John Muir Trail Record Breaking Run 2009

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Trip Report
California, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Sep 3, 2009
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John Muir Trail Record Breaking Run 2009
Created On: Sep 19, 2009
Last Edited On: Sep 22, 2009


This trip report describes my record breaking run of the John Muir Trail September 3-6, 2009. Although this was an unsupported attempt, I was fortunate enough to break both unsupported and supported records. My time from Whitney Portal to Happy Isles was 3 days 14 hours 13 minutes. The time from Whitney Summit (true start of the JMT) was 3 days 9 hours 58 minutes.

The record breaking run was my second attempt. The first attempt was in August and ended on the first day after 'bonking' or something similar due to nutrition problems. This report starts after the failed attempt. The trip report from the first attempt (along with this report and much, much, more) can be found in this BPL forum thread. A few references in the trip report refer to conversations within the BPL thread.

Regarding movie links, most of the movies are included for record verification purposes and are merely me reciting times at significant points along the trail. For these I named the links as places (e.g. Glen Pass). The more interesting videos have links with additional descriptors (e.g. Glen Pass Discussion). Hopefully this will be useful to some readers.

Planning for 2nd Attempt

My first attempt at the JMT record ended with a meltdown near Pinchot Pass, which I believe was due to the 11th hour change towards a Snickers dominated diet in order to save a few pounds. My first priority was to fix the diet. I once again tried a variant of Mark Davis’ Perpetuem based diet, but the experiment went very badly. The experiment was conducted on a day hike from Bishop Pass trailhead, to LeConte Canyon, Mather Pass and back. The equipment I ordered based on Mark’s recommendations hadn’t arrived yet and I lacked an effective means to mix the concentrated Perpetuem and ended up consuming ‘Perpetuem balls’--goopy on the outside and powdery on the inside. It was so repulsive. I starved myself that day and ate the absolute least possible required to make it back to my car after 22 horrendous hours. I still think Mark’s Perpetuem diet may be optimal, I just required more experimentation with it.

I still needed a diet but ran out of time for testing a new one! I never had a problem with the Hammer gel products on any of my reconnaissance hikes so I decided to use the gel with an appropriate amount of cliff bars to approximate the protein and fat concentration in Perpetuem. Eventually I settled on a gel/cliff bar caloric ratio of 4:5, to help save a bit of weight by using more cliff bars. At the expense of adding a few pounds I felt this diet had the best chance of success without testing it in the field.

After my first attempt, the BPL community was kind enough to suggest alternatives to my not-quite-so-UL equipment. I followed all of them and now had a completely pimped out rig. This was nice because the weight savings in gear mostly offset the increased food weight from the higher carb based diet.

Acclimation and Preparation

I learned a lot from the acclimation fiasco on the first attempt—like bring a tent…and a chair! Don’t sleep in a bivy sack. I again acclimated at Horseshoe Meadows. That place is great—elevation on demand.

After Michael’s recent failure report—later echoed by Jeff—the point was finally hit home that sleep deprivation was serious! I started the last attempt with perhaps an hour of sleep and that was not acceptable this time around. I vowed to start after a full night’s rest. I hoped to start Wednesday, Sept. 2 from 12AM-2AM and so needed to sleep starting in the afternoon on Tuesday. I brought eye covers so I could sleep during the day but I never could really sleep. At night military jets flew over every 15 min or so which further prohibited sleep. Mission aborted.

The next morning I decided to rent a motel room in Lone Pine. I felt the benefit of a decent sleep outweighed the cost of lost acclimation. I started trying to sleep at around 2PM but couldn’t. I noticed my pulse was elevated and eventually concluded it must have been due to the anticipation of the run! Wow, this didn’t happen last time…At 4PM I was still wide awake in bed and the situation was becoming critical and so I decided to seek the aid of some drugs. But what? Ah, Nyquil! I may not be coughing now but I suspect I would be soon…I headed to the store two blocks away and bought a bottle. The clerk said “Boy you look like you need this. Just got down from the mountain?” “Um, actually I’m about to start,” I replied. Geez, I know I was wearing my hiking outfit but do I normally look like a mess??? Anyway, I got back to the motel and took an adult dose. I felt my pulse slowing. 30 min later I took another. Now there was a kid incessantly riding a scooter back and forth outside my window. Gulp. Another half dose on the way…The Nyquil worked. I was awakened by my alarm at 11PM. I felt I could sleep more so I did. May as well, it was going to be the last decent sleep for half a week. I awoke at 12 AM and was out the door and headed for Whitney Portal in less than 5 min.

