set my alarm. This would put my eventual departure time about 45 minutes behind schedule. Things had looked a lot better earlier in the day, but at least the weather had not completely killed my effort – I was still in the game. Sleep was fitful, but I had no cramps, and I think I was unconscious for at least 3 of the 4 hours.
After bacon & eggs, I let the cat in, checked my email and perused the morning newspaper over a cappuccino. Or was that a different morning? Anyway, after my alarm call I was soon heading up Pinchot in darkness. Going northbound, Pinchot is a long climb, and this was part of my night/sleep strategy. Going fast at night is difficult, so the best territory to be hiking in darkness is a long climb. When the gradient dictates that you must move more slowly, poor visibility is less of a handicap. The cardio effort keeps you warm, and in hot weather the cool night temperatures may even be an advantage on a long climb. Another part of my strategy was to sleep at the lowest possible elevation for the best recovery. And it seemed that my overnight recovery had been solid, because I did not lose any more time on Pinchot, Mather or Muir.
However, looking forward, I decided that my second night's sleep plan was suboptimal. I had planned a longer 70-mile day, pushing on to Bear Creek and sleeping at the end of the second night, in order to make the last day-and-a-half shorter. But hiking in the dark after a full day is just so difficult. A short segment had cost me a lot of time the prior night, and not just because of the rain. It makes more sense to get your sleep early in the night, then to attack the remaining darkness refreshed and with better alertness and coordination. I knew a good bivy spot on soft sand near the southern MTR cutoff junction, a low point in elevation (below 8000 feet), so I decided early in the second day that this should be my second sleep. That would leave 110 miles, with Red's Meadow another good low-elevation point where I hoped that a shorter final rest at the beginning of the third night would be sufficient.
The descent from Muir is a rare section of excellent fast trail, and I reached the Evolution crossing at dusk. I crossed barefoot, taking the extra few minutes for the benefit of keeping dry shoes and socks. But even with the new plan for an earlier sleep, I still had a section to negotiate in darkness with the day's fatigue in my body – the rough trail that drops from Evolution down to Goddard Canyon, then the rocky section down the San Joaquin to the bridge at the Piute Creek confluence. This was the only section where I lost time on the second day. I decided that I would again take an extra few minutes to ensure that I got a full 4 hours sleep, so I started the 3rd day 1h30m behind schedule.
The revised sleep plan worked well. I awoke refreshed and attacked the climb to Selden. This climb is long, but the trail is well graded and smooth – a perfect section to negotiate in deep darkness. I was right on pace as dawn broke near the top, and I descended at a good pace to cross Bear Creek, again barefoot. I remained strong throughout the 3rd day, losing no time at all. In early evening, I began the final segment of the day, the fast forest trail that descends from Duck Creek to Red's Meadow. In the last couple of hours before Red's I cautiously began supplementing my eating with chocolate, to give a calorie boost to help my final rest & recovery. I put away 1500 calories without my stomach complaining, and at this point I was feeling excited – my body was still taking on food well while moving at a good pace, and I felt strong enough to recover with a short final rest at Red's. It seemed that I had got the job done. Okay, given my timing thus far, Andrew's record was a long shot – but that was always the case. I had needed a perfect run to have any chance at the reord. I definitely needed SOME rest at Red's, which would mean I'd need an exceptionally strong last day to match Andrew's time. More likely, after a shorter recovery time at Red's, my pace would fade somewhat on the last day. But that still gave me a decent chance to beat Brett Maune's time and perhaps post the second fastest unsupported time ever. Between Andrew and Brett would be some illustrious company, and certainly not bad for an old man.
The JMT is a dusty and dirty trail, and when moving at speed you're breathing mostly through your mouth. From previous experience, and from other trip reports, I was not too concerned about a bit of coughing, and I felt great approaching Red's. But things went bad incredibly fast. As I sat down to rest, I realized that I was wheezing quite badly. When I lay down, my chest was tight and I couldn't breathe comfortably. I sat for a miserable two hours, desperately in need of sleep, feeling progressively worse, and unable even to get comfortably horizontal.
Eventually, I decided to just get up and go. This was probably a terrible decision, since on any rational basis I knew I was sick, and I had not had any sleep or real opportunity for recovery. I was leaving a safe place, for – what, exactly? It's not as though the finish was just around the corner. But I had spent 3 days in intense concentration, where the constant aim was to push forward, push forward, never drop even a few minutes that would be so hard to get back. And when you spend a lot of that time dismissing and ignoring suffering to just push forward, it makes it difficult to acknowledge when your body is signalling a real problem.
In any event, once I started moving a rush of adrenaline pushed me forward into the night. Somehow, I propelled myself up the initial climb out of Red's without losing time, and I lost only 5 minutes on the subsequent fast section to Shadow Lake. Next came the rough 1000-foot climb from Shadow up over the watershed to the bluffs above Garnet. I knew this rocky trail almost step for step, having practised the Red's-to-Tuolumne section several times, including twice in darkness. I pushed on up, but in my heart I knew this did not feel right, as I wheezed to suck air into my lungs. It could not possibly work for another 45 miles. I remember checking my watch at the top, and somehow I had got there with only a two minute deficit. But my body would not stand to be ignored any longer, and I dropped to my knees. I recall several attempts to start moving again, but a respiratory infection had set in hard and fast, no doubt exacerbated by the extra 4 hours beating I had just put my body through after Red's.
