December in Jackson Hole means snow sports dominate outdoor athletic endeavors. Kelly Halpin is looking forward to taking her splitboard into the mountains, something she’ll spend much of the next four months doing. But before she shreds, the multisport athlete wanted one more summer-style endeavor. She just didn’t expect to encounter so much winter.
Halpin went to the hottest climate in America to ascend the most continuous vertical feet she could find in the lower 48. And she knocked out the 11,311 feet faster than any woman ever has, despite trekking through deep snow for the final 3,000.
Halpin spent 13 hours and 27 minutes running, climbing and post-holing from 262 feet below sea level to the 11,049-foot summit of Telescope Peak, the highest point in Death Valley. Her time on the roughly 35-mile roundtrip climb was the fastest known time — the FKT — for any woman.
She began the journey at 3:10 a.m. Dec. 9 and was back to her campsite at 4:37 p.m. She was proud of the effort, despite choosing the wrong date to move as swiftly as possible towards the non-technical peak.
“I had been moving really fast and then just couldn’t,” said Halpin, 32. “If there hadn’t been a snowshoer on the ridge who walked on the trail to the peak I probably would have turned around at the ridge because it would have been too deep to go on.”
Halpin ran nearly 10 miles up a dirt road before gaining a ridge and heading for the aptly named peak. At around 7,000 feet she encountered patchy snow. A thousand feet later the surface was blanketed white, her feet were soaked, her speed had diminished and she was wondering what she’d gotten herself into.
“I really should have had crampons and an ice ax, but I didn’t because I wasn’t expecting that much snow,” she said. “It was kind of a pain in the butt. I would like to go back at some point and do this again without any snow and a much, much lighter pack.”
Her pack weighed close to 25 pounds in part because she carried five and a half liters of water because the water in Death Valley is chronically contaminated. The sponsored mountaineer and owner of a number of FKTs was still in good enough shape from summer that she drank only three liters.
The snowshoe tracks firmed up the snow a bit and helped her not to sink to her knees, motivating her to keep moving upward. She reached the summit around 11 a.m. and was back to her car just before the early evening December desert sunset. She ran much of the way down and was unable to glissade due to the shale and ice just beneath the surface.
Check out the record-setting runner-climber-snowboarder-mountaineer’s instagram page — @kyehalpin — and you’ll see 10 lifetimes full of summer outdoor adventures completed in 2018 alone. Someone who stays that active isn’t going to let a little snow slow her down. Even if she wasn’t anticipating it.
“I wanted to do one more run this season,” she said. “I wasn’t really satisfied with my year so I was trying to pick somewhere that wouldn’t have snow. Oh my God, I was so wrong.”