Photo Credit: Camille Fiducia
I first came across American mountain endurance athlete, Kelly Halpin, when I saw a short film about her taking on the Picnic in the Teton mountain range, a crazy version of a triathlon with a mountain summit smack bang in the middle of it. Described as a natural obstacle course, the Picnic includes a 2.6-mile swim, 42-mile cycle and a 20-mile hike then technical climb up to a 12,000ft high Teton peak, before doing the whole thing in reverse (you can see the video here.) Since then, Kelly’s surpassed the Picnic by doing the Triple Teton Triathlon, a version which included summiting all three Teton peaks, self-supported.
A climber, runner and boarder, Kelly splits her time between the US town of Jackson, Wyoming and the city of Moab, Utah (dream destinations for climbing, hiking, snowboarding, mountain biking and trail running). She basically has her pick of the best outdoor endurance spots on her doorstep, which makes for an incredible Instagram feed!
Thanks, Kelly, for letting me quiz you on your mountain adventures!
Photo Credit: Victoria Spiedel
Growing up by the Teton National Park you must have enjoyed a very outdoorsy upbringing. Were you always outside?
I’ve always been a very active person, even as a child. During the summer months, I would hop out of bed at 7am sharp to grab breakfast and spent the rest of the day riding horses, mountain biking, looking for bugs, picking berries, or playing with my sister and would finally come home to bed only when the sun set.
How did you get into endurance sports – was it a natural by-product of living in Jackson?
Living in Jackson you definitely get used to spending big days in the Tetons. I’ve always enjoyed spending the entire day or multiple days with friends summiting peaks or covering a lot of distance, usually in one push if it’s possible, but it really wasn’t until David’s Picnic idea came about that I realized mountain endurance was all my favourite elements in the mountains rolled into one big adventure. My favourite part is trying to cover huge amounts of distance with a light backpack, kind of like flying through the mountains like birds. It’s what got me into running because the faster you go, the more you can cover.
Photo Credit: Ryan Burke
You’re based between Jackson and Moab – both amazing destinations for adventure and endurance sports! What are your favourite things to do in each place?
Oh, that is a hard question. I’m completely madly in love with the Tetons, so anything that brings me deep into the canyons or high in the peaks is my favourite. Whether it’s running a divide or simply meandering around with friends, it’s a lot equal to me. In Moab my favourite thing to do is teach friends how to crack climb. There’s something so incredibly rewarding about watching someone figure out how to hand jam or lead their first trad route. It just makes me grin ear to ear.
You’ve been climbing for 25 years, you’re a snowboarder and you’re also an endurance athlete – which came first?
Climbing came first. I started climbing in a gym at age 6, although tree climbing is what really came first. Next came snowboarding at age 14 and the endurance thing is the newest, although it involves the skills from all my other sports.
Photo Credit: Rob Kingwill
You’re the first woman to complete the Grand Teton Triathlon series self-supported. Each looked like a serious endurance feat – did you do any training to prepare?
[Laughs] The first Grand Teton Triathlon I did with my friend Tristan back in 2014, I think. We thought it would be an extra challenge to carry everything we needed from town and swim without the boat support. We trained for it by doing a small picnic we called “the snack” where we biked to Taggart Lake, jumped in the water briefly, climbed the Middle Teton, and did it in reverse. It actually gave us a good idea of what we needed or didn’t need, gear-wise, and how much a wet wetsuit weighs on a bike – which is a lot by the way [laughs].
Can you describe the leg up to the summit?
It really depends on which summit and how you are feeling mentally at that point. Almost all the Teton peaks I’ve done as a midpoint for these adventures involve 5th class climbing and a lot of exposure. The first time I did the GTT we brought and used a rope simply because we knew we would be mentally fatigued and thought it would be safer, but the second time I did a Picnic with a link-up between the Grand, Middle, and South Teton peaks (during the Triple Teton Triathlon), my friend and I planned on soloing everything, although we brought a 30 metre rope and a few cams just in case. In the end we only used a single sling to protect a slippery move on the Middle, but I’m glad we were prepared for anything because things can go wrong really fast. For the Moran triathlon we used ropes, which may have saved lives in the end because my partner ended up blacking out while on rappel. We would have been in big trouble if we hadn’t had the gear to get off the mountain safely.
