No Sleep Till Happy Isles: Jenn Shelton’s pursuit of the fastest known time on the JMT
Sleep deprivation. Altitude Sickness. Hypothermia, puking, chafed ass and worse—If you want to concentrate a lifetime’s worth of physical states and emotions into a single experience, chasing down a fastest known time with Jenn Shelton on the John Muir Trail is just the ticket.
Officially the JMT (John Muir Trail) stretches from the Mt. Whitney summit to Yosemite’s Happy Isles trailhead, but practically, it begins (or ends) at Whitney Portal. The 11-mile approach with 6,100 feet of elevation gain to the 14,505-ft Mt. Whitney summit is just an appetizer to the main course: approximately 211 miles of beautiful and rugged Sierra high country with 5 consecutive passes that scrape as “low” as 11,955 feet and as high as 13,200 feet. Three other passes have elevations around 11,000 feet.
“Done in a day” does not apply here, unless done means leveled. The JMT takes its pound of flesh slowly: The fastest known time is 81 hours 5 minutes, so even failed attempts are epic.Jenn’s first attempt lasted 72 hours, during which she slept about 20 minutes. Her second attempt was about the same. In 2013, Jenn’s third attempt was no charm: Fifty-plus hours (two spent sleeping), fueled mostly by string cheese “the only thing that tasted good,” energy gels and some organic meat snacks, “I accidentally bought the spicy variety… a holy hell.”
Fifty-something hours in and feeling raw, she pulled the plug—but it wasn’t long before a new plan for a fourth attempt was hatched. Why do it? Why keep aiming at a record on a trial so committing? Jenn state simply: “Because the boys haven’t put it out of reach yet.”
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Photos: Ken Etzel