Fast Times (and Aesthetic Lines)
An exploration of the fastest-known-time (FKT) concept
Rob Krar soaks in the enormity of the Grand Canyon. Photo by Ken Etzel.
This article originally appeared in our March 2014 issue.
Say the phrase “fastest known time” or its abbreviation, “FKT,” at a trail-runner gathering and watch the magic happen. Eyes sparkle, hands flutter and conversations settle on some wild FKT notion. Case in point, not long ago at a small dinner with friends, 23-year-old, Boulder, Colorado-based, pro mountain runner Dakota Jones waxed eloquent about an FKT outing on a route through the La Sal Mountains above Moab, Utah, he’d like to attempt. He raved about the route’s trail-less nature, the height of its mountains, rugged talus slopes for which the La Sals are known and just how fast a talented human being could move over the terrain.
A fastest known time is the fastest reported time for an effort on a specific trail or route. This roughly corresponds to a race’s course record, except that FKTs are usually solo or near-solo efforts. Longer FKTs are sub-divided into unsupported, self-supported and supported categories, delineating the degree of outside help someone receives, as well as male versus female FKTs. If you’re familiar with Strava, the workout-tracking tool, then you know its FKT equivalent, the “King/Queen of the Mountain” award, which is given to the Strava user who has the fastest time on a particular route.
While the origin of the phrase “fastest known time” is unclear, the climbing and trail-running communities have been using it for a few decades. Peter Bakwin, 51, of Boulder, Colorado, is the keeper of the Fastest Known Time ProBoards, forums that document trail-running FKTs. If you’ve ever Googled a trail-running speed record, you’ve ended up in those forums.
Bakwin’s interest in moving quickly through wild landscapes clicked in 1999, when he and his friend, Buzz Burrell, now 62, an accomplished mountain runner also of Boulder, attempted an FKT on the Colorado Trail, a 486-mile route from Durango to near Denver. Mid-route, Bakwin dropped with an injury but Burrell lowered the then-record from about 17 days to 11-and-a-half days. The following summer, the pair set a new John Muir Trail FKT. In addition to these and other personal FKT endeavors, Bakwin began keeping an FKT database.
“I like moving fast. I like to hear about others moving fast, and am inspired by their stories,” says Bakwin. “I track known records, but people are also running fast backcountry routes that we don’t know about.” Bakwin says that he accepts FKT reports on an honor system, but recommends using photos, videos, independent verifiers and GPS devices to validate an FKT. “You put in a huge effort and trashed your body for the next six months,” says Bakwin on the ProBoards. “You want people to believe what you say you did, right?”
In this article, we delve deep into the FKT phenomenon through the stories of seven significant, recent FKTs. We also discuss ethics—how to be good stewards as we recreate in wild places—and some more adventure-run routes everyone can enjoy.