- Feb 7, 2017 at 12:50 am #3449194
Nick OtisBPL Member
Lately I’ve been reading and watching a lot of John Zahorian, Andy Bentz, Jupiter, and other folks who do high mileage per day. And I know there are lots of BPLers who do it all the time, too. As a former collegiate track and cross-country athlete, it really impresses me.
On Jupiter’s last post, he said that ‘his first 30 mile day ever was hell,’ and it made me think: he bleeds like I do!
So, what are some of your favorite stories from your high mileage hikes? Your first? Your most memorable? A humbling moment?
Philosophical discussions on “what’s the right way to hike” aside, please.Feb 7, 2017 at 1:45 pm #3449293
My first high-mileage days were long, iconic day hikes like Half Dome and going to the Colorado River and back in the Grand Canyon. That translated to backpacking trips only once I figured out in the early 80’s how to drop a lot of weight from my pack. I’ve alway been slowed a lot by weight on my back.
Two most humbling moments:
Grand Canyon, Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (42 miles, 21,000 vertical feet) at age 24. It was distressing that I could injury myself by hiking too far (meaning further than I’d trained for, since I hadn’t trained at all) in a day. I could barely walk for three days afterwards.
A few years later, attempting the John Muir Trail with an ambitious number of miles per day. I totally missed that I’d need serious calories to do those miles, back when I was very lean, and I’d packed nowhere near enough food. My previous backpacking trips had all been with companions or with a heavier pack, so days were 4 to 10 miles. Now, I’ll bring 6,000 calories per 40-mile day. Also, I’d gone with my lightest sleeping bag and dang, but it was cold at 10,000 feet!Feb 7, 2017 at 4:25 pm #3449322
Dena KelleyBPL Member
@eagleriverdeeLocale: Eagle River, Alaska
I cannot even fathom 42 miles in a day, let alone with the type of vertical drop and rise of the Grand Canyon. That’s amazing!Feb 7, 2017 at 4:45 pm #3449326
Jeffs ElevenBPL Member
I used to be in shape kinda. well, not over weight, and I ran 12 miles or so a week, and hiked every weekend for a few months. We could easily avg 3mph over pretty much anything… Not huge, but We weren’t really pushing ourselves. Then I read that people day hike the Timberline trail (42mi-ish) and we decided its close enough to our houses to try it.
Unfortunately my buddy was sick so we only got 25 miles the first day then the 17 remaining miles the next. My only musings I guess were that we would have had to jog a bit to make it in 24 hours, and that I wasnt tired or sore really at all, which surprised me.
OBV these mileages aren’t that big, but I totally feel like we could have done it without “training” but just by being in reasonable shape and the biggest thing to me is having in shape FEETFeb 7, 2017 at 5:25 pm #3449330
I was just about a day in on a hike from Onion Valley to Whitney Portal. The plan was sub 36 hours, though things were starting to go to pieces and it looked like I might have to bivy again.
We had horrible rains that summer. I forget the year, but it was when the hatchery was wiped out…maybe 2007? 2008?
Anyhow, I knocked off Kearsarge and Forester Pass on the first day, but due to a late start and bad weather, had to stop and bivy on Forester’s south side that evening. I was hoping to make Guitar Lake on day 1 but it wasn’t going to happen. The next day the weather was horrible again; sleet and rain and wind, almost nonstop.
I ran into the ranger around Crabtree station. He looked at my small GoLite Jam and sized me up.
“Where you headed?”
“Out.” I said. “Over Trail Crest”.
He nodded. “Where you coming from?”
“I started at Onion Valley yesterday.”
“Yes sir, yesterday.”
“That’s a long way.”
“It is.” I said.
“And you’re going out tonight?”
“That’s the plan.”
“I don’t like the weather.” he said, motioning up to the dark clouds gathering up on the crest.
“I intend to beat it.” I said.
“Do you? I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“I can make it.”