First Period of Consciousness

Again I started with the traditional pack weighing—27 lbs—same as last time and exactly what I expected. It turned out that the pack was really 2 lbs heavier than in my previous attempt, I cheated by removing a liter of water. The increase in food weight was not offset by the weight savings from the expensive new UL gear. I did not take well to the idea that after spending even more money on the second attempt (50 lb bag of Maltodextrin anyone?) that my starting pack would be HEAVIER. So, I decided to fudge it by using a Powerade bottle for hydration in conjunction with the 3L camelback. This way I was able to start with 2L—one in each the camelback and the Powerade bottle. The Powerade bottle also enabled rapid hydration turnaround between frequent water sources, whereas the camelback was still used for long haul sections as well as at night when I did not want to stop for water anyway. I originally only intended to use the bottle during the first day to save a couple pounds here and there but it turns out I used it extensively for the whole hike—and the use of this little bottle alone saved the entire trip, but more on that later [ Whitney Portal Pack Weighing].

I began hiking from the scale precisely at 12:45 AM, Thursday Sept. 3 and made steady progress up Whitney. Eventually I needed to fill the bottle for the first time. I dunked it in a stream, put an Aqua Mira tablet in it and was done. The whole process took about a minute vs ~8-9 min for my camelback. So I saved about 5 min/per 3L. That was about an hour savings for the full trip! Cool. In my excitement with the increased efficiency I raced off without my new UL Titanium Goat trekking poles! I soon realized my error but lost about 5 min. This happened ~5 times during the entire trip with a total time loss of ~15 min. Not Cool [ Start From WP Scale].

Like last time, as I ascended toward the switchbacks the air became progressively cooler. This time, however, I started with the intention of adhering to my revised time sheet and resisted the urge to accelerate with the falling temp. I noticed my pulse increased as I reached the upper switchbacks. I think the 12 hours spent in Lone Pine immediately before starting had a fairly significant detrimental effect on the acclimation. Oh well. At least I was wide awake...for now!

I reached the summit after 4:09—exactly on target and matching Sue’s time on her record breaking run. As I approached the hut I saw there was a light inside. Someone stepped out right as I began signing the register. “This is really fortunate,” I thought to myself. During my last attempt (as well as this one) I passed everyone on the way to the summit and had no one to verify my starting time from Mount Whitney. “I have a favor to ask…,” I started saying when the man asked “Are you Brett?” “Um…Yeah” “Hi, I’m Ian.” It was Ian—another crazy guy from the BPL forum about to start an unsupported attempt! He said he was starting at 6 AM which momentarily confused me as I was writing the time in the register (I wrote 5:54 AM instead of 4:54 AM. Oops!) Fortunately the mistake was caught and corrected in the register. Ian was gracious and offered the following as verification of my summit departure [ Whitney Summit Wrong Time!, Whitney Summit Verification With Ian, Whitney Summit Start].

In the mad rush to have all the ‘business’ taken care of before 5AM (an obviously convenient time to start from the summit) I forgot I never actually tagged the summit. I realized this with about a minute to spare and ran the few steps to the actual summit. The clock struck 5 AM and I was off! I jokingly shouted “No offense, but I hope I don’t see you again Ian!” as I started jogging away.

Returning along the ridge on the way to Trail Crest I was treated to a spectacular blood red moonset caused by distant forest fires to the west. I started running down the steep descent towards Guitar Lake in total darkness and passed no one all the way to Crabtree Meadow, and reached there at 6:57 AM (~4.5 mph). This is where the trail turns towards Forester to the north. I soon settled into a steady pace with the goal of trying to match the pace on my revised timesheet. Since the last attempt, I increased all times by ~10% which produced an overall trip time of 84 hours (3.5 days). This adjustment was implemented to increase the margin of error by encouraging me to operate at a lower overall intensity. I had mixed feelings about this adjustment. On one hand, given all the time and energy spent preparing for the JMT record attempt, I certainly would not have liked to experience another trip ending meltdown on day 1. On the other hand, I did not want to do a run significantly slower than my fitness enabled. On my way over to Forester I grew increasingly frustrated at what I felt to be an artificially slow pace. I reached the pass in 6:04 from Whitney (16 min ahead of ‘schedule’) [ Forester Pass].


