The highly publicized and celebrated Mount Marathon is almost a household name to Alaskans – and each year, at the beginning of July, it also gains attention nationwide and worldwide.
But come late July, a much lesser-celebrated, and arguably tougher race is held with not nearly as much fanfare. The annual Crow Pass Crossing is a backcountry marathon that challenges racers to climb a mountain, cross a pass, ford a river, dodge angry bees, dart around the occasional moose or bear and cross the finish line with a smile on their face.
This year’s Crow Pass Crossing, hosted by the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves, is set for July 25. Racers start on the Girdwood side of the Pass and have six hours to reach the ending at the Eagle River Nature Center, tucked in the Chugach mountains off Eagle River Road, north of Anchorage.
“It’s annoying how Mount Marathon gets all the attention, because it’s not as competitive,” says Cody Priest, a former University of Alaska Fairbanks skier and cross-country runner who now is a coach at Alaska Nordic Racing. Priest is running his fourth Crow Pass Crossing this year, and is a perennial front-runner in the race. While Mount Marathon is clearly a challenging race, he said a lot of racers can’t get in due to lottery restrictions, and then if they do get in, they have to commit to be around every July Fourth for the next 10 years to secure their spots. That’s a challenge for top-tier racers, whose schedules remain busy.
Crow Pass Crossing, though, remains a highly competitive race. To finish the race is an accomplishment in itself. Priest said he is aiming for a finish of around 3 hours and 5 minutes.
“In the past that would have won the race, but in the last five years or so it’s been highly competitive and the winning times have been so fast,” he said. “Still, it could be a podium finish.”
Last year’s winner, Allan Spangler, finished the race in 3 hours, 1 minute and 45 seconds. Priest finished seventh in 3:15:06. Christy Marvin topped the women’s race in 3:26:44.
“It’s definitely one of the more exciting trail races and adventure races in Alaska,” Priest says. “It’s a huge sense of satisfaction and you see so much. You hike up the pass, and running down is super beautiful with all the glaciers and then you cross Eagle River.
“And most year’s you’ll get stung by a bee, which is an added source of adrenaline,” he said. “It’s just a fun race.”
For race details, visit alaskamountainrunners.org or www.goseawolves.com.
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