IDAHO FALLS — Until this month, longtime Rexburg resident Bryce Thatcher was the undisputed king of the Grand Teton.
In 1983, Thatcher climbed and descended the Grand faster than anyone else alive. Then 21, he raced all the way up and down Wyoming’s second-highest peak in an unfathomable 3 hours and 6 minutes.
Many people take two days to complete the climb, but not Thatcher. He sprinted from the Lupine Meadows trailhead in Grand Teton National Park, up to the summit at 13,770 feet and back down, covering around 12 miles.
He did it without wearing a harness or roping up, without an ice axe or crampons. Instead, he was outfitted in a pair of Brooks running shoes, a cotton T-shirt and a pair of short running shorts. He wore a light jacket tied round his waist in case the weather took a turn for the worst.
Thatcher’s accomplishment stood the test of time — until Aug. 12, when professional mountaineer and endurance runner Kilian Jornet did it quicker.
Jornet, from Catalonia and one of the world’s foremost mountain runners, ran from the Lupine Meadows trailhead to the summit and back in 2 hours and 54 minutes.
“Kilian is a very gifted athlete, he wins a lot of races, and he holds a lot of records,” Thatcher said Aug. 17 in a phone interview.
But many people, including Thatcher, question Jornet’s record, which he documented online using an app and website called www.movescount.com.
It has been widely reported that Jornet cut switchbacks and ran off trail during his descent, which is prohibited in the national park and on many trails.
Post Register outdoor columnist Jerry Painter, in Grand Teton National Park last month preparing to climb the Grand, said rangers at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station told him that Jornet likely would be cited for illegally cutting switchbacks.
A climbing ranger who declined to identify himself said a citation was possible but declined to confirm the report. Rangers have cited people who publish evidence of illegal activities, such as cutting trails, he said.
The ranger referred additional questions to park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs, who could not be reached for comment.
Thatcher, who now lives near St. George, Utah, knew Jornet was gearing up to break his record. He said Jornet told him of his plans when the two met briefly earlier this summer, during a 50-kilometer endurance race at Snowbird, Utah.
While Thatcher respects Jornet’s athleticism, the two have differing philosophies about mountain trail running. Thatcher believes hikers and climbers should stick to the trail whenever one is available in order to prevent erosion and other environmental concerns.
“The controversial nature of it is Kilian cut every single shortcut imaginable on the whole entire trial; he just did a free-for-all on the mountain,” he said. “Right now, my opinion on it is he ran a different route than me.”
Thatcher has held the speed record on the Grand twice, first setting it in 1981.
Friends pushed him to attempt the record after he began speed hiking with his father. Thatcher said he considers climbing his first sport. Speed hiking started as a practical exercise that evolved into a way he could push and challenge his limits.
“When I was younger, friends told me you’d never get in trouble in the Tetons if you get off the top of the mountain by noon,” Thatcher said. “You have to get in and get out fast because the thunderstorms and rain showers come in, in the afternoon.”
When he set his original record in ’81, Thatcher said he had researched the route previous holder Jock Glidden followed in 1973, when Glidden clocked a time of 4 hours and 11 minutes.
“I was very careful to make sure I did it on the same trail and in the same style of Jock Glidden, my predecessor,” Thatcher said.
Thatcher was moving so unbelievably quickly in 1983 that other hikers told rangers he was falling down the mountain, he said. In reality, Thatcher said he used his feet as skis to glissade from a spot where fixed ropes are set in the route to an area near Petzoldt Caves.
Such speed records typically are self-reported, verified by witnesses or instruments and then publicized by the media. But there is no official sanctioning body to say what counts.
“If it’s not done in the same style, how do you compare whether it’s really a record or not?” Thatcher said. “I think there needs to be some kind gentlemen’s rules established for things like this, so people start to realize it just can’t be a free for all.”