Route: Great Smoky Mountains National Park 900 (NC, TN)

Location
North Carolina, US
Tennessee, US
Description

The idea here is to hike/run all 900 miles of trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Benny "Plug-It" Braden completed the GSMNP 900 in 78 days:

"I began my #fastestgsmnp900miler on Dec. 31, 2016 and completed it on Mar. 18, 2017. My FKT is currently 2 months and 19 days or 78 days. I will be doing this hike again in the fall and looking to take this time under 1.5 months or 45 days. To my understanding the 900 Miler Club only recognizes hiking the trails and not trail running. You can check my Facebook page "Plug-it In on the Appalachian Trail" to see the trip reports and pics from this hike."

Braden completed the 900 *again* later the same year in 43 days:

"Thank you jwoo for clearing that up and congratulations on your completed maps. To update my last post, I did complete my 2nd map (gsmnp900miler) in the fall of 2017. I started 10/14/17 and finished 11/25/17. This FKT thru-hike of the GSMNP was 100% hiked with no trail running. As of right now and to the best of my knowledge I hold the fastest known time of 43 days and the lowest miles of 924.3. Also to the best of my knowledge I know of only one other person (Sharon Spezia) who has completed 2 maps in a single year. I was supported with shuttles when needed.

Jwoo, do you know of anyone else who has started and finished 2 maps in a single year?"

 

35.6117644, -83.4895449

Comments

Any idea on how many miles were repeat miles? Looks like it would be tough just figuring out how not to backtrack. 

The current trail mileage listed at http://900miler.smhclub.org/ is just over 800. Benny claimed 924.3 total miles for his 43-day hike. My approach (no vehicle support) is a bit over 1,000 total miles.

It is my goal to develop tools that will allow people to plan hikes with varying levels of support. From my experience, backtracking is the least of the concerns. It is more crucial to figure out how to resupply on a regular basis, and how to stay at a legal campsite/shelter each night.

I am currently on a partial loop/circuit hike:

https://us0-share.inreach.garmin.com/ewest

To my knowledge, no one has ever completed the trail network in a continuous journey. That is, if you leave the network to resupply or stay at a hotel, you return to the exact same place and continue on.

Benny's "map completions" are definitely inspiring, but they are piecewise and not continuous. He shuttles around the park, much as an AT or PCT thru-hiker might slackpack, to carry a lighter pack and (to a certain extent) minimize elevation gain.

I will post a trip report next week when I complete this summer's journey. My goal is not to set an FKT, just to prove that this approach is possible. A self-supported hike would have to be done this way, as getting in a vehicle immediately makes it supported. My hike has been self-supported with a few exceptions, but it would certainly be possible to do it entirely self-supported.

This challenge has intrigued me since 2009. Hopefully I'll get a chance to try for the fastest and shortest GSMNP map completion before another decade passes. In the meantime, I wanted to offer some suggestions for guidelines along with some resources. I look forward to any discussion this may generate. Here it goes:

  1. You can run. Typically, FKT etiquette requires contenders to carefully follow in the footsteps of the current record-holder. But with all due respect to Mr. Braden, a "no running" rule seems antithetical to the FKT ethos and far too restrictive.
  2. You can bushwhack. Most "man-ways" eat up more time than they're worth, but a few may present new and interesting solutions to the logistical puzzle of bagging all official trail mileage in the park, particularly with regards to the shortest known distance to map completion. In addition to utilizing man-ways, the challenger may also, with permission, utilize public/private trails outside of the park perimeter. Of course, all such mileage counts to cumulative distance.
  3. You can omit closed trails, but readily identify them with your claim. From time to time, natural disasters (landslides, fires, etc.) force the closure of official trails within the park system. Such was the case with Mr. Braden and the current FKT. I believe he had to omit 10 official trail miles in 2017 due to fire. Though one could argue such omissions provide a competitive advantage, I'd simply and humbly suggest that a challenger be as transparent as possible.
  4. The clock records shortest elapsed time to completing official trail mileage. To clarify, this omits time to hike any approach trail before and immediately after completing all trails. For example, if one were to start and finish the challenge on two of the out-and-back dead end trails in the network, s/he need not count the initial time to hike to the turn-around prior to the challenge start, nor s/he count the time to hike back out to the TH after challenge completion. This timekeeping protocol is adapted from other well-known mountaineering FKTs such as the Catskills and SB6K (see Cave Dog's site).
  5. Provide publicly accessible GPS data to substantiate your claim, live tracking a plus! In this day and age, there is no real reason not to have this kind of information available with any FKT claim. Plus as a map nerd and spectator, I would add that any data visualization for this challenge would be particularly fun to watch as the strategy required for solving this Gordian knot of a network problem far surpasses any linear trail FKT.

To help answer a previous question in this thread, I've compiled all of Mr. Braden's 2017 Instagram posts into a more accessible PDF file. To my knowledge, this is the extent of the documentation for his current FKT. You can see at the last entry that he claims a Total: 924.3 New: 799.7 so nearly 125 repeat miles. It should be mentioned that in subsequent PMs with him, I've helped to identify a few errors with his mileages that he tells me he is working to correct prior to the upcoming publication of a book about his hike. Happy trails!

Speaking of data visualization, I just finished creating an animated map of Braden's 2017 hike: http://www.animaps.com/pb/858940001/7619/Plugitin_GSMNP_900

Important to note that this is NOT actual track data. Generic timestamps with daily 50/50 stop/go ratios were used to illustrate sequencing and approximate timeline of his hike. I did the best I could to recreate the hike from his Instagram posts dated from 10/14/17 to 11/25/17 but it's quite likely there are errors.