In the spirit that has come to envelop the quest to climb the 12 peaks towering 5,000 feet or higher in the front range of the Chugach Mountains, Julianne Dickerson, Abby Jahn and April McAnly will share few details of the route they took last week while establishing a speed record for women.
They will disclose that they began their journey — known as the 12-peak Challenge, the Chugach Front Linkup or the Cosmic Integration — on Friday, July 12, at 2:41 p.m. and ended it 23 hours and 50 minutes later, at 2:31 p.m. Saturday. They will divulge that the first peak they climbed was South Suicide and the last was Tikishla. They will allow that, generally speaking, they traveled south to north.
“In the spirit of the linkup and respect to the route-finding, part of (the challenge) is to not share the route, because a lot of it is researching and figuring out how do to it,” Jahn said.
So, no details about the route that took the Anchorage women from summit to summit to summit.
But details aplenty about their reward upon reaching each summit (listed here in order of elevation, with the exception of South Suicide and Tikishla):
• South Suicide (5,005 feet), macarons from Fire Island bakery.
• Williwaw Peak (5,445 feet), string cheese and Slim Jims.
• Temptation Peak (5,383 feet), Swedish Fish and Nalley Elites pickles.
• Tanaina Peak (5,358 feet), peanut butter banana bites and Krave sea salt jerky.
• The Ramp (5,240 feet), Lay’s potato chips.
• West Tanaina Peak (5,200 feet), sea salt chocolate caramels.
• O’Malley Peak (5,150 feet), sea salt chocolate caramels (so nice they had them twice).
• Koktoya Peak (5,148 feet), maple cashew butter packets.
• Hidden Peak (5,105 feet), Honey Stinger waffles.
• North Suicide (5,065 feet), lavender rose chocolate.
• Avalanche (5,050 feet), Mount Olive baby dill pickles.
• Tikishla (5,230 feet), leftovers.
The summit snacks, as they called them, were more than just fuel for their bodies, Dickerson said.
“These were fantastic little morale boosters,” she said. “At each summit, we alternated which person was responsible for a quick photo and which person was responsible for the on-the-go summit snack to share.
“We highly recommend this technique.”
Not so highly recommended is their timing.
All three were coming off impressive finishes at Mount Marathon, the punishing mountain race in Seward that happened July 4 — eight days before their epic hike. Dickerson, a 31-year-old electrical engineer originally from Kenai, placed third; Jahn, a 26-year-old graduate student originally from Wasilla, placed eighth; and McAnly, a 37-year-old physician assistant originally from Kentucky, placed 15th.
“All of us were still recovering from blisters,” Jahn said in an interview the day after the climb. “Now we have blisters on blisters, or blisters coming off and new blisters forming.
“I think the feet have seen better days. I went for a really nice, long walk this morning but I don’t think I’ll be doing much more of anything soon.”
That would make Jahn the outlier in this group. Dickerson and McAnly both plan to compete in wilderness races on Saturday — Dickerson is entered in the 22.5-mile Crow Pass Crossing from Girdwood to Eagle River, and McAnly is headed to Sitka for the Alpine Adventure Run, a 7-mile run with 2,500 feet of climbing in the first 3 miles.
Other than all of those snacks, the women traveled light. Each carried seven to 10 pounds, including two water bottles they kept filled throughout their climb (part of their advance research included noting where water was available). They brought one medical kit and one can of bear spray, plus a GPS spotting device capable of sending a signal.
“It was turned on, so people would know we were still moving and still alive,” Dickerson said.
All three have spent hours climbing in the Chugach Mountains, whose front range provides a stunning east-end backdrop to Anchorage. Dickerson had previously climbed all 12 of the front range’s highest peaks, Jahn had done 10 of them and McAnly nine.
Depending on the route, the linkup entails 36 to 44 miles and 19,000 to 21,000 vertical feet. The trick is to bag all 12 summits in one continuous push.
Shawn Lyons, who has written books about hiking in Alaska, is the first known person to do it, in 1990. Sixteen years passed before Joe Stock and Trond Jensen made the next known climb in 2006.
Twelve more have happened since then, half of them in the last four years. Stock’s website has become a clearinghouse for information about the climbs.
About a year ago, Dickerson, Jahn and McAnly decided to take on the pursuit, thinking they could be the first women to do it unaccompanied by men — until this summer, the only woman known to do the linkup is Abby Rideout, the 2010 Crow Pass women’s winner who did the climb with her husband in 2012.
When they consulted Stock’s webpage in the days leading up to their adventure, however, they discovered a new entry on the list of completed climbs: Sophie Tidler of Anchorage did the linkup by herself on June 22-23.
A civil engineer who graduated from UAF and Service High, Tidler said she made the climb in celebration of her 25th birthday on June 23.
“I do things solo a lot,” she said. “I’m super comfortable with all of the terrain because I’ve been on it multiple times.”
That said, Tidler started with a plan but didn’t stick with it, which is why she needed to call for a ride home after reaching the Snowhawk Valley trailhead after finishing her trek — she had planned to finish at Stuckagain Heights, where she had left a bicycle.
“I changed my game plan a lot,” Tidler said. “I (wanted) to do it in under 24 hours. That was my initial goal, but by the eighth peak my goal had changed to just completing it.”
She made the trip in 26 hours.
The news of Tidler’s accomplishment — “Kudos to her, especially for doing it solo,” Dickerson said — meant Dickerson, Jahn and McAnly needed to readjust their goal. They decided they wanted to be the first women to break the 24-hour mark, something that had been done in seven of the previous 14 known linkups.
“So now we’ve got to focus on being fast,” Dickerson said.
They took an 11-minute break while everyone put on clean socks and paused briefly atop each peak for photos and summit-snacks. Other than that, they agreed that if someone had to stop, the other two would keep moving and it was the third person’s responsibility to catch up.
“That wasn’t super difficult,” McAnly said, “because what I noticed is we tended to speed up a little when we had to shake rocks out of our shoes or something, so catching up wouldn’t be that hard.”
They contended with poor visibility when they found themselves in fogs for a couple of hours as Friday turned into Saturday, and as they headed to their 12th and final peak, they were a bit loopy. The last valley they had to cross loomed large and was filled with Dall sheep.
“It’s going to take five hours to get across,” they thought as they journeyed on.
Followed by: “Where did all the sheep go?”
The sheep were actually white rocks. And it took 77 minutes to cross the valley, not five hours.
By then they were tired, punchy and ready to be done. When they finished, their husbands and boyfriends were waiting with nachos, beer and camp chairs.
“I was thinking about sitting down in a chair for the last hour,” Jahn said. “That was one of my main motivations. I’ve never been so happy to sit down.”
Here’s a look at known climbs of the Chugach Front Linkup.
1990 — Shawn Lyons, 27 hours, 30 minutes
2006 — Trond Jensen and Joe Stock, 23:13
2008 — Rob Develice and Charlie Thomas, 34 hours.
2008 — JT 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
2018 — Adam Jensen and Matt Shryock, 17:43 (fastest known time)
2018 — Joe Nyholm and Miles Knotek, 23 hours
2019 — Sophie Tidler, 26 hours
2019 — Julianne Dickerson, April McAnly and Abby Jahn, 23:50 (fastest known women’s time)