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Anchorage climbers set speed record in Chugach Mountains

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: July 31, 2017
  • Published July 30, 2017

Lars Arneson hikes the North Suicide ridge on July 22, the day he and Peter Mamrol climbed 12 Chugach Mountain peaks in a record 18 hours, 10 minutes. (Photo by Peter Mamrol)

Lars Arneson called it "a good, long day in the mountains." Unofficial records call it a good, short day in the mountains.

On a perfect Saturday earlier this month, Arneson and Peter Mamrol set a speed record for climbing the dozen peaks towering 5,000 feet or more in the front range of the Chugach Mountains.

The Anchorage men topped the 12 peaks that make up what's known as the Chugach Front Linkup — the mountains that provide Anchorage with a spectacular east-side backdrop — in 18 hours and 10 minutes. They sliced four hours off the previous best of 22:10, set last year by Harlow Robinson and Matias Saari.

According to Mamrol's GPS, the journey through totaled 44 miles with 20,800 feet of climbing.

"I think we were pretty fortunate with how everything went," said Mamrol, 24. "Things went just about as well as they could. We maybe made a couple of very brief wrong turns but, really, I think overall it went very smoothly."

Peter Mamrol navigates scree on his way between The Ramp and Hidden Peak, two of the 12 peaks he and Lars Arneson climbed in a single day earlier this month. (Photo by Lars Arneson)

The adventure began at the Rabbit Lake trailhead a little before 4 a.m. on July 22. It ended at the Stuckagain Heights trailhead around 10 p.m.

The men traveled light – each carried about five pounds, Mamrol said. For nourishment, they brought Gu energy gel, a couple of sandwiches, energy bars, trail mix and some gummies.

"We definitely went out there to see how fast we could do it," Mamrol said. "I think we ended up going about as fast as we could.

"We took some stops to fill our water bottles. We took one stop around midway of about 10 or 15 minutes."

They paused on each summit to take photos and enjoy the view, but mostly they were on the move.

"Any ridgeline with a sheep trail on it, we would try to run it," Arneson said. "We were able to run a lot, actually."

Mamrol and Arneson both grew up skiing and trail-running in Alaska. Mamrol is a Service High graduate who went on to ski and run cross country at Dartmouth College, and Arneson is a Cook Inlet Academy graduate who went on to ski and run cross country at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

"We met through a friend this spring and we've been doing some trail running together throughout the summer," Arneson said. "Peter had brought (the climb) up a couple of weeks ago and we had wanted to do a little more scouting, but we had a good weather window and we were both available, so we decided to do it."

Mamrol had previously climbed eight of the 12 peaks – all but Avalanche, Hidden Peak, Willawaw and Temptation Peak. Arneson had only climbed two of them – Williwaw and O'Malley.

The key, Arneson said, was Mamrol's route-finding skills.

"I can only think of a couple of instances where we were undecided and we went back-and-forth," he said.

They took it slow on some of the rockier ridge lines, but it was essentially a trouble-free day in the mountains, both men said.

And while setting the record was nice, both hope their accomplishment will inspire others to take on the challenging hike.

"It'd be really cool to see more runners go out and give it a go," Arneson said.

Midway through their 44-mile trip through the front range of the Chugach Mountains, Peter Mamrol (left) and Lars Arneson pause to take a selfie.  (Photo by Lars Arneson)

Unofficially, only 15 people have completed the Chugach Front Linkup since hiking guru Shawn Lyons, author of "The Walk-About Guide to Alaska," first did it in 1990.

Six of the 15 people who have completed the trip did so in the last two summers, according to records kept by mountain guide Joe Stock of Stock Alpine LLC.

"The Chugach Front Linkup may become popular, but it is still very difficult," Stock said by email. "Many people talk about it, but relatively few will actually do it. It requires endurance, scrambling ability and intimate knowledge of the Chugach Front."

Stock, who in 2006 made the hike in 23:13 with Trond Jensen, called the 18-hour effort by Mamrol and Arneson "amazing."

Mamrol, who acknowledged that prior knowledge of the front range is critical for anyone attempting the trip, thinks the new speed record is within reach for others.

"I certainly hope that some people try it to see how fast it can be done," he said. "People certainly can do it faster."

The Peaks

South Suicide, 5,005 feet
North Suicide, 5,065 feet
Avalanche Mountain, 5,050 feet
The Ramp, 5,240 feet
Hidden Peak, 5,105 feet
O'Malley Peak, 5,150 feet
Mount Willawaw, 5,445 feet
Koktoya Peak, 5,148 feet
East Tanaina, 5,358 feet
Temptation Peak, 5,383 feet
West Tanaina, 5,200 feet
Tikishla Peak, 5,358 feet

The History

1990 — Shawn Lyons, 27 hours, 30 minutes
2006 — Trond Jensen and Joe Stock, 23:13
2008 — Rob Develice and Charlie Thomas, 34 hours
2008 — J.T. Lindholm, 22:40
2010 — Harlow Robinson, 22:42
2012 — Abby and Stephen Rideout, 29 hours
2016 — Harlow Robinson and Matias Saari, 22:10
2016 — Aaron Thrasher, 27:22
2016 – Marlo Karjala, 24:13
2017 – Peter Mamrol and Lars Arneson, 18:10

(Source: Joe Stock)

One-fourth of the way through their Chugach Front Linkup climb, Lars Arneson and Peter Mamrol enjoyed this view of the first three peaks they climbed — from left, Avalanche Mountain, North Suicide and South Suicide. (Photo by Peter Mamrol)