He looked me over. I figured I was going to be grounded by the authorities and camping at Crabtree that night. But by some stroke, he said I’d better get going then. As I thanked him and kicked it into gear, he called me back.
“What was your name again?” he asked, pulling a notebook and pencil from his pocket.
I told him, he wrote it down, and I went my way. Strangely, he never asked for a permit.
That night proved to be one of the best in my life. I was on the verge of vomiting from trying to climb the crest fast enough to beat the storm, but when I got to the top, the weather was holding. Very dark clouds, distant thunder rumblings, winds up, but holding. I decided I’d have just enough light to summit Whitney. There was not a single other person on the trail between Trail Crest and the summit. And when I got there the summit was empty, save for me. I started getting hail and high winds, but sat it out for about fifteen minutes. I don’t know what the odds are of getting the Whitney summit to yourself for last light, but I did it.
I managed to get down the switchbacks before the storm let loose, but by then I was in the trees and good to go. I hobbled out to my car by around 3AM and drove straight home, likely the most dangerous part of the trip.Feb 7, 2017 at 7:09 pm #3449345
Dena (regarding 42 mi and 21k feet in a day): I was less than half my age then. I’ve seen CraigW and other BPLers do it, running(!), much older in 2012. I stupidly jogged a while to try to keep up with MikeM and proved, once again, I’m a walker (and lover), not a runner (nor fighter) and only did 30 miles that day.
I did condition more for a 62 mile day but that was only 11,000 feet up + down, so the same “equivalent miles”. 44 to 50 was a slog with lots of mind games to keep going, but the last 10 miles flew by, psychically if not chronologically – the only “runner’s high” I’ve ever experienced.
Craig’s tale reminds me of having a core temp of 93F my second time on Whitney (in the era of cotton t-shorts and shorts). And of getting yelled out by various rangers for being on the middle of nowhere with only a fanny pack.Feb 7, 2017 at 11:08 pm #3449369
Daniel AllenBPL Member
@dan_quixoteLocale: below the mountains (AK)
On one of my early hikes, after getting into UL, I did a little over 30 miles in August in Alaska. I had slept in until 11am, and just kept hiking until about 3am. The light starts disappearing well before 3am in Alaska that time of year, so I wound up hiking the last 4 or so miles by the red e-light I had. between it and the stars, I could tell where the puddles were, and it got me to Juneau Falls campground.
That’s still my longest day ever, about 31 or 32 miles. I didn’t like the idea of stealth camping, and by the time it was getting dark I was getting close to Cooper Landing so I wanted to get clear of it. It was an odd combination of reticence, fear, stubbornness, and a nocturnal bent that made that all happen.
I guess I did stop by the campground entrance station in Cooper Landing around 11:30 or 12:30 and knocked on the window where two young men were gaming on their laptops. They informed me all the campgrounds were taken, so I just kept going.
My feet were sore, and I slept in pretty late again the following morning.Feb 8, 2017 at 9:11 pm #3449591
Todd TBPL Member
@texasbbLocale: Pacific Northwest
I don’t understand some of the numbers I’m reading here. :-)
The most I’ve ever done in a day was about 20 miles, and it was all on a flat former rail bed. Never want to hike a flat trail like that again…had silver dollar sized blisters on the balls of both feet. And two more days to go.Feb 12, 2017 at 11:44 am #3450262
Nick OtisBPL Member
Yes! Love these stories!! Thanks for sharing. Little bit of daring, little bit of determination, little bit of humility. Nice to know that we’ve all had those types of days…Feb 12, 2017 at 2:38 pm #3450278
John VanceBPL Member
@servingkoLocale: Intermountain West
When I thru hiked the PCT and the northern half of the CDT I had many high mileage days at 30+ with my biggest a bit over 40 miles. I wanted to do a 50 miler in a day (24 hours anyway), but it just never seemed to materialize due to weather, pain/injury, terrain, or a heavy pack after loading up for a long stretch or heavy water carries. The 40+ day was a lot of dirt road walking on rolling terrain with minimal elevation but it was a long day. No blisters but I sure felt it the next day mostly in my hips and shins.
