247 peaks, 117 days, one epic adventure
By Henry Howard
Travis Soares always loved the mountains, growing up in Barrington, Rhode Island, as a self-described “oddball in suburbia.” As a boy, he explored the trails near his backyard, enjoyed car camping and short hikes in Vermont on family vacations, and read books about John Muir and Henry David Thoreau.
His quest for exploration revved up once he left home for Prescott College in Arizona, where he studied wilderness leadership and adventure. That’s where he learned to rock climb, back-country ski and do whitewater rafting.
After graduation, Soares moved into his van and mixes his outdoor pursuits with odd jobs in the offseason.
Among those outdoor adventures is his recent Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the Sierra Peak Section that is hard to describe so I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves:
Distance: 1890.25 miles
Vertical feet: 729,569
Total peaks: 247
Time: 117 days, 8 hours, 34 minutes
This FKT was certainly a graduate level course. As the description notes, “This is not a casual trail run, it will require more than a PCT-sized motivation combined with deep backcountry and rock climbing skills.”
Athlete for life
Soares is not just an explorer. His athletic background began back in Rhode Island where he played football, ran cross country and wrestled.
“I really love athleticism and I love sports a lot,” he says. “I really just enjoyed running through the woods and that's what I did in my spare time as well, just went on runs and explored pushing my body by running through the world. And then I didn't discover climbing until I came out west to Arizona. Prescott has some really awesome climbing, some great bouldering, great trad climbing, and climbing just really, really spoke to me as well.”
It was a perfect match: a love of running and climbing. “I just figured that combining the two would be the coolest thing ever.”
Soares found it easy to do so.
“If my friends went out bouldering, I would just go run over and meet them down the road or if I couldn't find a climbing partner, I would just go run to my local crag and just scramble up some of the technical routes. And that was really fun. I discovered that was my favorite thing to do, to mix a little bit of running and climbing. And then it just led to exploring bigger and bigger objectives.”
A winning combination
The combination of Soares’ passion for exploring, his wilderness knowledge and running ability set him up well for FKTs. He was actually on the Appalachian Trail when he first heard about FKTs.
“I first heard about it from hikers when Karel Sabbe was doing it at the same time I was out there. That's cool. And I always figured it was for elite athletes, but I always knew I wanted to try it. I just needed to find the right route for me.”
It did not take long for Soares to identify his first of more than 20 FKTs.
After a couple of weeks in Joshua Tree in November 2020, he heard of a climb called Right On, the biggest rock feature in Joshua Tree. It's about 400 feet. It's 5.6 miles climbing. “You start off on this slab and then it changes into a hand crack and then widens up into a chimney. And it's just really fun, a fun climb and I've done it many times before.”
At the time the FKT was held by Jason Hardrath, the most prolific FKT setter who Soares knew from a podcast.
“He's regarded as the king. And so I was pretty intimidated to go after a time of his. I just went for it and ended up it went pretty well. Jason noticed and reached out to me. He was really excited for me and he gave me a whole list of other things to do that were up my alley like run scrambles.”
They are now good friends. “I'm really grateful that he took me under his wing a little bit and supported me to explore this world. And now I've been able to find my own way since.”
That path took Soares to his epic adventure on the Sierra Peak Section.
The Sierra Peak Section was created by the Sierra Club. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Sierra Club started mountaineering outings to explore the range back when it was still relatively unmapped. As hikers climbed new mountains, they would be added to a map. Decades later, the list had grown to 247.
The 247 peaks span from Mojave all the way up to Tahoe.
“It just encapsulates all the most iconic peaks in the range,” Soares says.
Before he started his attempt, about 81 people had finished the list with the fastest completion taking about three years. Hardrath connected Soares with Nathan Longhurst, who was thinking about attempting to be the first to climb the list in a single season.
The planning started in October 2021.
