Anyone who’s taken to the trail or the track for a race knows that things don’t always go as planned. A gel explodes in your vest, a bee stings you in the thigh halfway through the race, or sunscreen-laden sweat drips into your eye. Last month, Gnarly athlete Kelly Haplin added a new entry on the list of “when things go wrong while racing” during her FKT (Fastest Known Time) attempt on the Teton Circumnavigation route. She got stuck behind not one, but two, pack mule trains. She nabbed the female FKT anyway, finishing the 34.6-mile route in 7:15:19, adding an entry to her incredibly impressive list of FKTs.
We caught up with Kelly to get the lowdown on how the route felt, how frustrating it was to get stuck behind a bunch of mules and what she’s looking forward to next.
A-never-before-attempted route in her backyard
Wyoming’s Tetons are Kelly’s playground, not far from where she lives for most of the year. A handful of her FKTs are from routes in the Tetons, but this was Kelly’s first attempt at the Teton Circumnavigation route. A bit over 34 miles, the route has just over 8,000 feet of vertical gain. Kelly started at the Lupine Meadows Trailhead and followed the Valley Trail. She said it was the perfect day to attempt this FKT as a light rain made for significantly more comfortable temps.
“I was really excited because the rain provided beautiful, beautiful weather since it’s been usually hot here this summer,” Kelly said. “It made for really wonderful running temps, and there weren’t any big thunderheads until I was off of the high points.”
Not only did the rain bring nicer temps, it cleared out the smoke from the area and made for fewer people on the trail. The cooler weather and clean air made the morning feel a bit unusual for late July, but in a good way.
That’s when the unusual parts of Kelly’s Teton Circumnavigation run turned a bit frustrating. Instead of people on the trail, she ran into mules on the switchbacks heading up Death Canyon. “I’ve never seen a pack train in the Tetons before,” Kelly said. “I know that they’re out there, but what are the chances of getting stuck behind a double one of these? And since it was on switchbacks, I couldn’t pass them. It was absolutely so silly and so frustrating.”
She contemplated turning around and trying again on another day as the minutes kept adding up while wondering if she’d get kicked by a mule on an FKT attempt.
Miraculously, after Kelly hung behind them for 15 minutes, the mule trains got caught up by a downed tree. Knowing this was her opportunity to pass, Kelly dodged and wove through the mules and broke free. “I got super lucky,” Kelly said.”I mean, it was unlucky, but then it’s super lucky that there happened to be a tree there, too.”
Shaking off the frustration took some time as she power climbed the steep switchbacks to Static Divide. The wildflowers along the way helped, and eventually, things started looking up. “I got into a really nice flow state, just running,” Kelly said. “Once I got up over the Divide, I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is the best thing ever!’ I just started laughing. I was so happy. It was really beautiful.”
Aside from the mules, the only thing Kelly didn’t love about the Teton Circumnavigation was the resulting toe blisters.
Packing it up and packing it in
Since this was a relatively short day, Kelly didn’t need to pack much. Her morning breakfast was fueled by pancakes made from local grains, eggs, and milk, and coffee, too.
At the trailhead, she headed out with a six-liter hydration pack. In it were several energy gels, a bag of potato chips and some boiled potatoes, all necessary calories to keep energy levels from dropping. Kelly also packed three salt tablets for replenishment and her GPS satellite device because safety should never go ignored. A few extras like chapstick, a hat and a light jacket also made the cut into her small pack. Once home, she drank a Gnarly protein shake to begin the recovery process of another awe-inspiring FKT.
What’s next for Kelly?
With only a finite weather window left to work with, Kelly is being picky about which routes she’s tackling this season. The pack mule trains set her back by about 15 minutes, which ignites a desire to re-do the route for a better time. Next time, she says she’s likely to do the route in reverse, which would cut down on foot traffic she encountered toward the end of her run when it intersects with a section of trail that gets busy in the afternoon.
The Teton Circumnavigation route was not only an FKT attempt for Kelly but also a scouting mission for a longer route she hopes to complete later this summer that will include the Circumnavigation course.
Regardless of what route she’s on or if she gets an FKT, Kelly is thankful to be out there. “It’s a challenge to push yourself and your potential, but that’s not what’s really important in the end,” she said. “It’s just being lucky to have your body be able to carry you to these beautiful places.”