During the long march towards Forester I kept mulling whether or not I should adhere to the timesheet. When I reached the pass I decided to completely abandon it. I did not want to complete a JMT run haunted with the feeling that I could have done it much faster. If I were to fail so be it, but I would fail on my terms. On the way to Glen, the throttle was pushed to the floor. In some ways I felt I needed to make up for the ‘lost time’ from the Portal to Forester. I aggressively climbed out of the valley towards the pass. Last time I was blessed with a cold light rain during this part. No such luck this time. I had the mid-day sun blazing down on me and I was hot. I refused to slow down though. At every stream crossing I dunked my hat in the water and poured the cold water on top of me. My entire shirt was soaked with a combination of water and sweat. As I approached the first junction above Vidette Meadow some hikers were resting at the side. They saw me approaching and one of them suggested I stop and rest. I could not muster a decent response and sort of grunted as I passed by them. I eventually topped out in a blazing 3:30—32 min ahead of the abandoned timesheet, and 12 min ahead of my first attempt with the cold rain [ Glen Pass].

The trip down to Wood’s Creek was uneventful [ Woods Creek Bridge]. This long descent always seems to take longer than it should, but the terrain is pretty rocky and largely un-runnable. The ascent up towards Pinchot started fine as the sun began to set. I passed the spot where I stopped from last attempt’s meltdown and felt relieved that I at least made it farther this time. In some sense a monkey had been on my back until this point. Unfortunately, though the pleasant feelings did not last long. As I headed towards the pass I noticed I lost the desire to eat and my stomach was bulging. “Crap. What does this mean?!?” I immediately suspected an electrolyte imbalance. Did I drink too much with too little salt? Or was it the opposite? Argh!!! This needed to be corrected NOW! I eventually convinced myself my hydration and electrolytes were probably fine and that the problem was…how should we say…a food/waste flux imbalance. I had eaten a lot over the past couple days but not much had come out. Once I reached Pinchot Pass in good time, I tried to fix the situation but to no avail. I probably spent a total of 45 min on this ‘wasted’ effort before the end of the day [ Pinchot Pass].

I did not know what to do. It was still too early to stop but my condition was steadily worsening. I felt I had to continue towards Mather. So, I probably did the worst thing possible. I stopped eating. My energy began to wane as I passed the Taboose Pass Trail junction and descended into the valley. The climb out towards the pass was not so bad, but it is when you have stopped eating a couple hours ago. My pace slowed and I finally made it to the base of the final climb to the pass at 12:15 AM and decided to camp the first of two planned times. Before going to sleep I ate my sausage and drank some Recoverite. The food would stay down only if I lay on my back, not on either side. I went to sleep knowing that I was on the ropes and comforted myself by thinking that I may still be able to hang on to contend Mike’s unsupported record if a miraculous recovery wasn’t imminent. In the morning I expected what would still be possible to be clear.

Second Period of Consciousness

As anticipated, I slept through my dinky watch alarm (I neglected to set my louder cell phone one) and awoke at first light—2 hours late. I immediately felt a heavenly urge to finally correct the matter ingestion/expulsion flux imbalance and was a new man after the business was done. Life was good again and I soon headed off for Mather Pass. I reached the top at about 30 hours from the start. I was very annoyed by this because oversleeping and the digestion issues annihilated all the fast hiking from the previous day. I estimated the loss to be three hours [ Mather Pass Annoyance].

My annoyance quickly dissipated though as I started running down towards LeConte Canyon with dawn illuminating the enormous valley below. I was having a blast at this point and felt as fresh as when I started. I eventually reached Middle Fork Junction and began heading up canyon towards Muir Pass [ Middle Fork Junction]. Everything was going great in the warm sunny canyon. As I began rounding the left hook in the canyon after the ranger station, I glanced back and was caught completely by surprise by what I saw. Dark storm clouds were forming at the southern end of the canyon! I immediately realized the danger this posed, as I was still quite far from the pass. I quickened my pace and kept an eye on the sky. Soon storm clouds began forming everywhere around me and I feared the situation was becoming hopeless. To make matters worse, Muir Pass is like no other pass on the JMT. Instead of being steep and abrupt, it is very flat and exposed—which is probably why the protective Muir Hut is at the pass. Coming from the south, the approach has an endless series of short hills followed by long flat stretches. By the time I reached these short hills the situation was dire. The entire sky was dark grey with clouds. At this point I turned on the afterburners. I even went anaerobic on the short hill sections and then recovered on the flat stretches. I absolutely could not go any faster at this point. All of this exertion was taking its toll. I had run out of water a long time ago and was in desperate need of a drink. I quickly dipped my bottle in a stream, dropped an Aqua Mira pill in it, and resumed hiking in about a minute. Finally, the hut came into view and the storm clouds still had not started releasing their energy yet—I did not know what they were waiting on but I wasn’t about to complain [ Muir Pass (MP), MP-Wind, MP-Storm Discussion, MP-Blister Discussion]!

