Fast Times (and aesthetic lines) - Page 6
Mike Wolfe and Hal Koerner get their bearings on the JMT. Photo by Tom Robertson
California’s 223-mile-long John Muir Trail (JMT) stretches from Whitney Portal, the traditional Mount Whitney trailhead, to the Happy Isles trailhead in Yosemite National Park. It traverses the high Sierra Nevada, a white-granite wonderland that’s largely above treeline and, thus, almost always inundated with sunlight. The JMT is named after environmentalist and High Sierra lover John Muir, who called the Sierra Nevada the “Range of Light” for this interplay of rocks and sun.
“Oh, that high-altitude sun was brutal—it burned my brain!” says Mike Wolfe. In August of 2013, Wolfe, a 36-year-old attorney from Missoula, Montana, and Hal Koerner, 38, who owns Rogue Valley Runners, a running store in Ashland, Oregon, reset the supported JMT FKT in 3 days 12 hours 41 minutes. Sue Johnston had set the previous overall supported record in 2007 at 3 days 20 hours (Johnston still holds the women’s supported record).
Wolfe and Koerner’s record is unique because not only did they work with a support crew but they also worked together. Says Koerner, “We were out there for all that time, but we didn’t actually talk much. You can’t actually talk much. We both had this understanding of the effort we were putting out, and having someone there to recognize it made working together worthwhile.”
One thing that FKT efforts have in common with races is that the record isn’t in the bag until the effort is over. Wolfe and Koerner, due to being behind schedule, ran into trouble at mile 130 when they missed their crew person. They debated taking a long detour off route to restock at a store or forging onto their next crew point low on calories.
“We both sat on a log, took deep breaths and decided, ‘We’re not letting this stop us,’” says Wolfe. “We had a little food to tide us over and we just hammered. I bonked so hard I was hallucinating. We just put our heads down and did it.”
Sue Johnston, 48, the previous supported JMT FKT holder, says these types of problems are the real hindrance to even-faster JMT FKTs. “If someone with speed, endurance and a crew can get through the effort with no real issues, they should be able to go under three days.”