Route: The Georgia AT, out and back.
The goal was to establish the first, only and therefore fastest known time on this route. The governing body of Fastest Known Time defines the guidelines for the 3 different styles of supported, self supported and unsupported. “Unsupported means you truly have no external support of any kind. This means you carry everything you need from start to finish except water from natural sources (public taps along the trail are fine, but no water from any commercial source even if free). This naturally limits the length of an Unsupported trip. Spectating in person by friends, family, or photographers is supportive, and thus not in the spirit of this style, and will be classified as Supported starting February 4, 2021 (all FKT classifications previous to this date will remain unchanged). Phone and digital communication is not considered support, and spectators and support people at the start and finish is also allowed. Using public bathrooms to defecate is fine, as the less feces in the backcountry the better.”
I packed my Tiempo pack by Nashville Packs with 18,000 calories of food, 2 life water bottles, 1 salomon soft flask with water filter, a down jacket, warm pants, beanie and gloves, extra socks and leg compression sleeves, rain jacket and pants, emergency bivy, first aid kit, 3 head lamps and a power bank.
I chose to begin this adventure on the morning of Thursday, October 19, 2023. My route would start at Springer Mountain and traverse North to the North Carolina border at Bly Gap and then return via the same route South to Springer Mountain. I chose this because it is much easier to start and finish at Springer with a parking lot trail head located just a mile from the summit. I camped at the parking lot on Wednesday evening with a planned start time of 6:00 am on Thursday. The excitement had me waking up every hour checking the time and counting down the minutes. I finally decided to get up at 4:30am and begin the process. I packed up my gear, ate breakfast and grabbed my pack. I hiked to the summit of Springer where I started my Garmin InReach and Coros watch at 5:25am. I was now clocked in.
The first miles went well. I was moving at a steady pace and did not feel like I was exerting much energy. I kept repeating the words “Eat, Drink, Move” as I worked up and over Blood Mountain, coming into Neel Gap, mile 31, in 9 hours and 45 minutes. I was well ahead of my target time and made an effortto slow my pace down to preserve my body. I did that intentionally and unintentionally as the miles added up and the sun began to set, and fatigue set in. I decided to lay down on the trail at Chattahoochee Gap and try to get a quick 10-15 min nap to recharge for the night miles. This is mile 47 and almost hour 17. I was unable to sleep so I gathered myself and continued North through Unicoi Gap. Unicoi Gap to Dick’s Creek Gap felt the most challenging, in both directions. It was dark and it began to get extremely windy as the trail stays above 3,000’ most of the time. At 3:00am on Friday, fog moved in and visibility was extremely limited. The wind intensified and I could see lightning in the distance as I went over Tray Mountain. I put on my rain jacket and pants and mentally prepared myself for the worst. A thunderstorm came through around 3:30am and lasted until around 6:00am. I kept moving to stay warm and came to Deep Gap Shelter on Friday at 7:30am. I removed my rain gear, which kept me mostly dry, changed my socks and put on my warm layers. I set a timer for 1 hour as I used my pack as a pillow and curled up in a ball. I could not turn off my mind. I was concerned I would oversleep,I would calculate time and distance to various points, go through my checklists of nutrition and hydration so I decided to keep moving at 8:30 without sleep, again. The border is just 12.5 miles away and I knew making that turn would help pull me out of the mental battles I was fighting all night. I reached the border at 1:55pm on Thursday, 32 hours and 30 minutes from the start, and I was now headed South to the finish. I stopped at Plum Orchard Gap shelter just south of the border and finally got some decent rest. I slept for a solid 30 mins and spent another 30 mins eating and resting which recharged me mentally and physically. I knew I still had a long way to go but kept small goals dangling in front. I wanted to get to Dicks Creek Gap before dark, which I did. I then wanted to get to Chattahoochee Gap before sunrise. I crossed the 100 mile mark at 44:46:16 and was on track to get to Chattahoochee Gap before sunrise so I came up with the plan to sleep there for an hour. Unfortunately, when I arrived it was extremely windy and cold,so I continued until I found the perfect Rhododendron grove to take a trail nap. The sun was just starting to heat up the sky when I laid down and I woke up 20 minutes later feeling like a new person giving myself a new goal of this being the last sunrise I would see for the trip. Saturday brought beautiful weather as I moved southbound through Hogpen Gap marking the approximate half way point back. I was descending into Neel Gap when I decided to get some rest for the final push to the finish. I trail napped for 20 minutes and established the goal of sub 13 hours for the final 31 miles. Up and over Blood Mountain one more time gave me the sense that I was really getting close. I was moving well and had to keep reminding myself there are still many miles to go and don’t “burn all my matches”. Night 3 set in as the body was clearly deteriorating and my balance, coordination and strength is in a place I am not comfortable with. Fueled off caffeine pills and gels I crossed the parking lot at the base of Springer and began the slow climb to the summit. I arrived at 3:44am on Sunday morning, 70 hours, 18 minutes, and 55 seconds after starting thus completing the 153.57 miles with 39,629’ of elevation gained, getting 87 minutes of sleep, and consuming 14,000 calories.
While I had no external support of any type I did receive some communication along the way. I cannot thank my family, friends and strangers that had more of an impact on this event than they know. I wanted to challenge myself and explore my full physical and mental capabilities. I got exactly what I wanted and hopefully this encourages others to do the same.
John, very impressive accomplishment; so much vertical gain to take on, especially unsupported!