CASPER, Wyo. — Two waffles powered Gabe Joyes on a 34-mile run up and back down Fremont Peak, the third-highest spot in Wyoming.
They were special waffles, crafted out of sweet potatoes and brown rice and smeared on top with blackberry jam. A few energy gels helped him along the way.
It took Joyes and his running buddy Evan Reimondo about 11 hours to run from their car, up to the top of the 13,745-foot summit and back down again.
They marked the feat with quick photos, a check of the weather and a call home to Joyes’ very pregnant wife.
Joyes and Reimondo are part of a growing tidal wave of ultrarunners and climbers that have decided simply summiting big mountains is not enough. The goal is to travel as fast, and as light, as possible.
“It’s not like anyone I know wakes up one day and says ‘I’m going to run 35 miles up a mountain,’” he said. “You work your way up to it like anything else. When done in a responsible way, it’s not that crazy.”
Runners like Spaniard Kilian Jornet are making headlines with record feats like summiting Alaska’s Denali in 11 hours and 48 minutes or the Swiss Alps Matterhorn in 2 hours and 52 minutes.
But while the end goal might be the same — see how fast you can go — motivations vary for the seemingly painful, and at times dangerous, sport.
For Joyes, 29, it started pretty simple. He was working at a summer camp in the mountains in Montana with very little free time. Backpacking with 30 pounds of gear simply took too long with only a couple of days off.
“If we took less and less stuff and started running, it would take us farther, and we could do more,” Joyes said. “It started as a desire to see as much as possible in the shortest amount of time possible.”
Now, the high school social studies teacher has two young daughters and even less free time. Reimondo, on the other hand, views mountain running, or skyrunning as the international racing sensation is called, as a way to challenge himself on peaks he’s already wandered.
It’s a new way to experience familiar terrain, he said. And a little bit of competition doesn’t hurt.
But instead of competing by registering ahead of time, paying $100 and gathering with hundreds of other people on a chilly morning at a predetermined time and place, trying to achieve a fastest-known time on a mountain peak is generally a private thing. Runners leave when they want, with a partner or often alone, and publish their times online. It’s why it comes with a qualifier: fastest-known time.
Joyes believes he has the Wind River Peak record, set in July 2014. He ran up the 13,192-foot mountain with a 16-mile approach in 7 hours and 30 minutes. After hours of scouring the internet, he couldn’t find a faster time, at least not one that had been published.
For mountaineering guide and Casper firefighter Micah Rush, setting fast times is about the challenge. It’s also about combining two of his favorite things — climbing and mountaineering — and making them a competition.
And climbers like Rush are moving the scale just a little bit more into the extreme. Instead of choosing one mountain, starting at the car summiting and coming back down, Rush links mountains together.
In 2012, he set a new record for the Cirque Traverse, a linking of 11 peaks in the Wind River Range. He finished it in 10 hours and 15 minutes, three hours faster than the previous record.
The first peak he remembers running a decade ago was the Grand Teton. A hero of his did the Grand Traverse — running and climbing each of the summits in the Tetons — in 8 hours and 55 minutes. Rush figured he would start with the highest peak.
He finished it in 6 hours and 30 minutes. His goal now is to complete the Grand Traverse.
Rush, Reimondo and Joyes are all quick to caution beginner mountains runners.
It is, by the nature of it, a sport that could result in risky situations. Supplies are minimal, weather conditions unpredictable.
Most runners carry a bit of food — snacks such as cooked bacon, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a few energy gels — water, a light rain jacket and stocking cap.
They rarely, if ever, carry ropes, and choose climbs based on their ability levels.
“There’s a lot of people getting into it thinking they’re going to run up these peaks and climbing something like the Grand is not a big deal,” Rush said. “But there are skills you have to have.”
Mountain running can take people miles into harsh backcountry conditions where cellphones may or may not work. Trying it without necessary experience and knowledge can be downright dangerous.
For runners like Joyes, there’s always a focus on the next feat such as running and climbing Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s highest point. But first, he hopes to spend Sunday beating his own Wind River Peak fastest known time.