FKT Report: Pemi Loop, Pemigewasset Wilderness, NH by Ben Nephew!

FKT date: August 8th, 2015
Location: Pemigewasset Wilderness, NH
Adventure: Pemi Loop FKT, 31 Miles, 9,500 feet elevation gain

Earlier this year, while I was busy taking Adam Wilcox’s FKT on the Carter Moriah Traverse, he knocked 13 minutes off my Pemi Loop FKT from 2011 to lower it to 6:14. For those that are not familiar with the Pemi, it is a rather strenuous 31 mile loop in the mountains of NH that includes 10k of climb, summits a whole pile of peaks, and includes several miles over terrain that most people find difficult to hike. One interesting aspect of the last two FKT’s on this trail are that Adam and I prefer to go different directions, he runs counterclockwise, I run clockwise. The weather looked good a few weekends ago, so I tried to get up there as early as possible and lower the FKT again. Cutting 13 minutes from my 2011 run was not going to be easy, that is about 2 miles at 50 mile pace, or one mile on the Pemi.

My legs felt good on the start over the bridge above the Pemi River and up the carriage road to the Osseo trail. Since I could only compare times with my previous FKT, I had listed my 2011 splits on my bottles. I made the summit of Flume, 5.2 miles in, at 61 minutes, which was about 4 minutes faster than 2011. While I was working hard on the climb, it was a reasonable effort that I hoped I could sustain. I enjoyed the technical but runnable miles on the Franconia Ridge, including some unexpected meetings with several trail running friends, and was at the summit of Lafayette 8 minutes ahead of my 2011 pace in 2:06. This was about 6 hour pace, which seemed a little aggressive, so I tried to back off and conserve some effort for the second half.

Photo Credit: Erin Crosby

Photo Credit: Erin Crosby

The descent from Lafayette is very steep with numerous ledges that are rough on the legs. After all that pounding, you get to traverse the Garfield Ridge, an extremely technical moss covered boulder field of a trail where it is hard to run faster than 15:00 pace even when it is not climbing. You have to consciously think about virtually every step on the Garfield ridge. While the moss is pretty, it is not the most relaxing spot for a run. The climb up Mount Garfield is not all that difficult, but the descent sends you down a waterfall. Not a trail like waterfall, an actual waterfall. Considering that trying for a Pemi FKT in the rain is a definition of hopeless, the waterfall was not all that impressive as I was scrambling down, but a fall on this section would get impressive scores from X-game judges and certainly make a highlight film. Other than a couple of close calls, I made it down safely to continue the boulder running. I didn’t gain much time on this section, as I was only about 9 minutes ahead of my old splits. I had backed off, but had still hoped to gain some additional time.

One of the most frustrating climbs of the entire loop has to be up to the Galehead hut. It is only about 400’ but it seems to take forever. I stopped at the hut for water and then began the vertical staircase up South Twin, which is a climb that actually does take forever. Despite increasing my effort and what felt like a fast pace, I was still only 9 minutes ahead of my 2011 split at the top of South Twin. The Pemi was not giving out free minutes; I was going to have to crank up the effort some more. I needed to gain at least another 4 minutes in the last two hours and would prefer not to rely on hammering the descent off the Bonds on tired legs. I was moving well over the runnable Twinway and up Bond and was happy to see that I was 11 minutes ahead of pace, but not happy that I was still in need of a few more minutes on the descent or the last flat five miles back to the bridge.

Photo Credit: Erin Crosby

Photo Credit: Erin Crosby

I gained another minute on the traverse to West Bond, where the views were stunning as always. After a quick greeting to the folks hanging at the summit, I jumped down into the descent. Other than a ledge at the top that almost has to be down climbed, this is a very runnable trail. In 2011, it had taken me 42 minutes to get down to the Wilderness trail. I remember running hard that day, to the point where my legs did not have much left for the final few miles. I wasn’t sure there was much room for improvement, so I didn’t hold back.  

I was not interested in trying to get the FKT in the last mile or two; I’ve been there before, and it is not a happy place. Trying to squeeze every last second from the descent from the Bonds involved a consistently hard effort combined with a fair bit of risk. There were a couple of stumbles, with one requiring some skills from my distant past. I jumped off my left foot towards a smooth downhill sloping boulder. In midair, I realized that there was no way I was going to get enough traction to take a normal stride. I reverted back to my 15 year old skateboarding days, and did a backside grind on the heel spikes of my right shoe 4’ down the sloping back of the boulder and landed with both feet at the bottom. I gave praise to Tony Hawk, and was thankful to not end up in the trees down the side of the mountain.

Despite some hamstrings that were tiring of the hard downhill, I made it to the Wilderness trail in 37 minutes, 17 minutes ahead of my 6:27 pace. I hung on for the endless 5 miles of carnage road to finish in 6:10, a new FKT by 4 minutes.