Route: Great Smoky Mountains National Park 900 (NC, TN)

Location
North Carolina, US
Tennessee, US
Description

The idea here is to hike/run all 900 miles of trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Benny "Plug-It" Braden completed the GSMNP 900 in 78 days:

"I began my #fastestgsmnp900miler on Dec. 31, 2016 and completed it on Mar. 18, 2017. My FKT is currently 2 months and 19 days or 78 days. I will be doing this hike again in the fall and looking to take this time under 1.5 months or 45 days. To my understanding the 900 Miler Club only recognizes hiking the trails and not trail running. You can check my Facebook page "Plug-it In on the Appalachian Trail" to see the trip reports and pics from this hike."

Braden completed the 900 *again* later the same year in 43 days:

"Thank you jwoo for clearing that up and congratulations on your completed maps. To update my last post, I did complete my 2nd map (gsmnp900miler) in the fall of 2017. I started 10/14/17 and finished 11/25/17. This FKT thru-hike of the GSMNP was 100% hiked with no trail running. As of right now and to the best of my knowledge I hold the fastest known time of 43 days and the lowest miles of 924.3. Also to the best of my knowledge I know of only one other person (Sharon Spezia) who has completed 2 maps in a single year. I was supported with shuttles when needed.

Jwoo, do you know of anyone else who has started and finished 2 maps in a single year?"

 

35.6117644, -83.4895449

Comments

Any idea on how many miles were repeat miles? Looks like it would be tough just figuring out how not to backtrack. 

The current trail mileage listed at http://900miler.smhclub.org/ is just over 800. Benny claimed 924.3 total miles for his 43-day hike. My approach (no vehicle support) is a bit over 1,000 total miles.

It is my goal to develop tools that will allow people to plan hikes with varying levels of support. From my experience, backtracking is the least of the concerns. It is more crucial to figure out how to resupply on a regular basis, and how to stay at a legal campsite/shelter each night.

I am currently on a partial loop/circuit hike:

https://us0-share.inreach.garmin.com/ewest

To my knowledge, no one has ever completed the trail network in a continuous journey. That is, if you leave the network to resupply or stay at a hotel, you return to the exact same place and continue on.

Benny's "map completions" are definitely inspiring, but they are piecewise and not continuous. He shuttles around the park, much as an AT or PCT thru-hiker might slackpack, to carry a lighter pack and (to a certain extent) minimize elevation gain.

I will post a trip report next week when I complete this summer's journey. My goal is not to set an FKT, just to prove that this approach is possible. A self-supported hike would have to be done this way, as getting in a vehicle immediately makes it supported. My hike has been self-supported with a few exceptions, but it would certainly be possible to do it entirely self-supported.

This challenge has intrigued me since 2009. Hopefully I'll get a chance to try for the fastest and shortest GSMNP map completion before another decade passes. In the meantime, I wanted to offer some suggestions for guidelines along with some resources. I look forward to any discussion this may generate. Here it goes:

  1. You can run. Typically, FKT etiquette requires contenders to carefully follow in the footsteps of the current record-holder. But with all due respect to Mr. Braden, a "no running" rule seems antithetical to the FKT ethos and far too restrictive.
  2. You can bushwhack. Most "man-ways" eat up more time than they're worth, but a few may present new and interesting solutions to the logistical puzzle of bagging all official trail mileage in the park, particularly with regards to the shortest known distance to map completion. In addition to utilizing man-ways, the challenger may also, with permission, utilize public/private trails outside of the park perimeter. Of course, all such mileage counts to cumulative distance.
  3. You can omit closed trails, but readily identify them with your claim. From time to time, natural disasters (landslides, fires, etc.) force the closure of official trails within the park system. Such was the case with Mr. Braden and the current FKT. I believe he had to omit 10 official trail miles in 2017 due to fire. Though one could argue such omissions provide a competitive advantage, I'd simply and humbly suggest that a challenger be as transparent as possible.
  4. The clock records shortest elapsed time to completing official trail mileage. To clarify, this omits time to hike any approach trail before and immediately after completing all trails. For example, if one were to start and finish the challenge on two of the out-and-back dead end trails in the network, s/he need not count the initial time to hike to the turn-around prior to the challenge start, nor s/he count the time to hike back out to the TH after challenge completion. This timekeeping protocol is adapted from other well-known mountaineering FKTs such as the Catskills and SB6K (see Cave Dog's site).
  5. Provide publicly accessible GPS data to substantiate your claim, live tracking a plus! In this day and age, there is no real reason not to have this kind of information available with any FKT claim. Plus as a map nerd and spectator, I would add that any data visualization for this challenge would be particularly fun to watch as the strategy required for solving this Gordian knot of a network problem far surpasses any linear trail FKT.

