FKT: Megan Armstrong - John Muir Trail (CA) - 2014-08-22

Route variation
south to north
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
6d 2h 44m 0s

Megan Armstrong reported a new women's unsupported mark of 6d2h44m from Mt Whitney summit to Happy Isles, Aug. 16-22, 2014. Because of permit issues, Armstrong did not start at Whitney Portal, but ascended Mt Whitney from Guitar Lake on the morning of Aug. 16. Since Armstrong was accompanied by her boyfriend until Thousand Island Lakes her trip can't be considered strictly unsupported for purposes of the FKT. Armstrong did say "I carried my own supplies (tarp tent, stakes, bear can, food, etc.) and was self sufficient".


Armstrong's hiking partner posted:


Hi, just wanted to give a brief report on Megan Armstrong’s recent unsupported JMT finish. I was the hiking partner who accompanied her and thought I’d weigh in with my version of events. I hope the following will add some clarity to the debate begun last week by Mr. Schwartz.

It seems my presence has been the source of the added confusion/consternation about whether she was solo, supported, accompanied, etc. For those of you skeptical of or hostile toward unsupported claims when the individual is accompanied, I urge you to read on. While no doubt I am biased in favor of Megan’s claim, and as you know paper will take anything written on it, the following can serve as much as an exercise in logic as it is a true account of recent events.

From the get-go Megan and I decided to carry separate gear, food, personal items etc. This was primarily so we could have the ability to hike separately. As the trip grew near it became apparent that of the two of us, Megan was in significantly better shape and so needed to be 100% self-sufficient (in case we separate). Also, once we realized that she could potentially achieve the women’s FKT we believed her having all her own things meant she would be “self-supported.” We did not stop to consider “emotional support.”

We began the trip on Sat. 8/16 and reached the Whitney Summit at aprox. 6am from our bivouac at Guitar Lake. After signing the log-book and sending a signal from Megan’s SPOT we dashed down the trail. We made decent progress over the Kern Plateau but it became apparent by the afternoon that I was still not acclimated. Consequently, Megan was forced to wait around for me at the top of Forester for about 15-20 minutes. The rest of the day I proved an even greater liability as I became consumed by exhaustion. We struggled down to Vidette Meadow where I suggested she push on without me. However, because she was worried about my physical and mental state (I was struggling to speak in normal sentences), Megan resisted my suggestion to split up. We camped about a mile before the start of the climb toward Kearsage and Glen Passes.

The following day I felt a little better. We were able to get over Glen, Pinchot and then crested Mather at about 8pm. However, by this time I was feeling pretty dead again and Megan had to wait for me at the top of the last pass. We hobbled down past Palisade Lakes in the dark and finally found camp near the bottom of the Golden Staircase. Surprisingly I was little better than the previous night, but…

…Day 3 started bad and only got worse. Apparently I had tweaked my ankle significantly the day before but had been too tired to notice. The pain that morning had me seriously thinking about quitting over Bishop Pass. After a long Advil break in Le Conte I decided to press on. Big mistake. The rest of the trip I was pretty much useless as a hiking buddy and only gave Megan greater and greater cause to worry as the condition of the ankle deteriorated.

After another large dose of Advil on Muir Pass, I slowly made my way down to Evolution Meadow. At this point Megan had run out of sunscreen but she refused to accept any help from me let alone a bit of sunblock. As a consequence the blisters on her calves got pretty bad from the sun. She was in a lot of pain but did not want to take any help for fear of being supported.

After camping along the upper-San Joaquin River that night we woke up early to hike the three miles or so down to the Paiute Trail junction. Again I considered hobbling off the trail at Muir Ranch or Vermillion Valley. And again I urged Megan to press on without me. By this time, I think I was getting pretty good at fooling her into thinking I could make it all the way so long as I kept up a steady dose of Advil. So she plied me with her own supply of pain-killers and I agreed to try for Red’s Meadow. This way, at least, I could get a ride much more easily and likely meet Megan at the finish if we separated. That night we camped about 1.5 miles north of Silver Pass.

The subsequent hike into Red’s proceeded according to a pattern of ankle problems that developed the day prior. Wake up – take Advil. Hike 3-4 hours – take more Advil. And so forth until I began to exhaust Megan’s supply and was forced to soak my foot in a creek. Our pace here slowed significantly. Finally we reached Red’s store around 4pm. This allowed me to buy more drugs and some food. Despite my best effort, though, Megan refused to enter and resupply. She was adamant this meant support.

The following morning we awoke at a small pond approximately 2-3 miles south of Johnston Lake. All things considered I was glad to be just a day out of Yosemite. From this point we were just shy of 54 miles from Happy Isles. Megan was vaguely optimistic about getting there in time. We kept at it.

After making steady progress on the approach to Donahue Pass on Day 6, my condition deteriorated. Around 10am my ankle blew-up and I had to stop entirely. At this point, I was finally able to convince Megan to push on without me. After we parted, I sat for a long hour, doubled down on the painkillers and began the limp into Touloumne.

From this point on Megan hiked alone. She pushed past Touloumne, bivouacked around 11am only to wake at 3am to complete the last 13+ miles to Happy Isles.

The point of this narrative is to illustrate how it was possible to receive essentially no tangible help from hiking with another person. Megan was incredibly generous in offering to stay with me; giving me encouragement and all her painkillers. In return, she received no food, no shared pack weight, and no real encouragement. In this case, having company proved deleterious to her FKT attempt. I sincerely believe she could have bested her time by 5—6 hours had I not been there. And, while skeptics can choose to not believe any of these facts, as a rhetorical exercise it nevertheless proves the logic of the point: Accompanied does not necessarily mean supported. Consequently, Peter Bakwin has the best solution – qualify any unsupported hike that was accompanied as such. There is no logical consistency in automatically designating accompanied hikes as “supported,” when the individual receives no assistance, emotional or otherwise. As my experience showed, a hiking partner can prove quite burdensome.
Andy S.

P.S. I too am looking forward to reading Megan's account of the trip. Unfortunately, it seems she's been buried under piles of books, papers and exams since her return.