Witt carried a SPOT tracker during the hike.
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After 34 hours 11 minutes and 55 seconds of constant running, hiking, crawling, smiling, hallucinating, and crying I set a new unsupported Fastest Known Time traverse of Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness section of the Appalachian Trail. My mind is mush, and my body is pretty spent. I plan to write up a more detailed report soon, but for now I just wanted to thank all of you that sent your love throughout this journey, all of you who have always supported me, and my family for their encouragement and for being there when I emerged, crazy, from the woods. Also a big shout-out to all of the AT hikers, about to finish their journeys, that I met along the way. Also so much respect to @rob.rivesand @josh.katzman, the previous FKT holders, whom I only beat by about an hour! This one goes out to those who don’t walk here physically anymore, but whom still offer their strength and love from beyond. Anthony, Angus, Andy, Jennifer, my grandparents, and all of the other spirits that guide and protect. This photo was taken at the top of White Cap Mtn. as the sun came up after 11 hours alone in the dark.
Appalachian Trail – 100 Mile Wilderness – FKT – 9/10/18
34 Hours. 11 Minutes. 55 Seconds
Witt ‘El Matador’ Wisebram
It had been over 15 years since the last time I saw Mt. Katahdin. It’s almost a distance memory now, of scrambling to the top and touching the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, after hiking over 2,000 miles from Georgia. I had planned to start my FKT attempt of the 100-Mile Wilderness the next day, September 10th, but the forecast was calling for bad storms that night, and I decided it would be better to go ahead and get started, so that I wouldn’t be stuck out on the higher ranges of the southern part of the section alone at night in a storm. I parked my van at the Abol Bridge Campground and packed my things quickly. I had never moved more than 50 miles in a single push before, so I was nervous, but something kept telling me that I was ready for this challenge, so I decided to trust my instinct. I turned on my SPOT tracker and started STRAVA Beacon about a quarter after 1:00pm. I took a couple of photos of Katahdin from Abol Bridge, which is an amazing view, and I began to run down the gravel road to access the southbound AT. The first few miles flew by. The temperature was ideal, and it was sunny and breezy. The ground was fairly uneven, with roots and rocks, but for the most part the trail was composed of soft pine fall. I felt great and moved easily. I had been practicing with my SPOT tracker, but I was concerned about it transmitting properly, so I began taking photos and screen-shots of my Guthook hiking app, so that I could have extra verification in case the SPOT wasn’t working properly. I blew by Hurd Brook Lean-To, and I barely noticed it off to my right. However, the site of a proper AT lean-to took me back to thru-hiking the trail in 2003. I was excited and having a lot of fun. I was able to keep a good pace and run easily to Rainbow Stream Lean-To, where I stopped for a short break and talked with some current thru-hikers, who were about to finish their epic journey. Their encouragement filled me with more excitement and happiness. I knew I wanted to get as many miles as I could, done, before nightfall, so I took off at a pretty good pace and began to pass beautiful lakes, one after another, for the next few miles. The sun started to set around 6:30, and I had amazing glimpses of Katahdin and the reflections off of the lakes I was passing. A little before the sun was totally down, I passed what is referred to on the Guthook App as “Gravel Beach.” Shortly after I found a picnic table at a road crossing, where I unpacked my headlamp and the other things I’d need for the nighttime. I knew that I was going to be competing with almost 11 full hours of darkness, so I accepted that and began the dark progression. Moving through the woods at night can be pretty weird, although I’ve become fairly used to it from thru-hiking. The headlamp light creates a pretty narrow field of view, and so you just become focused on what’s right in front of you. The night air felt cool and helped regulate my body temperature as I ran on. I stopped at a few more lean-tos to sign the registers, fill my water bottles, and to have snacks. I knew once it was late, that I didn’t want to disturb hikers at the shelters, so I avoided them for most of the late night and early morning hours. This actually helped my breaks become shorter. I was keeping a great pace, and I was still moving well. The night hours seemed to be flying by, and I wasn’t as tired as I thought I’d be. Somewhere around mile 50 and a few minutes before midnight, I hit Little Boardman Mountain, which felt like the first real climb of the section. I started to feel a little tired, and while not a super hard climb, it reminded me of the reality of what was to come; steep, rocky, rooty, muddy, relentless trail. I topped out on White Cap Mountain right around sunrise, and I was treated to a breathtaking view. The dark reds and oranges