FKT: Alyssa Clark - Mt Whitney (CA) - 2022-05-01

Route variation
round trip from Lone Pine
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
11h 24m 47s

Lone Pine to Tumanguya/Whitney via Mountaineers to Lone Pine Self-Supported FKT

Total Mileage: 33.46

Elevation Gain: 10,680ft

Time: 11:24:47

This route combines a fascinating array of mountain skills into one hard, slightly over 50k . From fast road running, to couloir snow climbing, to fourth class scrambling, this route provides it all. I’d looked at FKT routes on Whitney a few times, but didn’t really have a sense of what the times meant or what was possible. After completing the Mountaineer’s route car to car the first weekend of April with my partner and our friend, I went back and looked at the FKT website. I was immediately struck by the Lone Pine to Whitney to Lone Pine route. I am fascinated by starting at the absolute base of mountains and when we drove the Portal Rd, I knew I wanted to run it. Along with a long standing curiosity of Badwater and the history I could feel emanating from the Portal Rd, I knew that was the route I wanted to pursue. 

After having to back out of a race in early April due to a fever, I wanted to try a hard effort somewhere in the end of April. I thought this route wouldn’t be possible until much later in the year or even next year, but the stars aligned (thank goodness for a lacrosse game cancellation)  for a weekend trip to the mountain. It’s over 6 hours for us to drive to Lone Pine, so we had a late arrival Friday night. Saturday was spent caching water 6 miles into the road run, and my climbing pack a bit up the trail. My friend Sarah also bought me a good luck piece of turquoise in the shape of a mountain that I carried with me along the trail. We also visited Manzaner, the internment camp of 11,000 Japanese-Americans during World War 2. I have been teaching about the Japanese-Internment at school and it was a tremendous reminder of perspective in the face of our frivolous mountain adventures. I knew I would use time during my run to think about this history and the history of the Native Americans and their right to this land. 

We camped in Alabama Hills, not far from the start and a stout 3am wake up led to a just after 3:30am start. Codi dropped me off at Big Willi’s Mountaineering Store on the main street of Lone Pine, where I planned to start and end the trip. Blair, the owner, is one of the radest and most helpful humans on the planet and was a huge help with planning and supporting my FKT attempt. I started at 3:36 amidst the sound of a cat fight and began the long 12 mile climb up to the Portal. My plan was to stay relaxed and not jack my heart rate up in what I thought of as the buy in part of the route. I was hoping to come in under 3 hours, but didn’t want to put myself in a hole early. I ended up running the road section up until the switchbacks where I opted to alternate a run/walk strategy. I felt strong and calm and was surprised with how much I was able to run and feel good. My focus for training this year has been more on speed than on hills, so I was pleasantly surprised at my climbing. I do believe though that climbing is far more mental with downhills being more physical strength. On the road climb up, I had one of the best moments of the whole run. I was feeling a bit mopey from the monotony of running in the dark on an uphill road, so I ended up turning off my headlamp and realizing I could run just by the stars. It was one of the most surreal and beautiful experiences I have had. I felt like I was following a white line to the stars. I even managed to see two shooting stars. I wished for safety and for one person in the world to have a happier day than they did yesterday. The climb flew by after that and I quickly found myself approaching a mile left to the portal. 

I used the bathroom in hopes I would avoid a wag bag (I did bring one just in case) and switched out my running gear for my climbing gear. I also changed my shoes from less technical Fresh Foam Hierro v6 New Balance, to the Scarpa spin 2.0. Both have Vibram soles, but I have loved using the Scarpas for technical trail and felt very comfortable in them for the Ledges and the fourth class scrambling at the top. I was excited to be on trail and feeling like I was making progress, but I knew I was edging closer to the part of the route I was most concerned about. 

Right before the Ebersbacher Ledges, the trail is pretty unrelenting with some steep, rocky uphill. I tried to stay calm and in control as I was conscientious that I could not put myself in a tired state. Getting to the Ledges, I went slightly off route, ending up too far right and then cutting back too low below the trail. I was able to get myself back on track, but was a bit frustrated with myself for the error early on. Lower Boy Scout Lake was a nice respite from the uphill and gave me the chance to eat something and prepare myself for what was ahead. I can’t say I did the best job for fueling for a few reasons. The last time we went up, my heart rate was quite low, so I was able to eat real food the whole time and stay on top of calories. I packed for this effort like the last time, but with a higher effort and heart rate, it was much more challenging to eat the real food I had. I ended up not taking in nearly as many calories as I should have. 

After Boy Scout, it was all snow or rock for the trail. Luckily my Scarpa’s were gripping well and with poles, I was able to make decent progress. There were a couple of tricky places on the last rocky uphill before the bottom of the couloir due to some ice, but that was also a place where I could fill my katadyn bottle, as I was worried I would run low on water for the summit push. I tried to keep just one of the .6 liter bottles filled at a time to keep weight down, but had forgotten to fill before realizing I didn’t have much more of a shot for running water. 

