A totally unheralded Brett Maune crushed the John Muir Trail record this September 3-6. Peter Bakwin’s site describes it best:
Brett Maune has destroyed both the unsupported and overall records for this classic trail. Maune travelled unsupported from Whitney Portal to Yosemite in 3d 14h 13m (3d 9h 58m from Whitney Summit), beating the Sue Johnston’s overall (supported) record by 5h 47m, and beating Michael Popov’s unsupported record by over 19 hours! Prior to this trip Maune was a virtual unknown in the ultra and fastpacking scenes.
The JMT is possibly the finest “long trail” in the world. During it’s 223 mile length, not only is the route all single track, but it doesn’t even cross a road, while starting from the highest mountain in the lower 49, and finishing in the fabled Yosemite Valley.
It doesn’t get any better than this. Or any harder. The JMT is not obscure; many top endurance athletes have given it a go.
“We had over 8 hours to hike the last 12.7 miles with a net downhill run of 5,300′. I was feeling great and believed the record was mine. Then the wheels fell off…”
– Flyin’ Brian Robinson, on his 2003 record attempt that came up short after 210 miles.
It was Maune’s second attempt at the JMT this year. His first attempt was a month earlier (the previous full moon), but he made some rookie mistakes and bonked hard on the first day.
Prior to Maune’s successful trip, there were several other unsuccessful supported and unsupported record attempts on the JMT this year: Michael Popov tried for the supported record in early Aug. 2009, but was unable to complete the trail due to lack of sleep. He stopped at Tuolumne Meadows, a site of many horror stories for JMT speed record aspirants. “Reds [Meadow] to Tuolumne [Meadows] was the worst night of my life when I really did not care whether I’d live or die. I was not moving b/c of fatigue, and it was impossible to sleep b/c of freezing temps. Throat was extremely parched from the air of Evolution Valley and even gels were getting stuck midway through. I was falling backwards while trying to go, and have seen amazing things including “the tunnel” itself… The whole night was the blur,” said Popov. In August, Mark Davis made a failed attempt on the unsupported JMT record. Jeff Kozak also made an attempt at the supported JMT record, starting at Happy Isles (Yosemite) at 3:10 a.m. on August 26, but had to bail out over Kearsarge Pass, after 180 miles, apparently due primarily to sleep deprivation.
A giant thread exists on the Backpacker Light Forum, which contains Brett’s original failed attempt, other JMT trips this summer, big discussions on gear choices, and lastly, Brett’s multi-page successful trip report and photos (from where all the photo’s on the Post are from).
Due to Maune’s previous obscurity, and that he went solo with nobody reporting seeing him on the trail, a check of the veracity of his claim was in order. This isn’t to discredit or disbelieve anyone, but with the increasing popularity of backcountry record attempts, it is incumbent on any claimant that they document their trip – you can do anything you want for yourself; that’s great; but if one tells the public they did what no one else has done, they then become obligated to prove it.
Brett sent Peter all his photo’s and video. Peter took care to check the exif data, which corroborated the time the photo was taken with the visual image, thus confirming Brett’s amazing trip.
Thanks Peter for looking into this so carefully. As you’ve said, there’s good evidence of Brett being on Whitney and Muir Pass when he says. That’s the 10-mile mark and the 92-mile mark. He clearly covered a lot of the miles he says he did, and took reasonable pains to verify his claim. Unless clear evidence of deceit comes to light, I congratulate him on an amazing accomplishment.
I tend to believe my “trail brothers” and can’t imagine the motivation for cheating. A trail record is a personal quest and anyone claiming a record who cheated has to live with it. On the other hand, anyone claiming a record they really didn’t set makes it more difficult for anyone else attempting their own records. With these thoughts in mind I thank Peter for his efforts to verify the record and congratulate Bret on an amazing achievement.
I personally suggest that in the future, everyone going for major trail records uses the SPOT Locator Beacon! These work great: not only are they a worthwhile safety device, but your friends can track and cheer your progress real-time, which is really fun. And instant public documentation exists of wherever you went and how long it took (unless you strap the SPOT to a trained deer and send it ahead).
