John Muir Trail Record!


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.


Peter continues:

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.

Brian Robinson:

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.

Kevin Sawchuk:

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.



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31 Responses to “John Muir Trail Record!”

  1. Stefan Griebel Says:

    Great job Brett! That is just jaw-dropping. This sort of reminds me of Owen Murphy on last year’s Colorado Trail Race – he came out of nowhere, and completely obliterated the previous record of 5+ days by 18 hours. Like Brett, Owen’s the real deal too. Returned this year to lower his previous mark by 5 more hours, beating the 2nd place finisher by 20 hours! Some people are just in a class all their own.

    So cool that the supported and unsupported records for the JMT are now the same! And I agree with the original post – carrying a SPOT for these sort of events really is the new standard.


  2. Stefan Griebel Says:

    I mean, I’m agreeing with Buzz – seems to be his suggestion on carrying the SPOT here.

  3. pantilat Says:

    Brett did an amazing job! I’m glad he was rewarded for his dedication to learning about the trail and how to do it fast. I think this year’s explosion of JMT speed activity is only a harbinger of more to come…

  4. Justin Says:

    Wow, truly amazing and inspirational! Great job Brett!

  5. outsidepr Says:

    I feel horrible, because I’ve never expressed doubt about someone’s claim to athletic achievement — after all, who the hell would do such thing?

    But: something about this smells. Very bad. I was present at Kilian Jornet’s TRT record and DOZENS of other people saw him.

    But this guy shaves 19 HOURS off the existing record? Let me put this in perspective for you: he’d have to have averaged nearly 20 minute miles, for three days straight, without sleep, uphill and down, to accomplish this. That pace is credible for a fully supported ultrarunner in a 100-miler who gets aid stations every eight miles. If he stops? It’s less than 20mm pace. If he slows down to a walking pace the last 15 miles, as he states? Then he drops below 20mm more significantly.

    But he did this, day and night, with no sleep, with a 27 pound pack? I am so, so sorry Brett…but I am firmly unconvinced. The fact that he has no ultrarunning bona fides at all; the fact that his prose is almost hysterically overwrought; the fact that he refers to his hydration bladder as a “camel bag”; the fact that I’ve raced against Michael Popov and he is a crushingly talented athlete whom God himself couldn’t beat by 19 hours…it really, really does not add up.

    Having popped off, I’ll have to go to Brett’s report. And Brett, if you’re reading this, I apologize. This is the first flame I’ve ever written. If you did indeed break this record, I’ll buy you a six-pack and make a public retration. Oh, and … uh… no one has 2% body fat. Especially not you, given your photos

    • Brett Maune Says:

      PM me through the BPL forum so we can arrange a chat. I’d be more than happy to talk with you about this.

      Just a few things,
      Kilian has an entourage. I don’t. I told perhaps 3 people along the trail what I was doing. I saw ~50 people before the Half Dome Junction. The people I encountered didn’t know ‘they saw me’. I wasn’t advertising.

      I did not avg 3mph. It was more like 2.56 or so. Huge difference. Though, it can definitely be done @ 3 mph unsupported.

      Regarding body fat, let me state once again I have no clue how much I had before, during, or after the run. All I know is the symptoms near the end seemed to be well explained by me depleting my fat to the point I could not draw on it nearly fast enough to power me as much as I wanted. This isn’t exactly a predicament most people would experience even once in a lifetime. If anyone has any info regarding this I would definitely like to know and I would be the first to defer to their superior knowledge, since I have none and simply inferred from my symptoms.

      Thanks for the ultimate compliment,

      • Daniel Staudigel Says:

        I just got done with a long race in Patagonia. A 120km trek took us nearly 4 days, when we expected closer to 48 hours. There were no trails for the first 70km, which is why it took so long! Once we burned through 32 hours of food in the first 48 hours, we had to do serious calorie restriction. I definitely experienced the symptoms you are referring to. I am pretty convinced it’s related to hydration/blood sugar/fat ratios. It’s pretty hard to get your body fat down to the point where actually gone, but it seems to become a much less accessible energy source for moving fast as you drop water weight. I also know that it’s pretty much impossible to stay actually fully hydrated on such a long push when you’re trying to go fast.

      • Brett Maune Says:


        That’s interesting–I didn’t realize being dehydrated affected the rate of metabolizing fat. When that occurs is the rate for metabolizing muscle affected as well? Perhaps the explanation of what happened to me is simply due to hydration then. I was definitely starved for energy in the latter portion of the run and judging from my weakness after the run I know I lost a lot of muscle. In the couple months leading up to the run I lost ~10 lbs and despite my best efforts could not maintain or gain weight because of all the training. I never thought I had actually ‘run out’ of fat but rather that it had dropped to a point that it could no longer be burned sufficiently fast to meet my needs and so the body started shifting to muscle.

