A new bar for climbing in the Tetons has been set with the first ever double car to car ascent of the Grand Teton. This feat is being dubbed the Double Grand 50K. Meredith Edwards, Jason Schlarb and Jake Urban have firmly planted their feet into the record books with a feat that will surely inspire others to follow their steps up the Grand. Full interview is below, as well as the audio from our conversation.
Here’s what the crew had to say about their mountain adventure:
MIKE: So what is the name that we’re calling what you guys did?
MEREDITH: The Double Grand 50K? I don’t know.
MIKE: Double grand 50K, OK. So, what are your names, and what just happened here in the Tetons in the past 72 hours?
MEREDITH: My name is Meredith Edwards. I’m an ultra-runner. I’m a ski mountaineer person. I don’t know.
JAKE: My name is Jake Urban. I’m a mountain educator.
JASON: And I’m Jason Schlarb, and I’m a mountain runner.
MIKE: OK, so we’ve got a couple of runners. Did you guys run… And Jake, you’re a runner as well. Did you guys run a portion of this event?
MEREDITH: Mainly the downhills. We basically power hiked a lot of it. The first part of it is pretty runnable, but I think when you’re trying to do two, it’s… You know, you don’t know until you go, so you just try to figure out what is the best way you can do it, so you can hold a pace the entire way. That way you’re not blowing up on the second lap, which none of us really blew up. We were tired, but none of us blew up, so I think it’s also because we were smart and conservative. Maybe a little too conservative, but at the same time, when you’re doing something for the first time, you just don’t know. But a lot of it was just running downhill then on the laps, coming back down.
MIKE: Typically, a guided group going up the Grand is 14 or 16 hours, something of that nature. Did you have any help from Exum? Were you able to kind of move through the groups that were being guided? Did they know that you were on this quest?
JAKE: So, it became pretty apparent in the morning that we were definitely on a little bit of a personal agenda that we were moving through. It’s not as if we were declaring what we were doing. With that being said, we were given the right-of-way quite often just because we were moving faster. It was obvious that we were being efficient through the terrain.
Again, even on the downhill the first time, we were given that latitude. The second time around, it became pretty obvious to folks that something odd was going on, and that right-of-way continued and actually maybe a little bit more cheerleading the second time around.
MEREDITH: And I also think that we really lucked out because in the technical climbing, we did not have to pass any parties going up or coming down, which is usually where people get stopped, is on the belly crawl if there’s a guided party right there. But, you know, we were only passing people on the trail, so that was a huge thing, I think, for us is that there was nobody roped up in our way. And I think it was just the time of day that we hit it on both laps that allowed that to happen.
MIKE: And how many times has everybody in the group stood on top of the rim?
MEREDITH: I think I’m around 10? 8? 9? Somewhere in there.
JAKE: I’ve probably climbed it close to 50 times now.
JASON: Yeah, and I had never been on the Grand before the Double. That was really exciting. You know, from my perspective, Jake being able to lead and guide us up there, obviously, with that many summits, was the enabler for me to be able to do it at all, and he was really good with Meredith and me in helping us navigate. And then also, just the moves and climbing and stuff was massive. It was really, really big.
JASON: So, it was kind of a dream situation. For me, my pursuits are all really super long mountain running and power hiking, a little bit of climbing. This fit perfectly. It was a good team. It wasn’t too big or not enough experience, so it was a sweet spot.
MIKE: You guys have got a lot of experience with ultra-running and just being out in the mountains for long periods of time, guiding and skiing. What type of fuel was used for this adventure? Was there something that was your go-to snack for your power?
MEREDITH: I went through a bunch of GU’s gels for sure. Gels and waffles.
JAKE: I don’t think it was anything specific, but what I do think was really important was nailing nutrition. I think the environment was really unique in terms of two different laps. In the first lap, we suffered because it was a little cold. On the second lap, we suffered because of the heat. I don’t know if there’s any silver bullet, other than being able to know exactly what your body is going to need in order to be able to get through that long of a day.