Peter offers an insight :
How did he do it? How did he come out of nowhere and crush this record, while carrying a heavy 27 lbs from the start? I think the videos give a clue: In nearly every video Brett talks about the time & where he is re his target splits; he might say something about how he’s feeling and what that means for his ability to move as fast as he wants. He never says anything like “Wow, its neat to be here!” or “Gee, look at that sunset!” Maybe that’s the focus you need to pull off a remarkable accomplishment like this. His wife confirmed that:
“I never doubted he could do it and knew that either he will break the record or would injure himself trying. For months now, we have not talked about anything other than “the hike” and we have done nothing else on our precious weekends than train for “the hike”. Amidst training and exploring the John Muir Trail we found out that we were pregnant but even that did not distract him because once he gets hooked it is hard to distract him until he either accomplishes his goal or hurts himself trying.”
– Excerpted from Brett’s excellent Trip Report (this excerpt is classic!):
A couple of miles before Sunrise H.S.C. I finally had the revelation that the source of my declining power output was possibly due to the exhaustion of most of my body fat. Paranoia set in and I feared that I had finally ‘done it’— after all my crazy pursuits I had finally pushed myself too far and would now have serious consequences as a result. I became terrified and convinced that my body was on the verge of some sort of catastrophic collapse. On top of all this I naturally began to think that failure was a distinct possibility. Despite my large lead over the existing record I had serious doubts about whether I could maintain a record pace or even finish. The realization that I was now burning muscle for energy meant my condition would not improve and would continue to deteriorate. Even if I did not collapse, I still had to stay awake to finish. I felt that my will power was sufficient such that if I could stay awake I would, but at that point I did not know if it were even possible. All the months of meticulous training, preparation, and previous failure(!) came down to this moment — or rather, just 15 miles. The convergence of all these thoughts and emotions were too much for me to handle in that state and I brokedown. Tears began streaming down my face.
In Buzz Burrell’s JMT record TR, he talks about ‘The Perfect Race’ in which the racer is pushed to his absolute limit and is still able to finish strong. Well, at this point finishing strong was definitely out of the question. Just plain finishing would have to do.
I was 15 miles from the end and the trail was essentially down hill all the way to Happy Isles. I just needed to stay awake — just stay awake! Again time slowed to a crawl. Now I had extended stretches where I literally had to force my eye lids open after blinking. Sleep deprivation caused massive hallucinations. I saw people, animals, buildings, etc. everywhere. Inanimate objects morphed into common, everyday things. My malfunctioning brain was creating its own reality in response to its inability to function properly. In return, I was losing my own grip on reality and did not know how much longer I could hang onto it. My power output kept dropping. I now had to go slow even when descending! Otherwise, the energy expenditure in my leg muscles required to stop me from ‘falling’ down hill was more than my body could extract from cannibalizing itself.
Step by step, minute by minute, I continued and eventually made it to the Half Dome trail junction The switchbacks were packed with people but I made no effort to pass anyone except the slowest ones. I could not go that fast myself because of the steep descent. I eventually reached the bridge and immediately spotted my wife. She did not think I saw her as I gave no indication of acknowledgement. I was in total energy conservation mode at this point and did not want to expend the energy to wave a hand or nod. I walked past her as she recorded a video of my arrival and I asked her to follow — I still needed to get to the stupid sign! The short but steep hill after the bridge caused me to slow down and again I was reminded of my fragile state.
I started crying again. My wife thought I was upset because of my time (I was a couple hours behind my timesheet) and tried to comfort me but at the moment I could not have cared less about the time or any stupid record. I wanted to tell her I was sorry. I was sorry for all the imagined health problems I just inflicted upon myself and by extension her, but could not bring myself to say it. We eventually made it to the sign and I felt little elation. I forced a smile for the camera out of obligation and was relieved to still be standing.
I was alive.