The thru’s were in the early 80’s and from that time up until 2005 or so, I got older and my pack got heavier. Since then I have reduced pack weight to around 23-25 lbs for a nine day trip with a liter of water. This has opened up the possibility for longer days that still leave me with energy at the end of the day and some very enjoyable time spent in the mountains.
Most of my trips now span eight or nine days and the purpose of the trip is to relax and decompress. As such, a long day is 12-15 miles with a good bit or all the mileage off trail. I would like to finish the CDT but that will have to wait until retirement, at which point I hope to be able to finish before winter or have to leave the trail due to injury.Mar 14, 2017 at 10:57 am #3456587
Alexander SBPL Member
Behind schedule on the J section PCT, I did 24 miles on my first big hike of the season with no work up, and hobbled into camp with shooting nerve pains in my feet I didn’t know were possible.Jul 9, 2017 at 8:03 pm #3478055
Steven ThompsonBPL Member
Fitness, fuel, hydration, pack weight. These seem to be the 4 elements of long mile days.
My longest backpacking day to date is 28 miles (on the Northville-Placid Trail), longest dayhike 42 miles (Grand Canyon R2R2R).
First time R2R2R was brutal, after that with dialed in calories and water they were just long days. Backpacking, as long as my pack is less than 30 lbs seems miles = 2x hours, meaning go slow and steady, average about 2 mph and just walk for a long time.Jul 9, 2017 at 11:08 pm #3478083
Art …BPL Member
Whitney Portal to Onion Valley in 29+ hours with my buddy John. The time included a 4 hour bivy about 5 miles north of Forester Pass. We did skip the 4 mile out and back from Trail Crest to Whitney summit because I was pretty altitude sick and needed to get back down to 10,000 ft. asap. Strongly recommend a bit of acclimating if you plan to do this route in a day. We had generally nice weather, not too hot not too cold, just a bit of light drizzle during the bivy, which was fortunate as we went light.
Zion Traverse with John, Jacob, and Greg — 47 miles in 16 hours across some of the most beautiful terrain ever. We went west to east, but it can be done either way. The above Sierra route was much harder for me because of the altitude.
Jul 9, 2017 at 11:48 pm #3478090
- This reply was modified 1 year, 2 months ago by Art ....
@ryanLocale: Northern Rocky Mountains
@xnomanx tells good stories. Love that!
I’m 47 now. It’s not the same as it used to be, for sure.
I can still pull out a 30 mile day. I can do a 40 if I know I have the next week to recover!
The difference is that now, I’m slower. A LOT slower. Forget an overall 3mph pace. Think less.
But weirdly, I think I can move for more hours a day now than what I used to be able to do.
I don’t fully understand it, but from talking to real athletes (not me!) I know that this is a thing. Get older — get slower, but better endurance. Maybe it’s mental.
Alan (co-founder of the original BPL) and I used to do some very looooong days and we did OK. I can’t imagine doing some of those things now. I’d need to sleep a lot afterwards!
That said, my favorite days in the backcountry are still the longest. Chase (my son) and I did a really long freakin’ day in the Bob (not long mileage, but a long day) a few years ago, and it’s far and away my favorite hiking day ever, mainly because it involved young folks!
RJJul 10, 2017 at 10:58 am #3478171
Nick GatelBPL Member
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
Seems like backpackers and non-backpackers have a fixation on miles. How do you quantify a trip? I suppose it’s miles — it’s the only metric both hikers and non-hikers can relate to. Whenever I come back from a longish trip friends and family will sometimes ask me a lot of questions, and there is only one question that is asked more than once, “How many miles did you hike?”
