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JMT Atempt Report
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Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
JMT Atempt Report on 08/05/2007 16:21:38 MDT Print View

Well, I'm back.
There are 5 of us going for the attempt this year.
The one person I had thought to leave out was Michael Popov.
I only left him out because he had not answered an email in the past 2 months. It turned out he had just changed his email.
I had done an interview for the Fresno Bee newspaper and had sent out the link to a bunch of people before I went to leave for Whitney.

About 5 minutes before I left I got a call from a friend who said something about someone wanting to start at the same time as you.
It was Michael. He sent an phone number with the email and after talking to him, it was set, we were going to start at the same time. We would not do the attempt together due to it be unsupported, but starting together made it more like a race. Why not, a 211 mile race to Yosemite? Sounds fun to me.
We got at Lone Pine on Thursday the 26th and stayed at Horseshoe Meadow the first night, at 10,000 feet.
Friday we headed to Whitney Portal got to the Trail Camp at 12,000 feet at 10:30 pm on Friday.

We decided to have some fun since we would be there until the start of the attempt on Monday at noon.
Now Michael is a big guy - 6' 2" and 185 pounds.
Our idea of fun was some beer at 12,000'.
Why not get some protein before a hard race.
So while in Lone Pine, we se this this Heineken Can the size of a Bear Canister.
We were drooling for the next minute over it and realized that it just had to be done.
So up the 4,000' of climbing Michael went carrying 20 pounds of beer.
We had 70 pounds of mostly beer and food in order to get our fill before the attempt.
Well the beer was gone before the end of day 1. We were also eating like kings.

The 2 1/2 days at Whitney Trail camp was unique ordeal. There was a daily routine the hiking community went through each day. From first light to about 9:30 am everyone would wake up and leave. So from 9:30 to about 2:30 pm there would only be a few day hikers pass through every once in a while. Other than that you would have the entire place to your own. The place is beautiful up there and the sun and moon rises where even better.

After 3 days of acclimation, we were ready to go. My brother and his wife had a day hike permit to go to Whitney with us to see us off and they would take our sleeping bags and extra clothes back down with them from the trail camp. They got to us about an hour late. Michael and I knew that we would get to the top by 12:00 but wouldn’t have much time to the start. We started off on a conservative pace to the top and after about 2 switchbacks my brother said, well were not going to be staying with you guys much longer so why don’t you just take off. Take off? We were just walking! And so we did, and got to the top, (5 miles) in just over 2 hours, (taking it easy).

12 o’clock and we were off.
We tore down Whitney like it was giving us a push.
I decided to do some recordings on my MP3 Player to record all my splits and some strange moments while on the trail. I can not get the recordings to play right now, but I will get the link out as soon as I get it down on the computer and saved as a link.

The first pass was Forrester. At 13,200’ it is hard, but only had 2,300’ of climbing. The last 900’ is strait up and with the elevation, pushing it wasn’t an option.
I had a very light system and started with just under 16 pounds. What I didn’t have was and significantly warm gear to sleep in. I left my sleeping bag at home and decided to sleep just before nightfall and just after sunrise in order to make the most of the nights hardships of delusions and doubt.
I sleep for maybe 5 minutes on the way down from Forrester. I couldn’t sleep because I felt good and when I woke, I was off. I was not trying to keep up with Michael. I was going to hike my own hike. He was about 50 minutes ahead of me when I went to take a nap.
I never saw one person other than on a day hike on the trail that was going our way. We were also doing the JMT 6 times faster than most did so you would see a lot of people each day, but not one at night.
The nights were better and easier than the day. Days were very warm and getting enough to eat and drink without running out of gas was hard.
At night you could regulate your temperature and getting nutrition back in you was no problem. On all but one night I would wear my cut-off shirt until around 1 am and just put a wind shirt on for the rest of the night.
Climbing Glen Pass on a full moon was awesome. Off went the light for a 2,500’ moonlit climb.
I would stop for a break every time I would need water and about every 2 hours to get eat as much as a could. It was hot and if I just pushed strait through I would be out for the count before I knew it.
When I sat down for a break around 3 am, Michael came by me. He had just got through sleeping 2 hours and was off in a flash.
The whole time before the start I told Michael that I would not go off fast but would never give up to pursue him until the end and that in the end I would catch him. We agreed to share the record if we were together at the end and no one would loose any more time by staying together.