filled the sky and bounced off of the clouds. I looked back to the north, and all of the lakes held glowing clouds hanging right above them. The sunrise renewed my energy, and I felt proud for making it through the 11 hours of night. However, as I stopped to take some photos, I realized how cold it actually was. My fingers went a little numb, and so I spent the next few miles in my fleece, with my gloves on, trying to warm up. Things started getting really hard for me south of White Cap. It was the first real range and ridge of the section. I made my way over Hay Mountain, West Peak, and Gulf Hagas Mountain as the sun rose higher and higher in the sky. Thru-hikers began to wake up and pass me going northbound. I must have looked kind of crazy, because more than one asked if I had been hiking through the night. My pace felt like it had turned into a crawl. The initial excitement of sunrise began to fade, and exhaustion set in. I was mostly walking at this point, and I had even pulled out my trekking poles, which I rarely do, to try and take some pressure off my legs. My initial plan was that I could run most of the downhills through the southern section, but I hadn’t remembered how steep everything is out there. I was moving so slow, and my mind was getting tired. I reached the West Branch of the Pleasant River with, what I thought, was plenty of time to get the FKT. However, that’s when the Chairback-Barren range began. The climb up from the river was slow and tedious. I thought to myself, “Once I gain the ridge, it’ll be smooth sailing.” As anyone knows, who has done this section, that isn’t the case at all. Up and down steep and unforgiving terrain, high-stepping and big drops, and my legs were starting to feel it. Time seemed to be moving so fast, and I wasn’t. I began to get frustrated with my progress. “How could I be moving so slow?” I was running low on food, and I began to realize that I was going to be out in the dark again, which I think took a weird toll on my mind. I also knew that the storm was coming. I just told myself, “keep moving, regardless of your pace.” I was convinced that the FKT wasn’t going to be a possibility anymore. The only hope I had was that a northbound thru-hiker I met at Katahdin Ironworks Road, assured me that the section from Barren to Monson was “a cake walk,” so I was looking forward to that. The slower pace helped my body recover, and I somehow achieved a 3rd (maybe 4th or 5th) wind. I could run again, if I could just find any terrain that was actually runnable. As I descended Barren, I thought to myself, “Even just being able to complete this is something to be proud of. I’m ok without getting the FKT.” Although, something seemed to be pushing me along. “Don’t take a break, keep moving, trust the process.” It began to get dark again. I started having hallucinations of giant birds swooping down into the tree tops, in my peripheral vision. Little fox-like creatures seemed to be scurrying around in the woods, just ahead of my headlamp’s range. All of the stumps that lined the trail began to look like wood carvings of Buddha and the Virgin Mary. I thought, “Just stay focused on the trail, don’t hurt yourself, and this is kind of fun and cool.” The trail did not end up being a ‘cake walk’ to Monson. It was up and down countless little hills. My mind began to fade. I complained to myself, “Who would even make a trail like this?” As I began the last five miles or so, the exhaustion was becoming overwhelming. It had been close to 40 hours since I had slept. I began to cry at the prospect of climbing even little steep hills. The storm I had been trying to beat began. I just kept walking, leaning on my trekking poles. I was having trouble being patient. I kept checking my Guthook App, and I would’ve only gone ¼ mile or ½ a mile, when I thought it had been more like 2 or 3 miles. As I rounded the corner and began to walk up to the parking lot at ME Route 15, my sister ran down to greet me. I could see my dad and mom waiting with the car lights on in the parking lot. I pulled it together for one last slow jog up the hill. I stopped STRAVA and hit a final transmission on my SPOT. I looked at my time and thought there was no way I could’ve got the FKT. 34 hours, 11 minutes, and 55 seconds. In my diminished mental capacity, I couldn’t remember the actual FKT time. I was elated to be with my family, to sit down in a car seat, and to eat. I fell asleep quickly as my dad drove us back to Brooklin, ME. The next morning, I checked the FKT site and realized I had beaten the previous unsupported FKT by about an hour. I was ecstatic and then fell right back to sleep. When I touched the sign at the top of Katahdin 15 years ago, I knew nothing would ever be the same. After completing the Triple Crown of long distance hiking last year, I knew I needed to find new ways to push myself, and more importantly, spend time in the woods. I’m so grateful to the Appalachian Trail for teaching me so much about myself, and I never thought I would be able to pull something like this off. I told my dad when I finished that, “I never want to do that again,” but the next day I was already day-dreaming about what’s to come.