Of course the answer is a simple formula: miles = pace X hours
When I was in my late 50’s I started to slow down, which was the time I joined BPL, knowing I could increase pace with lighter stuff; or perhaps maintain pace as I got older. Hours wasn’t an issue at the time, but I knew as I aged it could become one. Hours is more of an efficiency thing. Sleeping under the stars and being willing to hike from early morning until just before dark becomes easier when you can set up camp and then pack up in the morning in 15 minutes or less. Hanging out at camp somehow loses its luster over the years, but sometimes a special campsite demands lingering. I still usually do 20+ mile days, but 30 miles is getting more difficult and I only do those when my water sources dictate the need. Plus, I tend to do mostly off trail trips, and that can kill pace, except for some deserts.
I don’t have any long days with high mileage that stand out in my mind that would be worth sharing. But there are a couple that might be of interest.
In 2010, when I was 60, Craig (a.k.a. @xnomanx) and I did a 61 mile trip in 2.5 days. That doesn’t sound like much at a 24+ miles per day, but the first day we climbed over 10K feet. Not total elevation walked, but the elevation from our starting point to our destination. The 2nd day we did over 10 miles on snow in the middle section of our hike, which was fairly deep in places. Post holing wasn’t a problem, but slippery surfaces was. The other issue was figuring out lightweight gear. Night temps the first night were high 30’s or low 40’s. On day 3 we were hiking in 105F temps once we descended to the desert floor and got to the car around noon. My base weight on this trip was just under 4 lbs, and my total back weight at the start of the trip was 12 or 13 lbs, including a gallon of water. I’ve done this route many times over the years, but this one stands out because of the snow, and more importantly it was the trip where I met Craig and we have been friends ever since.
Between 2012 and 2015 I spent nearly every week on the east coast. Fly from California on Sunday night, and return home Friday night. But I was able to set aside a day or two on every trip to go hiking and occasionally more days. Very little planning. Just fly to my destination, go on the Web and figure out where I could go that was nearby. So I did a lot of section hikes in every state along the AT.
In 2015 I was working in DC and had a couple days to do a hike. Google told me that hiking the entire AT through all of Maryland was 41 miles. Walk from the border of Virginia, through Maryland, to the Pennsylvania border was only 41 miles. I wasn’t aware Maryland’s western border was so small. I also learned AT thru-hikers call this the Maryland Challenge and many do it one day. It would be a good story for my blog… “I walked through the entire state of Maryland in 1 day!” Of course, it would require starting in the dark and finishing in the dark. And I knew I could do it, because we can do big things if we put our mind to it. We tend to operate at 50% of our capacity, and stop when we feel a little pain or fatigue. But at this point I thought why? Just to brag about it? I would miss a lot because I was focused on miles, not enjoying the walk itself and the things to see. So I did it in 1.5 days. Strenuous, yes. More enjoyable, yes.
There are some young people, like Skurka, who can do 3+ mph for 10, 12, 14 hours. I don’t think they see less than those of us who prefer 2 mph, for them the pace isn’t as brutal as it is for people like me. The other thing is when we read about these high mileage days, they are usually people doing thru hikes. I’ve done a couple 6 month trips and you get trail hardened. You can sleep anywhere, you can stink to high heaven and not care, you eat whatever is available in trail towns, and you reach a point of phenomenal physical conditioning… well, at least your legs and lungs are in great condition.Jul 10, 2017 at 12:24 pm #3478183
^^^That was a good one Nick. It’s a pretty classic route and the extreme variations in elevation, topography, and weather make it a fun one for fast UL style.Jul 10, 2017 at 1:11 pm #3478188
“Forget an overall 3mph pace. . . I think I can move for more hours a day now than what I used to be able to do.”
It’s long been true for me, even when much younger, that the slower I hiked not only the more hours I could hike, but the more miles I could do. If I’m pushing it and walking 4 mph, I’ll be done in 10 miles. At 3.5 mph, I can get maybe 20 miles, but at 3 mph I can go for 15-ish hours, if I’ve conditioned for it. If I start off at 2.5 mph, I can go for even longer, but have found that I hallucinate a bit after going over 22 hours straight.