The next day at noon I had done 47 miles and was felling great. It felt a little too fast since we had flown down Whitney and day 2 was going to be harder with the 3,600’ climb of Pinchot to come.
While climbing up Pinchot I got into a rhythm that I kept the rest of the time. Climbing just became so easy and without much more effort than it would have been at sea level.

What did start hurting were the rocks over the passes. I don’t know if it was just the shoes, but the front pads on my feet were hurting bad. My feet are pretty tough too. After inspection, it looked as if the suspension cleats on my Golite Sundragons were not dispersing the force of the rocks evenly over my pads and the cleat located in the center of my front pads were pounding the area just under it.
Going up Mather was a piece of cake. Going up Muir was easy as well. It wasn’t the climbing that was killing me it was just the rocky areas at the top. I did try to get 1 ½ hours of sleep around sunset while coming down Mather only to be woken up by a bear sniffing my pack that I was using for a pillow.

By the end of day 2 I had done another 37 miles and 84 for the 2 days. I wasn’t worried about not getting the 40-45 miles a day I wanted to cover on day 2. Day 2 was the hardest climbing days anyway. Other than the front pads on my feet, I was still at 100% and ready to get some mileage in and start gaining some time on Michael. Everyone out there would know what was going with us. We were obvious. Carrying a sub 20 pound pack the opposite way and just blowing by everyone got us noticed.

On top of Muir pass I did not like what I saw. Evolution was just ugly. Big jagged rocks and the pain just kept coming. The bad part was that I just had to keep pushing. I could run the flats easy enough but the rocks were another thing all together. Every step hurt. I always knew were I was in relation to Michael. I would just need to ask and what I found out is that I was loosing over 2 hours to him over each pass.

After the rocks of Muir, going down Evolution was long and easy all the way down to creek crossing. When David Horton went through during his PCT Record, he was chest deep. This year it was about 8-12 inches.
I went to get 1 ½ of sleep just after the crossing before dark. I tried to get 1 ½ of sleep just before sunset and just after sunrise. This time a bird decided to drop down by my and wake me up by chirping.
While going Selden Pass I had survived off of 2 ½ hours of sleep and it was starting to play with me. As soon as I got the top by the Sally Keys Lakes the trail split and Instead of trying to figure it out, I toke a quick nap and would deal with it when I woke up.
Getting to the top of Selden was slow and confusing. The top seemed to take forever and the rocks were relentless.

By first light the next morning I was wonder if I could go on. Every step hurt. I decided to sleep for 2 ½ hours and see what I thought when I woke up.
I felt better when I woke and was going for it. As long as I was ahead of Reinholds record pace, I would not give up.
After day 3, I knew that a sub 5 day assault of the JMT what I was going for. I had it in the bag and it would have not been much of a problem and I knew that it would make Reinhold happy to get it under that pace.

Heading down Selden and down the Golden Staircase was still bad on each and every step. At the end of day 3, I had done 33 more miles and 115 total. Reinholds record was slipping away and so was the ability to run on my feet. When I reached the cutoff to Lake Thomas Edison, I was at mile 120 and was 2 hours and 15 minutes behind Reinholds pace. I diced I have had enough. I was really upset that I had to leave, but it made it easier knowing that Michael was still out there and I could get to Yosemite to see him finish.
If he had not been out there and I was 3 hours ahead of were I was at, I would have never given up, but I don’t think it was possible to keep any pace on my feet.

When I got off the trail I heard Michael was already 7 ½ hours + 10 miles head, (overt 25 miles). I later learned that he had also gotten 5 hours of sleep after a hard night and that the report from his mileage ahead had came after the 5 hours of sleep.

Michael is going to send his report into a few magazines so I am not going to give anything away. He deserves the praises from what he did. He was absolutely flying out on the course the entire time.

Next to come is the attempt of John Stamstad and Justin Angle. I would really like to see the best from them because Michaels performance was awesome and I don’t think they have what it would take to go after Michaels new record of 4 days 5 hours and 25 minutes. He took over a day off of Reinholds record of 5 days 7 hours and 45 minutes.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
JMT Record on 08/05/2007 16:52:01 MDT Print View

Nice try Aaron!! There is always next year! Most of us dream of doing something like that. Inspiration!

