Arrived at the US 33 trailhead at 0730 on a Saturday. Conditions were 43F and winds 15 gusting to 25 at the cat. Had planned a supported attempt with a handheld, however pivoted to a vest at the last minute as conditions were favorable for an attempt at the overall FKT. Target was 3:10 road to road.
Loadout was 1.5L of Carborocket and 3 gels. Wore a long sleeve and gloves due to uncertainty on ridge conditions over the few hours it would take to finish. In retrospect, this was a smart move given the alternating winds and shifting temps. Gloves and sleeves were reconfigured frequently, depending on which side of the ridge the trail was on at that moment.
Miles 3 - 10 flowed nicely, although slightly behind target, until Forest Road 79. At that point the winds and wet trails slowed me slightly, however time target still attainable. Time behind was approximately 10 minutes, which could be made up on the FR and final descent.
Miles 12 - 17 slowed, due to a few climbs and traction issues on the multiple ridge sections of off-camber trail. At this point, there had been sightings of multiple backpackers and hunters. In the narrower trail sections, there were some issues passing. Time behind was approximately 20 minutes.
Miles 18-23 were a train wreck, due to poor FKT planning. The crowds up to Chimney Top and further south were thick - similar to Old Rag on a crowded day. A number of hikers stopped to ask directions, inquire about distance, or just chat. Tried to stay moving and polite, however there were a number of narrow trail sections with snarled traffic. Pace slowed 5-6 min/mile slower than target. Some sections were walked downhill. Quite a few hikers yielded when they didn't have to, which was awesome and appreciated. Time behind was approximately 45 minutes.
Mile 22, the trail opened up. Let loose and ran towards the voices and cars to finish in ~3:54.
North Fork Mountain and Smoke Hole Canyon have been frequent destinations for me for > 10 years. Last trip out was 2019, and I hadn't adequately planned for the amount of traffic at the finish. All in all, counted over 240 hikers, hunters, and backpackers along the trail, while missing a few along the way. Significant number of downed trees, so a trail day is the next trip out.
Lesson learned - cool and calm day, off season potentially early spring, light loadout, and this FKT is within reach for others as well.
A few comments in the spirit of encouraging competition -
- Lucas Warner's time on this FKT was quite formidable, at around 8:15/mi.
- The supported FKT was only categorized as supported on technicality - I personally do not feel that having assistance with food, water, or pacing, would have helped to any significant degree.
- For a supported try, at miles 10.5 - 12.0, FR 79 may have provided optionality to skip a bottle or nutrition for the 1st half, shed clothes, etc. Again, this wouldn't help very many runners.
- Thick leaf build-up on ridges will only hinder attempts in fall, and wet may also slow winter attempts. Spring is the way to go.
Hopeful to see a sub-3 in the near future.