This adventure was about my (i.e., Jeff Woody) quest to break the speed record for completion of all trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). Completion of all the Smokies trails is recognized by the Great Smoky Mountains 900 Miler Club. The total mileage of all trails on the official park map is 801 miles, though it changes from time to time as trails are either added or decommissioned. As best I can tell, this is only second to Yellowstone National Park in total trail mileage. Completing all 801 miles of these trails has yet to be accomplished in less than 900 miles to my knowledge, and due to the vast network of trail connections and dead end trails, the total mileage has varied greatly among the 650+ members who have completed maps. Most club members accumulate over 1000 miles to complete complete the park map. Thus, the club name. It takes a great deal of time to prepare a strategy for the most efficient map.
On July 23, 2020 at 7:03 AM, I embarked on a challenge to complete all of the trails in GSMNP in less than 43 days, the recognized Fastest Known Time (FKT) on https://fastestknowntime.com. That record was set by Benny Braden in the Fall of 2017. During attempts of completing all of the trails, the Club rules state that if a trail that is on the Park map is officially closed, then it may be omitted. This was the case in Benny Braden’s record breaking completion in 2017, when he encountered a few trails that were damaged in the Gatlinburg fire. This was also the case for me. Scott Mountain trail (3.5 miles) has been closed for years due to storm damage. Cooper Creek trail (0.6 miles) was removed by the club at the recommendation of the National Park Service due to conflicts with a neighboring land owner. Porter Creek Trail (2.7 miles) was closed due to the wash-out of a bridge during a flood. The uppermost section of Chimney Tops Trail (0.2 miles) remains closed due to fire damage. These closures brought the mileage on the park map that is required to meet the Great Smoky Mountain 900 Miler Club requirements from 801 miles down to 794 miles
During my FKT attempt, GPS data was recorded on my Suunto 9 Baro watch and uploaded daily to my Strava account at https://www.strava.com/athletes/woody_jeffalong with descriptions of each route. The Suunto captured the routes adequately, though due to some twists and turns on the trails, it often recorded about a 1 to 1.5 miles short on some of the longer routes. I also took photos of the trails at each trail junction, embedded with time and date information. I attempted to provide additional GPS data on my Garmin InReach Mini, but with with the heavy tree cover in the park, the device was unreliable, regularly shortening my routes by up to 5 miles. I eventually stopped using the tracking feature of the InReach Mini because of this result. Each day, completed trails were noted on two different spreadsheets, and the total miles were recorded and reconciled with the official mileage noted on the GSMNP map.
During the adventure, I completed trails on all but two days. This was because of a nagging lower leg injury that required treatment. That was eventually resolved, and I continued to log daily miles typically between 22 and 40 miles a day. On August 25, 2020, at 3:54 PM, I completed the last trail in the park…the Gatlinburg Trail. This meant that all trails were completed with an elapsed time of 33 days and 9 hours, a new FKT that was shorter that the record by 10 days. The total mileage was 952 miles. For the days covering mileage on the trails, the adventure averaged out to about 30 miles per day. It also totaled 199,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain.
I have submitted my data to the Great Smoky Mountains 900 Miler Club administrators, and it has been accepted. This can be verified on the club website membership listing, which now shows 9 map completions…the ninth being the latest record breaking attempt.
A complete breakdown of the routes, daily mileage, links to Strava activities each day, and photos of trail signs with date and time information can be found at https://smoky-mountain-adventures.com/900-miler-fkt/