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
"JMT Atempt Report" on 08/05/2007 17:07:48 MDT Print View


You did really well, way more than I or most of us reading this can even think about doing.

Get a better pair of shoes, recover a bit and go back soon. I worried about those shoes. I have some but a different model and while I was not doing the miles you did the rocks hurt my feet. I am back to my TNF and my feet are much happier.

Go back soon and I will make you a really light Cuben pack out of my secret stuff that I am positive will hold up for 6 days. I can save you enough weight on your pack that you can go with a better pair of shoes.

s k
(skots) - F
JMT Attempt on 08/05/2007 17:58:45 MDT Print View


Fantastic attempt, Aaron! Your preparation, anticipation, and attempt have made great reading through the past months, and I congratulate you on the success that you achieved. Your energy and your enjoyment of the process seemed to pour out of all of the forum posts you made regarding the attempt. You have a great competitive spirit! Good luck in your next endeavor and ….maybe.... a lighter keg of sauce, preflight!


Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: JMT Attempt on 08/05/2007 18:51:06 MDT Print View


Thank you for sharing both the planning and the execution of your adventure with us. Also congratulations for giving the JMT record a noble effort.

Ryan Faulkner
(ryanf) - F

Locale: Mid atlantic, No. Cal
Re: Re: JMT Attempt on 08/05/2007 19:21:26 MDT Print View

wow, I cant beleive the new record, I had decided the 5day record was a possible goal to be broken, im not quite as confident I could do the JMT in 4days.

thats too bad about the shoes, im interested in hearing what skurka has to say about them, I had considered getting a pair, but i was reluctant because of the new technology.. i figured i would see how skurka and yourself liked them, i think i will stay with my salomons :)

but in the end, sounds like you had a good (and fast) trip, i think with the experience you got from this attempt will serve you well if you ever decide to try for it again

even if the record is an entire day shorter...

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Congratulations are in order... on 08/05/2007 21:36:09 MDT Print View

Very impressive, despite your not completing the full trail. A stress fracture forced me off about where you got off, except you started from the south while I was in the north. Having walked the area in the near record heat of this summer, I can only imagine your difficulty staying hydrated and vital. My hat is off to you.

Eric Noble
(ericnoble) - MLife

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: JMT Atempt Report on 08/06/2007 13:27:53 MDT Print View

Great attempt! I too, have appreciated all of your posts detailing the planning and the gear. I had to laugh at your casual mention of being awakened by a bear sniffing the bag you were using as a pillow. An excellent example of "too close for comfort". Did you wait for the bear to leave or did you just get up and hike off?

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: JMT Atempt Report on 08/06/2007 15:37:25 MDT Print View

Thanks for the awesome feedback Aaron. I'm sorry things didn't work out with the feet/shoes. In hindsight do you feel not enough was known about the wear of golite shoes to take them on this trip? The bear thing would have freaked me out man! My trip would have ended there from cardiac arrest.

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
JMT Recap on 08/06/2007 17:26:15 MDT Print View

Thank you everybody.
Here are a few pictures of Michael and I both before and after the attempt. It looks like he is congradulating me but we were just joking around.
I am the shorter one.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Edited by awsorensen on 08/06/2007 17:28:12 MDT.

Carol Crooker
(cmcrooker) - MLife

Locale: Desert Southwest, USA
Congrats! on 08/06/2007 22:20:13 MDT Print View

Great job, Aaron!

Michael Popov
(mpopov) - F

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
JMT speed attempt report on 08/07/2007 12:50:04 MDT Print View

Here's my version of the adventure.
We’ve got in touch with Aaron right the day before we both were going to leave for Lone Pine, which was fantastic, and we both agreed to start at the same time, Monday at noon. Later I learned that Jon Chiappa has already tried and had to quit at mile 120, and John Stamstad is yet to come in September. So, the race came down to two guys standing on top of continental US and saying to each other – I’ll race you to Yosemite.

