Here’s my trip report for the short unsupported JMT record attempt.
Problems began before I even started hiking. Although I spent considerable time planning the hike I spent no time planning acclimation. I camped in the Horseshoe Meadow area for the 3.5 days prior to the hike. I did not bring a tent and slept in my bivy sack. This really sucked and was uncomfortable. I also had no hope of altering my sleep schedule for the early morning start (I still don’t know how this could realistically be done in the wilderness). I awoke at midnight Wednesday morning with maybe an hour worth of sleep and started driving to the Portal. I was quite upset that I was starting the hike sleep deprived and estimated it would cost me 4 hours—and perhaps a lot more. Lessons learned.
I got to the trailhead about 1:10 AM and there was already a party forming. I enthusiastically headed toward the scale for the traditional pack weighing. I had done all my recon hikes with ~17k calories worth of heavy hammer gel and another ~2k worth of Perpetuem and estimated my pack weighed 28 lbs (pack contents discussed later). At the last minute I decided to swap 14k of those calories for denser snickers bars to save weight and added another 2k in nice fatty salty sausage. Now I was ready to see the fruits of my nutrition reconfiguration—27 lbs! I was quite depressed. I was expecting to see 25…ok strike 2…
I started hiking at 1:15 AM Wed. and sought to match Sue Johnston’s time of 4:09 to the summit but no faster (as this wasn’t part of the JMT right everyone? ;)). My stomach soon cramped—I gorged myself just before starting with chocolate chip cookies and hammer gel. I lost a lot of weight during the recon hikes and I doubt I had more than 5 lbs of body fat left to burn. I assumed I would be metabolizing muscle before the end and I figured consuming 1k calories now meant 1k calories worth of muscle saved. So I slowed a bit and the cramps went away. As I ascended Whitney the cooler temps encouraged me to go faster. If I’m not sweating it’s hard for me to hold myself back and inevitably I kept accelerating the higher I went and reached the summit in 3:50. Way faster than I wanted. I then spent 10 min unsuccessfully trying to call my wife from the summit (what the hell?!?), signed the register (first entry on 7/29) after nearly missing it, and left the summit at 5:17 AM.
I ran down towards guitar lake as the sun rose and made excellent time over this stretch. I refilled my 3L camel bag for the first time below guitar lake and planned to do so every 4-6 hours depending on temperature. Once I finished the quick descent down to the Crabtree Meadow junction I knew the real work was just beginning and I resolved to never relax over the remaining 200 miles. I was determined to push it all the way. Soon I became ravenously hungry. I was consuming a snickers every hour starting at guitar lake but they did nothing to quench the hunger (perhaps they weren’t being digested? Hmm…). The temptation to devour a handful of snickers was overwhelming but I resisted. I was bringing ~21k calories and felt I needed every calorie to make it to Yosemite. I felt I needed to stick to the rationing plan at all costs so as to not run out of food short of the finish and crash. In other words this was managed starvation. Anyway I eventually made it to Forester Pass in 5:47 (7 min ahead of schedule).
The section between Forester and Glen was fairly uneventful. I had a nice cold light rain during the initial steep rise out of the valley (I don’t remember that portion being so steep on the recon hike!) and nice cooling cloud cover for most of the remaining portion up to the pass. I began getting sleepy but felt I could still easily make it past Mather before sleeping the first time. I made it to Glen Pass in 3:37 (3 min ahead of schedule). The descent down to Woods Creek was uneventful. I did not run as much of the rocky sections as I could have and arrived at the bridge in 2:27 (27 min behind schedule—though I don’t think my 2:00 est. is practical).
At this point I did ~52 miles in 15:53 essentially exactly as I projected and felt pretty good, with no indications of the coming meltdown a few miles up the trail. Just below the plateau leading to Pinchot Pass I began getting tired. Within 10 minutes I could barely move. One step sent my pulse racing. I had no idea what was happening. When I stopped I felt sick, so I had to keep going. I consumed gel and snickers but they had no effect. I eventually stopped and decided to try and sleep and hope the problem would magically disappear in 4 hours. I awoke in 3 hours and ate more snickers and sausage. No improvement. I sat on a rock for 30 min and again with no improvement went to sleep with no alarm set. I awoke at dawn and still had no energy. I painfully slowly inched myself towards Pinchot Pass to exit via Taboose Pass and then hitch hike back to the car. Near the Taboose Pass trail junction I began feeling better. I was still in contention to break Popov’s record but I was hoping to do much better and had no desire to continue. Besides, at this point I still had no idea what was wrong.
By the time I got to Taboose Pass I was cured. My attention shifted to getting back to my car. I asked people as they were coming up how far ahead was the last group going down. I knew this was not a popular trail and was worried there would be no one to give me a ride back to my car—or at least to the 395. A guy I met near the pass said there was a group about an hour ahead. So…I started running down. 30 min pass and I meet another group and they say the same thing—another hour ahead. I run faster. About 30 min later the same story. “Crap, I might not catch them” I think to myself. Now I’m flying down the trail kamikaze style. I’m running towards the desert as fast as I can and it’s getting hot. I occasionally stop to make sure I don’t overheat. By the time I get to the trailhead I feel like I’m in a blast furnace. I get to the trailhead (1:46—may be a record! Ha!) and there are cars but no people. Bummer. I get water from the creek and can’t wait for Aqua Mira to do its magic and drink ~2L immediately. I refilled my camel bag and walked the 5 miles to the 395. I need to practice hitchhiking I guess cause no one would pick me up! After ~1.5 hours of dehydrating next to the highway I was getting desperate and started flashing a $20 as enticement for someone to give me a ride (it never worked!). After another 30 min my savior arrived and I was on my way to Lone Pine…
A note about pace. When I learned of the record I was surprised the average speed was less than 3mph (this is when I was totally clueless about such things). At the time I felt humans should be capable of averaging 3 mph indefinitely. What I didn’t realize then is that achieving this pace roughly requires averaging 3.5 mph when conscious, and 4 mph when actually moving. Given that 3 mph is effectively an upper bound when ascending passes this puts a lower limit on the speed of doing the flats/downhill. Although I’m still convinced someone will eventually do the JMT unsupported in less than 3 days (3mph) I have 'begun' to realize how truly difficult this is to do in practice. Using my recon hikes and Sue’s and others’ times, I spent considerable effort on trying to estimate my times during the actual record attempt. This analysis suggested a time not much over 3 days was possible. Now, I’m not crazy. I know it’s impossible to predict with any confidence fatigue and so forth in the latter half of the trail. I completely agree with Aaron’s comments. The record is set in the second 100 miles. The first 100 is just a qualifier. With a large pile of hope, I set my pace to achieve the time I thought I theoretically could if I somehow defied the odds and managed a perfect run. Well, I didn’t, but that’s why I was going so fast before the meltdown. My real goal was to crush Sue’s time. Now, if Michael doesn’t knock the record below a certain level I will still feel compelled to try and break the new supported record again, even though it will greatly increase the probability of total failure and of not even completing the hike, but that’s how it goes…
Notable pack contents:
4lbs hammer gel 4.6k cal
6lbs 50 snickers bars 14k cal
1lb sausage 2.2k cal
6.6lbs 3L camel bag (given my setup and that I was treating the water I felt carrying more water saved time)
total pack weighed 27lbs so I guess base weight was about 9lbs