January 04, 2023

On Aug 13, 2022, 9-year-old Tenlsey Gilliam along with her dad Brandon Gilliam, looked out over the Uintas toward the Salt Lake Valley from King’s Peak in Utah, and even the sky lit up in excitement. As they headed down the trail, and looked out over the horizon, a bright orange light flashed across the sky as if to let them know, “You did it!”

OK, OK. That orange light may have been a meteorite that collided with Utah’s atmospheric space, but the coincidence was not lost on the Gilliam’s as a sign from above that they had accomplished something amazing.

Something 100-mile-worth, amazing.

During the summer of 2021, then 8-year-old Tensley hiked Mount Timpanogos in Utah County. This is a 14-mile trek that reaches 11,753′ of elevation. Tinsley said that she liked the experience so much that she wanted to do it again the following summer, and possibly add to it.

Brandon and Tensley Gilliam on the peak of Mount Timpanogos
Brandon and Tensley then 8, posing for a Timp summit pic in 2021.

Ah, but father and daughter took that a several thousand steps farther, by embarking on a 100-mile challenge.

“There’s a company that we buy outdoor stuff from called Outdoor Vitals, that is based out of Cedar City, and they put on what they call the 100-mile challenge,” Brandon recalled. “Their description wasn’t super detailed, but I think it was to do 100 miles in one trip. I knew that we weren't going to be able to do 100 miles in one trip, so we decided that we would try to do 100 miles in the summer. We decided to build it off that company’s challenge, and kind of modify it for what would work for our family and obviously age.”

Age didn’t seem to be a factor for Tensley, however. In fact, it was her age that motivated her to want to do this.

“I thought it would be a fun goal to do. I just love getting up in the mountains, and I like to do things that other kids aren’t able to do,” she said.

Knowing that hiking Mount Timpanogos “Timp” was something she wanted to do again. And in order to reach the 100-mile goal and build upon the accomplishment of Timp, the two decided that they would do a series of small hikes while also building up to hike Timp again, and then finish off with the highest peak in Utah.

Brandon, Tensley, nd Micah Gilliam pointing to Timpanogos peak.
Six-year-old brother Micah joined Brandon, Tensley and Mom on 2022 Timp hike. - P.C. Nicole Gilliam

“That’s a bit of where the conversation started because the year before, the goal was to go do Timp,” Brandon said. “When she was eight, we went to Timp, and so it was kind of like, ‘OK we did Timp now, what are we going to add to it?’ And so that was kind of why King’s Peak was on our list to go and do. Then you have to prep to be able to go do King’s Peak. So, we just kinda came up with the 100-mile challenge.”

Not many adults, let alone, kids are able, let alone willing to do what Tensley had set out to do. Knowing that his daughter was very capable of completing the challenge, Brandon did make sure that there was the right amount of training put in, and that with the larger hikes, that they made sure to take time to rest along the way.

“When we hiked Timp, we got to our camp early, and went five miles up, then set up our tent and got a little sleep during the night, then woke up at 5 a.m. to go to the top,” Brandon recalled.

When it came time to hike King’s Peak, they to split it up into a two-day-long journey as well.

Tensley Gilliam hiking past an alpine meadow on the Henry's Fork trail.
Heading towards camp past an alpine meadow with Flat-Top Mountain in the background.

“We did over just about nine miles on day one,” Brandon continued. “We left home Thursday night, drove up, and started for camp Friday morning. We set up camp that evening, and then got up at three a.m., Saturday, and started hiking at 3:30 a.m."

Brandon wanted to get an early start so they could be sure to reach the peak and be down before the typical afternoon thunderstorms set in. Despite the early hour, they reached the peak much quicker than expected, arriving at 6:30 AM. This allowed them to enjoy the views from the top and get down off the peak before they might need to worry about lightning.

Tensley and Brandom Gilliam on King's Peak summit.
Arriving at the summit in time to enjoy the sunrise.

It was on the way back down that they saw the 8:30 AM meteor that created a sonic boom that was heard across Utah's Wasatch front.

"We did 17.5 miles the second day,” Brandon said.

Nine-year old Tensley Gilliam at Gunsight Pass.
Tens enjoying a break at the unmistakable cairn on Gunsight Pass.

Spending most of the hiking hours during the day allowed them to see wildlife like moose and mountain goats, which Tensley said was really cool. More than the scenery, Tensley said that being out there with her dad and having an experience was the best part.

“The mountains are just one of those places where you can just go crazy!” Tensley said.

Brandon laughed and confirmed the “silliness” that is had on the trail.

“We get pretty silly and tell lots of stories,” he said.

Nine-year-old Tensley Gilliam walking on boardwalk trail near Dollar Lake on Henry's Fork river.
Just past Dollar Lake. Camp packed up and heading back to car.

Nine-year-old Tensley Gilliam is a determined young girl with a strong spirit to accomplish hard things. Her positive attitude has helped her set a goal for 2023 to do a fifty-mile trip. "This year, I want to do a 50-miler," she said, expressing her determination to take on this new challenge. When asked about her total miles goal for the year she responded, "I don't know, maybe 150. "It is clear that Tensley is not one to back down from a difficult task. With her cheerful spirit and determination, along with her dad's help, she is sure to achieve her goal.

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