Colin Fletcher hiked a lot, year-round, his whole life. From Wikipedia (there was an article in Outside at the time), “In 2001, at the age of 79, Fletcher was struck and seriously injured by an SUV while walking to a town meeting near his home in Monterey County. His survival was attributed to his excellent physical condition. Within a year of the accident, he was back on his feet and walking daily.”Jul 10, 2017 at 1:32 pm #3478192
Nick GatelBPL Member
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
Fletcher probably spent more days of his life playing tennis than backpacking. Not a knock on him at all, just pointing out a lifestyle that included strenuous exercise almost everyday.Jul 10, 2017 at 1:35 pm #3478194
I see it very much the same Dave.
I used to be pretty into the ultrarunning thing, but these days I see the wisdom of simply walking high miles instead.
A few years ago some BPLers and myself did a one day crossing of Joshua Tree on the CRHT, about 38 miles. It would be my second time doing the crossing in a day.
Instead of training, I had been surfing like crazy leading up to it so I knew a run was not happening for me. I committed to simply hiking it. When we started, everyone took off running ahead of me and I figured it would be the last time I saw anyone that day unless they got in trouble.
I hiked the whole thing and had a great day; no suffering, no pain, enjoying the scenery. Granted, I was getting sore towards the end, but it was all very manageable. Needless to say, I came in dead last place.
My spirits were great. But when I rolled into camp, it was like a funeral. Everyone quiet, stuck in chairs, limping around. I finished in about 12 hours. The first finisher came in in around 9. The last before me were about an hour or two ahead.
Not trying to slight anyone’s achievement that wanted to run the thing, but I really learned something about pace that day. It was the difference between having a good time and wanting/being able to do it again the next day vs. physical burnout and pain.
I was always a slow runner anyway. So these days, anything over ~10 miles I don’t bother running anymore. I shift into low gear and cruise. 3 to 3.5 mph seems to be my sweet spot these days…I can carry on all day like that and still feel good at the end. Given I’m not going for personal FKTs anymore (or my standard has shifted), the difference in finish time by bumping up to 4-5 mph is so negligible that it’s just not worth the pounding and the additional strain.Jul 10, 2017 at 1:42 pm #3478199
Dave HeissBPL Member
@daveheissLocale: Pacific Northwest
Back in the late ’80’s two friends and I backpacked the Ruby Mountains Wilderness in Northeastern Nevada. The maps we had were sketchy and of different scales, but by our calculations the stretch between Lamoille Lake and Overland Lake would be a tough day, maybe as much as 13-14 miles. Wrong. It turned out to be more like 21-22 miles. Scenic and memorable for sure, but also endless and with 50lb packs we were dying by the time we finally arrived at Overland Lake. We spent an exhausted zero day fishing and taking photos (Overland Lake is a gem), and tried to rest up for the long hike back to Lamoille Lake. Funny thing was, now that we KNEW the day would be 21-22 miles, it turned out to be no big deal. We were a little tired but otherwise fine upon arrival at Lamoille. I still think it’s weird how the “not knowing” got into our heads and affected our physical condition, but knowing that your destination is drawing nearer sure seems to keep the body humming along.
I’ve had more 20+ mile days since then, and love how those days get completely filled up with walking. But 30+ or 40+ days are for others. I’m slow, and I’m OK with that.Jul 10, 2017 at 1:55 pm #3478207
Paul MagnantiBPL Member
@paulmagsLocale: Colorado Plateau
As my trips changed from traditional trails to more off-trail jaunts (or places where the trails were not maintained well), I stopped keeping track of absolute mileage on trips.
I read a map, *usually* guess right on what I can do based on the map reading, time, and my abilities, and goals. As with the weight categories, mileage serves as a useful set of information but is not the goal in itself for me. Raw mileage is less meaningful once off the well-known lettered routes.
The same strategy of letting me hike 25-30 MPD *consistently* even coming from my beige box helps with these more hour-focused jaunts too.
