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Tahoe Rim Trail Trip Report 2015

By Sean Ranney
My team was failing me. 150 miles in, and things were falling apart. Angela was
becoming increasingly whiny about needing to sleep, Jason was making inefficient
decisions with his pole placement, and Jennifer had done such a poor job with the
downhill off Freel Peak that I had to take over and do it myself. Nearing the 46th
hour of no sleep, in the thin air of one of the highest spots on the trail, with three
more tasks to complete before I was finished. This was not the time to have the
wheels fall off.
I'd had half an eye on the Tahoe Rim Trail for years. My running endeavors started New
Years Eve in 2011 when I signed up for a 30k, didn't feel enough like death at the finish,
and continued on to complete the 50k (don't tell the RD). In the years that followed I
became increasingly obsessed with the sport, completing a bevy of 50-100 mile events,
many of which were semi self supported. But the world of the long trail Fastest Known
Time (FKT) was calling me, throwing butterflies in my stomach that drove me to obscure
websites with reports from obscure names like Brett Maune, JB Benna, Andrew Bentz,
Michael Popov, and Aaron Sorenson. People who had accomplished the unfathomable,
running and hiking through days and nights on end, little to no sleep, and no support,
resupplies, or even companions through the trip. I thought it was a massive physical
undertaking that only the fittest of the fit could accomplish. I was wrong.
The FKT culture is a funny thing. To a person, the culture is one of support and
encouragement, but cards are held close to the vest as to when people make an attempt at
the record. Two sets of records are kept for most routes, supported and unsupported, and
the unsupported attempts are held to strict standards, not allowing anything that could be
construed as support, including drinking fountains, companions, stashed food or supplies,
or even prearranged safety checks along the way. Mike Tebbutt is a runner with whom
I'd done a number of races, and I found out in the spring that he was also looking at the
TRT as his big run of the year. We had a number of conversations going in about gear
and strategy, and the shared knowledge helped both our runs, although it's safe to say he
helped me more than I helped him. Two weeks prior to my run, he took four hours off
the existing record on the hottest weekend of the year. After this monumental effort he
was still willing to scout water spots for me, give me beta on trail conditions, and meet
me at the finish. In what was obviously a bittersweet moment, his record was broken a
scant two weeks after he set it, a blink of an eye on the timescale on which these things
I was glad to have a new companion on the way down from Freel. He didn't have
a name, but hed had a hand in building the trail, and was obviously a mountain

biker. He was proud of the undulations that kept cyclists from going too fast, and
how the trail went here and there and all over the mountain to show off all the best
spots. As his tour continued, it was apparent that I was not moving over the trail,
but rather the trail was moving underneath me. On the climb, the mountain itself
had taken on the personality of a lady named Ms. Freel, who looked not unlike
Aunt Jemima, and now this man was taking me on the journey back down. I was
cognizant enough to know that my mind had splintered into these various
personalities, but it was comfortable to have them along for the ride, so I didnt
waste much energy fighting it.
I had two main objectives in preparing for this trip. The first was to get very comfortable
running with a heavy load. There are a lot of strange sights along the Sacramento bike
path, but for the month of June the sight of a man with a fully loaded pack doing 400
meter repeats might have been at the top of the list. I wore this pack for every run I did,
full of water or food or both. I got to where my gait balanced out, and I could maintain
fairly decent form under a full load.
The other objective concerned the weight of the pack. I discarded everything I could to
cut weight. I made the decision early on that getting giardia would be totally worth it, so
the water filter was the first to go. The jacket was next, on the reasoning that I would
only be cold for a few hours a night. Music, gloves, extra food, emergency beacon, they
all went on the discard pile, which grew larger as I got closer to the trip. Base weight
(everything except food and water) wound up around four pounds, of which 1 1/4 was
the backpack itself and another pound was headlamp and batteries. I also took weight
risks on the trail, carrying very little water through long sections, and dumping out the
water I had at the bottom of climbs on the hope of water near the top. The risks paid off.
The first time I quit was in Desolation Wilderness. 22 hours in, with a stomach
that hadn't functioned since Tahoe City, and soaking wet head to toe from water
coming off the plants. I pulled the plug and made the decision that this was not
meant to be. I couldn't (wouldn't?) continue. With images of sending the message
"made it over Dicks Pass on fumes and put out to Emerald Bay" I trudged through
the forest toward the pass. As the sun rose and the stomach got back to
processing calories, the idea of continuing on took hold. The second time I quit
was as I searched through my bag for headlamp batteries, with the second night
falling. Batteries were not in the bag, and as I dumped everything out on the
ground the relief of having an excuse to stop overtook me. But alas, the batteries
were in the wrong bag, which gave me the conundrum of whether or not to carry
on or use the excuse that was so believable and easy to relate. A couple of
caffeine pills and a Goddamn it Sean, compete got me back on the trail. The
third time I quit was just before the last section, as I had the 18.1 miles I had to
complete thrown in a tizzy by the 6 miles to Kingsbury north sign that I

