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).