2006 Quintessential Alaska Adventure
Running Series Report
July 13, 15, 17-22
by R.L. DeVelice (10/22/2006)
After 90 miles in the backcountry, I emerged onto the shoulder of the Seward
Highway and the doorstep of the Bird Ridge Café. A quest envisioned
five years previously was fulfilled. At last years Quintessential I
was part of an attempt to traverse the maximum width of Chugach State Park.
That attempt did not succeed. High water in the streams precluded safe
crossings and necessitated drastic alternations to the route. Not easily
dissuaded, the Knik River to Bird Creek traverse moved to the top of my adventure
running to do list and onto the agenda of the 2006 Quintessential.
To get the juices flowing prior to setting off for the Knik River country,
two tune-up events were held a few days prior. On the July 13th Thursday
Evening Epic, a tidy band of mountain runners took on the challenge of the
Dome, to Knoya Point, to Kanchee Point Loop (Photo 1). Then on July
15th, Anne Ver Hoef and I set out at 4 AM to run the classic Williwaw Loop
from Prospect Heights, over Near Point, to Long Lake and the Williwaw lakes,
and back to Prospect Heights. It was a rainy day. Not too inspired
by the wet, the fog, and the gloom, Anne turned around at Near Point and
I completed the route solo (Photo 2). After these two days and a base
of 25 years of ultrarunning, I was pumped, primed, and ready to set out on
the full six day shebang of the Quintessential.
One of my criteria for selecting Epic and Quintessential routes is that they
be challenging enough that the probability of success is moderate to low.
To me, nearly impossible routes are usually much more tantalizing than pedestrian
affairs. In this vein, a 90 mile traverse of Chugach State Park over
three days really stoked my adventure running juices.
Day 1 began at the Pioneer Ridge trailhead on the Knik River Road.
The first five miles to the ridge ascended over 5,000 feet. The trails
and routes we took to Yudikench Peak and beyond are primarily maintained
by sheep and offer continuously spectacular views (Photo 3). After
surmounting Salt and Pepper peaks we dropped down to Eklutna Lake Campground
where we reenergized on an early supper. The only sustained bushwhack
of the first three days was the climb out of the Eklutna River drainage.
Our bivouac in the cushy tundra at the confluence of the north and main forks
of Thunder Bird Creek was a welcomed end to the day.
Day 2 began with a semi-leisurely romp up the main fork of Thunder Bird Creek
to a pass with striking views of Mount Rumble and environs. We then
plunged steeply into the Peters Creek drainage. Below Mount Rumble
we encountered a covey of three brown bears. The trio seemed more content
interacting among themselves than in engaging in an encounter with us.
We proceeded safely past and on up to Bombardment Pass (photos 4 and 5) and
the pass between Cumulus Mountain and Korohusk Peak. The drop below
Cumulus was the crux of the first three days and included loose gravel on
steeply sloping slabs plunging over perilous cliffs. Fortunately, scattered
sheep trails laced the slope and provided semi-secure footing. Cogitations
in the waning day heralded a split in the traverse party. I would proceed
solo to Bird on day 3 while the others would continue to Crow Pass Trailhead.
We split at Dishwater Creek on Eagle River. I continued on to a bivouac
at Thunder Creek.
For me, Day 3 began with a crossing of the icy, foot numbing waters of Eagle
River. I was a little concerned about the crossing of the Raven Creek/Camp
Creek torrent but found a bridge near the confluence with Eagle River.
Moraine Pass was aptly named and the going slow over the abundant angular
boulders. The final segment of the route from Moraine Pass was a cruise
down the North Fork Ship Creek to Bird Creek Pass, a woodsy descent to and
across Bird Creek, and navigating the network of ATV trails to the Bird Creek
Trailhead (Photo 6). I arrived at Bird Ridge Café at around
8 PM where I feasted on success and food.
The second two days of the Quintessential followed a route devised and led
by Jeff Arndt. On July 20th the merry band of explorers started up
one of the King River ATV trails in the fabulous Talkeetna Mountains.
Our objective for day 1 was to ascend to a pass near Lava Mountain and bivouac
high up the Granite Creek drainage (photos 7 and 8). The route was
originally billed to be a relaxing interlude compared to the Knik River to
Bird Creek adventure. In reality, the ascent and descent of Lava Mountain
pass was one of the steepest, rockiest sections of the entire Quintessential.
Further, no section of the Quintessential was as singularly diabolical as
the alder-devils club bushwhack on the slopes of Granite Mountain.
The map covering the second day’s terrain had inadvertently been left at
home. Lacking a map, deficiencies in navigational memory resulted in
a bonus ascent and descent of a mysterious drainage and the previously mentioned
bushwhack. We were tattered and tired, but still a merry band when
we arrived at the finish near Eska Creek around midnight.
Whew baby! The finale of the Quintessential was what I call the “Hairy
Potter” route. This devious circuit involved about 10,000 feet of climb
in 20 miles. Following a crude figure of eight the route mixed it up
on Rainbow Peak, the McHugh and Potter creek drainages, and across a variety
of secret paths and bushwhacks. It was my pleasure to share the full
tamale with Eliseo and the first half with Jane (Photo 9). For years
I’ve been contemplating attempting Barkleyesk reps on the Hairy Potter circuit.
Care to join me in 2007?
Photo 1. Approaching the summit of Knoya Peak (July 13).
Photo 2. Self portrait of author at Long Lake (July 15).
Photo 3. Anne Ver Hoef running Pioneer Ridge (July 17).
Photo 4. Eliseo Marquez, Anne, Jane Ball, and Ed Bennett crossing
Peters Creek (July 18th).
Photo 5. Eliseo, Anne, Jane, and Ed on the glacier at Bombardment
Pass (July 18th).
Photo 6. The view down Bird Creek valley (July 19th).
Photo 7. Britta Maas, Ed, Jeff Arndt, and Anne cogitating on
the route for day 1 in the Talkeetna Mountains (note map, July 20th).
Photo 8. Ed and Jeff at bivouac cogitating on the route for
day 2 in the Talkeetna Mountains (no map, July 20th).
Photo 9. Eliseo and Jane rototilling up the ridge below Rainbow
Peak (July 22nd).