FKT: Matt Kirk - Art Loeb Trail (NC) - 2021-12-18

Route variation
out & back
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
17h 42m 37s
GPS track(s)

Post with photos here:

For over 20 years, I've gathered with friends and family on or near the winter solstice for the ALTAR (Art Loeb Trail Adventure Run). There's long been talk of attempting a double, or DALTAR. In 2017, Morgan Elliott did exactly that in an amazing time of 14:09. There's no way I could match his performance. Thankfully. the unsupported FKT still seemed attainable for this unconditioned aging flatlander.

So at midnight on Saturday, December 18th, I set out solo from the Davidson River CG to do exactly that. I chose this start time to front load darkness. A full moon shone down and a pleasant breeze helped to keep me awake. I seemed to float effortlessly for the first few hours. Conditions are usually suboptimal this time of year, but I enjoyed an unseasonably mild night... At least for a time.

Unfortunately the precipitation started shortly after Pilot Mountain. As I gained elevation the temperature also dropped and I entered into a fog.  An exposed 6,000 foot high country separated me from sunrise. The rain came down and wind picked up. No choice but onwards. By around the Narrows the weather conditions improved and I could finally turn off my lights. I began to regain my composure.

I made it to the northern turnaround at 8:47 just as as the rain resumed. I spent 20 minutes shivering under the overhang of the trail head kiosk eating, drinking, rearranging my pack and trying to repair a tear in my 20 year old wind shirt. The clock was ticking. Time to go back up, up, up. Here I bumped into Mike Mason, an old friend and inspiration out on his own overnight adventure with a friend.

The climbing seemed relentless. I couldn't tell anymore if it was raining or just dripping from the trees. It didn't matter, everything was wet. The trail had become a muddy river. I could hear the wind tearing across the ridges. I didn't look forward to crossing back over the balds in these conditions. Instead of going through the trouble of fumbling for food, I sipped calories from a hydration bladder.

By 13:11, I crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway. It's around here that I had passed some more running buddies: Caleb, Adam, Kevin, Josh. All were out doing the ALTAR. As I lost elevation, conditions improved again and my spirits lifted. I felt a second wind and started running more of the climbs. My son Silas had gifted me a couple of his secret weapons: starbursts. They came in handy here.

The reality soon began to sink in that I was going to break 18 hours.  As I made it to the gate in the dwindling daylight, thoughts of crunchy salty tortilla chips and melted cheesy goodness filled my mind. I'm happy to have safely made another traverse (or two) of this amazing trail!