In a JMT record attempt, I have discovered that the four stages of grief are Denial, Denial, Denial and Acceptance. But in the end, I indeed had little choice but to accept the situation. Willpower can push you through difficult moments from which you may recover, it can buy you time, it can keep you in the game. But willpower is not magic. My body had failed, and I could do no more. I sat staring into the darkness above Garnet, feeling dazed and disoriented after three days of such intense concentration. I waited for the dawn to walk out.Jul 16, 2015 at 3:10 pm #2215218
If I did this again, I think I would follow exactly the revised strategy that I actually implemented (i.e. not the original one):
Day 1 – 52m – 4 hours sleep – Woods Creek Jct 8500'
Day 2 – 59m – 4 hours sleep – S MTR cutoff 7900'
Day 3 – 51m – 2 hours sleep – Red's Meadow 7600'
Day 4 – 59m
I have pored carefully over the course, and I can't find a better strategy to meet the following criteria:
– Don't go crazy on the first day and burn yourself out;
– Sleep as low as possible, for best recovery;
– Sleep early in the night, then hike the darkness mostly after your sleep when refreshed & alert;
– Where possible, dark hiking should be up long steady climbs.
In an ideal world, all the first three days might be a little longer, leaving a shorter day 4. But I can't see how that's possible without sleeping high; and on the last section, sleeping legally means either Red's or Tuolumne, and Tuolumne is too far. So it has to be Red's.
Remarkably, I have no blisters or damage to the skin of my feet at all. I think that's a combination of luck in finding shoes that have a shape that happens to fit my foot perfectly (La Sportiva Ultra Raptor), and that are suitable for the ruggedness of this trail; plus pretty heavy conditioning, beating the hell out of my feet in these shoes in long trips in the Grand Canyon and elsewhere earlier this year. I did try the much lighter La Sportiva Helios SR for a few training trips a month ago. Although I love the shoes (they make even me feel like a fast runner) they are just too light for this trail. A more substantial rockplate is essential.
My feet HAVE swelled up like crazy since I went off ibuprofen after the attempt – especially, as you'd expect, the left ankle that I turned on Whitney. But no pain, and I'm not worried.
I ate mostly Power Bars. Functionally this was excellent – I think they are nutrionally near ideal; I had no stomach problems, and I successfully digested a huge number of calories. I think this was a major factor in successful recovery. However, I just can't eat them any more! By the third day, I was literally holding my nose to swallow them. I need to find something more palatable, even if there is a weight penalty. I just tried Clif Shot Blocks, at Allen's suggestion. These seem to be basically energy gels with lower water content, all carb – a combination of simple sugars and maltodextrin. Calories density is only about 10% lower than the Power Bars – so really pretty good, not much water there, but they are soft and go down so much more easily. I think this may be a good candidate for most of my calories if I try this again. I would need to get some protein from somewhere; I think I'd still take chocolate for the end-of-day calorie dump. That worked well, I think fat is less risky than protein for overnight indigestion, and it's something of a comfort food.
If anyone has any other suggestions for food, I'd love to hear. I don't want to deal with powder; something essentially similar to Perpetuum or Power Bars in nutritional content (or higher carb), that's basically solid but easy to eat. Can't have any significant amount of fiber.
Zpacks Arc Blast was excellent, but I already knew that. The new mesh back that uses tape rather than cord along the edges is an improvement. My weight even at the start was well within the "sweet spot" weight for this pack, and I largely forgot it was there. Every few hours I would tighten or loosen the chest strap an inch or two, to vary the postion of the shoulder straps and reduce fatigue. I messed around a bit sewing on the belt pockets much more securely, and adding an extra little pocket on the front of the belt for meds. It was great having virtually everything I needed within reach in one of 5 pockets on the shoulders and belt. Every time you take your pack off, you blow minutes that you won't get back.
I took an MLD Spirit Quilt. It is nowhere near as warm as my Zpacks 40deg bag at similar weight. However, I found the MLD was extremely effective on the first night in high humitidy when everything outside was quickly soaked in moisture. I wore all my clothing – my daytime hiking top, Zpacks Challenger rain jacket, then my Montbell Ex-Light down OVER that, and got under the quilt. Any moisture from my body all migrated outward – the down jacket stayed completely dry. Just like everything that night exposed to the air, the outside of the MLD quilt was completely soaked when I awoke. But it seems that (a) the insulation does not wet easily; (b) the DWR is highly effective. I wiped down the outside thoroughly with a towel, and it was good to go straight back in the dry bag. I now fully appreciate how effective it must be in one of its intended uses – to go over the outside of a down bag in winter.
Socks: I am a complete convert to Darn Tough. I liked the comfort of Smartwool PhD, but the durability was terrible. I have beaten the hell out of Darn Tough socks over the past 6 months, and they really do seem to last forever.
F*** you, lungs. What a shambles. You let the team down, do better next time.Jul 16, 2015 at 3:43 pm #2215227Dan DurstonBPL Member
@dandydanLocale: Canadian Rockies
Great read. Thanks Ralph. You're making me want to try this. Your strategy sounds excellent.Jul 16, 2015 at 8:42 pm #2215295Peter BakwinBPL Member
Interesting coincidence that Brett Maune had to bail out of his attempt at the Colo 14ers FKT at just about the same time as you due to exersize induced asthma (with a visit to the ER).Jul 16, 2015 at 10:05 pm #2215310Allen CBPL Member
Ralph, great TR, thanks for sharing! Great effort out there too, I hope you decide to give it another shot. Such a bummer that you got sick. I think if the weather had been better and you didn't get sick you would have had a really good chance at the FKT.
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