Fastest For 48

Published: 8/10/2016 2:35:49 PM
Modified: 9/1/2014 12:00:00 AM
Lebanon — Orford hiker Andrew Thompson normally has no problems falling asleep, but on July 6 he uncharacteristically tossed and turned through the night. Too bad for Thompson, because he wouldn’t be getting much sleep at all over the next 3½ days.

The 38-year-old former Appalachian Trail through-hike speed record holder now has a new mark to crow about, having climbed all 48 of the 4,000-foot peaks in New Hampshire in a mere 3 days, 14 hours, 59 minutes from July 7-10. The excursion broke Vermont resident Tim Seaver’s previous 11-year-old record by 52 minutes.

Thompson, a respiratory therapist who’s lived in New Hampshire since fifth grade, had a hankering to do something special — and extreme, and fast — this summer. He’d been contemplating a speed-record attempt of the Granite State’s 4,000-footers since even before Seaver set his mark in 2002.

Thompson first set his sights on the Appalachian Trail, the 2,200-mile national scenic route extending from Georgia to northern Maine. He failed twice on south-to-north attempts before reversing direction and setting the record in 2005, covering its entire length in just 47 days, 13 hours. That mark stood until 2011, when North Carolina’s Jennifer Phar Davis completed it in 46:11:20.

By then, Thompson had moved on to pursue the Barkley Marathon, a 100-mile wilderness race featuring more than 59,000 feet of vertical climb. Thompson is one of only 14 people to ever finish the 28-year-old race under its cutoff time of 60 hours, having completed it in 57:37 five years ago.

“I hadn’t really done anything substantial since then, and the 4,000-footers are something that had been on my radar for a while,” the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Thompson said during a recent lunch break at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. “I’d been waiting for the right time, and this summer happened to be it. I have a 2-year-old son (Ollie) and had another one on the way (Jack, born July 26) and I needed something to hang my hat on. This was something I could do that’s basically in my backyard. I could leave and be back three days later.”

Thompson summoned three of his best friends for a support group that took turns climbing sections with him, carrying his provisions while on the trail and driving Thompson point to point.

“There was no map-reading or anything like that, just a brain dead hiker and his crew,” said Thompson, who covered about 66,000 feet of vertical climb and nearly 200 miles during the mission. “Other than a bottle of water in my right hand, the only thing I carried the whole time was my cellphone on the final ascent, so I could take pictures.”

Thompson wisely tackled the most daunting climbs first, beginning with Cannon Mountain at 5 a.m. on July 7 and continuing through the Franconia Notch region and Presidential peaks over the first two days. Moving as quickly as possible while conserving some energy for the stretch run, Thomson encountered plenty of wet weather while struggling to stay strong and sturdy.

“A 40 percent (chance of precipitation) is the baseline in the White Mountains, and I definitely had my fair share of rain,” said Thompson. “There was some wet footing, and the biggest challenge there is just keeping your feet intact. It’s a constant challenge because you’re going over rocks, through wet, boggy areas, dealing with clusters of roots, going up and down ledges. It’s 200 miles of constant reeling.”

Another obstacle for Thompson was his lack of sleep. His only “rest” came during bumpy truck rides lying on the metal bed between trailheads, and the effects of sleep deprivation began to take shape by the 24-hour mark.

“I wouldn’t call what I was doing ‘sleeping’ in the truck between each section,” Thompson said. “I would doze off for a few seconds or maybe a minute, but then we’d hit a bump and my head would be bouncing around and I’d be wide awake again.”

Eventually, Thompson began to experience occasional hallucinations.

“They were fairly low-level, but they were still confusing,” he said. “I saw a boulder rumbling back and forth that wasn’t really there. It’s like, ‘Is that a boulder? Is that something I need to watch out for?’ ”

A few of the figments were profound, Thompson said, including a vision of a baby sitting on top of a cairn near the summit of Mount Washington. “(Washington’s cairns) are only about 50 feet apart, so people can find them when there’s bad weather,” Thompson noted. “I came across maybe the third one, and there’s this little baby sitting there on top of it. I don’t know if it was because I had babies on my mind (with Jack soon due), but that was probably the coolest hallucination.”

Thompson’s friends monitored his progress rate, warning him at the end of day two that he’d need to pick up the pace to catch Seaver’s mark.

“I’d just gotten off (4,255-foot) Mount Willey, and they said I’d need to average 2.54 miles per hour over the next 48 hours to break the record,” Thompson recalled. “I reminded them that I’d done Franconia and the Presidentials right out of the gate, so my miles per hour might not have been stellar, but I’d already done the largest and toughest ones. The smallest sections were what was left.”

Thompson completed Whiteface Mountain at dawn on day four and then the Tripyramids, falling asleep for five minutes between the south and north peaks of the latter along the appropriately named Sleeper Trail. Next was Waterville Valley’s Mount Tecumseh and the Osceola peaks before heading west to Mount Moosilauke, the closest of the 48 to his Orford home.

Though beyond exhausted, Thompson somehow conjured renewed vigor during the truck ride to his final two summits, Kinsman Mountain’s north and south peaks.

“I got really amped up. I’d just been over all of these beautiful peaks and this amazing three-day adventure. We got to the dirt parking lot at Kinsman and I just left in a dead sprint, solo because (friend Jon Basham) couldn’t keep up. I got to the north peak and just stayed in a dead sprint. J.B. finally caught up with me for the last stretch to (the) south peak. We got there at 7:59 (p.m.), in time for the sunset.”

Thompson’s record is recognized by Fastest Known Time, an online forum monitoring the feats of speed hikers around the world. Basham — who traveled from Big Island, Va., to support Thompson in July — holds the record for Vermont’s Long Trail, having swooped along the 270-mile route five years ago in 4 days, 12 hours, 46 minutes.

Thompson has now climbed all 48 of the Granite State’s 4,000-footers four times, including once during winter. He’d like to see more of his fellow Granite Staters make it a goal.

“You definitely don’t have to do it in three days,” he laughed. “I have a cousin who did it over the course of 12 years, and it’s a lifetime goal for a lot of people. … I just think every New Hampshire resident should try to do it because it’s a really cool thing.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.




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