Will Peterson is now the fastest human in the White Mountains.
Forty-eight peaks 4,000 feet tall or higher; 200 miles of travel; 15 miles of elevation change; 3 days (and change).
Those are the stats and Will Peterson is the man. The 23-year-old captured the fastest known time (FKT) of New Hampshire’s 48 4,000-foot peaks in the White Mountains with a superlative, supported effort this week.
Peterson broke a record on Wednesday that had previously stood for over 7 years. His time of 3 days, 12 hours, and 36 minutes clipped over 2 hours off Andrew Thompson’s July 10, 2014, FKT. He’ll vault into the FKT record books when officials verify his results via Strava.
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The FKT Team
He set out to do it alongside his good friend Xander Keiter, who unfortunately retired after spraining his ankle late in the effort. The two fulfilled their top priority for the run: breaking the FKT, if not together, then at least between them.
“We were aware that we might not both break the record,” Peterson said. “It could have just as easily been me who sprained my ankle, and you’d be talking to Xander right now! He made an unbelievable effort.”
We got in touch with Peterson to learn more. And despite what his age might suggest, he came across as humble, driven, and highly team-oriented.
This effort to support the endeavor required immense, complicated organization. Supported runners vying for FKTs on the route have to organize car transportation between some sections (fully allowed under the rules), crunch numbers for massive nutrition needs, and marshal a tight comprehension of where they’re going and how they’re getting there.
The White Mountains FKT
Elevation on the 48 mountains tops out at Mount Washington’s 6,228-foot summit. The FKT route between them lies mainly inside the White Mountain National Forest. FKT hopefuls must cover around 80,000 feet of elevation change (depending on route) between trailheads and peaks on widely varying trails in often-volatile weather.
Case in point: Peterson and Keiter tried to start their attempt on Saturday, June 18. But they pushed it to Sunday instead, in the face of snowstorms so severe that one hiker in the area died of hypothermia.
“The weather really forced us to adjust our plans,” Peterson said. “We ended up starting early on Sunday morning. But we still had to choose an alternate starting point because 90 mph gusts were hitting the summits!”
The team planned to first tackle a challenging section with exposed alpine terrain. But they deemed the risk “unacceptable” in the wind, Peterson said. So they checked into the Mt. Carrigain trailhead at 5:01 a.m. and got after it.
The full tale of the tape is available on Peterson’s Strava. Throughout the circuit, he drank liquid food, barely slept, and generally raged on all cylinders.
You’d need more than two hands to count the crew that helped him do it. Multiple pacers were willing to drop everything and run a 25-mile mountain section on short notice. And Will’s dad, Eric, took a few days off work to handle logistics like driving, nutrition, and “basically everything he needed so that all he had to do was show up and send.”
In short, Will showed up and sent.
“A lot of planning and effort went into it, from a lot of people,” Peterson said. “It’s like I happened to be the astronaut who landed on the moon, but a huge, huge support crew made it happen.”
As a seasoned Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, he showed up ready to push through pain, weather, exhaustion, and many other challenges for days on end. And he leaned into the effort with the determination of one who’d previously surrendered to it: last August, Peterson attempted the same FKT but fell short early on.
“I bowed out pretty early,” he said. “I’d recently done a 100-mile run, and I think my body just wasn’t ready. It really showed me the value of planning and preparation.”
Peterson is nothing if not a preparer (a trait that should help him when he starts his first semester at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine this fall). Eric Peterson said that before this year’s White Mountains attempt Will showed him a binder.
“It had everything about the route in it,” the elder Peterson said. “Like, everything. Every single detail. He’d organized it with tabs and literally planned out every minute of the hike. It had keys to the game; it had his [Infinit] nutrition information. It had every single drive mapped out. He was meticulous. It was a Bible.”
Running the Whites: Plans and Setbacks
Still, plans don’t always work out. At one point on day 2, he and Keiter got lost during a long bushwhack. Charged with navigation, Peterson reoriented the team. Certain that he’d cost them the objective, he was ashen. But a trail veteran offered a guiding hand.
“I was fully convinced at that point that I had cost us the whole thing. Tears were shed for sure,” Peterson admitted. “I was really down. It was [former White Mountains FKT holder] Bill Tidd who pulled us out of it. He’s a really data-driven person, and when he showed us that we still had a chance, we snapped out of it.”
The boondoggle occurred on the second day of the hike. From there, the push proceeded smoothly until Keiter got hurt.
He was on track to finish the route more or less alongside Peterson through 41 peaks. So when he turned his ankle, he tried to grind through the pain — with confounding results.
“Xander probably made it another 30 miles past when he got hurt. But by the time he got to the top of Mt. Moriah [4,049 ft.], he was hallucinating from the pain. Eventually, his body just made the call,” Peterson said. “It was an incredible effort.”
Solo Effort to End the White Mountains FKT
Pursuing the team’s number one goal, Peterson continued alone. And it looked like he had it in hand until right before the finish line.
Peterson’s dad said the two were driving under sunny skies toward the trailhead below peak 45, Mt. Cannon, when Will spoke up from where he was resting in the backseat.
“Everything’s going great, and Will goes, ‘is there any rain in the forecast?’ And I say, no, it’s supposed to be cool, a little cloudy, perfect hiking weather. In another 3 miles, we got to the parking lot, and it’s pouring — absolutely pouring. And this mountain has a gnarly backside with all this steep, exposed rock.”
Trail conditions can deteriorate in a hurry in the Whites. Drummond said torrential rain turned trails into “rivers” during women’s supported FKT holder Stephanie Bishop’s attempt last year. Back in the car, Eric asked Will a simple question: “What are you going to do?”
Will Peterson’s response: “You know what you do when you’re out on a thru-hike and it’s pouring but you’ve got 14 miles to go? You hike the f*cking 14 miles.”
Peterson put on his raincoat and soldiered on. The FKT route, for men, ends at the summit of Mt. Moosilauke, 4,802 feet. How did the embattled hiker look when he got there? Drummond was standing by, camera in hand.
“Amazing,” he said unironically. “He was moving incredibly fast.” Peterson was moving so fast that he tacked a few extra miles onto the route. Instead of stopping the clock at the Moosilauke summit, he proceeded to a trailhead below.
There, finally, a chair and sugary pastries awaited him.
“The fact that no one [before Peterson] touched this record before 2014 shows how stout it was,” Drummond pointed out. “How daunting of a project it is.”
Peterson (who, by the way, also holds the White Mountains’ unsupported “Dirrettisima” FKT) said he just hopes the effort gets more people psyched to go out in the Whites.
“I hope it gets people thinking about the route a little more. It had kinda been sitting there for a while, so I’d love to see some other people take a look at it soon.”
You might think Peterson took a couch day (or a few) after posting the record time. He may have still been moving “amazingly” fast, but he was banged up. Think again.
The day after the run, he’d already started on post-FKT chores like writing a trip report, which he’ll submit to the FKT website and Hyperlite Mountain Gear.
Staying tuned to the FKT site is probably the easiest way to keep up with the guy; he didn’t even sound tired when I talked to him less than 24 hours after he tagged the last summit.
“I feel pretty good! I just don’t like post-objective stuff as much as the objective itself, so I like to get it out of the way as soon as I can.”