Not having to wait long since my arrival at the Portal, Aaron drove by and after a short but intense greeting we sorted out our gear and headed for Horseshoe Meadow, at 10,000 ft elevation. We spent a night there, and the next morning was weird in a sense that there was absolutely nothing to do around, so we decided to head back to the Portal and start a hike to the Trail Camp. And of course, we just had to make a detour to Lone Pine and get us some funky calories in a form of Heineken the size of a bear canister. (Later we regretted that we got only one).

Around one mile into the hike up the main Whitney Trail we see all these backpackers with heavy gear, joke around how fun it must be lugging 70 pounds of gear and a kitchen sink, I’m looking at all these 8-pound sleeping mats strapped to the outside of packs and then it hits me! I forgot mine!! So I had to swiftly run down and up for my Therma-Rest I used in an attempt. I simply treated it as a nice 2 mile warm-up run before hitting the trail again. Keeping a steady pace we got to Trail Camp in a little over 3 hours and crashed by the lake.

Next 2 days in a camp were a breeze. We rested, ate, drank, played cards, walked around, talked to people, fought off squirrels and went to war with marmots trying to steal our food. We chose a high ground campsite, overlooking all the others and it was fun just to watch people go by, coming back to camp from Whitney and heading off. Even at night, you’d wake up and could see the lights going up or down the 99 switchbacks. The weather had a pattern, clouds would always roll in at noon and it drizzled for about 4 hours and then it’s suddenly clear again.

On the day of the attempt we waited until Aaron’s brother Rod and his wife Maribel came by, they were dayhiking to Whitney and taking our extra camping gear on the way down. They helped tremendously, if it were not for them, we would not have such a fun time in the camp.

From Trail Camp to Whitney it took us 2 hours 9 minutes to hike and when we got there we had only 25 minutes to spare before the gun went off at noon. Aaron made a recording on his MP3 player, I took a video on a camera, we signed a book, took a few photos, and off we went whooping and scaring poor tourists off the path. On the way down I met Maribel and Rod and we exchanged hi-fives.

Now, the real deal. We cruised down the mountain at 4.5 miles an hour to Guitar Lake, our first water resupply point. My strategy was to put some time on Aaron on the way down, so that when I’m done refilling, he’d just start. This way I could disappear into the trail out of line of sight. It worked out just fine and I never spotted Aaron until Forester Pass. On the approach to Forester I met a girl who instantly recognized our effort as a JMT speed record attempt and wished us luck. She happened to be a runner and I know no further because I had to be moving. I met this girl later under funny circumstances and learned that her name is Flora.

The pace from the very beginning was fast and I intended to keep it this way, at least this is what I always do and it works. Wherever I couldn’t run – I aggressively walked, getting a full use out of my trekking poles. Several times I sat down to take a break, mostly in the woods or just over the lump, so that Aaron can’t spot me. Five miles before the Forester I started to feel a creepy feeling of cramps coming up in my thighs, so I slowed down a bit. I was sure by this point that I put some time on Aaron and from now on it’s just a steady push that was in order. I hit Forester at 19:15 and saw Aaron from the top, he was refilling at the creek down by the switchbacks. Hmmm, it would not take him long to get to the top, but he seemed to take forever by this creek. What to do, what to do? The descent is long and exposed and if I don’t want him to see me I need to move. Now. Fast. And so I went.

Halfway down into the valley I tried to take in another PowerGel and couldn’t. For some reason my body resisted any food and besides I haven’t peed since the start. I went off the trail into the rocks so Aaron doesn’t spot my weakness and threw up good. Made me feel better and I decided I’d have to metabolize my fat reserves instead for some time and just kept going for 3 hours on no food into the night until the bear boxes appeared in the dim light of a headlamp. Vidette Meadow. Here I decided to get some rest. I boiled some water, warmed up two of my Bratwurst sausages with Cheddar cheese, got these 500 calories in, inflated the mat, got into my sleeping bag and laid down with feet plopped up on a fallen tree, so that all blood from legs went back to the stomach. This is why I couldn’t keep any food – all the blood was in the legs. I fell partially asleep and at the same time I was trying to be aware of the surroundings just in case if Aaron passed by. Half hour later my legs stiffened, I laid them out straight and tried to get myself as much under the log as possible, so as to be “invisible” to passers-by.

