Alpine Adventure Run Preview

Sitka Mountain Rescue Director Don Kluting ran up Gavan Hill and across the ridge to the Harbor Mountain picnic shelter Monday.

Each year in the days leading up to the Alpine Adventure Run, Sitka Mountain Rescue prepares a safety plan for the race and Kluting wanted to get a look at the condition of the course. 

Sitkans probably don’t need more proof that it’s been a cold summer in 2012, with new records for rainfall and low temperatures set across the region,  but Kluting found some on the mountain.

“I can’t remember the snow level being this high,” said Kluting, who along with the mountain rescue squad has helped provide coverage for the alpine run since it started as an Eagle Scout project in 1994. “We’ve never had it at checkpoint four.”

Sitka Mountain Rescue operates five checkpoints on the course, including one at the finish line. They provide water and keep track of the runners who are on the mountain. And they’re there to provide medical care if necessary.  

The fourth checkpoint, where Kluting saw snow this week, is near the fork in the trail, where hikers can go up to the Harbor Mountain summit, or continue toward the picnic shelter.

In general, there’s a lot of snow up on the Gavan-Harbor Ridge, the result of high snowfall totals this winter and the cool temperatures of the last few months. But Kluting and others said the snow, as long as it stays firm, might help runners zip along the course on Saturday.

“You don’t have the hazards of the rocks and the wood steps,” Kluting said. “I think it will be interesting to see what the times are this year.”

This is the 19th edition of the Alpine Adventure Run, a grueling 7-mile race up Gavan Hill and across the Harbor Mountain ridge to the picnic shelter on Harbor Mountain Road. Race director Chris Horan, whose son Josh founded the evend, said the 2008 race still holds the record for the worst conditions. The summer was cold and rainy that year too, and it actually hailed on race day. 

Still, Seward’s Cedar Bourgoeis, a Mount Marathon legend, managed to cut through the fog that day and set a female course record with a time of 1:23:00. Sitka’s Tasha Folsom took advantage of a perfect day and a fast course (Forest Service improvements over the last few years have undoubtedly made the course faster) to lower that mark last year, coming across the line in 1:22:42, good enough for 10 overall.

Folsom is out of town and will not be able to defend her crown Saturday.

The male course record was also broken last year as Sam Scotchmer blazed across the finish line in 1:06:29, breaking a mark of 1:06:47 set by Anchorage’s Brad Precosky in 2002.

Scotchmer, who also won the race in 2010, became just the third repeat winner, joining six-time champ Steve Reifenstuhl and three-time winner Precosky in that exclusive club.

Scotchmer will look for a third straight title Saturday. Niko Friedman, a Sitka High cross country standout who took third last year in a time of 1:08:46, is registered for the race in 2012, as are past champions Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins and Ivan Grutter.

Kreiss-Tomkins won the 2009 race in 1:10:54. He had hoped to defend his crown in 2010, but got stuck in Argentina after he ran into trouble with immigration officials during a trip to the Andes. He was in top form heading into the 2010 alpine run, but was injured in late June and pulled out of the competition.

Both Kreiss-Tomkins and Scotchmer participated in the Medvejie/Solstice Run last month, but managed to avoid a showdown as Scotchmer won the half marathon and Kreiss-Tomkins finished first in the 10K race. On Saturday, they’ll both be on the starting line at St. Gregory’s Church. And they just might battle their way up Gavan Hill to Harbor Mountain. Last year, Scotchmer made his move in the vicinity of the lookout on the Gavan Hill trail and pulled away from second-place finisher Skeeter Morris, who had beaten Scotchmer a few weeks earlier at Medvejie Half Marathon. Friedman made a furious charge on the ridge and finished just 15 seconds back of Morris. Both runners posted times that would have won the race most years. The female times were also fast last year. After Folsom, a pack of women, including Faren McCrehin, Tracey Columb and Cindy Edwards, finished right around 1:30.

It’s hard to say what kind of times will be turned in Saturday. For one, the final 800 meters of the course, where runners emerge from the woods and charge down Harbor Mountain Road to the finish, are covered in shot rock. The snow could be a factor, and there’s just no telling what the weather will do.

Horan hiked the course Sunday and while she agreed there’s a lot of snow, she doesn’t think the conditions this Saturday will be quite as bad as 2008, assuming it doesn’t hail.

“Some people think they can run faster in the snow,” Horan said. “I had no problem getting through there.”

To date, there has never been a serious injury in the Alpine Run, a streak that Horan and Kluting hope continues in 2012. Bears have chased runners and there’s been a host of scraped knees and elbows over the years, but other than a few broken ribs, Kluting said, the medical issues have been kept to a minimum. Both Kluting and Horan  took notice of this year’s Mount Marathon, which was marred by tragedy.

Held on the Fourth of July each year in Seward, the Mount Marathon is one of the oldest races in the country.

This year, a 66-year-old man got lost on the course and is presumed dead. Another runner, Matt Kenney, fell in the race and suffered a serious brain injury. Kenney is an Alpine Adventure Run veteran, part of a contingent of Anchorage mountain runners who put the event on the statewide map in the 2000s. 

Kenney ran 1:20:20 in 2007 and finished 8th. He was back to race in 2008 and came to town the next year, though a shoulder injury kept him out of the event in 2009.

Kluting said he was aware of what happened earlier this month in Seward, but that he’s confident Sitka Mountain Rescue has a good safety plan in place for Saturday’s run.

“We’re not doing anything different,” Kluting said. “ We have certainly been following the details of the incident in Seward very closely and taking a look at how that could impact the race in Sitka.”

Kluting said he plans to mark the course on the ridge this year with “avalanche wands” to make sure racers stay on track, particularly if there’s low visibility Saturday. And mountain rescue always has a team of sweepers that stays behind the last runner and relays information back to the finish line. The check points ensure that race officials keep tabs on the participants.

“It makes you kind of stop and think,” Horan said, when asked about this year’s Mount Marathon. “Any mountain run would pause and look at itself and see if there are any changes that need to be made. I think we have a very good safety plan. I know Sitka Mountain Rescue goes way above what would be required.”

Race Notes

As of deadline today, Saturday’s race was full, with 75 runners, the maximum allowed by the Forest Service, expected on the starting line. The start time is 9 a.m. Horan said 12 members of the U.S. Coast Guard will be in the race. As an organization, the Coast Guard holds the record for most participants in race history. Horan said SEARHC is second. Harbor Mountain Road will be open to the third gate on Saturday and race spectators are asked to yield to support vehicles on the way up the mountain.

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