Fastpacker Sets Fastest Known Time for John Muir Trail
By: Jeff Garmire
The John Muir Trail (JMT) fastest known time (FKT) record would be the pinnacle of my fastpacking journey. I would need to carry the bare minimum while also staying safe, somewhat sane, and capable of completing the 220-mile trek from Yosemite National Park to Mount Whitney. I knew this trip would be the ultimate test of speed and efficiency. So, I put years worth of fastpacking notes and experiences to use as I tackled a challenge I had been inspired by for a long time.
How My Fastpacking FKT of the JMT Began
I woke up in Yosemite Valley with the sun. It would be the last time I didn’t use an alarm for days. Timers, dirt naps, and pushing through exhaustion would be my life, and I was ready for it. From the second my eyes opened in the morning, I was ready to go. I casually walked to my car and unpacked all my gear before repacking it. I wanted to ensure I had all the items I needed and nothing I didn’t. At the last minute, I even took out my quilt in exchange for an emergency blanket and a single hand-warmer. If things went sideways, self-extraction would be only a few miles away.
I walked confidently to the start of the trail, and I began my attempt at 7:33 a.m.
Twice this summer, I had a permit for the JMT, but canceled only days later. The JMT unsupported FKT scared me. I first backpacked and scouted it for a record attempt in 2019, but then spent the next three years too nervous to attempt it. Then, Joe McConaughy lowered the JMT unsupported time by three hours in early August, and instead of further scaring me away, it drove me to put a plan in motion and give the record a shot.
I charged uphill from Happy Isles. The time wouldn't stop until I arrived at the Whitney Portal Trailhead 220 miles away—or if I quit. Consistency was the goal and the plan. I wanted to cover nearly the same distance every 24-hour period and consume nearly the same amount of calories. The soft target was a 72-hour finish, or a three mile-per-hour average, breaks and sleep included.
What It Was Like Fastpacking the JMT to Set the FKT
In 10 hours, I stood 36 miles in, on top of Donohue Pass. Everything was feeling great. But as the sun disappeared, I stopped to pee, and it burned. The color was wrong. It was too soon for these issues. Was it brown or red? I’m colorblind and couldn't tell. Did I have rhabdomyolysis? This had never happened after 40 miles. I was in shock, so I took off my backpack and sat on the ground. I needed to calm down and be rational—and then keep going.
It grew dark and the temperature plummeted. I pulled out my headlamp. The three-minute break to calm down completely turned my mood around. The issue didn’t disappear, but I mentally accepted it. Now I could begin to solve it or prevent it from getting worse. My water consumption doubled from that point forward. The first night was productive, and I charged through it, embracing the cold temperature and clear, starry night.
My first 24-hour segment ended at the base of Silver Pass after 77 miles. It was a day full of diligent snacking while hiking, and hydrating to ward off any further complications. Consistency had prevailed. It was fun—the weather was beautiful, the scenery fantastic, and my body felt great. The symptoms had not gotten worse, so I kept charging ahead.
Trudging up Muir Pass, my energy disappeared completely. The second night had arrived, and I sprawled out on the side of the trail at 11,000 feet. With a five-minute timer set, I closed my eyes and passed out. Still feeling exhausted, I needed a strategy, a way to focus my mind. I came up with the number five: Five high passes stood between me and a climb up Mount Whitney. Pushing my body forward, I crested the ridge near the stone hut on Muir Pass, and five passes quickly became four.
Everything was inefficient. I tried to run downhill, but the second wave of exhaustion hit. The enjoyment of night one was absent, and night two was a battle. The sun slowly re-energized my mind near the Palisade Lakes. How could I make it through a third night? It would be the most difficult day of any FKT.
Nearing the Finish Line to Set the JMT FKT
On top of Mather Pass, my four remaining passes became three. Without a moment of pause, I ran down the switchbacks toward Pinchot Pass. Time was ticking down in the last 24 hours. But sleeplessness was crushing me. I craved a nap and gave in. A five-minute snooze is all it took. But a quarter-mile later, something didn't feel right. My hands were empty. In a frenzy, I ran up the hill and back to my nap spot to grab my poles. I had wasted a precious ten minutes.
I was quickly down to two passes and smiling from ear to ear on the descent off Pinchot Pass. I was flying through the most beautiful terrain in the country. My pace only slowed on the climb up to Rae Lakes and Glen Pass. The fear of another night seeped in. But I didn’t have a choice. Glen Pass left just one high pass. One 13,120-foot pass and a 14,505-foot mountain stood between me and the FKT.
I was ready to crush the last pass. I climbed the final switchbacks, and no high passes remained. I tried to jog, but quickly rolled both ankles in less than a mile. My head screamed, and my vision danced. My eyes couldn't focus on the beam of my headlamp; everything was a blur. The smooth trail bounced with every step.
Near Crabtree Meadow, I opened my eyes. I was on the ground. My mind had given out, and I fell asleep while running. I was fighting demons. I tried to conjure up adrenaline. My body was not responding. I made the most critical decision—to take a 12-minute nap. Would the 12 minutes cost me? Maybe, but my body could not keep going like this.
I woke up with a start and jogged to Guitar Lake. The switchbacks up Mount Whitney got my heart pumping. If there was a time to push deep into the paincave, this was it. The rhythm of my panting became the cadence of my feet. I moved in a trance to the top and was greeted with the first light of morning from the high point of the continental United States. I took a moment to reflect, but time was still ticking. The FKT does not end until the Whitney Portal Trailhead. I started to jog. Then I suddenly fell hard, then again. My phone screen broke, but nothing mattered. I charged on.
72 Hours and 47 Minutes Fastpacking the JMT FKT
Over Trail Crest and down the Portal Trail, my legs picked up steam. Two hours remaining became one, and the trail stretched on with no end in sight. With 45 minutes to finish, my anxiety skyrocketed. A jog became a sprint. My bladder screamed, so I tried to alleviate the discomfort while running. It did not go well. I dropped a six-minute mile, but the trail stretched on. Where did this thing end? Around one more corner, I saw it: the finish. I ran up to the sign, stopped my watch, and sat.
I pictured this moment for 220 miles, but the flood of emotions never came. I was empty. There was nothing left. I could not comprehend the finish. Living in the moment lasted 72 hours and 47 minutes. Three years of a goal, and now it was finished and gone; a beautiful journey was over. I had set the new JMT record by 13 minutes.
Jeff “Legend” Garmire has completed the Calendar Year Triple Crown and Great Western Loop, finished the Nolans 14 in 59 hours, climbed all the Colorado 14ers, and broke the Arizona Trail self-supported FKT, Pinhoti Trail self-supported FKT, Long Trail unsupported FKT, John Muir Trail record, and Colorado Trail unsupported FKT, among others. Learn more about his adventures at: freeoutside.com.