FKT: Benjamin Monaghan - Central Sawtooth Wilderness Loop (ID) - 2021-07-24

Route variation
Standard route
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
10h 40m 18s

What a day! A nearly smokeless day with close-to-perfect temperatures and gorgeous, sunny blue skies; solid fitness and a dialed-in, focused game plan; and the motivation of redemption after my first-ever ultra DNF a few weeks prior at Scout Mountain 50 had me ready and raring to go! That's an amazing route, with plenty of tough obstacles to overcome even on a good day like I had.

The day started well, with cool morning temperatures and a good, even pace. I did have a couple of small routefinding issues on the section between Redfish and Decker Creek: there's a good bit of deadfall through there, and since the trail isn't used much, I missed a couple of turns and had to backtrack. It probably added about a half-mile and 5-8 minutes total. I hit Hell Roaring Lake right where I wanted to be at 3 hours into the effort and feeling relaxed. My girlfriend and her mom surprised me by hiking into the lake (we had talked about that being a possibility, but I wasn't sure they'd make it; I also wasn't aware of the rule change on spectators making an FKT supported). Throughout the day, I used an inline filter on a hydration pack and a Katadyn filter bottle to refill soft flasks full of energy drinks. That, coupled with about 20-odd gels and a half dozen fruit bars gave me enough fuel to scrape through to the end (but more on that later).

After refilling fluids at Hell Roaring, I made the climb to Imogene Lake and then beyond it to the Imogene Divide. This was the first section that I encountered other people on the trail. I hadn't seen a single person on the entire section to Hell Roaring, but crossed paths with a number of backpackers and even one couple using packhorses heading up to the divide. I was surprisingly hungry for much of this section; I ended up eating about 400+ calories an hour for two to three hours, roughly from Hell Roaring to Edna Lake. Once at the top of Imogene, it was a short traverse across to Sand Mountain Divide, where I got to enjoy my first long downhill of the day. I was still moving well and staying relaxed.

Having grown up backpacking in the Sawtooths, I'd already covered many of the trails I ran during this FKT. The one exception to that was the small loop from Edna Lake past Vernon and Ardeth Lakes and through the Tenlake Basin. Unsurprisingly, that section was just as pretty and just as gnarly as the rest of the day was! This was also the part of the day where I started to feel the heat, but lots of creek crossings gave me plenty of opportunities to get wet and stay cool, and I refilled on fluids at Ardeth.

The climb up toward the Cramer Divide and past Hidden Lake, although hot, was a solid section for me. I wasn't sure how well I was staying on my goal pace, but I knew it would be close and I was focused on getting to the top of the divide and hammering the downhill. In hindsight, I started pushing for the end a bit too soon, especially considering that I was moving into the hottest part of the day. The descent from the Cramer Divide down the Redfish Lake Creek drainage is so much fun, however, that I let myself push the pace and try to hammer home. By the time I got past the Cramer Lakes, I had decided that a sub-ten hour run was possible (based on the mileage I thought I had left), so I timed my calorie and fluid consumption to run out right at nine and a half hours. Bad call.

I had forgotten about the climb up to the ridge along the west side of Redfish Lake: it doesn't look like much on paper, but it's hot, dry, and surprisingly hard. It's even worse when the route ends up being almost two miles longer than anticipated! I was pretty much completely dry on water and basically out of food at about mile 43 (just shy of ten hours in), and I could tell at that point that I had miscalculated how long the route would be. Still, I wasn't about to call it quits and take the Redfish Ferry back after getting so close (although if you're doing this route for fun, I would HIGHLY recommend that!), so I had to buckle down and soldier on. I knew my girlfriend was waiting at the trailhead for me, so I put my head down and pushed as hard as I could the last two miles.

Looking at the file afterwards, I was actually quite pleasantly surprised with how even my pacing and effort was: if I had planned my calories and fluids better in the last two hours, I might have been able to shave a few more minutes off, but I don't think I left that much out there on the table! Any improvements for me personally would have to be a generalized increase in speed across the route. There was no single section that I slowed dramatically or had any significant problems that stole time from me.

I was shooting for the unsupported FKT, and have submitted it as such. If, however, having "spectators" hike into one of the lakes (I didn't get any actual support or assistance from them) means this has to be a supported FKT, I'll still take it! It was an incredible day, regardless, and I'm very happy with the experience and memories!