Two hours later I woke up, packed my gear, marveled at the fact that I didn’t see anyone passing me by, and off I went. Two hundred meters of walking and I see someone bivying by the trail. Aaron? I shined my headlamp and the guy goes – PARDON??? Yeah, this is definitely not Aaron… See ya!!!

The climb up Glen was so easy after having rested. I stopped only 3 times to take a break, all the rest was pushing. My specialty is uphills, and if it’s jagged and rocky with steps – then all the better. At the top of Glen Pass I stopped to take a video and time at this point was 2:55. Cresting the Glen I looked down to Rae Lakes and saw a flashlight dancing in the rocks on the approach to the lakes. OH NOOO!!! How did I miss Aaron?! Did he see me sleeping? Does he know I’m behind?

At this time the moon was in full power and I decided to go stealth down from the Glen Pass to the lakes so Aaron can’t measure my pace. I was well rested after the sleep and hit the switchbacks aggressively in the moon light. The trekking poles played a great role in this, since you can “feel” the trail with them and measure the height of each step. This way you can move fast and fluent despite the terrain and light. Soon I was on Aaron’s heels, noting the position of his flashlight and time it took me to get to this place. First it was 15 minutes, then 7, then 3. Suddenly I make a bend in the trail and run into Aaron sitting quietly and refueling. We exchanged greetings and I learned that he is going to sleep for an hour and a half when sun comes up. He also said that he’d follow my flashlight from now on. It was like a challenge, and I stormed ahead. By the suspension bridge, sun came up; I took some pictures of the bridge and had a lot of fun going across it. Soon after, I stripped my night layers and kept pushing up the trail along the river. As the trail ventured into the hills away from the river I decided to take a break and sat down on a stone. At this point I started feeling drowsy and figuring that Aaron will be sleeping at this time too, I’d decided to crash for an hour on the dry grass using sleeping bag as a blanket. I was awakened by the bypassing hikers, one of the ladies went – “Is he still sleeping??? Oh, look, there are his poles! What with all that gear? Maybe he was hiking all night!” She was so descriptive of me and my gear, that it almost made me self-conscious and I could not fall asleep. Oh, well, 9:30 o’clock, time to roll.

Pinchot Pass was a breeze, going down to Kings River was fun, but when I hit the Upper Basin it was already 14:30 o’clock and sun was unbearable in this open space. I tried to cool down in the few streams before the Mather Pass splashing water on me, but it didn’t help much. Thankfully, switchbacks at the pass were not long and the other side of the pass had a cool breeze blowing. Oh, that Mather… - I thought to myself and looked back into the basin. No sight of Aaron.

Going down from Mather Pass into Le Conte Canyon was a highlight of the trip! The Palisade lakes were so beautiful, clear and inviting with a sandy bottom – I almost envied those backpackers taking it easy. But I was on the other mission and shoveled these thoughts aside. Le Conte Canyon was runnable practically the entire way and so I did run the whole canyon. By the time I started the climb up the Muir Pass it got dark.

The Muir Pass… This is such an inhospitable moonscape, the barren land of rocks and water. You can hear water everywhere, left and right and the trail is so unrecognizable! I got lost 2 times after crossing streams, just because there either was no defined trail after the crossing, or it could not be reached by the light of the headlamp. Time lost was about 20 minutes just to figuring out the way. I really struggled at this point and the pass had never seemed to appear. It had at least 3 false summits. Strangely, in my mind I was convinced that as soon as I crested the pass I would see the bright lights of a big metropolis the size of LA on the other side. It escaped my mind that I was in a deep wilderness. Everything was surreal. Those towering ridges all around in the moonlight with patches of snow and black water in the lakes started to play to my primeval fears. I swear I saw a quick flash of the flashlight not too far behind which turned off in a second. I thought it was Aaron, but never saw this flashlight again. Then the thought of the great John Muir playing tricks on me crept up. It seemed perfectly logical, there’s a reason people called this pass Muir, and his spirit must be somewhere around here. Stunned and quiet I kept following the trail, trekking poles in my hands so as not to make this cling-cling sound on the rocks, when I felt I needed to crash again. I looked to my right and saw a grassy patch in the rocks. Upon closer inspection, I discovered it was crawling with some sort of spiders and jumpy bugs, but I did not care. I needed to sleep. And so I put on my jacket and got into a sleeping bag right there, on the grass.

