A ‘Wirthy’ achievement: Michael Wirth debuts ‘Elk Traverse FKT’ documentary

Slow frame shot of Michael Wirth on the Elk Traverse in August 2022.
Dawson Gillespie/Courtesy photo
If you go... What: "Elk Traverse FKT" Film Premiere When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7 Where: Independence Run and Hike, 901 Colorado 133 Units A & B, Carbondale, CO. Cost: Free

Local Roaring Fork Valley pro-athlete Michael Wirth broke the Elk Traverse fastest known time last year, and he even has the video footage to prove it.

The Elk Traverse, between Aspen and Crested Butte, connects all seven fourteeners in Colorado’s Elk Range, with peaks consisting of Castle, Conundrum, Capitol, Maroon, North Maroon, Pyramid, and Snowmass.

He will be debuting his film, “Elk Traverse FKT,” at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Independence Run & Hike in Carbondale.

Before the film, a running demo will take place at Red Hill trailhead outside of the town with La Sportiva shoes from 5:30-6:30 p.m., followed by a La Sportiva gear raffle from 7:30-8:30 p.m.

“I have had the opportunity to experience a variety of mountains all around North America in the past few years, and the Elks are special; they’re a very cool range,” he said.

A photo of Satan’s Ridge from Michael Wirth’s time on the Elk Traverse.
Michael Wirth/Courtesy Photo

Wirth’s 24-minute film documents his efforts in August of 2022 to lower local runner Rickey Gates’ previous fastest known time of 27 hours, 25 minutes, which Wirth did by four hours and 50 minutes with a finishing time of 22 hours and 30 minutes.

The film also features an interview with Neil Beidleman in 1996 while working as a guide during the 1996 Mount Everest disaster.

“I’m really proud of it, particularly because Rickey Gates’ time stood for such a long time, and I was able to lower the bar by a significant margin,” Wirth said. “So, I think showing that there was a way to do the route in a faster way was especially important.”

And in the true nature of records being meant to be broken, he said that within the past two weeks, Aspen athlete Chris Hopkins broke Wirth’s Elk Traverse record by roughly 30 minutes.

A knife point of view shot along the Elk Traverse.
Michael Wirth/Courtesy photo

“Chris did his route in a totally unique way compared to others before him,” he said. “It’s something you just imagine as the thing that you do if you’re a mountain runner and you live in the Roaring Fork Valley; it’s epic. There aren’t a ton of people that have done it, and Chris and I are the only people that have done it in a relatively close time frame, so we have kind of this unique shared experience, and I think that is absolutely amazing.”

While Wirth takes directing and producing credits, he said much of the film’s shooting duties were shared with friend Dawson Gillespie. In total, Wirth said filming carried over five full days consisting of the actual traverse, scenic shots, and interviews followed by roughly another two months of editing.

The next of his film projects is entitled “LNT” — Leave No Trace — set to be released on Oct. 3 via YouTube and focuses on backcountry skiing and the “impermanence of trace.”

“With these creative projects, you need to let them gestate a little bit in a certain way,” he said. “The process was fun, for this being Dawson (Gillespie) and I, our first larger documentary film project, I’m really happy with what we churned out for this being kind of like an introductory thing for both of us.”

Michael Wirth in action during his 2022 film which documents his efforts to beat the fastest known time on the Elk Traverse.
Dawson Gillespie/Courtesy photo

With humble beginnings rooted in Glenwood Springs, these days Wirth calls Golden, British Columbia, his home, jumping back and forth between Washington state as he said it offers more of an opportunity to safely practice backcountry skiing for the entire duration of the winter season without the risk of Colorado’s “notoriously dangerous snowpacks.”

As the saying goes, there’s no rest for the wicked, and so, too, is there no rest for him. Next up, he’s preparing for the 100-mile Run Rabbit Run race in Steamboat Springs. But before that, you can catch him running the red carpet for his Thursday premiere.

“The Elk Traverse film is cool because it is about my effort, but it’s also about the uniqueness of the Elks and the unique history that the route has,” he said. “Come on out and see the film, come have a drink, win some free gear; it’ll be a good time.”


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