MIKE: How about as far as water? Did you guys fill up when you got back to the car?
JASON: Yeah, there are a lot of stream springs and things that you can fill your water bottle with, but one thing I would note that is a little bit different from this than a typical climbing party… I mean, we weren’t bringing ham sandwiches and boiled eggs or something like that. I think the three of us were eating kind of sugary, carb, fast-absorbing drinks. I mixed this stuff into my water bottle called Vitargo and I’m pretty much surviving on sugary shit, and so is Meredith and Jake. And then, you know, we’ll have a little bit of a snack, maybe a bar, so it’s a little bit different than the typical hiking or climbing party. It definitely is fast fuel, high calorie, and really easy for the stomach to absorb because we’re moving the whole time; we’re not sitting, hanging out for an hour, chilling out at the top or something like that. Back at the truck, we had some potato chips and watermelon and a whole bunch of water and electrolytes, but light and fast, dense, sugary carbs was kind of the name of the game for this kind of project.
MIKE: Did you guys stop at all?
MEREDITH: Yeah. We had a break. On the first lap when we came back down, we were in the parking lot for about 20 or 25 minutes, just refueling, getting all the trash out from all the other snacks, and repacking my backpack, just really rehydrating because that was a hot part of the day. What, we started that second lap around 1 or something? So, the heat of the day, but yeah, we had a nice break.
JASON: That whole time we were doing stuff, so it wasn’t like we were sitting in a lawn chair, \ It was pretty active eating.
MEREDITH: Yeah. I don’t think any of us sat. We just kind of kept moving.
JAKE: It was arguably stressful.
JAKE: It was actually not fun being in the parking lot because it was like, “We’re only halfway,” and everybody wanted to just get out of the parking lot, so the turnaround was… While 25 minutes seems like a lot of time, when you’re trying to deal with your water, making sure you’ve got the right clothing, etc., and then get back out the door again was kind of frantic.
MIKE: Did you view on top of the Grand—I mean, obviously, you got two killer views—did it change throughout the day from your morning summit to your afternoon summit?
JAKE: I would say that the difference between the morning and the afternoon was in the morning, we were kind of right in the middle stream of the guided parties, so we hit the sweet spot to be able to get up there, and we actually shared the first summit with quite a few folks. Then, as I always say, the privilege of the Grand is when you happen to be up there by yourself, and in the afternoon, that’s exactly what it was. It was a striking contrast between the morning and the afternoon to sit up there by ourselves and, ultimately, have the mountain to ourselves.
MEREDITH: Yeah, and the first time it was really, really cold. We were happy we were up there, and we had a cowbell we rang on both laps. It was very cold, and it was nice to see other people up there and have their energy. They were just so excited for us, and then the second summit was like a tropical vacation compared to the first one. It was just so warm. For some reason, it felt safer because you’re like, “It’s warm, the sun it out, and the wind died down,” so it was really special to be up there just the three of us and just to kind of share that moment all together.
JASON: And I guess I’ll get to your questions. These guys have been up there so many times, they’re just describing the weather. The view was absolutely amazing for somebody that hasn’t been there. The amount of lakes and small lakes within the mountains along the ridge line and the fact that there are glaciers, and some of those lakes are still frozen over on July 21st—I mean, it was fantastic! And then also the unique geology of the Grand Tetons in that valley down there just looks… a sage valley that’s completely flat. I mean, it’s just unique and different for me. You know, I live in Colorado, and I do a lot of mountain running. I’ve been in the Alps and Dolomites, but this is a real special one, just how amazing that ridgeline is. It was amazing. We also got to see the sunrise as we were climbing up on the trail.
MEREDITH: Oh yeah. We also got some cool photos.
JASON: And there was some fog and mist and some really neat weather things that happened in the early hours. It was fantastic after the day before we had a whole bunch of rain and thunder and stuff, so it kind of burned that off. It was beautiful. It was really beautiful.