I reached the hut and decided to keep going based on the lack of precipitation and, more importantly, the absence of thunder. I knew that soon the trail would start its descent into the safe confines of Evolution Valley. About five minutes later the hail started. At first the hail was refreshing. I was hot. It was cold and dry. Life was great…until the hail downpour started. The hail pounding started to hurt my exposed arms and so I put on my rain shell. I was nearing the edge of the first plunge into the lower canyons as the thunder started. Given the aspect ratio of the canyon, I thought it was safe to continue onward and so I did. After all, why would lighting strike me instead of the much closer mountain peaks to my sides (Though passing groups of hikers huddling under boulders etc. did not boost my confidence—I was the only person hiking through the storm)? To counter my increased feeling of safety as I descended into the canyons, the storm continued to intensify. As I lost elevation, the hail turned to slush, and eventually into a hard, cold rain. I was soaked waist down and was doing a 4.5-5 mph hybrid walk/run to maintain warmth. I suspected (hoped!) sunny warm safety was to be found in Evolution Valley and was encouraged with the lightening sky around the distant bend in the canyon in that direction. Eventually after two hours of soaking, freezing, somewhat scary, hell, I left the storm behind and entered Evolution Valley. This was the second bullet I dodged in two days which nearly ended the run. The minutes I saved with my 1L Powerade bottle when getting water ended up being crucial. Had I stuck with the camelback I almost certainly would have lost the race to Muir Pass with the thunderstorm and would have either stayed in the hut (for many hours as it turns out) or would have turned back before even reaching the pass [ MP-Hail Begins, MP-More Hail, MP-Still More Hail].

While walking along Evolution Valley my soaked pants and shoes eventually took their toll and I was no longer able to maintain my body temperature and began uncontrollable shivering. Once I was convinced I was passed the rain I put on my cozy Thermawrap jacket and wore it nearly all the way to the stream crossing. What a contrast with Michael’s trip! For him Evolution Valley had been oppressively hot. For me I had to wear my insulated jacket to avoid hypothermia!

At the Evolution Creek ford I took the opportunity to briefly examine my feet and to change socks. This was the second and last time I ever looked at my feet during the run. About 55 miles into the run I noticed tiny rocks were steadily getting into my shoes-and even in my beloved Injiji socks (I guess I have skinny man legs cause the Dirty Girl gaiters didn’t form a nice seal around my ankles)! By the time I thought it worthwhile to empty my shoes of the tiny rocks, considerable damage had already been done (Oops!). The rocks chewed up a lot of skin and generally primed my feet for blisters. I had numerous hotspots already after only 55 miles! At the Evolution Creek stream crossing I briefly surveyed my feet and noticed some blisters had already formed on the outside perimeter of my feet. I decided not to use my blister kit and instead chose to just endure the pain. I know this may seem odd to some people, but I know how high my pain tolerance is. I figured I could withstand quite a bit of blister related pain and that the pain would have to become severe before it started impacting my speed. If the pain ever rose to this level I would then treat the blisters and likely reduce it back to a manageable level. It turns out for this run this reactive approach was optimal. All total I estimate I lost about 15 min to blister pain but would have likely spent more trying to manage them. When I put my fresh pair of socks on they were damp. That was quite an unpleasant surprise! I then realized that all of my pack contents got moderately wet (except the Thermawrap jacket thankfully) from the thunderstorm. I thought my pack was quasi-waterproof but apparently it was not!

I made it to Piute Creek at 6:52 PM (42:07 after I started), and just a few minutes behind a 3.5 day pace [ Piute Creek (PC), PC Progress Discussion]. At this point I was halfway and thought my chances of breaking 3.5 days was pretty good given that the second half of the JMT had much less gain than the first. I started up Selden Pass as the sun set and soon had to turn on my headlamp to see the trail in the dark forest. I was having trouble navigating even with the headlamp and quickly realized that was because the batteries were almost dead! Luckily, I brought a backup headlamp and batteries. The first headlamp died after only ONE full night of use but I had TWO nights left. I had no choice but to hope the second would last until the end. I considered conserving the batteries by using the light of the full moon to illuminate the trail but quickly overruled this idea due to injury concerns from stumbling over rocks.