        Thanks for the info! Now it’s time to do some more investigating…

  6. Buzz Says:

    I thank the above person for the honest sharing of their feelings. I don’t know what’s correct or incorrect, but I appreciate honesty and directness.

  7. Cayenne Says:

    I appreciated all the videos brett posted on YouTube, and also from Popov’s attempt. It’s great to get a glimpse of what people go through on these record attempts.

  8. Pbakwin Says:

    I hope people will look at the evidence rather than making judgments  
    based on their own perception of what seems doable. Plenty of people  
    have done things that don’t seem doable to me. My verification effort is here:

  9. Sarah Says:

    Actually, I don’t think using Kilian is a good example. I’ve done the entire TRT three times, sans entourage, and I wasn’t ‘advertising’ myself at all. Yet people noticed and remembered me because it was apparent that I was traveling light and moving quickly. And I have met/talked with/heard from people who’ve seen Michael, Aaron, and Ian on the JMT and noticed and remembered them for the same reasons. As I say, I don’t think any of us were ‘advertising’, either, when we were out there but the hikers could tell from looking at us, our pace, what we were carrying, what we were wearing for clothes and shoes, etc. that we were doing something different than what they were doing.

    • Brett Maune Says:

      Sarah, I respectfully disagree with how obvious it is for hikers to realize they are passing someone ‘not like them’ (record seeker) and take note. It depends entirely on the circumstances of the interaction. First of all, look at my outfit–look at the video of me when I reach the Vernal Falls Bridge. Do I look that different from an average JMT hiker? I don’t think I do, which by itself eliminates most of the would-be memorable interactions.

      Other than outfit, a record seeker stands out with their pace. My faster pace certainly is obvious when I’m running downhill. In my first attempt the JMT was packed full of people and I met ~20-30 people just running down to Guitar Lake, and this is how some people learned of my attempt. The JMT was quite lonely on the second attempt. In fact, excluding running down from the summit of Whitney, I can’t explicitly recall a time I passed anyone while running.

      If not running downhill, the faster pace becomes far less obvious. When ascending, people coming the other way don’t realize how fast you are going. If you overtake and fly past someone it’s very memorable, but everyone on the JMT is going the opposite direction [this makes the TRT not a good comparison as well]. I only overtook a handful of people during the entire JMT [from summit to half dome trail jct.].

      Lastly, I like the method of passing out cards as well. I believe Mark Davis was the first to suggest it. I never seriously considered it because I viewed it partially as a means to circumvent carrying the weight of a camera. I was going to take a camera regardless and thought the footage would be easily sufficient for verification. Furthermore, the card method is only useful if you actually encounter people on the trail. I encountered no one (though I saw people camping) from roughly Mammoth Pass to Cathedral Pass. Had I been using cards I would have nothing for verification of this critical stretch in the trail, but fortunately I have my videos.

      As I mentioned in an earlier reply, if you want to talk about any of this PM through BPL.

      • Sarah Says:

        Hey, Brett –
        I can see that your experience on the JMT was very different from mine on the TRT and from what people have told me about seeing Michael and Aaron out there. And you’re absolutely right that you don’t look much different than the hikers I’ve seen heading out of Yosemite or Whitney Portal, so that’s probably a big part of the reason.

        As for seeing people, I always do the TRT counter-clockwise – the opposite of Tim and Kilian and the TRT books and the PCT hikers heading north. Nearly everyone I’ve met, I met head on, so they haven’t noticed me because I’ve been ‘flying past’ them from behind.

        And I wasn’t suggesting carrying cards in lieu of a camera or any other potentially useful device – rather, it seems an easy and inexpensive way to get additional verification at various points, and I would think people met on the trail would be excited to be a part of the process.

  10. Sarah Says:

    And while I think SPOT trackers are great and have enjoyed following friends who’ve used them, I really like Peter’s idea of handing out cards to people seen/met on the trail. Seems like a great and simple idea.

  11. Chris Says:

    Well…Brett just became only the 10th finisher of Barkely in 25 years… so I’d say the JMT record is pretty believable. 🙂

  12. kurt refsnider Says:

    Impressive stuff, Brett! I’ve gone through the same emotional and physical states of suffering on the bike, so I always love seeing what others have accomplished after pushing themselves that hard. Congrats!

  13. Buzz Says:

    Excellent! By coming out and contesting a public event, Brett has proven himself. If one is going to claim something to the public, it is incumbent that one should at some time appear in public. Good job!

    And kudo’s again to Peter for his verification efforts from a year and a half ago!

  14. Interval training Says:

    Your adventures are amazig,thanks!

