Linking 48 4,000-Foot Peaks, in a Single 6-Day Push

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On July 30, exactly 5 days, 23 hours and 58 minutes after starting on New Hampshire’s Mount Moosilaukee, trail runner and ski-mountaineer Andrew Drummond set a new fastest known time, or FKT, for one of the quirkier concepts in the White Mountains, the Direttissima—a continuous push over all 48 4,000-foot peaks that includes a combination of roads, trails and bushwhacks totaling 240 miles and 78,000 feet of vertical.

The word direttissima is Italian for “direct route”—a term usually associated with daring technical climbs. But it was Hank Folsom of Randolph, New Hampshire, who borrowed the term and developed the concept of a fully connected series of days across the peaks.

Folsom broke his adventure into separate day hikes, spending 19 days of the summer of 1970 hiking a total of 244 miles. Though separated by 46 years, Drummond’s time was remarkably close to Folsom’s cumulative tally of 5 days 6 hours 28 minutes.

(Read more about the long history of trail running in the White Mountains here.)

Courtesy of Andrew Drummond

Drummond’s run was unique in another way: It also included live updates on social media, something he likens to “real-time adventure storytelling.” Along the way, his Direttissma sparked a lively online debate about whether his trip was truly unsupported, since he cached battery packs to power his social-media presence, and friends joined en route.

On the Fastest Known Time website, Peter Bakwin, the de facto record keeper of FKTs, wrote, “Drummond’s trip cannot be considered truly ‘unsupported’ since he cached batteries for his electronic devices and also had accompaniment at times (which could be considered ‘pacers’) … Since unsupported style is meant to reflect a self-sufficient ethic, we view this trip as technically self-supported.”

For his part, Drummond prefers a different definition of “unsupported”: “In my view, my effort was unsupported. Caching non-essential items to me is in the spirit of unsupported—to carry food and gear, and travel on foot.”

As for the line between accompaniment and pacing, Drummond observes, “If anything, having friends slowed me down. My fastest sections were unaccompanied, and when friends joined me, it was all social.” Still, he grants, “There’s no denying the boost fresh blood will give you on the trail.”

Now 89 years old, Hank Folsom was surprised to hear others had under undertaken the Direttissima, and in such speedy times. “I wasn’t hurrying. I went at a leisurely pace to enjoy it,” said Folsom. “I only hope all those others had as much fun as I did!”

We recently caught up with Drummond to hear about this project.

Drummond on his first 4,000er, Mount Moosilaukee. Photo courtesy of Andrew Drummond

Why the Direttissma?

It was the perfect project—not too big, not too small. It had a lot of meaning to me. Checking off your 4,000-footers is a rite of passage in the White Mountains. 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.

The catalyst was crewing Scott Jurek [on his record-setting thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail] and being able to watch his odyssey through the White Mountains. For me, it was three days of very little sleep with a purpose. That resonated with me and made me think I needed my own project.

This required a lot of planning. How did that come together?

Jerimy Arnold helped with route ideas and Ryan Welts gave me lots of info on the trails and what to expect. Jerimy suggested some pretty smart route changes, with a lot more out-and-backs, during which I’d drop my pack. I see the route I took as evolving into the standard—it’s the fastest and most efficient way to do it.

What was your biggest concern?

My body holding up, especially my knees. There was also a bunch of the gear I used for the first time, so I was worried about that working, too.

In the end, my body held up remarkably well. I felt like I got stronger as it went on. That was how I could put in such a big last day. [Ed.’s note: Drummond ran 58.2 miles in the last 24 hours.] My body fat had melted away by day four, and my pack was getting lighter. It was a crazy adaptation.

Drummond near Franconia Notch in New Hampshire. Photo by Joe Klementovich

What was your low point?

I never had a “WTF” moment, but stuff was catching up to me—the insecurity of “Can I keep this up?” Those moments were purely associated with being sleep deprived, I think. I was just moving slowly. I’d always find a way to nap and recharge. 

Social media played a big part in your Direttissima. What was the appeal for you?

I love making videos, and I love sharing the outdoors. I asked myself, “How can I do this in my own way?”

Traditional media is missing the here and now—that this is happening live. If you miss it, you miss it. Watching someone in the middle of a grueling project and seeing how they’re dealing with it—there’s no room to hide behind a pretty picture.

A day after it was over, I thought, “It’s old news.” It means so much more to me to see raw video live.

How did that system work?

I used a DeLorme Inreach tracker, which every 10 minutes sent a ping to a map and to Facebook. It had three programmed messages— “peak bagged,” “up and moving,” and “catching some z’s.” It was a perfect way to communicate with online followers.

Snapchat was very big. I could update it any time I had cell service, and it pushed out a bunch of video clips.

I had Facebook updates too. Plus Instagram, which also was connected to Twitter and Facebook. I used Google Drive to host photos for brands, so they could share the story, too.

For photography, I just used my iPhone. I also had photographers who joined me.

Courtesy of Andrew Drummond

So, did people watch?

I had a reach of 22,000 people on Facebook over the course of the week. Snapchat was huge. On Instagram, I picked up a few hundred followers.

What was the response like? 

It was 100 percent positive. I did have a few trolls who said, “Why would you run so fast? You’re going to miss everything!” And I would think, “You’re only seeing so much in a day! I’m seeing more!” I didn’t let that bother me.

What’s next?

I’m not sure. I learned that to do something successfully, you need to be deeply motivated, or you’ll quit. I really enjoyed the Direttissima, so I’ll be working to find something on that scale.

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