Ten minutes later I woke up shivering. It was shivering on the border of shuddering; I was so cold I think I squished all these bugs in a 3 feet radius. Starting to blow inside of my sleeping bag it got a little warmer but I had to keep blowing to keep myself warm. Which was not what I wanted, I wanted to sleep, not maintain warm temperature inside the bag. So I got up, packed my gear and off I went. Losing 20 minutes to nothing was another wicked trick played by Muir on me.

I walked for less than 3 minutes and suddenly – wow! What is this? Is this a house? How come there’s a house in this godforsaken place? Oh, wait; this must be the Muir Hut I saw in the pictures!! I was so happy and at the same time so sorry to not have walked some 100 feet to the hut, crashing in the grass just below the summit. But now we are talking!! It was after midnight already and inside the hut it felt like it was at least 20 degrees warmer than outside. Now I’ll get myself some royal sleep! There is a nice wooden bench inside the Hut, which is a good insulator, and I just put the sleeping bag on top of me and rested my head against the pack. I fell asleep instantly.

Some time passed and strange dreams started to appear in my mind. I envisioned the whole crowd of people mingling around the hut, touching me, checking out my gear, talking. This was not ending and all these people started to annoy me. Some were touching my food and I thought – no way, you’re not getting my sausages! Halfway in my sleep I reached up into a backpack, pulled out my last Bratwurst and ate it in my sleep.

Around 3:00 I woke up and decided it’s time to go. Even though it felt brutal to go into the night after sleeping in Muir Hut, I pressed on. Evolution Basin was nothing spectacular in the night, same rocks and water. It felt hard to go at first, but then I found my rhythm.

By sunrise I was heading down to the Evolution Creek. People have just started to wake up and I caught a few curious glances from the regular backpacking crowd. In the Evolution Valley I knew there’d be a treacherous creek crossing and kept asking people for its whereabouts. I asked a girl first, she said it’s about 2.5 miles from here. After what seemed like 3 miles I asked another hiker again. He says it’s only 1.5 miles from where we are. Come ooon!!! Finally I get there at around 9:15, cross the creek on the logs with the help of my poles without getting shoes wet and decided to take a strategic position inside the bushes overlooking the creek. There I had cooked myself dinner, two pouches of Mountain House Pro-Pak freeze dried dinners – “chicken teriyaki with rice” and “spaghetti in meat sauce” before falling asleep for an hour. Upon awakening I brewed some coffee and was off on my way.

Speaking of my nutrition on the go. I use energy gels almost exclusively, and try to vary the flavors and practicality of the gels. In this case, the pace was not very intense, so I took 1 gel on the hour and varied those from regular to caffeinated to protein-enhanced to extra sodium ones. It’s easy to eat on the go and you don’t lose any time to stopping and chewing.

By 16:05 I was on top of Selden Pass and it was already 2 days and 4 hours into the run. I felt like I needed to move faster. I taped my feet and decided to make Silver Pass today wherever it was. Finally, it started to look like a climb. Yeah! Not so technical, so I just kept on power-walking uphill in the forest when it slowly started to go down. At this point setting sun started to color the sky all kinds of red, purple and crimson colors. It was so gorgeous, I had to stop and take a few pictures. But wait!! The trail still goes down!! And what with all these switchbacks? Where is the pass?? I sat for a good 10 minutes consulting my GPS and maps, preloaded on my camera… Aha… This looks like the trail goes down to Lake Thomas Edison and the pass is still ways from here. Well, ok. Let’s just keep moving. Those switchbacks were never ending, but I finally got to the bottom and started a climb again.

Climbing the Silver Pass I started to lose it. Sleep deprivation took its toll and it also began drizzling to add insult to injury. It was hard to go up not knowing how far to go, besides I ran out of my water and decided to bivy at the Silver Pass Lake where I could get water. But how far to go to get there? I had no idea, I just kept moving. At some point it became obvious that as soon as I stopped moving I’d fall asleep standing, instantly. So I kept my body going. At one point I sat down on a rock to check the altitude on my GPS and location on the maps… It was hard to stay coherent and I kept closing my eyes falling into micro-sleep. Glancing at my GPS again I saw it morphing into a cell phone and started to punch “numbers” to call home and say that everything is all right. Trying to talk into the unit I came to my senses, and decided that I needed to sleep. Now. But I had to have water first. And so I stood up and kept going for some more. And then some more. Until trail leveled and I felt that the lake must be right there, to my left. I found a huge boulder under which to take cover, shuffled to the lake to get some water, boiled just enough to have another Mountain House Pro-Pak dinner and to have some left for the cold morning coffee, ate in my sleep again and slept for five hours straight until 6:45 in the morning.

