Words by Stefanie Bishop – Photography by Brian Nevins
This story first appeared in Like the Wind issue #29

There are 48 peaks higher than 4,000ft in New Hampshire, in the north-eastern corner of the USA. On Thursday 15 July 2021, endurance athlete and adventurer Stefanie Bishop set out to climb all of them.

Chasing a Fastest Known Time (for a female, supported athlete) of four days and 20 hours, Stefanie set out just after midnight. As well as the challenge of the climbing itself, Stefanie faced waist-deep rivers and brutal humidity, as well as sleep deprivation, hunger and dehydration. We join Stefanie at the start of the third night of her FKT attempt. At this stage, she had already summited the majority of the peaks and faced torrential downpours that pushed her to her physical limits.

Having more than the majority of peaks behind me, including the most difficult ones, Waumbek was an easy target, especially for a night-time leg. The addition of Michael’s company going into this third night sweetened the mission, as well as providing a little relief. In the last mile coming down from Carrigain, I felt the sleep monsters creeping in for the first time.


“Sleep monsters”’ is a term I learned in adventure racing. No matter how hard you want to fight those monsters, you experience the uncontrollable urge to close your eyes to go to sleep. The monsters tend to appear out of nowhere, though I do find that they’re more common at night. And from my personal experience, they’ve never appeared at the same time during a multi-day effort. The unpredictability of them may catch you off-guard and land you in quite the predicament if what you’re doing requires deep focus or if you’re in a risky environment, like abseiling off a cliff in the middle of the night (which is a different story for another day).

With the depth of the night still ahead, I caught a little bit of sleep on the 45-minute drive over to Waumbek. As we left, it was drizzling. This picked up into a steady downpour as we reached the Starr King Trailhead. After having wet feet for nearly the last 30 miles of the “Mega Pemi”, my feet had some relief just prior, with a dry hike to Carrigain, but they could have definitely used another half-day of dry trails to return to a more normal state. Rarely are conditions for something of this length ideal, especially in these mountains, and I committed knowing that I was likely going to encounter a little rain.

Michael and I donned our rain gear, exited the car, and immediately started to move. We started a very gentle climb and within minutes I was stripping off my rain gear; it was too hot and with my feet already soaked, I didn’t care if my body was wet. I would rather be wet and use my rain gear to stay warm when needed rather than sweat in my rain gear, which would defeat the purpose of staying dry regardless.

The rain steadily became a torrential downpour. Massive raindrops were flooding the trail, as well as our ears and eyes. It was deafeningly loud, which normally is quite relaxing to listen to, except that it was also difficult to see; my headlamp created a blurry spotlight, its beam reflecting off the heavy raindrops.

About two-and-a-half miles in, just shy of the summit of Starr King, which was still a mile away from Waumbek, we abruptly stopped to put on our rain gear for the sole purpose of staying warm. Not only were we trudging through deep puddles by now, but the wind picked up, and it was surprisingly cold.

The final mile to Waumbek was like a record skipping without anybody tending to it; it carried on and on, and with each “skip” I would look up from navigating the swampy ground in hopes that we were nearing the summit, but we were not. The darkness felt heavier than usual and though the wind and cold rain were physically uncomfortable, it started to take a greater toll on me mentally. Michael was leading the way and my body followed him without thought because I was busy fighting a flood of doubt and distrust in my mind.

One of the easiest mountains of the 48 was quickly becoming the one where I questioned whether I was going to go on.

Reaching a summit, or a summit cairn in this case, always lifts me up. Finally seeing the cairn on Waumbek was a relief – and it was an even greater relief to have it behind me as we headed down to the parking lot.

Unsurprisingly, the mile back to the summit of Starr King felt shorter on the return, though the rain was still not letting up and the trail was a string of small ponds linked together. At this moment I felt more energised than on the way up: I had reached the summit and was heading back to a dry car, where my dry sweats and food awaited my arrival.

We passed the fireplace remains atop Starr King and began our final descent. However, the mini endorphin pump I gained from summiting wore off as quickly as it arrived. The torrential rain, which did not let up for one moment, became hypnotic, putting me in a trance. I was still following Michael’s headlamp to the best of my abilities, but the sleep monsters came back and invaded me with full force. I was limited only by my mind, which was drifting off, as the rocks along the trail were morphing into a sea of skulls. Even though I was aware it was just a hallucination, it was a reality that I desperately needed to rest, but I needed to get down this trail in this miserable storm before doing so.

To read Stefanie’s complete account of her FKT attempt, go to www.stefaniebishop.com

Stefanie Bishop is a plant-powered, New York-based adventuress, ultraendurance athlete, coach, interior designer. IG: @stefadventures www.stefaniebishop.com

Brian Nevins is photographer based out of New Hampshire, United States IG: @nevinsphoto www.briannevins.com

Leave a Reply