JUN 29, 2020
Single day pemi loop ✅
It was really satisfying to complete the Pemi loop in a single day. 30 miles, 8 four thousand footer peaks1, and about 10k in total elevation gain covered in 12 hours and 30 minutes. We went counter clockwise this year and that seems like the right call now that I’ve tried it in both directions.
I went clockwise for my first attempt with some friends on May 25th, 2019. Conditions in late May were rough – lots of ice monorail, lots of mud. It was slow going as we slipped and post holed our way over the terrain. After summiting Garfield we made the difficult decision to bail and cut the loop short to get back to the trailhead before dark. It was the smart decision — even after cutting it short, we were out on the trail for over 15 hours last year.
But the failure lingered. It was difficult last year but it could have been done. We were all carrying too much weight. We wasted time for breaks on the summits. We didn’t have trekking poles or microspikes. So it was stuck in my head that we had messed it up and should have finished, despite the shitty conditions.
Now? I see things in a different light. Conditions were perfect this year. My pack was much lighter. I jogged the parts that were jog-able. And it was still a slog to make good time. It made me appreciate how much ground we covered in adverse conditions last year. It seems more impressive after travsersing those same stretches in favorable conditions. I’m not sure how we covered the stretch between Lafayette and Garfield last year, if I’m being honest. That part of the loop is gnarly on a good day.
All in all, it was a great day this year. I might now be low-key addicted to long trail runs / hikes. I want to plan another one already.
Musings from the experience
When I’m on a long run or running a race, I tend to play a lot of mind games with myself to push through the difficult parts. I was hiking with 3 friends2 and we fell into a good rhythm of making jokes and keeping spirits up. Just enough bullshitting. You don’t want it to be incessant. Some periods of quiet are nice while you’re out enjoying nature. But long stretches of silence get weird too. Depends on the group but we had it working for us.
I’m only including this section in my recap because I don’t think this gets talked about enough. Whenever you’re doing something hard, you need to find a way to keep your spirits up. If you get broken mentally, it is over even if you have more left in the tank physically.
For me, that’s sarcasm, dark humor, and leaning into all the adversity. Verbally acknowledge and attack the pain before it can sneak up and attack you.
My darkest point was in that stretch from Garfield to Lafayette. My quads were shot. I couldn’t tell if they were cramping or overly fatigued. But they weren’t working very well with a lot of climbling left to do. I started to get dropped by my friends. My stomach was off.
I kept thinking of this quote from Deena Kastor’s book.
There’s good and bad patches in a race and it’s your job to get out of the bad patches as quickly as possible and hang on to the good ones.3
So I stopped for moment. Drank the rest of my water. Choked down some salty honey roasted nut mix. Had a tylenol. Cranked up Run The Jewels 3 and got back to it. I didn’t fully get a second wind until reaching the top of Lafayette but it turned the tide enough to catch back up to everyone.
I had randomly started doing quick “captain’s log” videos whenever we reached a summit. It gave me something to focus on while hiking. What was recap worthy for my next log? They were mostly quick babbling nonsense but, again, having something to occupy your mind helps!
My pack loaded up with food and water was a little over 10 lbs. I’m pretty happy with that. I could trim weight a bit on future trips but I doubt I’m getting below 7-8 lbs in any scenario.
Here is a quick list of what I took:
- Vagabond Jet pack4 with a waist belt, 1L smartwater bottle, .5L powerade bottle, 2L bladder for filling, Sawyer micro filter, food (more on that below), long sleeve layer, Houdini jacket, basic first aid stuff, extra battery, iPhone, ID, small bottle of deet, sunglasses, map.
Here is what I wore:
- Trail running shoes, dirty girl gaiters, injinji socks, Patagonia strider pro shorts, light athletic polo from Uniqlo (I liked having the collar for sun protection), running hat, buff.
Things I’d do differently next time:
- Use a real running vest. A Salomon, in all likelihood. I could probably save a half pound. But more importantly, it seems like a much more comfortable and nimble way to carry the weight. My pack was fine but better weight distribution would be nice on steep inclines or declines.
- Change my hydration supplies. I’d use the soft bottles that come with running vests and bring a Katadyn BeFree .6L filter. The flow rate is noticeably faster than the Sawyer and it’s simpler than carrying all the other stuff.
- Skip carrying the extra long sleeve. Not necessary on a nice day and if the weather turned the Houdini shell would be enough.
- Skip carrying the extra battery. My iPhone battery was fine. I had it in airplane mode and used GPS constantly (Strava and Gaia). I ended with ~35% battery after almost 13 hours.
- I also might invest in a Coros Apex GPS watch given their insane battery life and I wouldn’t have to rely on my iPhone for GPS tracking.
- Slim down my first aid kit. Not a lot too remove here but I had a bulky leatherman in there. At a minimum, I should bring a smaller, lighter multi tool or skip it all together.
