Soon after the seasons changed in December, new winter fastest-known times (FKT) began getting posted on some of the Northeast’s most prominent routes. In the White Mountains, Will Peterson set the Winter Standard FKT on the White Mountains Hut Traverse and Chris Paquette recorded a new FKT for a Winter Traverse of the Pemigewasset Loop.

Will Peterson White Mountain FKT
Will Peterson | Credit: Eli Burakian

White Mountains Hut Traverse

The White Mountain Hut Traverse extends 49 miles and climbs approximately 16,000 feet through rough terrain, passing eight huts operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). Generally, these shelters are open to stop by for food or water or to reserve a place to sleep. The eight huts are:

  1. Lonesome Lake
  2. Greenleaf
  3. Galehead
  4. Zealand Falls
  5. Mizpah Spring
  6. Lakes of the Clouds
  7. Madison Spring
  8. Carter Notch

To qualify for a Winter Standard FKT, runners must travel the extent of the normal summer route. However, there is a Winter Open, that passes just the huts open in the winter—Lonesome Lake, Zealand Falls, and Carter Notch—and checks in at a slightly more moderate 42 miles and 13,500 feet of elevation gain.

On December 23, 2023, Will Peterson finished the Hut Traverse with a time of 17 hours, 52 minutes, and 9 seconds. Previously he finished the route in 2021 (19 hours 29 minutes) but did not get the record. “Doing the Hut Traverse in the winter isn’t the most fun effort in the world,” says Peterson, “but it felt like the chapter wouldn’t be finished until I went back for the record.” Peterson set off at 11:21 p.m. on December 22, hitting Lafayette while he was the freshest, and remained in the dark until around the Zealand Falls Hut.

Conditions in the Whites during this time made a winter effort optimal, with few actual winter conditions. But slabs of ice remained around higher elevations due to recent rainfall, something Peterson learned the hard way. “The hike down the east side of Garfield was particularly heinous. It was a straight-up ice waterfall, and I was navigating it at around 2:00 a.m.” Additionally, a series of big efforts this year before the Hut Traverse—an unsupported Long Trail FKT in July, the Dartmouth 50, Bubba’s Backyard Ultra, and the Krampuslauf nine-hour race—left Peterson more fatigued than he would have liked by the time the end of December neared.

“The Northeast FKT and trail running community is truly special, and it’s like no other,” says Peterson. “The routes out here have been battled over for longer than almost anywhere else, and it’s exciting to be a part of that rich history.”

Chris Paquette on his Pemi Loop FKT
Credit: Chris Paquette

Pemigewasset Loop

A Northeast classic, the Pemi Loop totals 28 miles, tags nine peaks above 4,000 feet, and crosses three prominent ridgelines while taking in one of New Hampshire’s premiere wilderness areas. Hikers summit Flume, Liberty, Lincoln, Lafayette, and Garfield while on Franconia Ridge; then South Twin while on the Twins Ridge (standard loop); and Bond and Bond Cliff (West Bond is an optional spur) for the last of the 4,000-footer for the day on the Bond Ridgeline.

At midnight on Christmas night, Chris “Walkin” Paquette ate a brownie and cannoli, got out the door, and drove up to Lincoln Woods to set the winter FKT on the Pemi Loop. Just three days after Peterson was in the Whites, Paquette crossed some of the same trails on Franconia Ridge and the Twins, ultimately getting back to his car in 8 hours, 40 minutes, and 18 seconds on December 26.

Three days before Paquette’s record-breaking effort, Michael Whittemore had set a new FKT on the Pemi Loop when he bested Rami Haddad’s 2022 time by almost five hours. Yet, when Paquette caught wind of Whittemore’s 11 hours, 34 minutes, and 13 seconds, he felt like there was time to trim off.

Despite resisting stopping to snap pictures or bag some of his favorite peaks along the route, Paquette knows he can still do better. “I’m gonna do it again, whether anyone does it and beats my time,” he says, “because I want to beat my own time. I wasn’t prepared for my own run.” The holidays and last-minute nature of the trip slowed him down slightly, though not enough to keep his name off the top of this notable White Mountain FKT.

“I feel like I have imposter syndrome setting this. There are a bunch of legends on the standard FKT Pemi that have beaten each other’s times by minutes.”

Paquette has made four attempts on the Pemi Loop, from hobbling out of the woods in a 2021 success to currently owning an FKT. Already a New Hampshire 48 finisher, Paquette is currently gridding the mountains and eyeing future projects, both near and far. “I’m doing a Pemi Loop every year for the rest of my life until my body can’t anymore.”