FKT: Matthew Griffith - Rim Trail (T105) - 2022-05-06

Route variation
Standard route
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
5h 47m 53s
GPS track(s)

I have run in the Sacramento Mountains a number of times to escape the Texas heat in the summer. And ever since first stepping foot on the Rim Trail I knew I wanted to run the whole thing, end-to-end (which conveniently is basically exactly 50k). The trails near Cloudcroft are generally much nicer (e.g., shadier, softer, less rocky, less wind) than the desert trails I typically run on closer to home. I ran the whole trail a year ago (unsupported) but had a bunch of stomach issues and generally not a great day, so this year I decided to do it again and try to do it fast this time.

For me trying to go fast meant going supported as 5-6 hours at high effort is a lot of food and water to carry. There is no water source along the route, so an unsupported run means you’d have to bring it all. Since I wanted to go supported, my family came out to crew me along the route. The trail runs close to Sunspot Highway for much of the trail, so there are many convenient places to crew. We tried to have them meet me about every hour to supply me with a fresh bottle and gels—they met me a total of 5 times during the run. The only section that’s a bit long—i.e., more than an hour—is between Sunspot and FR90. The easy access to the trail from the many trailheads and forest roads would also make a self-supported run a good option as you could easily stash water and food along the trail in the morning before starting—I’d be careful though as there is a lot of wildlife in the forest and your food might get stolen before you get to it…

Regarding the run itself, I had a pretty good day overall. I was making excellent progress for the first half of the run and was even a bit ahead of my goal time. From Atkinson Meadow to Sunspot I was starting to feel the effects of the altitude on my non-acclimatized body but was keeping okay pace. About 1 mile down the trail from Sunspot, the trail gets much harder for the remainder of the route and I was starting to lack energy so I ended up losing a lot of time over the last 10 miles. The elevation profile is very deceptive for the last section as it looks like it’s almost all downhill. However, this section is essentially a bunch of steep, punchy climbs, followed by extremely rocky scree and technical descents—which was hard on my tired legs and unacclimated lungs. This section also appears to be much less used and maintained as there were many large downed trees across the trail to crawl over. I think it would be a hard section to move fast on even with fresh legs. And, of course, this is the section I’ve only been on once or twice before so some more experience on this section might have helped mentally prepare me better.

I would like to point out a few common shortcuts and alternatives to avoid for people who want to try to run this route for FKT purposes. I should say that I followed the official Rim Trail (T105) from beginning to end, according to both the on-trail signage and the most up-to-date USFS maps (as of my run in May 2022). Some other maps (including Strava) may have some discrepancies. I will point out what I have seen from other people do when attempting the whole trail. First, around mile 2.2 the trail goes out to the end of the ridge before switching back nearly 180 and running back along the ridge within a few feet until the trail you just ran down starts. There is a shortcut/connector trail here that many people take that cuts off about .15 miles—make sure to run all the way to the end of the ridge where there is a great view of the basin and White Sands. Second, there are a couple alternate routes (T105A and T105B) that fork off of T105 around mile 18ish. These alternates take you around Sunspot. I’m not sure if they are shorter or longer but they do avoid some elevation gain and keep you lower on the mountain, avoiding the high point of the route near Penny’s Peak. The alternates also avoid most of the nearly 1 mile road section through Sunspot. They are certainly more scenic if you’re just out for an enjoyable run, but for the purposes of the FKT route, you should stick to the official T105 and avoid the alternates. The last, and most critical, mistake that you could make is missing the turn near mile 21.8 (right after the water tanks and cattle trough). Several maps including Gaia and Strava show the Rim Trail heading straight along the old Forest Road that you’ve been running on for the last mile. However, there is a trail sign indicating T105 turns and heads up, over, and around a hill. This is also what the official USFS maps show so perhaps the trail was recently rerouted as I’ve seen very few people take this turn. If you’re going for the FKT, though, don’t miss this sign, it’s easy to do as the trail turning and heading up the hill doesn’t look like much of a trail, it’s just a slope covered in softball sized rocks. Shortcutting here saves a couple tenths of a mile, but more importantly ~230 ft of elevation gain and a much tougher trail. If you download and follow my GPX track, you should be fine.

In the end, although I struggled with the altitude (I live at 3000 ft and the average elevation was 8876 ft, ranging from 7633 ft at the end of the trail to 9528 ft near Penny’s Peak) and I lost quite a bit of time from my goal pace over the deceptively difficult last third of the trail, it was a much more enjoyable experience than last year and as far as I can tell, I’ve done it faster than anyone else. Along the trail I saw about a dozen elk total, a couple deer near Sunspot, and no people all day (besides my crew).

It was a relatively warm day for early May with temps in the mid-70’s for most of my run (considering I started pretty late in the morning around 10:00am). Over the course of the run, I ended up consuming 1527 kcal and drank 6 x 18 fl oz bottles of fluid.

My Garmin Fenix 7s recorded 31.40 miles with 5679 ft of elevation gain and 6800 ft of loss (Strava says 4475 ft gain and 6177 ft loss so I think it’s somewhere in between—maybe ~4800 ft gain—the ~6100 ft loss seems about right).

P.S., I cannot get the photos to upload here, but they are posted on the Strava activity linked here.