passed. What the hell, did I have 24 miles to go? Was this included in the miles?
How would an extra 2 hours play into the finishing time. Dismayed and
disheartened, stumbling into the third sunrise, I dragged down the trail to the road
crossing, where I pulled out the map and found that this 6 miles was, in fact,
already accounted for. I trudged on, half disappointed that I had once again
failed to find an excuse to stop.

The massive physical undertaking I had thought this trip would be about had given way
to a different effort, one to hold motivation, and I found this to be the true crux of the trip.
The ability to stay motivated over days on end was the hardest struggle I endured, and
with nothing to pinpoint the struggle against it made the motivational effort even more
difficult to maintain. Floating in my head were dangerous questions; I know I can finish
this, so the question is already answered, so why bother continuing? Since the record
must mean more to other people than it does to me, I might as well let them keep it. If I
lie down and get a few hours of sleep Ill enjoy the rest of the trip, and arent you here to
enjoy yourself? Self doubt never entered the picture, but rather reasons to stop; logical,
valid reasons that were much more dangerous than just this is hard therefore Ill stop so
I feel better reasons.

As if I was an employee working for a boss, the mantra of "There's no reason to

run any downhill in Desolation Wilderness" rolled around in my head throughout
the section. The trails I had run on many times were unfamiliar to the point of
checking and rechecking my route, and even so, feeling like I was off course. The
lakes were three times their normal size, and the unending beauty and grandeur of
Desolation wilderness was lost on me for this day. Again and again on this trip I
returned to the mental state of a company with a boss and employees, where
sometimes I was the employee for an unseen and unheard boss and sometimes I
was the boss of a team of employees. In either case, we were all bound to follow
the company culture that was driving my actions and decisions, whether it was not
running rocky downhills or keeping stops to an absolute minimum, never stopping
for a rest without some task to accomplish.

As I jogged the final descent I came across a man on a bike, who looked at me like I was
a visitor from another planet, and said my friend was at the parking lot. My friend was at
the parking lot? Tebbutt? Mike Tebbutt, the man who ran around the lake two weeks
before me and had taken over four hours off the previous record, had gotten up at 5 AM
to see me in. As the last few hills melted away and the parking lot came into view, the

bustle of a Sunday morning at a major TRT trailhead stood in stark juxtaposition to the
solitude of just a few hours prior. I had finished. My life hadn't changed, nobody but a
few hardcore trail runners and hikers knew or cared, but I had finished. The focus and
solitude of the trail fell quickly, and the habits of dealing with society returned in a
heartbeat, but the singularity of purpose, and the animalistic mindset, had finished the
task at hand.