  15. Ladder Deer Stand Says:

    Tripod Tree Stands…

    […]John Muir Trail Record! « Adventure Running[…]…

  16. Art Messier Says:

    I’ve tried to buy in to accepting, but …
    A top ten finish at Hardrock while wearing a 20 lb pack.
    That’s about what it would take to make me a true believer.

  17. MB Says:

    I’m glad someone pointed out that Brett finished the Barkley this year. I was about to chime in with that fact and a list of the folks who are on the finishers list. Someone above stated that Brett had no significant ultrarunning background. I would say that being a Barkely finisher is one of the most significant results you would need to have the pedigree to be considered for a record like this.

    Brett, congratulations.

  18. Buzz Says:

    The Internet allows an incredible amount of communication, while we all know at the same time it is limited; there is no substitute for meeting someone in person.

    This summer, Brett, Peter and I climbed Keiners on Longs Peak. I brought a rope figuring a California guy would need it, but he didn’t; we scampering up and down readily. Brett is solid; he can get it done.

    I hope to see everyone else in person sometime too!

  19. Art Messier Says:

    I’ve climbed El Cap 7 times. But that doesn’t mean I can go sub 30hrs at Hardrock with a 20 lb pack on.
    I agree that getting to know someone personally goes a long way toward understanding and believing in their character.

  20. Howie Stern Says:

    You don’t need to be a great runner to set a record on the JMT…You do need to be a great hiker and a really tough SOB to keep a solid pace the whole way, as well as keep to keep your head in the game…Having fast packed the JMT in 2004, I totally can see how Brett did what he did…Comparing it to El Cap and sub 30 at Hardrock is meaningless…I rock climb and have done Hardrock 4 times so I have some knowledge you could say…I also managed a loop at Barkley this year(over the time limit) and can personally attest to how tough Brett is having witnessed his Barkley feat first hand…He IS the real deal!

  21. Dominic Says:

    As an ultrarunner, I know from experience that there’s no consistent “elite runner” look. Big guys, skinny guys, short guys, muscular guys, you name it.. Every body type has achieved great feats on every type of course. Furthermore, a multitude of fueling and gear strategy has proven successful as well: protein shakes, Gu’s by the ton, electrolytes, motrin, bee pollen, running shoes, running boots, running flats, treking poles, camelbaks, waist packs, and handhelds have all been a part of course records.

    Whether or not it seems logically obvious to everyone that Brett achieved what he did, I think we shouldn’t rule out a record because his methods were divergent from the common trend.

    Also, records are meant to be broken.. If you have any issues with it, get after it next year!

  22. Jay Says:

    10th finisher of Barkley in 25 years. That is awesome. Congratulations Brett!

  23. Art Messier Says:

    I don’t rule out Brett’s record claim.
    I’m just saying:
    1. the public should not be required to accept amazing claims on faith alone.
    2. the claim is sufficiently amazing, the proof and credentials are sufficiently weak, that the vetting period for this claim should not be deemed closed and done with.
    3. Brett’s Barkley accomplishment is a great step in the right direction, but Barkley is a much different type of event.

  24. Howie Stern Says:

    Well, having been to both Barkley and done a fastpack the JMT, I can assure you the qualities to be successful at each event are quite similar…If anything, doing Barkley in under 60 hours is far more difficult than the JMT, which is a highway with almost zero route finding compared to the Barkley trails or lack thereof…In addition, the terrain of the JMT is pretty benign compared to the relentless 1000′ foot -1600 foot per mile, every mile of ascents and descents of Barkley…

  25. Brett Maune Says:

    Regarding Barkley and JMT comparison–they are apples and oranges but in general I would say one must be in better shape to complete the Barkley than to break the existing JMT records. If you can complete Barkley you can break the JMT record but not vice versa. Whether one is “easier” than the other for an individual is a completely different question and dependent upon how the person “runs” both. For me the JMT was far more difficult because I went as fast as I could for 3.5 days and ran my body into the ground pretty good by the end. For various reasons during the Barkley, I held back most of the time and the toll on my body by the end of the 2.5 days was not great (relatively speaking).

    Regarding Hardrock–Oh my god, you have no idea how much I want to do this run! In all seriousness, training “for Hardrock” 2012 began in May once I recovered from the Barkley. If I somehow make the lottery I don’t plan on carrying a 20lb pack though!

  26. Dima Feinhaus Says:

    Hey people,

    Check out Tor des Geants in Italy. 207 miles, ~80,000 ft elevation. Almost a winner made it in 2011 in 75 hours (he was DQed for accidentally cutting about an hour. Winning time was about 80 hours in 2010 and 2011. All that sounds pretty comparable to me.

    happy running

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