Photo Credit: Rob Kingwill
What did you find the most challenging aspect of your Teton triathlons?
I think the biggest challenge mentally is being able to just focus on the task at hand and not get sucked into thinking about how much further you have to go. Compartmentalize. The physical challenge for me is managing hydration and fuel, especially if you get nauseous. You have to get that food and water in and keep it down otherwise you’ll waste yourself.
Are you pretty used to pushing yourself outside your comfort zone now or do you still feel the fear?
Oh I’m always scared, especially of lakes. There are monsters down there. I’ve definitely become better at staying focused and not letting the monkey brain take over. Enter the flow state. Breathe. Stay centred. I think it’s good for your brain to get out of your comfort zone.
You’re a mountain runner and have completed ultra-distance events. How often do you run?
I run about every other day. My favourite is adventure running in the mountains and summiting peaks fast. I’m pretty new to racing, but I really enjoy it. I’ll always prefer adventuring though.
Are you relaxed about your running or do you like to have a training plan and record your runs?
I’m fairly relaxed about running just because I do so much to cross-train anyway, but I do have a trainer now and have been taking steps to be able to maintain strength and endurance more than I have in the past. I definitely want to be able to continue running for a long, long, long time and am happy to be following a more structured plan these days. I’ve also become better about resting and getting bodywork done a few times a month, where in the past I would maybe give myself one rest day every two weeks and only a few massages a year. Much happier body now!
What does a typical week of training look for you right now?
I usually start every day off with some simple yoga and then switch to running and training/climbing days. I’m so happy to have climbing as a second sport. It gives me a way to adventure and play and use my upper body while my legs get a break. In the winter I snowboard one day and run the next or go to the gym. I try to make sure I have one day a week where I totally give myself a rest and work on art, although it can be hard when it’s sunny out. I can always play with my dog on those days.
You’ve climbed competitively – where are your favourite places in the world to climb?
I will always love Indian Creek and it’s the reason I have a home in Moab, but other fave places include Wild Iris in Lander (Western Wyoming), Joshua Tree (California), and Saint George (Utah). I want to check out the climbing in other countries too, like South Africa, Tasmania, and Thailand.
Photo Credit: Dustin Ordway
Have you ever had any hairy moments while climbing?
Oh so many! A lot while climbing in the Tetons, and a few climbing in the desert. Too many to talk about. Just try to always be prepared!
You’re into banked slalom racing. Do you train specifically for this?
I just do those for fun. It definitely helps having strong quads so your legs don’t get blasted around gate 15, but I don’t spend time training for those. Totally a just-for-fun activity!
Have you got any challenges or events planned for 2017?
I have so many! I have an endurance adventure planned for June or July in Greenland and then a few more regional challenges in the Tetons, Wind Rivers (mountain range in the Rocky Mountains), and the Wasatch. I also have a big stage race in Canada in September which I’m starting to train for and a few adventures in Zion and the Grand Canyon next fall. I would love to dip down to South America next winter.
What would your dream day in the mountains look like?
My dream day in the mountain would be a late July adventure run in the mountains with friends or a super sexy guy where we would not only crush a peak or two, but take some time to eat thimbleberries and jump in an alpine lake. Finish off the day with a cold beer too. [Laughs]
What are your favourite pieces of kit for running, climbing and boarding?
Oh, that’s a big question. For mountain running I like having a pair of La Sportiva Akyras or Raptors, my Osprey Dyna 6 pack, an Avalon 7 headband and comfy running clothes. For climbing I like to wear pants or long shorts I can scratch up, a sports bra because I hate wearing shirts, and either a headband or a hat. Snowboarding I definitely 100% love my Ridge Merino base layers and Opedix tights for under the outerwear. Native sunglasses or goggles for all sports.
Do you have sponsors that support you with costs and/or kit?
I’m sponsored by La Sportiva, Osprey, Native Eyewear, AVALON7, Gnarly Nutrition, Honey Stinger, Opedix, Beyond Coastal suncare, Chums, Nom Nom Doughnuts, and Ridge Merino.
Get inspired by Kelly’s stunning Instagram feed featuring climbing, mountains and adventure at www.instagram.com/kyehalpin. Visit Kelly’s website and find out about her work as an artist at www.kellyhalpin.com