The ascent up Selden Pass was pretty uneventful but I began getting pretty sleepy as I topped out at 10:39 PM [ Selden Pass]. The descent down Bear Canyon went by quick and I was pleasantly surprised by not needing to ford Bear Creek--unlike during my recon hike! Although the trail was very runnable in this area, I decided against running due to fairly intense pain in my toes (toenails were being mashed and were separating). I partly justified not running to myself though by not wanting to trigger a chase reflex in a mountain lion or something. Instead, I walked very fast and I think the time lost due to this was rather minimal.

Early in the ascent up Bear Ridge I was forced to come to a halt at one point when the trail suddenly steepened. I did not slow enough to compensate and had to stop and wait for my pulse to drop. This moment stood out for a couple reasons. First, I was surprised I needed to stop in the first place. After training for many months and paying close attention to the progression of my fitness, I had a pretty good idea of what my body could and could not do. I was surprised I needed a rest. Second, this was the first time in the hike I ‘needed’ to rest due to exertion. All the other times I stopped were because of satisfying hydration needs, taking videos, etc. At the time, I dismissed this event as simple fatigue and thought nothing more about it. Now, after reflecting upon the latter part of the run I think this was the beginning of my declining performance due to the metabolizing of the last of my remaining body fat.

I eventually arrived at the Lake Edison Junction at 3:21 AM and was now feeling the full effects of sleep deprivation. This was where Michael spent his second night and I so badly wanted to stop and rest here but I knew I could not. Mike and Jeff’s recent failures due to sleep deprivation highlighted the difficulty of the last push, and in particular the last night. To maximize my chances of pulling through to the end (keep in mind I had no support to help keep me awake—or to awake me from naps) I wanted to frontload the run as much as possible to make the last day comparatively easy. My original plan was to sleep after Mather Pass on the first day, but while hiking I decided I should push as hard as possible and changed the first rest to Muir Pass. Well, I never made it to Muir—hell, I did not even make it to Mather the first day which meant the extra miles would have to be dumped onto the end of the second day. I wanted to make it as close as possible to Red’s for the final ~60 mile push which meant I needed to hike another ~27 miles, for a grand total of 90 miles. This meant I would be hiking 30+ continuous hours. Needless to say, when I arrived at the Lake Edison Junction I was not happy about the situation. I already hiked 60 miles and was very tired and exhausted and now I needed to hike 50% more. I had to go on though. I knew as bad as I felt—as bad as it was about to get—it would be far worse to save these miles for the final push. So I kept hiking [ Lake Edison Junction].

Silver Pass was total hell [ Silver Pass Baaad]. Sleep deprivation had completely taken hold at this point and I virtually ‘slept walked’ up to the pass. I drifted from side-to-side, stumbled over countless rocks, and missed painfully obvious switchbacks. I did not see how I could possibly make it to Red’s but latched onto the hope that things would improve once the sun rose the next morning. I slowly trudged up the steep trail and eventually reached the pass at 6:32 AM. I had hiked just over 24 hours at this point, but still had about 20 miles left.

Fortunately from this point the trail was predominantly downhill to Red’s with only a few minor climbs. I could more or less stumble all the way to Red’s which was kinda sorta what I did. During this stretch my lungs started to really deteriorate. I guess the endless hours of breathing dust along the JMT eventually took its toll and I developed a nasty cough accompanied by wheezing and fluid buildup deep within the lungs. When going up Tully Hole and toward Duck Pass Junction my maximum power output really started to plummet [ Duck Lake Junction]. At the time I thought the problem was my lungs. I figured they were becoming less efficient with the irritation, fluid, and stuff, and that they simply could no longer provide enough oxygen. This situation was especially frustrating whenever I had to ascend a hill. I felt I was moving at a snail’s pace and knew I was steadily losing time to Sue’s pace. Even though I was far ahead of the record pace at this point I was very alarmed and concerned I would ultimately fall behind before reaching Happy Isles. Eventually, I reached Upper Crater Meadows at about 1:15 PM (90 miles, 31 hours from last rest). I consumed ~750 calories of Recoverite, set the alarm for 5:15 PM, and tried sleeping. I awoke frequently and ultimately decided to resume hiking at ~4:15 PM. I figured the extra hour would be better utilized hiking rather than getting more restless sleep.