To help answer a previous question in this thread, I've compiled all of Mr. Braden's 2017 Instagram posts into a more accessible PDF file. To my knowledge, this is the extent of the documentation for his current FKT. You can see at the last entry that he claims a Total: 924.3 New: 799.7 so nearly 125 repeat miles. It should be mentioned that in subsequent PMs with him, I've helped to identify a few errors with his mileages that he tells me he is working to correct prior to the upcoming publication of a book about his hike. Happy trails!

I’m an 900 MC 8 timer, and I think your guidelines are appropriate. The official 900 MC website specifies no restrictions on how fast or slow of a pace one must maintain. As far as bushwhacking, it wouldn’t seem to matter how one gets to a particular trail...car, foot, bike; as long as the actual open trails are completed in full.  Regarding #5, I agree with the GPS data aspect.  I record all of my runs on Strava, and it is publicly available for tracking.  I also have a Garmin In-Reach Mini.  However, I’ve not subscribed to Garmins full tracking package because I’ve found that it is not a reliable tool for fulling recording a route due to the heavy tree cover.  I mainly use it to report my status to my wife, and it is typically only effective when hitting a ridge top. 

Thanks for the feedback, Jeff.

Let me add another thought: this is for a different category of FKT for the GSMNP 900. I don't know the best name to call it, maybe "staged"? Basically for this FKT, the clock runs only when you're in the trail network/back country. Those unable to afford 3+ weeks to attempt an FKT as a continuous effort can enjoy picking away at a "staged" attempt over as many weekend trips as needed.

I'm over halfway through an attempt at a lowest mileage map completion of the GSMNP 900. I've been documenting it here: matthewkirk.blogspot.com  I didn't start this with the intention of claiming any sort of FKT. The primary focus remains lowest mileage. But in addition to carefully logging miles, I've been logging my times and it's gotten me wondering what a "staged" FKT could be. There are some amazing athletes who are 900 milers and maybe they've kept a log of their times. I'd love to know what's been done. 

I think I might be able to break 15 days including stoppage time at back country camps, which for sake of simplicity should probably be counted: the clock runs when you're in the trail network/back country, period. I think a lot of people would enjoy the challenge of devising and executing an itinerary to run and explore this amazing national park with efficiency in mind. It's been an incredible journey for me and I'll report back how it wraps up. In the meantime, please share any thoughts on a "staged" (or whatever you want to call it) FKT!

 

Matt, Yeah thats a cool idea.  Getting time off to beat the clock based on calendar days is tough. I am giving it a go (new announcement outside of this reply) but I will have to work part-time along the way.  As far a staged attempt, that is intriguing.  It allows one to recover between routes, so it is a much different challenge.  I imagine this upcoming attempt for me is a different type of event/strategy.  For example, I will be keeping it slow (probably walking hills) to preserve things for the day after day pounding on the body. The long game requires a different approach. I have no qualms with such an FKT, but as you note it would need to be distinguished from the other challenge. One might want to put some parameters on this to level the playing field.  For example, someone could take 5 years to complete all the trails by doing very short segments with much higher speed. So you may want to impact a route limit, such as at least 15 miles per route, or whatever, to make sure it is an apples to apples comparison of the challenge.

