Fast Times (and aesthetic lines) - Page 2
Ben Nephew in typical New England terrain. Photo by Scott Mason
The Presidential Range of New Hampshire is home to perhaps the most consistently technical terrain in New England. It’s also host to some of the windiest and foulest weather in the country—“the stuff that’ll blow you off the mountain,” says 38-year-old Ben Nephew, who holds the Presidential Traverse FKT.
The Presidential Traverse runs north-to-south for about 18.5 miles over the range’s spine, passing over eight mountains named after U.S. presidents and delivering roughly 8,500 feet of climbing. Nephew, of Mansfield, Massachusetts, set the current FKT on September 7, 2013, at 4 hours 34 minutes 36 seconds.
There’s a reason for that 15-minute-per-mile pace, explains Nephew, a biomedical-research scientist: “The route begins with a 4,000-foot climb, and the northern section is ridiculously technical. Picture loose, sharp rocks the size of an ottoman to a small couch. Some have moss on the edges and are very slippery.”
Former FKT holder Ryan Welts, a 33-year-old small-business owner from Northwood, New Hampshire, describes the traverse’s second half, “If you make it to Mount Washington in under three hours and with any gas in the tank, it’s time to open it up across the southern peaks, which are more runnable but still demand the use of your hands plenty of times.”
“You have to decide what level of risk is acceptable,” says Nephew. “In going fast, you’re going to fall at some point. The faster you go, the harder you’ll go down. It would be easy to have a life-threatening accident.”
When Nephew set the record in September, he improved upon a record set just a couple weeks prior by Jan Welford at 4 hours 35 minutes 29 seconds. The Presidentials are covered with a big blanket of snow now, but will soon see summer action among a cadre of local guys vying for the FKT. Says Nephew, “Anyone who dips that record under 4 hours 30 minutes is either going to have a massively elevated level of fitness or is willing to take bigger risks.”