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Notable (Short Distance) FKTs of 2016

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The sport of trail running continues to grow and, with it, the popularity of fastest-known-time (FKT) attempts. Thru-hiking routes like the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail are certainly the most widely known, and records on those trails tend toward high profile. However, trail fiends have been attacking shorter routes and single-peak FKTs with just as much gusto.

Here is our list of five top FKT achievements in the shorter-distance category. The list is in no particular order, and in no way represents all of the FKTs set in the past year. If you feel there is an achievement missing, please share it in the comments below!

White Mountains Direttissima, New Hampshire
Andrew Drummond

5 days 23 hours 58 minutes
240 miles
78,000 feet elevation gain
July 24-30

Direttissima is Italian for “direct route,” and it is the term Hank Folsom of Randolf, New Hampshire, adopted to name his linkup of 48 4,000-foot summits in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The route involves a combination of roads, trails and some off-trail navigation, totaling 240 miles and 78,000 feet of elevation gain.

This summer, trail runner and ski-mountaineer Andrew Drummond completed the linkup in just under six days. The last known completion of the route dates back to 1970, when Folsom broke the effort up into separate day hikes over a 19-day span.

“Checking off your 4,000-footers is a right of passage in the White Mountains,” Drummond told Trail Runner, “But it usually happens over an extended period of time. Just the thought that you could link them up and do them in a week or less and completely self-supported—I really gravitated toward that.”

Nolans 14, Colorado
Meghan Hicks

59 hours 36 minutes
~100 miles
44,000 feet elevation gain
September 9-11

Nolans 14 is a demanding 100(ish)-mile challenge to link 14 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado’s Sawatch Range in under 60 hours. With no set route, each individual must figure out what they conceive to be the fastest way to complete the linkup. Less than 20 people have completed the challenge since it was first attempted In 1999.

This August, Meghan Hicks, 37, of Moab, Utah, set a women’s FKT—and became the route’s third female finisher. Last summer, Anna Frost and Missy Gosney reached Nolans 14th summit in 57 hours 55 minutes, but stopped the clock before reaching the final trailhead, causing some dispute about whether to count their run as a “finish.” Hicks reached the 14th summit in 57:18 and the final trailhead in 59:36, which means she holds the female FKT for both endpoints.

Hicks is the 2013 women’s Marathon de Sables champion, among other top finishes at races like Hardrock, Squaw Peak 50 and Texas’ Big Bend 50. Of Nolan’s, she told Trail Runner in September, “Some lines I practiced four times just this year, trying slightly different variations to see if one route was faster or better for me.”

Grand Canyon R2R2R, Arizona
Jim Wamsley

5 hours 55 minutes 22 seconds
42 miles
10,000 feet elevation gain
October 4

Crossing from the South Rim of the canyon to North Rim requires descending more than 5,000 feet to the Colorado River, running through the corridor of the canyon and ascending another 5,000-plus feet to the North Rim. In October, recent trail running breakout star Jim Walmsley set a new FKT of the rim-to-rim-to-rim (R2R2R) challenge.

Until this year, the Grand Canyon R2R2R record was held by Rob Krar, whose 2013 run (6:21:47) put him on the trail ultrarunning map. Walmsley shattered that record by 25 minutes, breaking the six-hour barrier and sending shockwaves through the trail-running world. Wamsley also beat Krar’s rim-to-rim record by about six minutes.

In an interview with Trail Runner, Wamsley said that he didn’t have much trouble with traffic on his way back up the South Rim, “I think the people who saw me thought, ‘This guy looks like he’s gonna die—let’s get out of his way.’”

Trans Zion Traverse, Nevada
Joelle Vaught

8 hours 26 minutes 9 seconds
48 miles
10,000 feet elevation gain
May 20

The Trans-Zion Traverse runs west to east through Zion National Park, from Kolob Canyon to the East Entrance Trailhead. Since there is no single trail linking the canyon west to east, the traverse involves plenty of piecemeal route planning. Deep sand and steep climbs pose a challenge to those who tackle it.

For new female record holder Joelle Vaught, the biggest challenge was staying on the correct route. “I took one wrong turn in the first 10 miles and had to backtrack to get back on course,” she says, “I was unfamiliar with the trails, so I wrote all the trail names that I needed to be on my arm and had a map with me.” Vaught, 42, is from Boise, Idahoe. Bethany Lewis set the previous record in 2013.

Teton Grand Traverse, Wyoming
Nick Elson

6 hours 30 minutes
17.9 miles
12,444 feet elevation gain
August 16
Starting at 6,700 feet on the valley floor of the Grand Tetons, the Grand Traverse connects 10 summits ranging between 11,000 and 13,770 feet. With 12,444 feet of elevation gain in just 17.9 miles, and sections of free-solo climbing rated 5.7-5.8 (ratings which most people would rope up for), this route is not for your average trail runner.

For the past 16 years, professional climber Rolando Garibotti has held the record on this iconic route through the Tetons. However, on August 16, Canadian Mountain Running Champion Nick Elson was able to take 16 minutes off of Garibotti’s time. “Although I wasn’t climbing at the same level that Rolando was when he set the previous record, the hardest climbing on the Traverse was still quite a ways below my max by about five number grades,” says Elson.

“I was inspired to try the Grand Traverse not so much because I thought I could break the record, but because I knew that the bar had been set so high that it would force me to give it my very best,” he says. “I was also really fortunate that a friend put me in touch with Rolando who was really generous in providing me with beta and encouragement.”

When asked about the dangers of moving over such technical terrain that quickly, Elson admitted that a large portion of the Traverse is on terrain where falling could be fatal. However, he also pointed out that “there are only a few sections where the climbing is into mid-5th class and I made a point to really relax and not rush in those places.”

Mount Rainier (14,410 feet), Washington
Uli Steidl

4 hours 24 minutes 30 seconds
15 miles
9,000 feet elevation gain
July 26

Mount Rainier is no walk in the park and it’s certainly no simple trail run to the top. At 14,410-feet, Rainier is the highest point in Washington State and the fifth-highest peak in the contiguous USA. Climbing to the top involves glacier travel and 9,000 feet of elevation gain, and is something that only experienced mountaineers should attempt.

This year, Uli Steidl, equipped with an ice axe, a pair of crampons and intimate knowledge of the route and its conditions, climbed Rainier in record time, taking 16 minutes off of the previous record held by Willie Benegas which had stood for nearly eight years. This was Steidl’s 15th summit of Rainier.

“I think long-distance running and mountaineering complement each other well,” he says, “I have enjoyed both for a while so it seemed natural to combine the two.”

When asked about the dangers of taking on the route as a solo climber, Steidl says, “Going solo, fast, you’re less likely to get hit by rock- or icefall, but more likely to get hurt or die if you fall into a crevasse.

Honorable mentions:

Longs Peak Triathlon
Anton Krupicka and Stefan Griebel

9 hours 6 minutes
79 miles cycling, 14 miles running, 7 pitches rock climbing
11,500 feet elevation gain
August 16

Mount Whitney (14,505′)
Gina Lucrezi

5 hours 29 minutes 22 seconds
22 miles
6,100 feet elevation gain
August 10