Tahoe Rim Trail Unsupported Fastest Known Time - 51 hours, 45 minutes - July 10-12


Tahoe Rim Trail - A roughly 173 mile trail that encircles Lake Tahoe, hugging the
peaks and ridges of the mountains that surround the lake. Relay Peak is the high point at
10,200' and Tahoe City is the low point at 6200'. The Tahoe Rim Trail is a unique route
and perfect FKT route in that you can start/finish wherever you want, go in either
direction, and tackle the problems when you want to. There are two big cruxes,
Desolation Wilderness and the 42 mile east side without water, and they are roughly
halfway around the loop from each other. Which do you do first? Would you rather tackle
the steep climbs going up or down? Is it worth it to go off trail a bit to not carry as much
water weight? Do you do the high passes early or late? Go early season with lots of water
available but snow and hot temps, or late season when its cooler but less water? All
questions everybody needs to answer for themselves. In the four weeks before my run
there were four attempts (Candice Burt, Mike Tebbutt, Victor Ballesteros, and myself)
and all four picked different routes. Shows theres a lot of room for individual judgment
and preferences. Its such a great problem route!!

Fastest Known time (FKT) conventions - There are typically two sets of records kept
for each route or trail. Supported means that the runner can have crew, pacers,
food/water stashes, and generally any other accommodations they desire. Unsupported
can receive no support of any kind, leave no stashes, must drink from only natural
sources, and must be unaccompanied for the entire trip. For the TRT, this means (among
other things) no drinking from the water spigot at Marlette campground, no buying food
at Echo lake or Tahoe city, and (thanks to Mike Tebbutt) hauling all your trash around
the lake to the finish. Bathrooms along the way are fair game to use. The FKT route
follows the hiker's route up and around Marlette Peak, the singletrack past Galena Falls
and around to Relay peak, and down the trail to the road crossing at Kingsbury (not
through the neighborhoods). There are no paved sections except road crossings. The
main source for tracking FKTs is at

Gear List

North Face Running shirt

Greenlayer Shorts
Reebok spandex shorts
Altra Lone Peak 2 Shoes

Some fancy ass seven dollar socks that got just as wet as the ones from Costco, and had
holes by the time I was done.
Black Diamond Ultra Distance Poles
Montbell Running Vest
Solomon Windbreaker
Pearl Izumi Arm Sleeves
Headsweats Visor
Outdoor Research Baklava/Beanie
Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20
UD Water Bottle
Camelback 100 oz Bladder
Tom Harrison Map
Profile and Mileage Chart
Disposable Space Blanket
Neutrogena Sport SPF 100 Spray Sunblock
Bug Repellent Towelettes
2toms blister powder
Emergency Whistle
Safety Pin
Wilderness Permit
Hefty Trash Bag
Pepto Bismol
S Caps
Disposable Toothbrushes
Misc Ziplocks
ID, Credit Card, Cash
Princeton Apex Pro Headlamp
Fenix HL50 (emergency light)
CR123 Batteries (17)
Verbatim Universal USB Charger (for phone)
AA Lithium Batteries (8)
Iphone 4 Cord
Iphone 4

I used every piece of gear I brought except the bug wipes, emergency whistle, extra
tegaderms, safety pins, permit, trash bag, ID/money, and emergency light. I wouldn't
eliminate any of these things. I also wouldnt bring anything else except possibly a
water bottle system instead of a bladder, because the bladder is a pain to get in and out
of a full pack. The flipbelt was great for getting a little weight off the shoulders and
not having to rummage through pockets and the pack for food.

Food List

10 Pro Bars
10 Clif Bars
10 Honey Stinger Waffles
10 Clif Shot Bloks
Baggie of Trail Mix
Baggie of Pringles

Total 12,500 cal

I ate everything except for the trail mix and (2) Probars. Calorie intake was roughly 200
cal/hr. The real food was not cutting it, so I was on bars, etc. almost exclusively until the
last four hours, when I ate the potato chips and nothing else. Some gels would have been
nice but they are heavy to carry.


Gaia GPS app (on phone)

GPS route downloaded from TRT Association website
SWconnect app (on phone) for tracking and uploading to

Software worked perfect. GPS route was perfect and very helpful to have in a few spots,
particularly near Kingsbury. is a fantastic tracking website, but does not
replace SPOT or DeLorme as it only uploads in cell range. I found that the tracking and
GPS worked in airplane mode, which seems to be a new function of iOS 8.3, and is a
great help to save phone batteries. I charged my phone off a universal USB charger that
ran off AA batteries.