“It took pretty much just as long as the actual climbing,” Soares says. “It was tough because I never really planned for anything like this before. That was a really big learning curve and I relied pretty heavily on Nathan. He completed another peak list up in Washington the summer before so he had some good experience with that kind of thing and he just has a really good mind for planning. We both made plans and basically compared and refined our routes. Once they were all set, we set off into the mountains.”
Supporting one another
Of course, the FKT is for the best supported time, given the duration of the event. Soares and Longhurst were supporting each other.
“We didn't have any help other than three resupplies,” Soares explains. “We had a couple of friends come and hike us in some food for our longest trip, which was 12 days. And that was the only support that we had. So basically we both have two vans and we drove an entire loop around the Sierras, starting from Whitney. We went south and then circumnavigated the range and went up on the west side to the north side and then back around. And so we basically on our rest days did our own laundry and had to grocery shop and we had each other, but we didn't really have any outside support.”
Longhurst, a skier, started in February and finished in July, while Soares began his quest April 16.
“During that time (Longhurst’s start) I was just still training and refining our route plans and just waiting for the mountains to open up,” Soares says. “In April, we met up and climbed 180 or so peaks together. Once he finished, I still had to go climb all the peaks that he skied.”
It was an interesting dynamic: a two-man team working together, while each individually chasing their own goal FKT.
“I didn't know Nathan at all until this project,” Soares recalls, saying they first met in Red Rocks. “We just wanted to see how well we got along in a partnership and we climbed some mountains and it was just so fun. We got along so well. We even drove the same minivan. We have a 2005 Dodge Grand Caravan. I have a lot of love for him and just our relationship grew and we just got along so well and it just felt like we were on a grand adventure together.”
The friendship grew as they knocked off peak after peak.
“I didn't even really think too much about our times,” Soares says. “For most of the project I didn't even know if I was going to finish, but I knew Nathan was a really talented mountain athlete. I figured at the very least I would support him to the end because I wanted to see at least somebody finish. My goal was actually just to help Nathan get through. Once he finished, I was figured, ‘I guess I got to finish now too.’”
As Soares neared the end, Longhurst supported him.
“We were both just really psyched for each other,” he says. “And I honestly don't even really consider my record completely mine because I definitely would not have finished without him. I would consider it our record.”
The long and the short of it
In reviewing Soares’ FKT results, it’s clear he actually focuses on much faster attempts. In fact, it appears that, among those who have set FKTs, he has the widest gap in time between the shortest and your longest. His results span from 12 minutes to the 117 days for the Sierras.
So, what does the future hold?
“Before the list I had really just only dabbled in these short scramble sprints, which I really enjoy,” he says. “I definitely have ideas of some bigger things in the future that I want to do. What I like to do is use FKTs as training. So these shorter FKT routes, I'll go out and scout out or do a couple times and then do at a 100 percent burn. Maybe I'll get the record, maybe I won't. But just that process is training in and of itself because usually it'll have technical terrain and then I'll be running quite a bit too.”
Long or short, FKTs can provide a challenge to those looking for something meaningful. While I do have one FKT, they are not always easy. I found that out during another attempt a few years ago.
Soares offers some advice to those seeking their own multi-day FKT challenge.
“The most important thing is just to be totally psyched on what you're doing because for these multi-day efforts, it's hard to force yourself forward if you're not just having a blast,” he says. “For instance, in this project, for sure it was hard, but Nathan and I were just having so much fun because we just were doing what we love. And so that almost makes it easier. Choose something that you know you can just do for hours on end and that you'll just be really psyched on. That's probably the most important thing.”
Name: Travis Soares
Hometown: Barrington, R.I.
Number of years running: “Since I could walk.”
How many miles a week do you typically run: 60 to 100
Point of pride: I'm good at making friends.
Favorite race distance: 20+ miles and includes technical climbing.
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Muir Energy and Oreos.
Favorite piece of gear: Shoes.
Who inspires you: Nathan Longhurst
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Epic instrumentals.
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: “It’s a strange paradise.”
Where can other runners connect or follow you:
• Instagram: @travis.soares