But, as Nick said, mileage is an easy metric that many of the college educated, corporate or academic focused, outdoors people seem to gravitate towards. We Americans love our metrics as a culture. :)
Jul 10, 2017 at 5:31 pm #3478248
- This reply was modified 1 year, 2 months ago by Paul Magnanti.
Criag, “It was the difference between having a good time and wanting/being able to do it again the next day vs. physical burnout and pain.”
There were years when I didn’t START Bay to Breakers in SF before the winner had finished it, 7.5 miles away (it takes a while for 80,000 people to get across the starting line). My consolation was, after mostly walking it (since the crowd jogged at my walking pace), was that I’d be fine turning left and walking 30 miles to Palo Alto, whereas the winners were wiped out.
Dave, “I still think it’s weird how the “not knowing” got into our heads and affected our physical condition”
Back before GPS, etc, I argued this was one of the highest purposes of an altimeter. You don’t get fooled by a false summit or pass that can be so emotionally draining. If the pass is 9,250′ and you’re at 7,000′, you know you have at least 2,250 feet more climbing to do. Emotionally and physically pacing myself makes repeat trips far easier than (poor-researched) first-time trips.Jul 10, 2017 at 6:03 pm #3478253
Alaska has the highest percentage of natives of any state (15%, although Oklahoma has more in absolute numbers). While hunting, fishing, or set netting, I see white guys running around, but I don’t see many of the adult natives running around. There’s often a slower, steady pace that I suspect may be a cultural adaptation both for endurance and to avoid sweating and risking hypothermia. Also, when there was no ER to fix your broken leg nor even a horse & buggy to evacuate you, maybe a slow and careful approach was just wiser.Jul 10, 2017 at 6:06 pm #3478254
Lots of interesting stories here. I ran competitively at a fairly high level in my forties, at distances from 5K to 50 miles, but somehow that never translated into long mileage days in the mountains. It just wasn’t what I was up there for. But on one occasion, on day 10 of a trip that had started at Roads End in KCNP, leisurely looped into Gardner Basin, over Forester Pass and into Wright Lakes Basin, I was sitting on a log after dinner watching a beautiful sunset over the Kaweah Peaks Ridge. Suddenly, I felt a surge of loneliness and a yearning to be back with my wife, and realized it was time to cut what had been a near perfect trip a few days short. The next morning I set off for home. About 13 hours later, after a 28 mile slog on the JMT, back over Forester Pass and on down Bubbs Creek, I reached my car, exhausted but satisfied. This was in 1982, before my enlitenment, when I still wore leather boots and carried a pack up near 40 pounds, and by the time I was done, I was talking to myself. I was tired enough that I drove right out from under my treasured fly rod, which I had set on the roof of the car while taking my boots off. It stands to this day as by far the longest mountain hike I have ever done. Lots of 18-20 milers at the end of trips, but nothing like that one. I was dragging for a couple of days, but that was all. 65-70 miles of hard running per week will have that effect. As Craig said, above, the drive home was the most dangerous part of the trip.Jul 11, 2017 at 7:43 am #3478315
Tipi WalterBPL Member
“Seems like backpackers and non-backpackers have a fixation on miles. How do you quantify a trip? I suppose it’s miles — it’s the only metric both hikers and non-hikers can relate to.”
The other way to describe a trip is to post how many days you were out, #1 and #2, where you went and what trails you hiked. Mags often likes to disparage talk of Gear or obsession with gear and he often says “It’s not about gear”—so the same thing could be said about Miles Hiked. It’s not about miles.
Just like the best metric for choosing a backpacking tent is not about weight, so too the best metric for describing a trip is not about miles. Low mile days, high mile days—the only important criteria is this—Are you outside or indoors?
Here’s my corollary—If you’re outside you’re a success, if you’re indoors you’re a failure. Simple and to the point, no matter if you’re pulling 2 mile days or 30 mile days.
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