By: UltraPedestrian Ras Vaughan
As someone who came to running from backpacking, I sometimes find myself at odds with race culture. Not having a high school or college running background and that formal competitive foundation, and, admittedly, not being competitively fast, the focus on just going A to B and evaluating that performance solely based on time is alien to me. My foundations lay in trail culture. Points A and B don’t interest me anywhere near as much as the line connecting them, the more squiggly and rambling the better. That line is not only a track on a map, it’s a signature. It may only be legible to the person that trod it, but it contains meaning, none the less.
Don’t get me wrong; I am utterly amazed, impressed, and inspired by what the elite speedsters of the running world can do. I’m Blessed to call a few of them not only my heroes and acquaintances, but friends. However, I don’t have the skill and ability to play the same game they do at the same level. I also have a friend who is a professional Mixed Martial Artist, and another who is a chess Grand Master; same case. I can’t play the same game they do at the same level, even if I love and understand that game.
And I love races. What’s not to like about investing a day running around in the woods with friendly people handing you snacks and beverages every few miles? But, again, my cultural touchstones come from the trail and adventure worlds. Style, methodology, gearing, and routing are the criteria which, for me, put a finishing time into context. The goal of organized, fully supported races is to standardize these aspects, essentially to take these variables off the table, so that performance can be compared and measured by time alone. In Trail Culture all those other variables are the more resonant metrics.
This is all really just my Super Adventure Dork way of restating what may seem like a tired platitude: it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. That’s why Self-Supported and Unsupported projects are what really capture my imagination. And that’s why it’s so profoundly apropos that when Nathan Sports designed a pack specifically for Self-Supported and Unsupported ultradistance adventures, they named it the Journey.
My wife Kathy and I were sent prototypes of the Journey Fastpack to put through their paces and give input on, and they arrived just in time for a peak bagging Only Known Time project I had planned with Gavin Woody. For a couple of years I had been scheming on, and even made of couple of half-assed attempts at, what I called the Kettle Crest 15. This project idea entailed combining the 45-mile long Kettle Crest Trail, in Northcentral Washington state, with scrambling up the 15 named peaks along that route. And our goal was to complete it Unsupported, with no outside aid, no pre-paced resupplies, and carrying all of our gear from the beginning, as well as carrying all of our trash until the very end. And over the 28 hours it took us to complete the Kettle Crest 15, amassing a total of 50+ miles and more than 15,000 feet of elevation gain, the Journey Fastpack performed admirably. Since the Kettle Crest 15 was comprised solely of non-technical scrambling, all Class I, we were carrying no climbing or mountaineering gear, just food, layers, and water. With a 25 liter capacity, I was using it at less than capacity, and it was more than sufficient. The first thing I noticed about the Journey Fastpack was how it carries, with the weight high and between your shoulders, snug against your back and close to your center of gravity. This aspect of carry is what I first noticed about Nathan running vests, and was impressed with, back in the day. It doesn’t really matter what the run-to-hike ratio of your movement is on the trail, you don’t want your load bouncing against your lumbar region. However well the Journey Fastpack may have performed on the Kettle Crest 15, that project was just a warmup. Gavin and I had something bigger in mind; a project that would take both our gear and our selves to the limit and beyond: the Mount Rainier Infinity Loop.
The Mount Rainier Infinity Loop was the brainchild of iconic Seattle climber Chad Kellogg. Chad’s plan was to climb to the summit of Mount Rainier, descend the opposite side, take the Wonderland Trail back to his starting point, again climb to the summit and descend the opposite side, then follow the Wonderland Trail the opposite direction back to his starting point. This route would form the rough shape of a figure eight laid on its side, or an infinity sign. (Tragically, Chad Kellogg was killed by rockfall while climbing on Mount Fitz Roy in Patagonia in February of 2014, never having attempted his ingenious Infinity Loop idea on Mount Rainier.)
