Lander isn’t much more than a couple hours south of Grand Teton National Park, so I’m pretty fortunate to regularly roam those hills. Coming off of a fairly disappointing Wasatch 100 I was surprised how much energy and fitness I still had for late September. My buddy, Trevor Fuchs, had a disappointing Wasatch 100 as well after he took the win in 2016 and 2017, and we both had the itch to do something fun and challenging. It didn’t take us too long to pick out the 40-mile Teton Crest Trail with almost 11,000 feet of climbing as an objective that all-around fit the bill. We chose the first Saturday in October as our date for the run and proceeded to watch the weather like hawks. Of course, the first winter storm of the season was forecasted to come in two days before our run, so we scurried to adjust our work and life schedules to make the adventure happen on Wednesday the 3rd.
My whole truck shook Tuesday night as I tried to fall asleep in the Leigh Lake Trailhead parking lot. The wind coming off the Tetons was incredibly powerful, and I laid there hoping we wouldn’t be blown off of Hurricane Pass the next day. I warmed and woke myself up in the morning sipping on some delicious, and local to Lander, Wyoming, Speedgoat Coffee as Trevor and I made our way to Jackson nice and early. After a re-route due to a fallen tree on the road we met my friend Josh Fuller to catch a ride up Teton Pass. A cold rain began as soon as we stepped out of Josh’s truck and we all agreed we were going to get full value for this adventure. As we made our way up the trail to Philip’s Pass the rain quickly stopped, and thankfully never returned. However, a frigid headwind persisted all day and it felt like the Tetons were trying to keep us at the bottom of every climb.
The moody dark clouds and colorful fall foliage were magical in the morning light, and even with the challenging conditions we were having a great time. We cruised along uneventfully until we got closer to Lake Marion—as we descended a small drainage I was startled as Trevor said in his typical calm fashion “woah a mountain lion“. Sure enough, on the other side of the drainage was a large mountain lion standing there as clear as day. Frankly, it looked terrified of us, and it immediately started running up the trail away from us. It paused for a moment, and looked back, so I tried to grab my camera (just a second too slow), and then off it went into the trees. I’ve seen mountain lions at night before, but never so clearly and in plain view as that. It was simply amazing.
After Lake Marion we rolled through the Tetons along the Death Canyon Shelf, through Alaska Basin, and up to Hurricane Pass. It was cold up there, but we didn’t blow off as I imagined the night before in the back of my truck. Huge crevasses in the Schoolroom Glacier were on display and the tops of the Middle and Grand Tetons were still shrouded in clouds: this was mountain running at its finest. We had been taking a lot of pictures and having a great time, but we realized that we were a bit behind pace for achieving the FKT. We cruised down the South Fork of Cascade Canyon with a bit more purpose than before as we tried to make up time.
In Cascade Canyon the temperature was remarkably warmer; jackets were off and we were sweating hard as the afternoon sun poked out. We hurried up to Lake Solitude and then started the grunt of a climb up to the stunning Paintbrush Divide. Trevor started to have a little bit of trouble breathing going up this last climb, an issue that ultimately led him to DNF at Wasatch a few weeks before.
As we crested the ridge we were definitely behind FKT schedule. My rough math told me that we had 70-minutes to descend 8.2-miles and 3,600 feet of scree and gnarly single track to the finish if we wanted that FKT. Gulp. I used to say bombing down steep technical hills was a real strength of mine, but since I’ve struggled with ankle problems in recent years I’ve become much more conservative on descents. It was time to see if all my hardwork with Ty Francis at Wind River Physical Therapy and my new La Sportiva Lycan GTX shoes were up for the challenge.
I enjoyed one more Canaberry Spring Energy to fuel the all-out descent down Paintbrush Canyon. I had fueled the entire run with nothing but an assortment of Spring Energy “gels” and was thrilled that I still had plenty of energy in the tank (and hadn’t stopped to go to the bathroom all day). We danced and slid through scree, jumped over rocks, and practically sprinted down the trails sometimes below 6-minute mile pace. I started to creep ahead of Trevor a bit, and shouted and encouraged him to get on board for some giddyup time. I knew his throat and breathing was giving him a bit of trouble, but he was still moving really well. Every few minutes I glanced at my watch and did some quick math—we were still cutting it way too close. I got into full on race mode at this point, totally forgetting any fatigue in my legs from the long day, and surging on towards the String Lake Trailhead and the finish. I got a few strange looks from day hikers as I pushed the final couple of miles to the finish like a tempo run, and arrived just 4-minutes under the previous FKT in 7 hours 39 minutes and 17 seconds. I waited anxiously at the trailhead for Trevor, whom I assumed was right behind me, but he didn’t show up for another 10 or 15 minutes after struggling with breathing and missing a critical turn that added a mile on to his run.
It was undeniably a bummer that we didn’t finish together and both get the FKT, but ultimately that was our lowest priority goal for the day. We both made it home healthy and in one piece and had a perfect late fall run through the crest of the Tetons—what more could you really ask for? As far as I know, the Tetons aren’t going anywhere, so I’m sure we’ll be back again for another adventure. I still can’t get over how good my legs, mind, and body feel after a long racing season and am already scheming up the next adventure, or race. We’ll see what I come up to wrap up 2018.