Alaska Mountain Crusher
Running the Chugach Front's highest peaks in a day
The author and Trond Jensen romping through snow on their Chugach linkup. Photo by Matt Hage.
THE LAST FRONTIER
Passing through Anchorage on any Alaskan wilderness adventure, you’ll see the Chugach Mountains (aka the Chugach Front) rising like a barrier to the last frontier. At the city’s edge, houses give way to dense alder bushes. At 2,000 feet, hard tundra and wind-thrashed hemlock take over. Higher still, toward the mountaintops, tundra fades into greywacke boulders, snow and then just sky. Beyond that skyline, mountains stretch uninterrupted through Canada and into the lower 48.
My wife, Cathy, and I climbed several Chugach Front summits, but she demolished her knee and I was marooned without my adventure partner. Staying closer to home, I began running alone after work in an adrenaline-induced dream state through the Chugach Front, often returning home in 1 a.m. twilight. By September, I’d tagged all 35 named summits in the Chugach Front, but I still craved a final challenge. I just hadn’t dreamed it up yet.
Then last winter, I met Trond Jensen at the Scandinavian Peaks hut deep in the central Chugach Mountains. While a blizzard raged outside, I discovered that Trond’s Norwegian blood kept him one of Anchorage’s top Nordic skiers, even at 46. When the snow melts, he applies his granite-solid endurance to mountain running. I also learned that topping his tick list was snagging the first one-day linkup of the Chugach Front’s 12 summits over 5,000 feet. “That sounds like fun!” I said.
“Then come along,” Trond said.
“Yeah, but there’s no way I could keep up.” I imagined myself limping along behind Trond and his burly mountain-running contingent.
Over the next two years, I realized that while many Anchorage athletes could physically complete the 33-mile, 20,000-vertical-foot Chugach Front linkup, few knew how. Only Shawn Lyons of Anchorage had pieced together a route. In 1990, he pulled off the linkup in 34 hours. Trond and I pooled our knowledge and developed a route similar to Shawn’s, except we wanted to do it 10 hours faster.