In a pioneering run of New Hampshire’s tallest peaks, Andrew Drummond set a fastest time and a standard for style.
By Ian Ferguson
Cover photo by Joe Klementovich
The light of Andrew Drummond’s headlamp bounced off the bearded trees and jumbled boulders of Kilkenny Ridge Trail, an endless maze of switchbacks, boulders and blowdowns that can send hikers off course if they don’t pay attention. Drummond had every excuse to be delirious. He had run and hiked more than 200 miles in the past five days, over the 47 tallest mountains in New Hampshire, and he had one more to go. It was three in the morning on July 29, 2016.
Following the beam of his headlamp, Drummond popped in headphones to help him focus. The sound
of night critters and the thought of a moose crashing through the nearby bushes were distractions he didn’t need. He was hoping to get up Mt. Cabot and down to the trailhead before 5:30 a.m. Doing so would mean he had successfully climbed all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers in under six days. It takes most people years to complete the list, and Drummond was doing it all in one run, unsupported. He didn’t drive from trailhead to trailhead. He didn’t cache food or gear. The clock started when he stepped onto the trail up Mt. Moosilauke, and would end when he got back to the parking lot at the bottom of Mt. Cabot, after traveling 216 miles on foot over the roughest terrain in the eastern United States.
Called the White Mountain Direttissima (Direttissima is Italian for “most direct route”), the project had been done before, but Drummond was the first to attempt a continuous hike of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers in the light-and-fast style of a trail runner. His route began in the Kinsman Range, went over Franconia Ridge into the Pemigewasset Wilderness, headed south to the Sandwich Range, then to the southern Presidentials, east to the Carter/Wildcat Range, then to the northern Presidentials before finishing in the Kilkenny Range. The route had the fewest out-and-backs and saved the Presidentials for the second half when his pack would be lighter, which made sense to Drummond. But the beauty of the White Mountain Diretissimma is there is no right or wrong way to do it.
“This is a really cool project because it’s long enough that there are a ton of variables along the way,” Drummond said. “Route, water, sleep, gear, nutrition. No matter how many times its been done, you’re going to have a one-of-a-kind experience. At the same time, it’s short enough that it’s accessible.”
Although he grew up in Mt. Washington Valley and was a ski racer through high school, Drummond didn’t get into endurance sports until 2012. A friend who is similarly built (Drummond is 6’2”) told him about his experiences in ultramarathons, which piqued his interest into what was possible. Then he watched his girlfriend Hilary McCloy do the Wildman Biathlon.
“The takeaway was, ‘Why am I not doing this?’” Drummond said. “And that led into this whole thing over the next year where I was entering races and trying everything from multisport triathlons to snowshoe races, Nordic Meisters, doing three different alpine beer leagues, entering my first ultra, the Vermont 50 Miler and doing the Tuckerman Inferno.”
Drummond would end up winning the Inferno in 2015 and 2016. To say he is hitting his stride as an endurance/adventure athlete would be both a corny pun and an understatement.
Now a sponsored athlete, Drummond is known for posting real-time (or close to real-time) videos and photos of his backcountry ski pursuits in the winter and spring. These almost-real-time postings allow avid backcountry skiers to get a sense of current conditions, and they provide the armchair-
adventurer with a more real and raw perspective than a polished, edited ski film released a year later.
“Anyone can take a pretty photo, and at this point, everyone knows there are gorgeous places out there,” Drummond said. “To me, it’s fake and means nothing unless you have a compelling story behind the shot.”
Drummond brought his signature documentary approach to the Direttissima. He set his InReach satellite communicator to ping his location every ten minutes, so people could follow his progress through his website, Skithewhites.com. He also posted Snapchat videos and took photos and videos that he posted to social media. While some might criticize his use of social media on a pioneering FKT attempt, Drummond said the response has been positive.
“The social thing is a lot of stopping, waiting and uploading, but on the other hand, every stop gave my legs a chance to recover,” Drummond said. “I know there’s always going to be Internet trolls who are negative about the social aspect, but in general it has been 100 percent positive. The stuff people did chirp about was more like, ‘How can you enjoy it if you’re going that fast?’ And my response would be that I get to see and experience so much more in a day than most hikers. Where they might get to experience 10 miles, I get to see 50 miles of trail in a day.”
Over six days, Drummond experienced many highs. He saw distant thunderstorms during golden hour on Bondcliff. He felt the unexpected euphoria of a flow state on Moriah, five days into what he thought would be mostly torture for his body.
He also experienced lows; trying to outrun sleep monsters that inevitably caught up with him, forcing him to catch 15-minute power naps in the middle of the trail. The final section between Mt. Waumbeck and Mt. Cabot was one of those lows.
“It was just a few more miles, but these were not easy miles,” Drummond said. “Anyone who knows the White Mountains knows that some miles are tougher than others. There are no water stops between Waumbeck and Cabot, and I was really sick of my food at that point. It was a real culmination of the whole project; it was like, just get this done.”
The jams on his headphones got him through the grind of the Kilkenny Range. After navigating the range, Drummond summited Mt. Cabot and ran down to the York Pond Trailhead. He reached the parking lot at 5:28 a.m. on July 30, two minutes shy of six days. Not only had he hiked and run 216 miles in six days, he had gained and lost about 80,000 feet of elevation while carrying a pack that weighed an average of 45 pounds. That’s more than two-and-a-half Everests. In six days.
The White Mountain Direttissima pushed the limits of what Drummond thought his body was capable of, and he learned a lot in the process. For one thing, he learned he could probably do it faster with a better balance of nutrition (he brought more food than he needed) and time management (he took it slow in the first half because he was more focused on completing the project than getting a fastest time). He quickly learned that summer nights can still be cold; his solution was to sleep during the twilight hours and run at night. He learned that the White Mountain Direttissima is a classic of a route that deserves repeated attempts.
He set the bar high by anyone’s standards, except his own.
“My record’s going to get smoked,” Drummond said.
The gauntlet has been thrown. Any takers?
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