The Edge of Impossible

23 Sep 2018

Burke Invents New Mountain Feats

Summer 2018

Written By: Kelsey Dayton | Images: Lance Koudele

Ryan Burke was biking up Teton Pass in 2014 when he had a revelation. He had already ran about 40 miles across the Teton Crest Trail, swam almost six miles around Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park, and completed most of the 109-mile bike ride from Jackson known as “around the block.” He was more tired than he’d ever been.

Yet he knew he had it in him to keep going.

“It was in that moment I realized I can touch the edge of my possible and keep going,” Burke says.

Burke, an addiction counselor at the Curran Seeley Foundation, called his feat “Around the Clock.” It took him 30 hours to finish the running, swimming, and biking, and it was just one of many multi-sport adventures he would create.

Burke arrived in Jackson in 2004 after seeing the Tetons from the top of Togwotee Pass on a cross-country bike trip. He’d grown up a curious kid in Maine, always wanting to see what was around the next corner.

Climbing, with its emphasis on problem solving, fascinated him. He taught himself enough to climb the 13,775-foot Grand Teton with a friend in 2008. It took 21 hours that first time.

Not long after, he met Jarad Spackman, a mountaineer who’d skied the Grand Teton and notched numerous first ascents and descents in the mountains.

Spackman became his mentor in the mountains, and also one of his closest friends. Spackman died in an avalanche in 2013, and Burke
set out to honor his friend in the best place he could—the mountains.

“Jarad had taught me personal boundaries should be written in pencil and not pen,” Burke says.

"It was in that moment I realized I can touch the edge of my possible and keep going." Ryan Burke

Burke completed “The Picnic,” an unofficial triathlon that includes a 21-mile bike ride to Jenny Lake, a 1.3-mile swim across the lake, and then a summit of the Grand Teton, before reversing the course back to Jackson, in a record 11.5 hours in 2013.

That inspired him to create his “Around the Clock” challenge in 2014. He linked 24 Teton peaks he climbed in four consecutive days in what he called the “Perception Traverse” in 2015. The next year he climbed 50 Teton Peaks in a seven-day traverse. In 2017, he made a record three car-to-car ascents of the Grand Teton in a single day, finishing in a little more than 18 hours.

This summer, he plans to link the Teton, Gros Ventre, and Wind River mountain ranges. He wants to run the Teton Crest Trail, bike 75 miles by the Gros Ventre Mountains, and then run the 60-mile Highline Trail in the Winds.

Burke sees his feats as honoring the accomplished mountaineers who came before him.

“When you are looking at the ‘Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range,’ and it’s this giant book that lists all the first ascents, it’s like there is nothing left,” he says. “But there is always a blank page at the end. There’s always room to add to the conversation."

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