Nick Elson was running in the footsteps of legends. On August 16, he set out to run/climb/scramble the Teton Grand Traverse, which crosses 10 major peaks over 14 miles, with 12,000-plus vertical of climbing. For many years, the record was held by Alex Lowe, who ran the traverse in 8 hours, 15 minutes in 1988. For the last 16 years, it’s been held by Rolando Garibotti, who shattered Lowe’s time in 2000, finishing the route in 6 hours, 49 minutes.
Elson, though, sports an impressive resume. In June, he won the Canadian Mountain Running championships for the second year in a row, and he’s climbed both the Eiger and the Nose in a day.
“I believe it is best suited to a climber that runs, such as Nick or myself, rather than a runner that climbs,” Garibotti told the Jackson Hole News and Guide. “You need to be able to free-solo 5.8 in running shoes, quite fast, so you need to be a pretty solid rock climber to do it safely.”
And how. As Elson wrote on Instagram, “The traverse connects the major peaks in the central part of the Tetons and was first done in 1963. In 1988 Alex Lowe did the traverse in 8:15 and then in 2000 Rolando Garibotti did it in 6:49. These efforts were hugely inspiring to me. While the idea of combining climbing and running has become more fashionable lately, Alex and Rolo were far ahead of their time in North America. And while the traverse was an end in and of itself for me, I suspect they saw it more as a good day of training for the greater ranges. I was particularly humbled that Rolo took the time to provide me with lots of useful beta and encouragement as I remain in awe of his ability and his approach to the mountains.”
Elson left the Lupine Meadows parking lot at 6:21 and gain, 5,600 vertical to top Teewinot in one hour and 23 minutes. He reached the top of the Grand in 3:18.
“I’m a fairly cautious person and I like to think that I kept the risk at a reasonable level, but as I jogged across the ‘catwalk’ while eating a gel I did manage to elicit a plea of ‘please don’t die’ from a member of one of the nearby roped teams,” Elson noted.
“I arrived at the summit of Middle in 4:01 and Nez Perce in 5:31. I made my only routefinding mistake descending, but before long was kicking off some impressive rock slides going down to the meadows. When I finally hit the smooth trail, I tripped and fell flat on my face. From there I ran down the trail and mostly avoided hip-checking any hikers. I finished in a time of 6:30:49. I’m used to slipping under the radar but have been humbled by all the kind words I’ve received!”
Photo atop Grand Teton by Eric Carter