New FKT: Pawnee-Buchanan Loop || Take note, UTMB

Pawnee Lake and Pawnee Pass (low spot on left skyline), as seen from Paiute Pass, at the head of Thunderbolt Creek.

The Pawnee-Buchanan Loop has become a classic among ultra runners and backpackers. It’s about 27 miles long, includes two 12,000-foot passes over the Continental Divide, and the starting trailhead is a 60-minute drive from my front door.

(Side note: To spice up this loop, use the Pfiffner Traverse to connect Buchanan and Cascade Creeks, rather than the all-trail route around the west side of Thunderbolt Peak. Read my route description.)

Yesterday I set a new FKT for the Pawnee-Buchanan Loop, in 4:46:32. The time is barely faster than Anton Krupicka’s 4:50 from 2010, but I’m delighted to be even in his zip code. He was running very well that summer, with a second-place finish at Western States (in the legendary showdown with Kilian and Geoff Roes) and later a CR at White River. He could have run faster that day, I’m sure. Even so, his time has stood for seven years.

My 4:46 will absolutely not stand the test of time. I could drop another 15-20 minutes by being fresh (not fatigued from two 50k’s in the preceding five days), by giving it more than just a “moderate” effort, or by avoiding a soaking rain squall on the west side of Pawnee Pass. And someone with more talent (e.g. Sage) could drive up tomorrow and handily set a new standard.

Big picture, I’m not excited about this FKT because it’s a FKT. Rather, it’s a confidence-boosting data point for my current fitness, three weeks out from UTMB. In the Alps, I’m predicting a RRR100 or Boston Marathon type of performance, where I wildly outperform my seed placement and surprise just about everyone (except David Roche).

Posted in on August 16, 2017


  1. Joe on August 18, 2017 at 10:28 am

    Any map recommendations for the area? My wife and I are planning a 2 day hike. We are coming from KC and the ranger station is VERY worried about us. 1) doing it in 2 days and 2) doing it at all because of many recent issues they’ve had to deal with regarding altitude sickness.

    • Andrew Skurka on August 19, 2017 at 10:57 am

      The Trails Illustrated map for this area would be sufficient, as the trails are very well established and the signage is decent. If you want more detail, print out a custom map set using Caltopo and the 2016 USFS layer.

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