FKT: Charlie Tillett, Lisa Gorman - Wild River Loop (NH) - 2021-09-04

Route variation
Long Loop
Gender category
Mixed-gender team
Start date
Finish date
Total time
15h 58m 10s

The stage for our coed-team FKT attempt on the Wild River LONG Loop was set the morning of Sunday July 25, 2021.  That was the day that Lisa and I went to post a coed-team FKT for the Wild River SHORT Loop - which we had completed the prior day in 13:55.  The Wild River Loops do not get much attention and only two FKT times (both individual males) had been recorded since these routes were recognized - the most recent FKT was back in 2018.  Last winter Lisa and I set our sights on a Short Loop FKT and confirmed in early July that no coed team had posted a time.  We were confident that we just had to go out and get it done.

As we were enjoying our coffee that July morning and savoring the soreness from a long challenging run, imagine our shock when we saw that K Mac Guthrie and Will Peterson had received an FKT for their 10:10 Short Loop time the prior weekend!  I mean, what are the chances that - after years without any team FKT attempts - a coed team would complete this route just 7 days before us??

So instead of composing our post-run writeup, we immediately began to analyze the Long Loop’s extra miles and elevation gain.  By noon, we committed to a Long Loop FKT attempt and picked Labor Day weekend – the next time we would both be free.  As consolation, we convinced ourselves that an additional 6 weeks of training would help us handle the extra workload.

The initial weather forecast for the Labor Day weekend was perfect – temps in the mid 50s up high and 60s down low with light winds. But remnants from Hurricane Ida decided to stick around and set up a very different scenario with morning summit temps in the low 40s and winds of 37 MPH gusting to 47 (see attached WX forecast).  Without any scheduling flexibility, we had to take what Mother Nature was offering.

With a target elapsed time of 15:30 (full disclosure, Charlie turned 65 the day before our run), we knew it would be a long day.  But losing almost 2 hours of daylight since our July 24th run meant an early start was required to have a shot at finishing before sunset so we hit the trail at 3:00 AM.  After fording the Wild River in the dark, we reached the ridgeline after at 5:15 AM (an hour before sunrise) where the temperature & winds did not disappoint.  We were fully prepared for the sub-freezing wind chill but were caught off guard by the greatly reduced visibility from thick clouds at elevation.  Traversing the rocky, treeless sections in the wind/fog/dark was both challenging and more than a little nerve wracking with multiple instances of “Did you see which way the trail went?” 

The sun’s arrival quickly warmed our spirits and, two hours later, the clouds lifted to give us the first of many Mt Washington views.  But the sun, if anything, seemed to increase the wind and, as we headed up Mt Hight (which has a totally exposed summit), every down hiker warned us “be careful up there, it’s really gusting”.  At the 8-hour mark, we descended from Carter Dome back into the Wild River Wilderness Area, happy that 70% of the day’s elevation gain was behind us.  About halfway to the Wild River Trail, we encountered a solo hiker – in fact, the only hiker we saw on the Wilderness Area trails all day.  He was heading UP the Rainbow Trail with, as crazy as it sounds, a mountain bike slung over his shoulder.  He told us his plan was to ride the same trail back down from Carter Dome and we wished him luck as we moved on. 

This lee side of the range faces east and the weather made a complete turnaround with calm winds and warm temps in bright afternoon sunshine.  A few miles later we crossed the Wild River (far upstream from our initial crossing) and replenished our water supply plus made a wardrobe change into short pants to help us keep cool on the day’s penultimate climb up to Eagle Crag. 

From Eagle Crag, it was across to Mt Meader and then down to Rim Junction.  Up until Rim Junction, we had simply been retracing the Short Loop’s route (except for a tiny detour to the Mt Meader vista).  Now it was time to deliver the Long Loop’s 4 extra miles and 1,300’ additional elevation by climbing up-and-over West Royce.  While it doesn’t sound like much, this section has a number of false summits which – after 13 hours of effort – started to play mind games with us.  As always, the final climb was a bit of a slog but we put in a solid effort on the Burnt Mill River Trail’s downhill miles to reach the trailhead at 7:08 PM (beating sunset by four minutes) in an elapsed time of 15:58.  Now we’re just keeping our fingers crossed that no one ran an FKT on the Long Loop a week ago :))