MIKE: That’s awesome.
JAKE: I think the other thing that was very different about the second summit… Anytime you go up there, I don’t think anybody ever takes it lightly, even if you’ve been up there, you know, dozens of times. It’s the Grand Teton. It’s the epicenter of our world in this valley to some extent. I think the biggest thing that was heavy on everybody was… What we’ve done will be done over and over. It’ll be outmatched. There will be bigger things down the road, but any time you’re getting that opportunity to do something first, the intentions and the dedication… Or I should say the tribute to the people that were there before you, and to be able to stand up on top of the summit and to look at the rocks that have Shive, Spalding, and Owen carved into the rocks and to know that for over 100 years people have been laying a path to give you an opportunity to do that, and that’s all the mountain guides, all the recreationalists, all the athletes that have come before us to really give us a privilege and an opportunity to go out and have fun and just do something different in the mountains.
MIKE: Since you were leading the climb, what kind of climbing gear did you bring with?
JAKE: Yeah, the only thing I did was I changed my shoes. I went to a pair of approach shoes. Mer and Jason stayed in their sneakers. I just wanted a little bit of flexibility and have a little more confidence to be able to move around faster in the event that I needed to, but ultimately, we were depending on good root finding, good decision making, and a tremendous amount of teamwork. I knew this was going to be a team event. I didn’t know what kind of team we were going to turn into through this process. I think that was the most fun of it all. I said to Jason, “You’re the fastest best friend I’ve ever had in my life!”
MEREDITH: Yeah, the groups dynamics worked out super well, even though Jason and Jake never met. It all worked out really well. I think Jake definitely took the charge through the technical spots. Without that, we wouldn’t have been able to be successful, and Jason was kind of the energy in the group. When Jake and I were both feeling kind of down, Jason had his energy light, fun, and just seeing him move through the mountains is super inspiring to us, so we keep it going. I kind of felt like my charge was on that second lap, just getting us going and holding a pace a little bit ahead and everyone just following.
It all just kind of worked out because at one point, the whole thing would just shift, you know what I mean? “OK, so now Jake is in the front, and Jason and I are paying attention. Now Jason is in the front, and we’re getting all this energy.” I think that’s really unique, and it doesn’t always happen like that, you know what I mean? We were really lucky. When you have those experiences with people, it also changes your relationships with those people because it’s a very intimate relationship. I often say when you’re out in the mountains, those are some of the most intimate moments in my life, even though it’s not a real relationship, but you’re basically trusting people with your life, and that’s a very unique and very special thing and oftentimes intense. I think we just all really felt super comfortable and just really enjoyed the moment.
MIKE: For you and Jason, how does this compare to running an ultra, especially the day after? Is it kind of a similar feeling mentally, physically?
JASON: This unique for me because there was, you know, real climbing and also real risk as far as fall and things like that, where on a trail run, that rarely ever is the case.
JASON: And if it is, it’s for a very, very short period of time. That was really, really special and unique for me, and then also the different uses of my whole body. To actually have my arms sore after doing a 30-mile run? That’s unusual, along with that stress of actually having to be in a dangerous situation. That’s different than the trail and ultra-running for sure. It was a full experience. It felt truly like an adventure, It was alpinism and exploration and challenge.
MEREDITH: Yeah, I think you have the fatigue of doing something really big, but I kept saying the whole time, the mental fatigue… You just don’t experience… I think you experience it in an ultra, but it’s different than in something like this because, I mean, it’s a little bit scary. It’s a lot scarier.
JASON: It’s stressful.
MEREDITH: Yeah, it’s a lot of stress that makes you really, really tired. We probably would have been under 16 if I didn’t… I hate glissading. I hate it, and we literally would have been under 16 hours if I just… You know, I was so mentally tired, and I hate glissading, and I looked down the mountain, and I hear Jake, “Kick in the steps,” and I’m like, “I can’t do it! I’m mentally tired. I’m over it.” It was really funny. I’ve never had that in a race.
