I considered the risks and rewards beforehand, but once I started there was no time for navel-gazing or second-guessing…
On August 16th 2016, La Sportiva Mountain Running athlete Nick Elson set the Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the Teton Grand Traverse in Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming with a time of 6:30:49. The previous record on the traverse was held by Rolando Garibotti with a time of 6:49 set in 2000. The Teton Grand Traverse crosses 14 miles over 10 major peaks and gains over 12,000 feet of elevation. La Sportiva got the chance to ask Nick a few questions about his experience training for and completing the traverse. Here’s what he had to say…
Had you attempted the Grand Traverse before the FKT attempt?
I’d never done the entire traverse in one go, but I’d done every section at least once. I first visited the Tetons in 2014 and I climbed a number of the peaks on the traverse during that trip.
This year, my friend Eric and I spent a week systematically climbing every section of the traverse. The terrain is complex enough that it’s very beneficial to know exactly where you’re going and I really benefitted from Rolo’s generosity in sharing lots of detailed beta with me. However, the biggest benefit was likely psychological: having done every section at least once, I knew that the route was well within my ability.
How long did you train before going for the FKT?
I had known about the Grand Traverse for many years and I suppose that a lot of what I’ve done lately could be seen as good training for it.
I think that my background was really well-suited to doing the traverse quickly. I was lucky enough to be exposed to the mountains at a young age so I’m quite comfortable on the type of 3rd and 4th class terrain that makes up a lot of the traverse. I spent many years quite focused on climbing and so I was able to solo all the crux pitches in APPROACH SHOES. Finally, I’ve been quite focused on training for endurance sports like ski mountaineering racing and mountain running over the past few years. The fitness I’ve gained from this more structured training was the only reason I was able to improve slightly on Rolo’s record.
I was drawn to the traverse because of the previous efforts of Alex Lowe and Rolo. Growing up climbing, they were the type of climbers who were a big inspiration to me. Although I’ll never be anywhere near as accomplished as a climber, the Grand Traverse was a way to aspire to be a little more like Rolo and Alex. Whether I was able to approach their times or not, I knew the record would be a good excuse to try really hard and have an awesome day moving quickly in the mountains.
Were there any stumbling blocks as you prepared for this attempt?
Everything actually went incredibly smoothly. Since the spring, I’ve enjoyed a period of good consistent training. I’ve raced a bit less than in past years which has allowed me to do more big days in the mountains above Squamish. These outings allowed me to spend a lot of time moving over technical terrain, which was perfect preparation for the traverse.
I went to the Tetons with the goal of doing the traverse, but I understood that there was a real chance that I might not even feel comfortable climbing some of the sections unroped. When I climbed the Italian Cracks on the North Ridge of the Grand Teton with my friend Eric, I found that the rock quality was excellent and that there were enough good holds that the climbing felt secure. At that point, I knew that I had no excuses and I’d have to give it a go!