The next morning I jumped up, stirred coffee concentrate in the left over water, drank it, refilled my CamelBak in the lake, packed my gear and was off by 7:00. Going was so easy, I was flying down the trail, and everyone was making way for me. That was very nice of those people, thank you!

From here on, the trail signs started to get weird and illogical. They just did not correspond to the maps I had on my camera. I lost quite some time trying to figure out the right way to go, spending up to 10 minutes at every intersection. The JMT sign on the trail says right, but the JMT trail on the map goes left! I trusted the maps and that was a right choice! Forest Service needs to take care of these signs!

Coming down into Reds Meadow was not very pleasant. The terrain seems runnable, but there’s a lot of sand to conquer and this makes the going slow. During the hot day, these dusty conditions are really something when you’re all sweaty. I have to say though - I was in awe of this burned-out area just before Reds Meadow. I was going through this cemetery of trees with my jaw dropped. What a sight…

I hit Thousand Island Lake at sunset. For some reason I assumed that Island Pass would have been before the lake but it was not. Ok then, so I keep charging ahead. Night falls. There’s a couple of small lakes after the Thousand Island Lake and just before the pass, and I decided to fill up there and bivy. Again, I crawled into my sleeping bag, plopped my legs on a fallen log and fell asleep for 1.5 hours. It was nice and warm by the lake, but I had to get out of my cozy sleeping bag confines and keep moving.

It’s interesting, during the cold nights I was dreaming about hot pepperoni pizza, and during the hot days I was dreaming about the pint of cold pale ale.

The area between the Island Pass and Donohue Pass was very confusing to navigate at night. Lots of trail junctions, and you can’t be sure that you’re going the right way until you come to the next junction and recheck your position. Very tiresome and time consuming.

I sat down for three 15 minute sleep breaks before and after Donohue Pass without taking my pack off, but just before hitting the Lyell Canyon I figured that some good sleep was in order. I went off the trail into the rocks and pulled out my sleeping bag. I woke up with the first light.

The canyon path was long, weaving along the river, and even though it was absolutely runnable, I had no such desire. I just kept on power-walking the whole thing until Tuolumne Meadows. There I took a wrong turn that got me going uphill and I frantically rechecked my maps again. Oh, no, wrong turn!! 20 minutes lost to misnavigation!! I descended back to the junction and proceeded the right way.

At this point I started to feel the signs of civilization. I could hear the cars whizzing by on 120, could see people camping to my left… Starting the climb up the Cathedral Pass I was passing a lot of weekend backpackers going up or down. Here I drank straight from the creek and decided that I will not need to fully refill my CamelBak, which proved to be a mistake later on. All this time I felt like Aaron is somewhere on my back and I kept checking the trail for his prints in case he passed me when I was sleeping.

This stretch all the way to the finish was dry. I was on Cathedral Pass at 12:05, 4 days and 5 minutes into the run. I ran out of water. From here on I never refilled my CamelBak until the finish. Soon the lack of water started to manifest its results. My lips were dry, my tongue was like sandpaper and my throat was screaming for moisture. On the maps there were streams along the trail, but in reality they were all dried out. Bad hydration management, I thought to myself, and decided to push until Merced River on no hydration. Passing the meadow and Sunrise Camp it was so tempting to drop by and buy a bottle of cold crisp water for even $20, but I’d rather die than cheat 15 miles to the finish. And so I pressed on. As if there was never any camp. I thought, a human body can survive 3 days without water, so shut up and keep going. Soon the trail began to go downhill and there was some bad looking standing warm water in the pools of dried out creek bed. I pushed all the gunk on the top aside and started drinking like crazy. Feeling a little better, I kept going downhill.