Good luck on your attempt and I look forward to following along!

The wear and tear with minimal recovery makes the continuous effort a very different beast from the "staged" effort. For this reason, even after deducting the time spent out of trail network on a continuous attempt (making it at least 25% to 33% faster), it would still be far from an apples to apples comparison.

We'd definitely need to differentiate these records, just as they are for many other routes on fastestknowntime.com

The "staged" effort inevitably favors the shorter distance and faster runner. I would hesitate to place any parameters. Better to keep the guideline(s) as simple as possible: the clock runs on the "staged" effort when inside the park trail network and/or back country, full stop.

Be assured that those pursuing shortest distance routes will run into something of a network paradox. That is, by opting for shortest possible routes, they will cover a further overall distance. Take for example Etnier's itinerary, which favors day hikes of 20 miles or less with cumulative distance of 1,090 miles, nearly 170 miles further than the current lowest mileage map completion. Interesting stuff.

Speaking of data visualization, I just finished creating an animated map of Braden's 2017 hike: http://www.animaps.com/pb/858940001/7619/Plugitin_GSMNP_900

Important to note that this is NOT actual track data. Generic timestamps with daily 50/50 stop/go ratios were used to illustrate sequencing and approximate timeline of his hike. I did the best I could to recreate the hike from his Instagram posts dated from 10/14/17 to 11/25/17 but it's quite likely there are errors.

The following was posted on my Facebook page on Friday, July 24, 2020...

Well hell, I guess it's time for a big adventure. I've been mulling this one over for a few years. Here goes. Next Thursday (7/23) begins an attempt to complete all the trails in the Smoky Mountains (aka, Great Smoky Mountains National Park 900 Miler Club) in the Fastest Known Time (FKT). The current FKT is a smokin' 43 days laid down by Benny Braden. In accordance with the rules of the FKT organization (and because we have a friendship), I've discussed this with Benny, and he has been most gracious and very supportive of this attempt. A public announcement is also required...i.e., this FB post. No idea whether I can maintain the roughly 30+miles a day on some of the country's most rugged and hilly trails. So, I guess this will be an experiment of sorts for this aging body of mine. And, I know, July and August heat, really Jeff...what the hell are you thinking. I will definitely need massive luck, help from the local running/hiking community and much encouragement from family and friends. I will post regular updates. Also, daily status of the carnage can be found ahttps://www.strava.com/athletes/woody_jeff 

The Strava link will be the main method of recording my daily runs.  While I have a Garmin InReach Mini,  I have found that it isn't a reliable tool for recording routes in the heavy tree cover of the Great Smoky Mountains.  Therefore I will be using my more reliable Suunto 9 Baro, and recording GPS results on both the Suunto website and Strava, and I will provide periodic updates on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/jeff.woody.98.  I will also be taking timestamped photos of trailhead signs for my records.  

On September 4, 2020, Nancy East and Chris Ford will attempt an FKT of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park 900, which entails hiking all the open trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  This will be a supported attempt. We intended to attempt this FKT in April 2020, but the park's closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic delayed our attempt.  

We are attempting to raise $60,000 for a Preventative Search and Rescue (PSAR) Program in the park and are collaborating with Friends of the Smokies for the fundraiser. Nancy is a search and rescue team member on the North Carolina side of the park in Haywood County. The tragic search operation for Susan Clements in 2018 inspired us to combine an FKT attempt with a fundraiser. Details about the fundraiser can be found here.

We will be tracking through Gaia GPS and taking time-stamped photos of trail signs at each junction within the park.  Daily posts about our progress will be made on Nancy’s Facebook and Instagram pages (see links below).

Facebook 

Instagram

Gaia Tracking 

* Of note, Chris Ford's trail name is "Pacer" but he is not the same Pacer who commented in this thread on 7/2/19.