With the high ridges of the front range above Anchorage finally free of most of this winter's ample snow dump, I've been eye-balling the maps for some good ridge running. I found out this past weekend that although the terrain looks cruiser from town, the ridge lines can be quite technical. On top of that, the Chugach is not known for its alpine rock quality. Shit, people say the Tetons are chossy. You have no idea!
One thing I'm learning about playing in Alaska is you don't count on the weather for anything. You simply go. Saturday was no different. A completely incomprehensible forecast tried to put the dampers on my enthusiasm but I'd have none of it. It didn't look great but I'd seen that before and watched it clear many times. So, after sleeping in I managed a typical Alaskan alpine start and left late in the morning. Hell, it never gets dark so who cares? My only stipulation was that I get back before the Moose's Tooth stops serving the best pizza in town. Yeah, I was already planning my post-beat down meal.
Two of my favorite mountain runs, Knoya Peak and Wolverine Peak, guard either side of a long alpine valley with an attractive ridge line up one side and down the other. This effectively links the two peaks with tons of ridge running. It looked good on the map. I took a wild guess at somewhere around 15 miles and between 7 and 9 hours. I really had no idea but it was a start in order to plan my calorie load for the adventure.
I wasn't sure of the water scene up high and I failed to note that I was crossing from one side of the valley to the other and would have access to plenty of runoff. Duh. So, like an idiot I rummaged through my pack collection and dug out an old running pack that could hold a 3 liter bladder. Next time I'll take my sweet Ultraspire Surge with its 2 liter bladder and simply refill at the half way point.
Figuring on 8 hours, I loaded 3 flasks with 9 Gu's and 8 single serving packs of Chomps. I put 4 scoops of Roctane Endurance drink mix into the bladder. That equals 2,100 calories of go food. With a breakfast on board and a serving of Gu Recovery on the way to the trail head, I had just enough to make the push I anticipated. I couldn't have cut it closer.
This outing starts and finishes at different trail heads. I'm still running mostly solo these days so I had to fend for myself with transportation. The finish point at Prospect Heights is uphill from my house so I dropped off my bike and some MTB shoes, locking them to a gate and hoping they would be there at the end of the day. I drove back the start.
As soon as I started running down the flat dirt road on the way to Knoya Ridge I knew I was on a good day. My legs finally felt recovered after a decent training block last week. I never pushed too hard, staying away from threshold and simply cruising my "all day" pace.
The lower woods were jungle like and creepy with bear shit everywhere. Always puts me on edge. I had my spray handy. It's always a relief to get above tree line.
Knoya Peak is a good haul at over 8km and 4,800 vertical. I topped out in 1:46. I looked down the ridge line the last time I was up there and wondered. It was time to find out. Dropping off the summit felt committing, particularly since the clouds were moving in and I couldn't see anything. I was cursing the Alaskan weather. Makes for crappy pictures. It also kept me on edge since I never knew where I was. The rock is complete shit and with the moisture in the air, the lichen was slippery. Although I like my La Sportiva Crosslite shoes for the area's muddy trails, the aggressive lugs leave something to be desired on easy 5th class scrambling.
There were times when I felt super exposed and I kept thinking back to my outings on the Teton's Grand Traverse, my favorite alpine adventure EVER! Hanging my ass over the fog-shrouded abyss, skidding around slippery, fractured rock and realizing that if I fell I would be completely hosed kept me focused. I was texting my friend, Valerie, updates every hour or two just to narrow down the body recovery a bit.
Along the way, I tagged the summits of Takishla, West Tanaina and East Tanaina Peaks. Koktoya taunted me at the far end but I saved it for another go. Mount Williwaw is also there, further increasing the ante for an ambitious outing that would tip 12,000 vertical, I'd guess. Hmmm...
As I neared the head of the valley above Long Lake, the clouds lifted, improving my mood significantly. There were some options at this end of affairs that included another peak or two. But a quick tally of my food stores made foregoing additional summits an easy decision. I would be back for the others. So, I dropped off the ridge and took advantage of some snow fields to lose some easy vertical. The meadows at the head waters of the North Fork of Campbell Creek were beautiful and bug free. I love the walking in those settings. The ground is so spongy. It was hard to believe that the sprall of Anchorage was just out of sight at the far horizon.
A short 20 minute grunt gained the ridge line and the summit of Mount Elliot. Wolverine was far in the distance with a craggy, but easier ridge line on the way to its spiky summit block. The little goat trails are a welcome site up high in these mountains. These guys know the easy way and rarely steer me wrong through the maze of pinnacles. I saw lots of their scat and hoof prints but never saw one. I was disappointed. I bet they saw me, though.
The seemingly downhill run to Wolverine was more relaxed than the other side of the valley. It was a good way to finish it off. Of course, from the summit I still had an hour and 3,700 vertical feet down to my bike.
There's a little uphill grunt just before the parking lot, about 9 minutes worth of gentle uphill, that seems to test my resolve at the end of these efforts. On this day, I ran easily up the grade, in spite of my aching knees and feet. I hit the fueling perfectly. At the top of Wolverine I was distressed to find only one package of Chomps remaining. I nursed them one at a time over the last hour. I still had fluid in my bladder and the Rocktane Endurance mix carried me to the car. It was a mostly downhill 25 minute cruise. Not an unpleasant conclusion.
Sustaining the effort
You know, you all might accuse me of shamelessly pandering to Gu Energy but I have to give a shout out to them, regardless. I know some of you get a funky gut on gel products, or at least you've convinced yourself that you can't do these sorts of outings without "real" food. Well, I'll tell you. I've committed to Gu-only for these efforts for a couple of years now and I'm convinced it's the way to go. I'm never hungry and I never bonk. I don't get to the end famished or even close, as long as I've kept up with my 200-300 calorie/hour intake. I love the lack of guessing. It seems like my stomach knows what's coming and sits quietly all day.
I would love to do this traverse again with a partner and throw the peaks at the far end of the valley onto the itinerary. That would be something. Better weather would be nice, too. There's still summer left. - Brian