Verification of Brett Maune's John Muir Trail Record

Brett Maune at the end of his JMT speed record hike I have generally made no attempt to verify the records listed on this site. However, when Brett Maune claimed to have smashed both the unsupported and supported records on the John Muir Trail, while hiking unsupported, some questions were raised and I felt it necessary to look into the matter. Below I detail the results of my investigation. This also led me to add some thoughts about verification to the main page of this site.

Maune first announced his intention to attempt a speed record on the JMT on the www.backpackinglight.com (BPL) forum on July 22, 2009. After some questions and comments on the forum, he revealed that, while his trip would be unsupported, he intended to break Sue Johnston's supported record of 3d20h0m (Whitney Portal to Yosemite). On August 3, Maune posted that he had failed in his attempt, due to "bonking" after just one day. For some of us, this was not unexpected since Maune was completely unknown in the ultrarunning and speed hiking communities. Maune stated that he would try again at the next full moon.

Much discussion ensued on the BPL forum, including a post (on page 6) from Ian Alloway stating that he would also attempt a speed record at about the same time as Maune, and asking about verification of such efforts. The thread also includes reports on failed speed record attempts from Michael Popov, Mark Davis and Jeff Kozak.

Maune began his second attempt at Whitney Portal at 12:45 a.m. on September 3, and reached the summit of Mt. Whitney a little over 4 hours later. There he met Ian Alloway, who had slept in the summit hut in preparation for his own trip. Maune left the summit at 5:00 a.m., an hour ahead of Alloway. Alloway confirmed Maune's departure time in video that Maune took at the summit.

Maune reported completing his trip at Happy Isles TH at 2:58 p.m. on September 6, crushing both the unsupported and supported records. Alloway finished the next day at 11:05 a.m. His time from the summit of Whitney was 4d5h5m, which beat Michael Popov's previous unsupported record by 20 minutes. Of course at the time Alloway did not know that Maune had lowered that record by over 19 hours. Alloway's trip report is on the BPL thread (page 11) and here.

Alloway emailed his trip report to me and Aaron Sorenson on September 14, and forwarded a number of emails from people he had met along the route who could confirm the location and time of their meeting. Maune posted his report with pictures and video to the BPL forum (page 10 & 11 of the thread) 3 days later. Hence, neither Alloway nor Maune had see the other's report prior to releasing them. Maune also mailed me a flash drive with all his video (about 50 clips) and photos, which he intended as his primary means of verification.

The time stamps on Maune's videos provide confirmation of his whereabouts. It turns out that the clock on his camera was off by 12 hours 5 minutes. I suppose this might happen if he set the clock without properly accounting for a.m. or p.m. Anyway, when Maune was on Whitney with Alloway, Alloway confirmed the correct time, so we can be sure of the discrepency between Maune's camera and the actual time. However, I suppose it isn't too hard to falsify the file creation times of photos and video. Maune might have summitted Whitney but then left the trail at some point.

On the afternoon of September 4, Alloway encountered a large, strong thunderstorm. That evening he slept in the Muir Hut, on top of Muir Pass. He reported "1 inch snow cover" on the trail north of the hut that night. By this time, Maune was several hours ahead of Alloway. He crossed Muir Pass at 1:30 p.m. Maune reported getting hit by a tremendous hail storm for 1.5 hours shortly after passing the hut, and took some video. After the storm there was quite a bit of hail on the ground, which is visible in the video. It appears that both men are describing the same storm, which provides confirmation that Maune was in fact on Muir Pass when he said he was.

The rest of Maune's video clips seem to provide confirmation of the continuity of his trip. I suppose he could have bailed sometime after Muir Pass and then falsified the video time stamps from sections later in the trip, but that seems to me less likely than that he did exactly what he said he did.

Maune also has video of his feet from a day after the trip, and they look appropriately terrible. This is hard to falsify!

I also followed up with some of Alloway's verifiers -- people he met on the trail. I looked at when Alloway met them and tried to figure out if they would have been in the right place at the right time to see Maune, based on the splits that Maune provided (page 9 of the BPL thread). The bottom line is that 2 or 3 of Alloway's verifiers could have seen Maune, but they reported that they did not or did not recall seeing him. I also posted to the BPL and Whitney Portal Store forums to see if anyone had seen Brett on the JMT. It wasn't until 8 March 2010 that there was any response to those, Jose Dueno posted on the BPL forum that he and his wife saw near Vidette Meadow on 3 September as they were hiking south bound. To date no one else has reported seeing Maune on the JMT after Mt. Whitney. Nevertheless, I still believe that the evidence points to the veracity of Maune's claim. I hope this experience will inspire future record seekers (particularly those going unsupported) to make a serious effort at verification.