Reaching the bottom of the couloir around 8:50, I sat for a bit to make sure I felt as strong as possible. The wind was much calmer than I expected and it was warm the entire way. I used a Grivel ghost axe and Grivel micro-spikes on my Scarpa’s, which I felt was sufficient for how stepped out the route was. The snow was still quite hard which made it easy to feel comfortable in the tracks. I made steady but slow progress up the couloir making sure that anytime I started to feel tired, I would give myself a break. Safety was my number one priority through this section and I knew if I stumbled or felt off, it could have serious consequences. I passed a couple of parties, one coming down that reported the fourth class scramble was quite nice and had less snow than a few weeks ago. I scrambled up the scree field at the top of the couloir which was far more unpleasant than the snow. The scree is very loose and I was worried about dropping rocks on the party below me. Luckily I made it to the last 400m section and felt more confident on the first part of the scramble than I did a few weeks prior. The final push to the top is either a quite vertical snow field or a challenging rock route to the left. I put my micro-spikes back on, but thought I would try staying more to the left. It wasn’t my best idea and I can’t say I enjoyed that section. I was also completely alone which made me a bit more on edge. I made it up though and hit the top at 10:30. I took a few pictures but made a hasty retreat as the wind was whipping and I wanted to get back through the 400m section as quickly as possible. I was definitely nervous about going back down, but talked myself through it by some positive affirmations. I ended up choosing to go face in down the snow field and was pleased by how big the steps were. I felt immense relief when I saw the Notch and only had a few more moves to get onto the trail. I will say my Scarpa’s performed extremely well in this section and the Vibram grip made me feel a lot more confident to deal with the snow/rock. 

I stayed focused back through the scree field and hit the snow section feeling cautiously optimistic. The snow had softened quite dramatically in the heat so I took it slowly on the way down as I was sinking in and didn’t want to yardsale myself down the mountain. Getting back to my poles at the base of the couloir I felt a massive sense of relief. I had been worried about the top part since the day I decided to do this route. It was the crux of the route and I was really proud I had done it on my own. A year prior, Codi and I were planning to do Whitney, but I was terrified of the couloir and scramble and we ended up not going. I’ve done a lot more in couloirs this year and spent time working on these skills. It’s amazing what practice and more time in an environment will do for confidence. To go from being too scared to even attempting it, to soloing on a speed record, this felt like a big step forward. 

I normally love downhill sections and find most of my speed on that part. Unfortunately it was not a speedy descent. I was definitely lacking calories and the combination of softening snow and loose rock did not make for a fast descent. I was either sliding on snow or emptying rocks from my shoes. I fell a couple times on the snow, but would not allow myself to glissade in order to keep this an on foot record. I made a few more poor route choices getting to Lower Boy Scout and ended up in a few bushes that did not like me as much as I did not like them. The Ledges were much more manageable on the way down, and once I passed those, I really felt like I was in the clear. I started picking it up as I had been holding back for safety up until that point. I hit the main Whitney trail and knew it was time to lay it down. I wasn’t close to Vitaly’s record and Jack’s record was unsupported, but I wanted to set the best time that I could. Originally I thought there was a possibility I could hit under 12 hours, but now it was looking like I could do sub 11:45. I hit my stash spot and flipped shoes to the New Balance, changed shirts and threw on my running pack. I knew it was going to be hot on the road and I didn’t have much for calories with me. Codi, Sarah and Derek were waiting for me at the portal to cheer me on and urged me to run all out down the road. 

I took off in the low 7s as it felt wonderful to open up my stride and hit the final part of the challenge. I maintained a fast pace and my legs felt strong the entire time. The temperature was over 80 at that point and I was cramping a bit from lack of calories and electrolytes. Luckily I had stashed some spare Glukos packets with the water drop so I made a quick pit stop for that at mile 6. Realizing I was maintaining the mid 7s, I saw breaking 11:30 was possible. It was incredible coming off the mountain and knowing I had a very manageable amount of all downhill distance left. I had many cars drive by cheering for me and I felt stronger than I have in a long time. When I started to see the town come into view, I started picking it up even more and dropped a fast last mile to touch the gate at Big Willis. Blair, Sarah, Derek and Codi were waiting with pizza and champagne at the end. I was grateful to have made it down without incident and thankful to the mountains for a safe passage. 

I try to say something with my mountain pursuits, whether it is trying to empower others to go after what they didn’t believe was possible or help women to know we belong. This route particularly stood out to me as one where I felt a women’s record needed to be there. It is probably one of the boldest solo adventures I have done and I want other women to feel these routes are possible. It sparked me to think deeply about FKT’s and the role of women in pursuing hard, technical routes. I am stoked to do more about this in the future.