JAKE: You know, it’s interesting because from my perspective, when I hear Mer say something like, “We could have been under 16,” and I laugh, and I’m like, “Yeah, you could have been under 16 if I wasn’t on the trip,” because from my perspective, I mean, I’m dealing with… The balance of power was perfect. As Mer had said, we’re all taking our turns. I think the other thing that’s important to recognize is that there’s this… Yeah, the Double Grand 50K, which kind of puts that race idea behind it.
Really, in my perspective, what we were trying to do was put a progression in for specifically Mer in regards to her training, and this was just a piece of that puzzle to getting her to UTMB. Jason coming on board happened to be a perfect addition to the team in order for us to accomplish something that’s never been done and to be able to do it in a really fun way where it was only competitive to us and, arguably, to bring each one of us to places that none of us could go together. I can’t go that fast all the time, but I did that day. These guys may not be as comfortable in the technical terrain, but they were that day, and that’s really what this was about, doing something together that we may not have been able to do individually as well. We all just bring in something different to the table to make it happen, so it’s not this race; it’s this collaboration towards a bigger, which, ultimately, for these two is UTMB, and for me, to be able to have an opportunity to support that process is just an honor.
MIKE: As far as sponsors, who is helping out right now with your trail running and your pursuits right now?
JAKE: So, my background… Owner and Operator of Jackson Hole Outdoor Leadership Institute and work with Teton County Search and Rescue as well. My support comes a little bit differently, not necessarily from the running community, but I work with Mountain Hub quite a bit and then also with Flylow.
MIKE: So, the bar has been set—what was the official time?
MIKE: Do you think that anybody else is going to make an attempt at this this year, this season?
MEREDITH: For sure.
MIKE: Yeah, it seems now with getting this story out and seeing your Facebook posts, everybody is just chattering. I wasn’t here when Bill Briggs first skied the Grand, but I can see this is a very… People are like, “Oh my gosh, I have to be a part of this.” Is there a possibility to do more than two laps in a day?
MEREDITH: Well, we kind of talked about that. I said on the second lap I would never want to have to come back up this thing. However, yeah, there’s enough time in the day to do another lap for sure.
JAKE: I think those legs and lungs exist in this valley.
JAKE: There’s no doubt.
JASON: I mean, it takes a special mix because when you do that—what is it, 45 miles?—and to be able to do 5th-class climbing three laps up and down and then also to do 45 miles of running?
JASON: You’re definitely… I mean, you could argue you this for two laps, but the more you push like that, the more specialized and really focused precision on both of those aspects of both running—
MEREDITH: Yeah. I mean, I would say not every ultra-runner is just going to go. They could have the capability, but you’re throwing in that 5th class, and that’s where it becomes a whole other ballgame. Not too many people are going to be psyched on that. Truly, the second lap, the scariest thing about was just being a little fuzzy in the head, feeling lightheaded from pushing my body in the altitude, and just… It’s so funny how exposure then is just way different than before because you just look at it, and you’re like, “No way.” So, for someone to do multiple laps on that, like Jason said, it’s going to take a really specific person, and they do exist in the valley for sure. There are people in the valley here who have that capability, I believe.
JAKE: I do think that what you’ll see happen pretty quickly is that you’ll probably see a solo individual knock a significant amount of time off the two laps, just to be able to work as a single individual. This was a team event, so we’re dealing with capabilities and limitations within the group, whereas you get that strong individual that’s going to just throw down for the day, and they don’t have to worry about anybody else but themselves.
JAKE: I think they can take a significant amount of time off pretty quickly.
JASON: Even on the project we were running, I kind of almost squirmed when we talked about time because I just really wanted to do it and be there, and it was a first for me, and I wanted everybody to really have the best possible time available and not risk failure by pushing too hard and worrying about this or that. It was just, like, go and get it done. It didn’t feel like a real run workout or a specialized race or an event like that.
