Thursday doesn’t get enough love. It’s smooshed between Wednesday—a halfway through the work week celebration, and Friday—a glorious day that results in freedom. Gnarly athlete Kelly Halpin, however, is giving Thursday some attention this summer.
On Thursday, July 22, she nabbed the FKT (Fastest Known Time) on the Teton Circumnavigation route. She chased this with another Thursday FKT in mid-August on Gannett Peak—the highest peak in Wyoming. With a time of 14 hours and 39 minutes, Kelly now holds the unsupported female FKT.
On paper, the most popular route to summit Gannett Peak in Wyoming’s Wind River Range looks simple, maybe even easy to some endurance trail athletes. The southern approach to reach the peak begins with 11 miles of flat trail running. But that’s the extent of the easy part. After that, the approach goes off-trail to a river crossing, then through an uphill bushwhacking adventure and onto seven miles of open scree field. The final effort to the summit entails some scrambling before it’s back down to do it all in reverse. In total, the Gannett Peak route, approaching from the south, is a 38-mile car-to-car endeavour with about 8,100 feet of vertical gain.
Preparation for the send
“It’s just hard to move fast on that kind of terrain,” Kelly said. According to Kelly,this was a great year to go for an FKT of Gannett Peak. The warmer-than-average temps have melted the snow field that typically slows down the route to summit. But this year’s excess rain has led to the river swelling too high to wade through. Kelly found downed trees to get her across.
None of this came as a surprise on her FKT effort. The weekend before, she scouted the route with her boyfriend, making it to the summit on day one and camping on the way back down for a two-day adventure.
“It’s a fun route because it’s definitely do-able in a day,” Kelly said. “But a lot of people attempt the route and turn around because they completely underestimate how hard it is to navigate the scree field. It takes way longer than anticipated.”
Kelly’s an expert at prepping for the send. Not only is she a pro at scouting and planning for a route, she’s well versed in keeping herself fueled on endurance challenges. For Gannett Peak, Kelly packed a few of her usual favorites, like a bag of crushed up potato chips. She also packed a few homemade rice crispy treats and several onigiris. A common Japanese food to eat on the go, onigiri is a packed rice ball with various additions, but Kelly went with a classic of soy sauce and bonito flakes. “That’s one of my favorite running snacks, for sure.”
Eating during the FKT wasn’t the easiest. Kelly never got close to tanking, but her eating tapered as the course got more technical and required all of her attention. Scrambling up scree and talus, sometimes basically crawling, didn’t make refueling easy or convenient.
“Because of the nature of the route, I didn’t feel as hungry,” Kelly said. “I was moving slower and climbing around stuff, and then I had a river crossing. As soon as I run out of room in my front pockets for gels, it takes a lot of effort for me to want to stop and take my pack off to dig into it.”
Rocks on rocks on rocks
For Kelly, and many others who attempt Gannett Peak, it’s a trudge to the top. “The summit is very huge and daunting and you keep thinking, ‘Oh my god, there’s no way I can get all the way over there at this pace.’”
With endless scree standing between the easy part of the route and the summit, progress is slow and many underestimate just how long it takes to climb over seven miles of loose rock. “The hard part is finding the best route on the scree field and hoping you picked a good line,” Kelly said. Another point goes to her preparation of scouting the route the weekend before. “The route looks easy on paper but it’s still a big mountain with scrambling at the top and you could definitely screw up and fall.”
With a few close calls to a rolled ankle on the way up, Kelly safely reached the summit. After noting that the summit plaque had gone missing, she spent about three minutes on the summit before heading back down.
Kelly made it back to her car at 6:15 p.m., just a few minutes after the time she was aiming for, but more importantly she made it back before dark. In her recap Instagram post, she wrote, “Giving it a 5-star scree review. Really excellent scree. All kinds of rocks well represented.”
With daylight to spare, a runner’s high from the FKT and a car packed with bubbly water and coffee, Kelly drove home. She had visitors waiting at her house who were heading out on a route in the Tetons she created with a friend. Over coffee the next morning, she helped them go over the route. That night, she shuttled them two hours up to the trailhead and 32 hours later, she picked them up when they finished. “I was up all night watching the tracker like every hour,” Kelly said. “I had an alarm set to see where they were, so I didn’t really get a good night’s sleep until three days after I finished
Like almost every FKT to Kelly’s name, she feels she could do the route faster and plans to head back next year. Although the rocks are the focus on the route, Kelly always points out how beautiful the route is and how thankful she is that her body allows her to experience routes like this, regardless of how quickly she clambors through talus.