Runner and guide breaks record for fastest Mt. Shasta ascent

Lauren Steinheimer
Ryan Ghelfi after breaking the record for the fastest known ascent from Horse Camp to the summit of Mt. Shasta, which he accomplished in 1:37:05 the morning of July 6, 2016.

Summiting Mt. Shasta is an impressive feat in and of itself. Some climbers take half a day, and most take much longer to complete the path made famous by John Muir. 

On the morning of July 6, Ryan Ghelfi hightailed it from Horse Camp to Mt. Shasta summit in a record time of 1 hour, 37 minutes and 5 seconds, shaving 65 seconds from the previous fastest known time held by Rickey Gates.

As a kid growing up in Redding, Ghelfi said he always longed to climb Mt. Shasta, but his parents wouldn’t let him do it.

Since reaching adulthood, the Nike-sponsored runner, coach and mountain guide guesses that he’s summited Mt. Shasta about 40 times. He credits those experiences, great climbing conditions, proper gear and some serious stamina for his record-setting achievement.

Breaking the speed record for a Mt. Shasta ascent from Horse Camp is something Ghelfi has been attempting at least once each year since 2012, when he first joined Shasta Mountain Guides.

When he tried it this year, Ghelfi said the route was packed with frozen snow, which made it easier to power hike up Avalanche Gulch. He also went ultra light, wearing one-inch track spikes instead of crampons, and carrying trekking poles instead of an ice axe.

“My fitness was as good as it’s ever been going into one of these, too,” he said. “And then… “I dunno – I’m about to have my first kid in a few months, so I was just like, ‘Oh man, you gotta do this now.’”

This isn’t the first time Ghelfi has set a record. When he was 19, he set the fastest known time for Half Dome in Yosemite, a record that has since been surpassed several times. But he still holds the 50K record for the Headwaters Trail Runs in Mount Shasta.

Ghelfi said thoughts of his wife Natalie and the baby they’re about to have together permeated the “super tunnel vision” that takes over any time he takes on such a challenge.

“You can’t really think that much about anything other than what you’re doing,” he said. “I kept thinking about my wife and the kid we’re going to have. This time, I wanted to make it. I just really wanted to put a nail in this one before we have a baby.”

Ghelfi speaks humbly of the speedy ascent: “I think a lot more people can do things like this than they think. If you believe in your athleticism, you can sort of shrink the mountain down,” he said.

That’s not to say it was, or ever will be, easy to climb Mt. Shasta.

“I think the greatest challenge was committing to a fast enough pace early on, knowing it’s going to be that hard the whole time, and just accepting that,” he said. “You have to be willing to put yourself deeper into that pain cave.”

Ghelfi departed Horse Camp at 7:24 a.m. and made it to the summit at 9:01 a.m., traveling about 3.6 miles with 6,024 feet of elevation gain. The third mile alone had 2,600 feet of vertical gain, meaning that every foot traveled forward took Ghelfi half a foot upward.

Strava data from the ascent can be found at:

As for advice to other climbers trying to beat his time, Ghelfi said, “Spending time on the mountain is probably the best thing you could do.” He points out that “just knowing what was coming, and knowing it really well,” was key to this victory.

Rickey Gates and the FKT belt buckle project

Ghelfi was with previous record holder Rickey Gates in 2012 when they both attempted to beat the fastest known time on Mt. Shasta together.

Contrary to Ghelfi’s advice, Gates said he had never climbed the mountain before. “My one and only try was when I got that record,” he said.

Gates is a professional runner with Salomon and recalled his experience climbing the mountain with Ghelfi during a phone conversation from Alaska, where he was visiting for the Salomon Mount Marathon.

He described how Ghelfi connected with him over Facebook through mutual fascination with achieving the fastest known time on Mt. Shasta, and the two became good friends in the five years since their climb on July 3, 2012. “I think we both get the same sort of inspiration from it,” he said.

Gates set the record in 1:38:10 that day. “Ryan came in about five minutes behind me,” he said, adding that Ghelfi was gracious on the climb, offering Gates a spare ice axe and plenty of knowledge about the route.

“I’m just super excited for Ghelfi. That’s a record that goes all the way back to John Muir in 1874. It’s a pretty iconic mountain and super aesthetic route,” Gates said.

Gates said he and his girlfriend started the FKT (fastest known time) belt buckle project. It’s a collection of belt buckles commemorating iconic trails around the nation, awarded to the fleet footed individuals who manage to break a record.

So far, the set includes: the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim, Half Dome, Four Pass Loop, Grand Teton Up and Down, the Zion Traverse and Mt. Shasta Ascent.

“I’m really psyched to pass the Mt. Shasta buckle off to Ghelfi the next time I see him,” Gates said.

Both Gates and Ghelfi pointed to the wealth of history regarding record ascents on Mt. Shasta as inspiration for their feats. Ghelfi referred to this document,, which pulls ascent record information from the Mount Shasta Herald dating back to the 1920s.

In addition to his wife, Ghelfi thanked his climbing companion and co-worker Cole Watson, Chris and Jenn Carr, and all the Shasta Mountain Guides.

When he isn’t chasing FKT dreams, Ghelfi can be found coaching runners with his company Trails and Tarmac, guiding tours with Shasta Mountain Guides or selling gear at Rogue Valley Runners in Ashland.

“Most of all, I really want people to go out and try to break this record,” Ghelfi said.

For more information on fastest known time records on Mt. Shasta, visit For more on Gates’ belt buckle project, visit To learn how to run like Ryan Ghelfi, visit