With ideal weather, Gavin and I put up an official time of 99 hours and 7 minutes on the Mount Rainier Infinity Loop, covering more than 120 miles and climbing more than 40,000 feet total. We ran two unsupported loops, one clockwise and one counterclockwise, traversing the summit of Mount Rainier twice, and resupplying and sleeping briefly at our cars at the midway point in Paradise. All of our water was taken from natural sources and we did not drop off any of our gear or garbage except at our cars. Technically it was a self-supported project comprised of two unsupported loops. And by any measure it was an impressive performance for the Journey Fastpack.
Since the MRIL included high elevation mountaineering as well as glacier travel, I was carrying a full, if extremely minimal, mountaineering kit, including harness, helmet, ice axe, and crampons. (My complete gear list can be found here: http://ultrapedestrian.blogspot.com/2016/07/complete-gear-list-mount-rainier.html). While being pushed to its limits, the Journey Fastpack was up to the task, not only carrying everything I needed for this hybrid Ultraneering project, but carrying it well. I completed the project with no damage to myself, my gear, or my pack, and this included many miles of actual running, in addition to power hiking, slogging, stumbling, traipsing, and sleep walking. My final project of 2016, and the final test of the Journey Fastpack, was the Mount Adams Infinity Loop. This was a solo and completely Unsupported application of the Infinity Loop paradigm to Mount Adams. Adams is, admittedly, a smaller and less technical crag than Rainier, but the Class II scrambling on the North Cleaver is longer and more technical than the Disappointment Cleaver route on Rainier, and many miles of the trail circumambulating the mountain are non-existent on the Yakima Indian Reservation on the east side. There was bushwhacking, route finding, and some gnarly glacial creek crossings in this section, which is colloquially known as The Gap.
It took me 56 hours 20 minutes to cover the 60 miles and 20,000 feet of elevation gain that make up the Mount Adams Infinity Loop. The extended scramble up the North Cleaver was fun and engaging. On my first summit traverse I was greeted with 50+ mph winds and blowing cloud, which drenched me. But by keeping my wet layers on and moving through the night slowly enough not to sweat, but briskly enough to produce body heat I was able to dry my layers on the go. By the time I had completed the first loop the morning of the second day, my layers were dry and I felt I could safely continue. My second summit traverse was a beautiful bluebird day, with dusk hitting just as I was beginning to descend. As with the first summit, I was the last person on top for the day, and glissaded down the South Spur route in solitude. The second loop included The Gap. Sidehilling 2000 feet down scree slopes and rock hopping across chocolate-milk-colored glacier fed creeks make for slow travel, but really put the ‘adventure’ in Adventure Running. And through it all, my yellow prototype Journey Fastpack had my back.
(complete Mount Adams Infinity Loop gear list here: http://ultrapedestrian.blogspot.com/2016/10/mail-complete-gear-list.html)
Now the final production model of the Journey Fastpack is available, in sleek, technical black, and that is what Kathy will be using as we head out to attempt the first ever yo-yo of the Grand Enchantment Trail. Traveling from Phoenix, AZ, to Albuquerque, NM, and then turning around and hiking back to where we started, we will cover a little less than 1600 miles picking up only eleven resupply caches. Due to the scope of this project, its far-flung nature, and the late winter conditions we will be encountering early on, I will be carrying the majority of our food and gear and using a large backing pack. This is part of how Kathy and I work together as Team UltraPedestrian, each according to our strength. But I’ll definitely be jealous on occasion of her comfortable, secure, and high-riding Journey Fastpack, as well as her 12.35 pound base weight.
Journey along with Ras and Kathy as they attempt the first known yo-yo of the Grand Enchantment Trail. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram, and by following the hashtags #GETyoyo #GETit and, of course, #RunLonger.
Ras on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JahsonItes
Kathy on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Kathy.Vaughan.7
Team UltraPedestrian on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TeamUltraPedestrian
Team UltraPedestrian on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ultrapedestrian/
Tem UltraPedestrian YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/UltraPedestrianChannel
Ras Vaughan and his wife Kathy are Team UltraPedestrian. They are ultramarathoners, adventure runners, and thru-hikers who are widely recognized as the progenitors of the Only Known Time movement. Ras and Kathy write about their adventures at www.UltraPedestrian.com.