Still going downhill I heard the sound of gurgling water. There was a stream with cool clean water there, and my intention was to take a good break and drink from my titanium mug instead of sucking water from the tube. So I had 2 full mugs of clean water and some beef jerky to recover on the go. I filled my mug with water again and started going down just keeping a mug in my hand and sipping from it from time to time.

Once I hit the Little Yosemite Valley, I knew that the finish was close. I was still afraid that Aaron is coming up from behind so I just kept on going without refilling in Merced River. I figured that 6 miles to the finish can be done in a bit over than an hour, and that is doable without water. Boy was I wrong!

Those switchbacks were never ending, I tried to push, but the harder I pushed my energy levels waned fivefold. I did not eat gels too. Soon I realized that I would either collapse 2 miles to the finish in front of all these people or get myself together and finally finish, before I get my fill of water at the bridge. That bridge was my life link to the finish line. I was overwhelmed with emotions. I started crying and sobbing uncontrollably. I did not care at this point. All these people can laugh at me, but they have no slightest idea what it takes to go from there to here. Finally, the bridge… I spend full 5 minutes sucking water from the drinking fountain… One mile left. Passing people again on the downhill. And finally!!! FINISH!!

I dropped on my knees by the brown board with mileages and burst in tears. 4 days, 5 hours and 25 minutes. That was a long journey and every single minute of it was worth the pain, misery, and tears I had to experience along the way. This is hard to explain what was going on in my head at this point.

Only when I got to Curry Village, took a shower, had my fill of huge pepperoni pizza and 6 pints of pale ales and hefeweisens, only then I realized to myself – John Muir Trail is a beautiful lady, but she has a bitchy character.

Edited by mpopov on 08/15/2007 21:50:38 MDT.

Ryan Faulkner
(ryanf) - F

Locale: Mid atlantic, No. Cal
Re: JMT speed attempt report on 08/07/2007 13:28:07 MDT Print View

hi michael,

thanks for the detailed trip report.
I would be interested in seeing what was on your gearlist

from the pictures aaron posted, it looks like you dressed similarly to how I would have if i were to ever attempt a speed record of any kind

I think you were lucky to have aaron behind you the whole time, seems like it kept you goin, kept you in a race mentalaty

good to see my shoes did well, how did you like them? i love the salomon XA pros

(jhaura) - F

Locale: Trail
Re: JMT speed attempt report on 08/07/2007 13:53:44 MDT Print View

Yeah buddy! That was one hardcore mission. Congrats to yourself and Aaron for going for it. Thanks for being so honest about the mental side of such an attempt, very intriguing.

A gearlist would be cool and a little about your experience in backpacking, trailrunning or whatever it is that prepared you for this trip.

I was on the trail when you guys where out there and must have passed you by at Trail Camp or somewhere uptrail, I thought I saw someone using an empty heini-barrel for a bear canister at trail camp!

Well done again and it would be cool to see your videos and pics.

All the best!

PS: What was your food storage strategy? I gather neither of you carried the approved gizmos. Did you just go for it and risk running into a ranger?

Edited by jhaura on 08/07/2007 13:55:31 MDT.

Jonathan Ryan
(Jkrew81) - F - M

Locale: White Mtns
Re: JMT speed attempt report on 08/07/2007 14:10:20 MDT Print View

Great Job, I really enjoyed reading your trip description. Any chance you will post your gear list. It would also be interesting to see how you trained for this amazing feat.

Charles Bilz
(denalijoe) - F

Locale: California
Re: JMT Atempt Report on 08/07/2007 14:23:53 MDT Print View

Great Job!

s k
(skots) - F
JMT Attempt on 08/07/2007 15:36:14 MDT Print View


Congratulations on your record, and thanks for taking the time to post your "in time" perspective of the race! Very exciting!


Michael Popov
(mpopov) - F

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
gear list on 08/07/2007 17:04:45 MDT Print View

Thank you for the kind words!
I will post my gear list shortly, as soon as I unload my pack.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: JMT speed attempt report on 08/07/2007 18:42:54 MDT Print View

Congrats Michael. That's an amazing trip report.

Alex Grabovetsky
(AlexG) - F
fast trip on 08/08/2007 04:56:18 MDT Print View

Awsome, both of you guys did great job. I think we have to get some pitchers in Piramid Mike and talk about this. Cant really pick any other words just very excited for you. Keep it up :)