Crow Pass — not for the weak

Thursday, September 1, 2011 - 13:22
Annual mountain race is one of Alaska's most beautiful and brutal events

One of the more ambitious summer hikes a person can take begins in Girdwood and winds over roughly 24 miles of spectacular Chugach Mountains terrain to the Eagle River Nature Center. For many people, the trek is a wilderness adventure that can take two or three days to complete.

Or you can just run the thing in a few hours.

That's what 135 athletes plan to do this weekend in the Crow Pass Crossing, one of the more challenging marathons you'll find anywhere in the world.

"It's not a race for beginners," said race director Mike Friess.

The race begins at 7 a.m. on Saturday, July 23 at the Crow Pass trailhead in Girdwood. Friess said the first finishers will likely arrive in Eagle River within three hours. Geoff Roes, last year's winner, finished in 2 hours, 54 minutes, 44 seconds to best Eric Strabel by about five minutes. Abby Rideout won the women's race in 3:50:54.

The race traverses some epic terrain that includes glaciers, waterfalls and rivers and is run entirely in bear country. But unless you're a participant, about the only way to see the action is to watch from either the start or the finish.

Those hoping to see some of the fittest athletes Alaska has to offer can hit the Eagle River Nature Center, where operations manager Laura Kruger said they're expecting a decent crowd at the finish line.

"We get quite a few people who come and watch," she said.

Friess said the course is officially 24 miles, although that figure differs depending on just who's doing the measuring. Kruger said people say the trek is between 23 and 26 miles long. She did it this summer and mapped it out at 23 miles with a smart phone.

"It's debated," she said.

The length of the course isn't what makes it so tough, but the wilderness itself. Crow Pass is 3,500 feet high, and the total course has about 4,000 feet of elevation gain.

Then there's the crossing of Eagle River, a glacial-fed torrent that might be the course's biggest obstacle.

Kruger said the crossing this year will again be a challenge.

"People coming across are saying it's pretty high," she said.

That's par for the course, however, said Friess. Every year, he said reports start to trickle in on the dangers that lie ahead for the brave few who enter the race.

"Usually by now I've heard some horror stories," he said.

But because the course – which takes place inside Chugach State Park – is notoriously unpredictable, Friess said early trail reports are somewhat meaningless to the athletes who have to make the trip.

"It wouldn't matter what I know right now, by Saturday it's always different," he said.

With bear attacks, changing weather conditions and rushing rivers among the possible pitfalls of the race, there's a chance a few of the 135 entrants (that's the maximum field size) might drop out. If they don't show up for a mandatory bib pick-up at 5 p.m. on Friday, July 22, Friess said new spots could open up.

"We'll probably have a few people show up Friday and a few drop out," he said.

It's free to stop by the race finish at the Eagle River Nature Center, which is located at the end of Eagle River Road. Just don't forget the $5 parking fee for non members.

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or [email protected]


This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, July 20, 2011.

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