During this time I was suffering tremendously from sleep deprivation and hallucinating. While at ‘camp’ I thought there was a group of Indians who were helping me with setting up camp. They watched over me while I slept and I would chat with them briefly every time I awoke. They were very considerate and even helped me pack everything when I was ready to resume hiking. I hope this does not count as support!

Third Period of Consciousness

My legs, knees, and feet were incredibly stiff when I awoke and they hurt tremendously for a while until they warmed up after I resumed hiking. I started hiking at 4:15 PM and soon was able to call my wife [ Upper Crater Meadow]. I told her I felt relatively good (all things considering) and gave her my best estimate for arrival at Happy Isles. She was to drive from the Bay Area early the next morning and arrive in Yosemite in time to meet me. I told her I expected the coming night to be absolutely brutal and that the record would probably be mine if I were able to stay awake.

By the numbers, this third section of the trail was much easier than the other two. It was only ~63 miles (versus 70 and 90) and had much less gain as well. Unfortunately, by this point fatigue and sleep deprivation conspired together and more than compensated for the decreased difficulty of this section. Mike’s recent attempt ended when sleep deprivation overwhelmed him and he fell asleep while ascending Donohue—now merely 25 miles away. Although sleep deprivation was really the enemy, it was hard to boost my motivation by vilifying something without a tangible, physical form. So instead I focused my attention on Donohue. I wanted to destroy Donohue. Furthermore, I mentally broke the hike from Red’s into five (unequal) parts: Garnet Lake Jct., Garnet Lake, Thousand Island Lake, Island Pass, and then finally Donohue itself. Donohue did not stand a chance.

I hiked the easy downhill stretch from Upper Crater Meadow down to Red’s and arrived at 5:32 PM [ Red’s Meadow]. I still had a couple hours of daylight and was determined to make the most of it [ Sleep Deprivation-Wheezing, More Sleep Deprivation Discussion]. The long ascent and onslaught of Donohue now began and I was flying. The rest apparently did wonders for me because I felt as fresh as when I started. I obliterated this section of trail and arrived at Garnet Lake Junction in 3:48—over an hour ahead of schedule on a segment with only 13 miles! Donohue was going down [ Garnet Lake Junction]!

Clearly my body was still capable of sustaining a high power output at this point. Even so, shortly after continuing onto Garnet Lake my power output totally collapsed. The mysterious performance limiter returned and again I was reduced to virtually crawling uphill. I am very interested to hear what others have to say about this, but my guess is that this can be explained with the ‘exhaustion of body fat hypothesis’. After consuming Recoverite and resting, my body had a fresh source of glycogen available which roughly lasted until the Garnet Lake Junction. After that was exhausted my body returned to metabolizing body fat for its main energy source. Unfortunately (I suspect) my body fat was largely consumed by this point and the energy derived from fat steadily decreased and was then only partially supplemented by metabolizing muscle.

The ~10 hours of darkness that night were the longest of my life. The effects of sleep deprivation were amplified by my ‘energy deprivation’. Staying awake became a never-ending continuous battle. During the worst ‘sleepy waves’ I started having to force my eye lids open after each blink. Time stopped, or so it seemed. To make matters worse, this stretch of trail was among the rockiest of the entire JMT. At one point I even cursed the seemingly endless rocks, which were causing my blistered feet much pain at this point. My pace continued to slow. Time slowed further. I even thought I got off-route at one point because of my slow pace. “Surely I would have passed Marie Lake junction by now,” I thought only to encounter the junction another half mile up the trail. Finally I began ascending Donohue itself and breathe by breathe, step by step, I slowly ‘conquered it’—or rather fought it to a draw. I reached the pass at 2:30 AM and was a total mess. On a positive note, the slow ascent gave me much time to try and admire the spectacular surreal full moon lit scenery [ Donohue Pass Discussion, Donohue Pass Time].

The descent down Lyell Canyon went slowly but was uneventful. I arrived at Tuolumne Meadow at 7:00 AM [ Tuolumne Meadow]. Soon I found myself ascending Cathedral Pass, a secondary pass as far as the JMT is concerned. My maximum power output continued to fall and I recorded a movie here in which I estimate I was ascending the pass at only 500 ft/hr. In hindsight I was probably going 750, or perhaps even 1000 ft/hr. Given how much slower I was going than I would have liked, I probably underestimated my true climbing rate.