MEREDITH: And I think—
JASON: It could have been 15 hours, or it could have been 17 hours. I don’t think the experience would have changed for me.
MEREDITH: Yeah. And I think at the end of the day, though, we were both pretty excited to see what we did still.
JASON: Without really stressing out.
MEREDITH: Without really stressing out. I mean, we still… The first lap was sub 7. It was 6:55, and then we still were able to come back with an 8:34?
JASON: Yeah, on the second lap.
MEREDITH: I didn’t think we were going to do that.
JAKE: And it was interesting for me because in terms of speed-wise, I know there are other capabilities within the group, and when Mer and I had been talking about this for some time, I had said, “Probably a 7- and a 9-hour lap would be pretty reasonable in terms of definitely achievable,” and I think it was pretty interesting that we pretty much sat exactly on that goal.
MIKE: And as far as next, what’s on the agenda? I mean, UTMB… I mean, explain kind of what you guys are about to get into.
JASON: UTMB is the mountain running ultramarathon Super Bowl World Series.
MEREDITH: There’s nothing bigger than it.
JASON: There are a couple thousand people in the race each year. It takes people from North America, from Spain, from France, from Italy, from Asia, and it puts them together.
MEREDITH: It’s highly international. It’s probably one of the biggest international ultras.
JASON: Yeah, it’s not the largest, but it’s the absolute most competitive and watched and kind of a bar of measure. Kílian is going to be there, the past two or three winners are going to be there, and yeah, it’s a big deal. If you get on the podium at UTMB, most likely, you’re a full-time professional mountain runner, so it’s really kind of a special thing. Meredith has been there for some of the races before.
JASON: I’ve been there, so it’s a big deal. It’s really, really cool. It’s Mont-Blanc, the highest peak in Europe. It circumnavigates it in one go, and it’s fantastic.
MEREDITH: We start in France, run through Italy, through Switzerland, and then back into France, so it’s 105 miles and 33,000 feet of climbing. Jason already ran UTMB two years ago, and it will be my first 100-miler, but I’ve done two races within the series. It’s basically a week of ultra-running. The shortest race they have is a 50K. The longest race they have is 200 miles.
MEREDITH: It’s a teams’ race, but UTMB is the absolute… It’s just a really big race of the whole week, and I’ve done two of the smaller races leading up into UTMB. I really wanted to go over there and have the experience because it is so different than anything that I’ve ever run even in the States. It’s on par with probably the Tour de France as far as people coming out, and there’s a certain energy around the race that’s really, really unique and special. Yeah, my training this year has been basically revolving around that, and this was, just like Jake said, a piece of that puzzle. How cool is it to have a really great mentor and then also somebody who has run UTMB and has done well at UTMB to just be around me right now? It’s really special, and I think it’s… I’m hoping it pays off!
MIKE: Well, I’m sure you two are going to crush it. Last but not least, how did you celebrate when you got back after 16 hours and 4 minutes? You hit the car—what did you guys do?
MEREDITH: Well, it was funny because we were running in, and I had made the comment, “No one is going to be there! It’s just us three, and this is all us!” and I was screaming and yelling and cowbelling. As soon as we hit the parking lot, my coach, Eric (Orton) was there with his family, and they brought Dornan’s Pizza. They had a cooler filled with La Croix, water, electrolytes. They had glow sticks, and his daughter made us a sign, so it was a really special treat to know… I didn’t know he was going to be there, but to finish and then have someone there, it’s great to have somebody validate also what we’ve done. None of us expected it, and it was perfect, I thought.
JAKE: It was. It was a nice closing with the right people—and nice and quiet. It was just nice to be with everybody, be with the team.
MIKE: Great. Well, congrats on getting in the record books, and we’ll see how long that stands. I mean, it’s like you said, this is an active community, and I think Kílian and everybody is going to know what you guys have no down, and probably a lot of people will be coming out to the Tetons. Yeah, thanks again. It was great talking with you guys. Best of luck with all of this.
MEREDITH: Thank you.