Last fall, FasterSkier spoke with former Williams Ski Team member Jordan Fields after his impressive effort on the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains of Northern New Hampshire. This classic point-to-point route leads travelers over eight summits in roughly 18 miles, including Mt Washington, which tops out at 6,288 ft as the highest elevation peak in the Northeast. Over the years, many have raced the clock against the storied challenge of traversing the range as fast as possible, and the fastest known time (FKT) has slowly been whittled down from roughly five hours in 2010 into uncharted territory.
Stopping his watch at the bottom of Crawford Path 3 hours and 42 minutes after leaving the northern trailhead in Appalachia last September, Fields smashed the previous record by an astounding 22 minutes.
By all accounts, Fields has been on a tear in the Northeast this summer.
“One of the silver linings of COVID was that it maybe left me with a little too much flexibility,” Fields laughed as he discussed the steady stream of impressive days he spent in the mountains this summer.
Despite also being fully plugged into a graduate program in Geology at Dartmouth College studying the impact of climate change on the ecology of rivers, he set a new FKT each month beginning in June on the Kinsman Ridge Traverse near Franconia, NH, followed by Mt. Katahdin in northern Maine in July. From there, Fields turned his focus to two other iconic White Mountains routes: the 29 mile Pemigewasset (Pemi) Loop and the 45 mile Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Hut Traverse.
Like the Presi Traverse, the Pemi Loop has been a test piece for hardy New England mountain runners, boasting 9,100’ of climbing with ample scrambling up and down the rocky granite peaks above tree line. (Jessie Diggins ran this as her “Big Stupid” birthday adventure in early September.)
As Fields explains in the interview, his Pemi Loop FKT on August 1st was a bit impromptu. The day started as a scouting mission with a friend, but when he realized at the top of the first major climb 8 miles in that they were on record pace, he decided to leave his friend behind, go for it, and see what happened. Woefully unprepared for a race effort, Fields went on to experience the most epic of bonks. He had packed food that was appropriate for a casual jaunt, but wouldn’t sit while chasing a record. Because the route stays high along the ridge line there is only one reliable opportunity to fill water, and it was a 90 degree day, Fields found himself wishing he had packed more than two 500 mL soft flasks. Nevertheless, he made it back to the trailhead in 5 hours and 27 minutes for a new record. Nevertheless, he made it back to the trailhead in 5 hours and 27 minutes for a new record.
Though he feels he can significantly drop the time, he opted not to return to the Pemi Loop this fall and began piecing together the Hut Traverse.
For those who have spent a season working as AMC “Hut Croo”, or even perhaps stayed at one of the huts, this pilgrimage likely gives you goosebumps. With records dating back to the 1930’s, connecting the eight huts beginning at Carter and finishing at Lonesome Lake has long been a right of passage for Croo and trail stewards in the rich lore of the White Mountains.
And get this: the route encompasses the Presidential Traverse, though you get to skip a couple of the peaks, and roughly a third of the Pemi Loop, racking up over 16,000 ft of climbing and ending on a steep climb out of Franconia Notch.
Chasing former Greenleaf Croo member Jeff Colt’s 2018 record, Fields dropped the time to 10 hours 24 minutes. With the FKT on the Presi Traverse and the Pemi Loop, this also finished out the “Triple Crown” of the Whites, and Fields became the first person to hold all three records simultaneously.
During the interview, Fields discussed the role community played throughout his attempts, particularly with the hut traverse. Though he missed out on the baked goods and encouragement normally offered at the huts because of a combination of COVID and seasonal closures, he had the irreplaceable support of family and friends, and beta from the previous record holder.
Fields explained that he contacted Colt for advice, sheepishly apologizing that he was trying to best his time. Colt was happy to pass on the torch, saying, “That’s what it’s all about: a shared history of experience in the mountains.”
This phrase stuck with Fields as he put his head down and powered his way through the Whites, encompassing why he enjoys such arduous pastimes.
In this conversation, Fields shares a deeper look into his FKT attempts and discusses his perspective on the likely COVID-induced increase in use seen in the White Mountains (and many other mountain regions) this summer. He also talks about his goals for the seasons ahead. Thanks for listening.