A couple of miles before Sunrise H.S.C. I finally had the revelation that the source of my declining power output was possibly due to the exhaustion of most of my body fat. I recorded a video of this and began to dwell on the topic [ Sunrise HSC Body Fat Exhaustion Revelation]. I soon realized that I had been hiking more than 60 miles with a declining power output and became horrified at the thought that I had been cannibalizing my body for such a long period of time. Paranoia set in and I feared that I had finally ‘done it’—after all my crazy pursuits I had finally pushed myself too far and would now have serious consequences as a result. I became terrified and convinced that my body was on the verge of some sort of catastrophic collapse. On top of all this I naturally began to think that failure was a distinct possibility. Despite my large lead over the existing record I had serious doubts about whether I could maintain a record pace or even finish. The realization that I was now burning muscle for energy meant my condition would not improve and would continue to deteriorate. Even if I did not collapse, I still had to stay awake to finish. I felt that my will power was sufficient such that if I could stay awake I would, but at that point I did not know if it were even possible. All the months of meticulous training, preparation, and previous failure(!) came down to this moment—or rather 15 miles. The convergence of all these thoughts and emotions were too much for me to handle in that state and I brokedown. Tears began streaming down my face.

An internal debate about whether I should film my breakdown then ensued. On one hand I was not exactly excited about seeing me breakdown on video, but on the other hand one of the reasons why I was doing the hike was to assemble ‘life experiences’. I grudgingly decided to film a short clip [ Sunrise HSC Emotional Breakdown, (see youtube description for translation)]. I then pulled myself together, but continued dwelling on everything. A couple minutes later I brokedown again. This time, however, I noticed that crying elevated my pulse and was wasting my precious energy—The crying stopped.

In Buzz Burrell’s JMT record TR, he talks about ‘The Perfect Race’ in which the racer is pushed to his absolute limit and is still able to finish strong. Well, at this point finishing strong was definitely out of the question. Just plain finishing would have to do.

I was 15 miles from the end and the trail was essentially down hill all the way to Happy Isles [ Sunrise HSC ]. I just needed to stay awake—just stay awake! Again time slowed to a crawl. Now I had extended stretches where I literally had to force my eye lids open after blinking. Sleep deprivation caused massive hallucinations. I saw people, animals, buildings, etc. everywhere. Inanimate objects morphed into common, everyday things. My malfunctioning brain was creating its own reality in response to its inability to function properly. In return, I was losing my own grip on reality and did not know how much longer I could hang onto it. My power output kept dropping. I now had to go slow even when descending! Otherwise, the energy expenditure in my leg muscles required to stop me from ‘falling’ down hill was more than my body could extract from cannibalizing itself.

Step by step, minute by minute, I continued and eventually made it to the Half Dome trail junction [ Half Dome Trail Junction ]. It was Labor Day weekend on the Half Dome trail—now the circus began. The park service must have recently reworked that trail. It was no where near as rocky as I remembered (thank god). My descent to Nevada Falls was hot, slow, but uneventful. The switchbacks were packed with people but I made no effort to pass anyone except the slowest ones. I could not go that fast myself because of the steep descent. I eventually reached the bridge and immediately spotted my wife. She did not think I saw her as I gave no indication of acknowledgement. I was in total energy conservation mode at this point and did not want to expend the energy to wave a hand or nod. I walked past her as she recorded a video of my arrival and I asked her to follow—I still needed to get to the stupid sign [ Arrival at Vernal Falls ]! The short but steep hill after the bridge caused me to slow down and again I was reminded of my fragile state. I started crying again. My wife thought I was upset because of my time (I was a couple hours behind my timesheet) and tried to comfort me but at the moment I could not have cared less about the time or any stupid record. I wanted to tell her I was sorry. I was sorry for all the imagined health problems I just inflicted upon myself and by extension her, but could not bring myself to say it. We eventually made it to the sign and I felt little elation. I forced a smile for the camera out of obligation and was relieved to still be standing. I was alive [ Arrival at Happy Isles , Belated Happy Isles Clock Vid, Spouse Interrogation of Emotional Breakdown]!
Happy Isles


Some people have been interested in the recovery process so here is a brief description of what it has been like so far (2 weeks after the run).