- Bring lightweight trekking poles. I went back and forth on bring poles a lot and decided it against it because mine aren’t that light and I didn’t have a good way to attach to my pack. But lighter poles on a pack with attachments? Yes, please. I could have used the help on the various ascents.
- Keep stuff in dry bag or ziplock. Sweating through my pack and getting everything wet wasn’t ideal.
- Keep empty food wrappers in a separate bag for trash. I ended up with drink powder all over stuff. Meh.
Happy with my supplies and overall weight… but always nicer to be lighter and more nimble. I feel close to having this fully dialed in.
This went okay but not particularly well. I’m not a huge breakfast person but I forced myself to choke down a lot when I woke up at 4am to fill up the tank, so to speak. A coffee, a gatorade, a muffin, a clif bar, and a baby pouch may have been too much. I felt a litle off jogging the first few easy miles but it wasn’t a huge deal. Probably better to have gotten the calories than not.
I tried to map out how much food I needed to carry but I still brought too much.
Here is what I brought (nets to almost 3,000 calories):
- 4 clif bars, 4 GU roctane powder mixes, 4 GU gels, 2 baby pouches, 1 bag of honey roasted nut mix, 1 bag of watermelon gummies, 1 5 hour energy.
And here is what I didn’t end up consuming:
- 2 clif bars, 1 GU roctane powder mix, 2 GU gels.
Things I’d do differently next time:
- Fewer clif bars. They just never seemed that appealing. Carrying 1-2 still seems worth it given that they pack in calories and are easy to nibble on.
- Rely less on powder carbohydrate drink mixes. I thought this was going to be great. Less weight (just add water!) and I’m getting calories and hydrating as I sip. But it turns out, it would have been really nice to have plain old water at certain junctures. I didn’t want the sweet mix but I had mixed all my water with it… 🤦♂️.
- More stuff without caffeine in it. My powder mix and gels both had a small amount of caffeine in them. I’d rather have those without caffeine and bring another 5 hour or caffeine pills so I can get a real strong shot when I need it vs. a steady drip.
But the gummies were great. The salty nut mix hit the spot. The baby pouches ruled. I wish they were lighter. I’d just bring a ton of them.
All in all, I don’t need quite as much fuel as I thought. Pure water is good – my sweat was so salty at parts I feel like I may have had too much sodium in me. I need to do a better job of forcing down a solid quantity of water when refilling so I’m not as reliant on only what I’m carrying too.
Some random quick hits:
- Bodyglide or other anti-chaffe things are my friend. I mostly think I got burned here because my sweat was so salty but no reason not to be precautious on future outings.
- Take more photos. I was too focused on moving, moving, moving. Gorgeous day in scenic terrain and I don’t have a lot to show for it.
- Start without water if there is a reliable water source within a few miles of the trailhead. I didn’t need the extra weight for those first few miles.
- Jog the easy parts a little faster. I’m a good runner. Cruising flat parts at ~9 minute per mile pace isn’t going to hurt me and it can knock off a good chunk of time.
- Test gear beforehand. My filter was being a little iffy early on. Everyone I was with also had a filter so it wasn’t a big deal. But a good reminder to test important items before you’re out on the trail. I won’t always be so lucky.
- Bring crocs for after. My feet wanted something comfy badly. Yoga toes would have also been clutch.
- Make sure I have access to my own post-run beers. We put a cooler in another friend’s car but then finished before them. Not ideal.
Lastly, I’m definitely going to make the captain’s log videos a thing on trips or runs or hike or whatever going forward. I do enjoy writing up recaps (well… duh) but I don’t always do it. I started recording them as a joke and it ended up being a cool way to relive the experience. I’d like to make that a habit for any noteworthy experiences so I have something around to remember them by when I don’t bother writing it up.
The people who do FKT (fastest known time) attemps on the Pemi loop are a different animal. The men’s time was recently lowered to 5 hours and 42 minutes by Ben Thompson. I cannot even fathom it. I think if I trained properly, cut some weight, and had a good day… I could probably flirt with going under 10 hours. Sub-6 is so, so fast over that terrain. I don’t even understand how it works or how it is possible.
We also met a woman in the parking lot who informed us that she was attempting a “double single season.” We later learned this meant that she is going to try to get all 48 four thousand foot peaks in NH twice within the summer season. She is already at 21 of 96. So crazy.
This activity was the least quarantined I’ve been during the pandemic. It felt a little irresponsible in some regards. But it was amazing to have a normal seeming day again. The risk of outdoor transmission seems low. We kept a lot of space between ourselves and others. It was needed. It was worth it.
I’m proud of myself for getting it done. My running mileage has been way down since COVID came into the picture. I haven’t really done any hiking or hill work. I’ve gained 5-10 lbs from my usual fighting weight. Basically, there was plenty of evidence to suggest this wasn’t a great time to make the attempt. I’m glad I was able to fight through and finish it in a decent time, all things considered.
Maybe I can find a way to do a Presi traverse this fall??