FKT: Ben Thompson - Franconia Ridge Loop (NH) - 2021-02-01

Route variation
Standard route
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
1h 29m 43s

Super fun and intense run. Beautiful day up high with nice views over to the Presis.

I've been planning this since 2016 after I accidentally realized that this loop is probably faster in the winter by running it on 1:45. Now, I'm absolutely sure the ridge loop is faster in the winter. This loop is WAY faster in the winter. The downhill is easily faster, the ridgeline is faster and the uphill is only a little slower if you can get perfect conditions. Today had great snow conditions but wasn't perfect -- maybe equivalent in overall "speed potential" to a summer run. A brief and mild melt and then refreeze would solidify the trail and make it a few minutes faster. Also, I had a pretty stiff 25 mph headwind up Lafayette and Lincoln. That wasn't helpful. I think 3-4 minutes could come off the climb and 1-2 minutes off the ridgeline without increasing effort or fitness.

The uphill started extremely well. I was right around LT and I could feel it - a brief increase in effort would make me get a funny taste in my mouth and I would feel a bit nauseous. I probably ate a little too much PBJ before running. I saw only three people all day, all of them on the ridge leading up to the hut. Once I crested the hut ridge around 20 minutes in, the snow got a little softer and I had to take a notch off the pace. I was falling a little behind schedule at the hut. Hitting treeline, I quickly realized the ridge would be an intense affair trying to run fast against harsh headwinds. I put on my shell and pushed through intermittent windblown snow drifts. Having poles really helped here. I hit Lafayette in 54 which was 3 minutes behind my plan, but not too slow for the FKT.

Running the ridge was wild. I don't think I've ever run at this kind of effort above treeline in the Whites. There was decent footing and most of the rocks are covered. But I started into this really intense and kind of loud huffing breath pattern. I think it was the altitude. It's not extreme but 5k feet is a bit different for a sea leveler and shifted the effort from partially muscular to intensely aerobic/metabolic.

I hit Little Haystack in 1:09 and started the descent. The first part was tough with lots of butt slider chute/luge to navigate. I kept up the weird huffing breath pattern and just went as fast as I could without falling off the packed trail. The poles were a bit of a hindrance here but not enough to justify not having them on the climb. I think one of the fold-up pairs would work well. Thankfully the river was completely frozen over and I could just keep up the fast descent. The sun got really intense down low with the bright reflection off the snow. Beautiful in the waterfall sections. I was fading in strength on the last traverse over from Dry Brook to the trailhead. But made it just under 1:30 and lay down in the snow.

No Wish Dogg today -- I think the descent would not have been her thing. She destroys me uphill but doesn't have enough traction to keep up on the winter descents when I'm going all out.

While I ran, it heated up dramatically. The car said 4F when I left and 29F when I got back!!

Thanks to Chris and Greg for giving out good beta on snow conditions. And Steven Lange for setting a tough new bar on this route last summer.