Recovery has been slow. For the first week since the run I couldn't sleep more than 7 hours despite being incredibly tired. My legs and feet hurt when lying down and whenever I awoke I was soaked with sweat (not sure why). I would nearly pass out when standing stationary for a few minutes. I had pain in my lower back which may have been associated with my kidneys--I took ibuprofen during the run which is apparently bad. I also wasn't drinking enough afterward so the kidneys may have been stressed dealing with all the waste products from all the tissue damage. My condition improved dramatically during the second week. As I returned to 'normal' though the extent of the muscle loss started becoming apparent. Although I am no longer tired/exhausted, I am still very weak which I think is from the muscle loss. I have no strength to do anything (lifting things with arms, ascending stairs, etc.) and my major joints are 'loose'. I was planning on starting light athletic activity soon but I'm now thinking of first hitting the weights to try and reverse some of the muscle loss ASAP. I fear that resuming any kind of athletic activity before regaining some muscle would make me very prone to injuries.

Supplemental Videos

Here are the remaining videos I recorded during the hike for verification purposes which were excluded from the original trip report. Some of the videos near the end are interesting as well.

Running Toward Crabtree

Crabtree Meadow Jct

Wallace Creek

Tyndall Creek

Vidette Meadow

Woods Creek-Pinchot Pass Trail Jct

Selden Pass

I don't remember taking the next video. I was pretty sleep deprived at this point and I think it is at Mono Creek. It's strange because I'm speaking as if I just ascended Selden Pass.
Mono Creek

Silver Pass Looking Towards Reds and Mount Ritter

This was taken on the way to Garnet Lake Jct after leaving Red's. I initially tried to hike without a headlamp to conserve batteries but the darkness exacerbated the sleep deprivation.
Towards Garnet Lake Jct

Wife talking to me after Vernal Falls Bridge. Near the end I'm upset when I encounter one last small unexpected hill.
After Vernal Falls Bridge 1

I'm crying again and my wife is trying to comfort me and thinks I'm upset because I'm ~2 hours behind my timesheet. I'm really crying because I think I pushed myself too hard on the hike and will have long term health consequences as a result.
After Vernal Falls Bridge 2

Another video taken at Happy Isles sign. I'm unable to calculate the total trip time due to sleep deprivation.
Happy Isles Sign

While waiting for my wife to unsuccessfully drive her car to the trailhead, I'm sitting on the Happy Isles Bridge staring at fallen leaves on the ground. Sleep deprivation enabled me to see 'people' in all the leaf formations and I filmed this to see if I could see anything after I slept. I see nothing now. My funky voice is due to me trying to hold back another round of coughing.
Happy Isles Bridge

I took this video after returning home to record the blisters and other damage to my feet. I wanted to record this and use it to minimize blister formation and the other damage in a possible future run.
Home With Blisters


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-8 of 8

SJD - Sep 19, 2009 8:27 pm - Voted 10/10


Superb effort, you're the master of pushing the limits on endurance and suffering.

Greg Enright

Greg Enright - Sep 20, 2009 1:11 am - Hasn't voted


That's a great accomplishment, and a fine trip report to go with it.


calebEOC - Sep 20, 2009 11:28 am - Voted 10/10

Awesome TR

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this!


RickF - Sep 20, 2009 7:00 pm - Voted 10/10


Congatulations! Great report, once I started reading I couldn't stop. Please post more about your post trip recovery.

Joerg Marretsch

Joerg Marretsch - Sep 21, 2009 2:24 pm - Voted 10/10


Great trip and trip report!

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Sep 21, 2009 2:47 pm - Voted 10/10

Residual Effects?

As a trail runner (though well below your level), I greatly enjoyed your blow by blow, especially the mental aspects of your endeavor. What was your recovery like in the few days after the run?


LazyMasochist - Sep 22, 2009 1:03 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Residual Effects?

Rick and Mountain Impulse, I've added s short section on recovery near the end. Unfortunately I think total recovery will take quite a while. With each passing day now the extent of the muscle loss is becoming more clear.

Thanks for all the comments everyone! I'm glad you enjoyed the TR.


seano - Sep 26, 2009 1:38 pm - Voted 10/10


This is both interesting and informative -- thanks for taking the time to write it up. I enjoyed reading about how you managed the physical and mental effects of doing this. The discussion of diet and preparation on the BPL thread is good reading, too.

Viewing: 1-8 of 8

John Muir Trail Record Breaking Run 2009

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