I decided to stretch the legs and lungs a bit this morning with a speed hike up Mount Chocorua (3,490 feet).
You might ask, “What is speed hiking?” or “How does this differ from trail running or normal hiking?” Valid questions! Also called “Fastpacking” speed hiking is different from both trail running and normal hiking. This Merrell blog post has some good advice and tries to differentiate between the two (or three). Here’s my personal definitions of each;
Trail Running: No pack required, staying within one hour of car/help, generally on smoother trails/running surfaces. All you need is what you are wearing, quality trail running sneakers, and perhaps a waist water bottle & packet or two of energy gel. Pace is a running pace through-out.
Speed Hiking: Small hydration pack with a few hundred cubic inches of storage space. Going deeper into the woods so bringing essentials is a good idea. In my pack today; 1st aid kit, headlamp, bivy sack, knife, food, water, map, compass, hat, sunglasses, bug dope. Pack without water weighed less than 5 pounds. Maintain an uphill pace that makes conversation a bit uncomfortable. Heart rate & respiration rate elevated for all uphill. Same pace downhill should allow conversation. Jog sure footed sections and “speed walk” trickier spots with bad footing or steep grades. Hiking times will probably be about 50% of “guidebook” time.
Hiking: Normal hiking pack with the ten essentials. After a 10-15 minute “warm-up” settle into a “conversationalist” pace. You should be able to chat with your hiking partners, otherwise you are working too hard, reel it in and find a rhythm. Hiking times should be about 80-110% of “guidebook time”, depending on fitness.
This trail climbs 2,700 feet in 3.8 miles. I was pretty happy to see 1hr31min on my watch when I reached the summit. I spent about 10 minutes enjoying the view and snacking on a cereal bar & energy gel before starting my descent down the Brook Trail. This trail drops 2,700 feet in 3.6 miles returning to the same parking lot I had started from.
After dipping back down into the woods I started coming across a lot of moose scat. Each pile appeared fresh enough for me to keep my eyes peeled, but alas I did not spot one.
I reached the car at one minute shy of 3 hours, a stones throw away from 7 miles round-trip. I was pretty pleased considering I haven’t had much exercise since the winter guiding season ended. I also got a nice ego stroke by passing the only two people I saw all day heading up the trail just before the parking lot. They asked if I had summited and when I said yes they followed with “What time did you start hiking?” My “3 hours ago” answer got a jaw drop and I headed for home.
So, ya. Speed hiking. I should do this more often. Two really important notes;
Weather Forecast! Speed hiking with minimal gear means you have little margin for error or unexpected bad weather. If you plan to speed hike above or near tree-line be sure to check the Higher Summits Forecast and save your speed hiking goals for stable weather!
Spotter! Let someone trustworthy know you intended route and estimated time. I’ve gotten in the habit of taking a screen shot from my iPhone GPS app and adding my route plan and texting it to my wife & a close friend. I always give them a time I will call (at least 1-2 hours later than I think it will take). Someone needs to know what you are up to, especially with Solo Speed Hiking.
And this last bit brings up some good topics, namely, technology/communication in the back-country. Just last week a young couple was rescued off the Presidentials when they got lost trying to descend Boot Spur Trail on Mount Washington and headed down Davis Path instead. The kicker? They decided not to buy a map and instead took a photo of a map at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center with their smartphone. They spent a very long night out above tree-line and were not “rescued” until 10 am the next day.
But I love technology. I embrace it. But not without the essential knowledge of Wilderness Navigation backing it up. Over the next couple weeks I’ll be reviewing and addressing some of the tools available for us to stay in touch. On that list:
iPhone App Central: What outdoor apps are awesome? Advantages/disadvantages.
So if you are interested consider following this blog. The option is right up at the top right. Thanks for reading, and see you in the mountains!