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Outdoors/Adventure

Hikers turn the summer of 2019 into a fast one, and a busy one, in the Chugach front range

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: September 7
  • Published September 7

A sheep trail winds through autumn colors on the way to The Ramp on the day Sam Volk climbed the 12 highest peaks in the Chugach front range on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019. (Photo by Sam Volk)

The pursuit of speed in the outdoors — whether it’s climbing a mountain, paddling a river or running or biking a trail — has spawned a useful acronym: FKT, or fastest known time. It’s a speed record that recognizes a faster effort may have come in the days before GPS devices, apps and blogs made it easy to keep track of such times.

This summer yielded a bounty of FKTs in what was without a doubt the BKT — busiest known time — in the history of the Chugach Front Linkup.

Also called the 12-peak Challenge, the Linkup consists of the dozen front-range peaks that stand taller than 5,000 feet, and the challenge is to climb them in one continuous push.

There is no set route — indeed, a climber’s skill at route-finding is the key to making it from one ridgeline to the next. Depending on the route chosen, the trip ranges from 36 to 45 miles and entails 18,000 to 21,000 feet of vertical gain.

From 1990-2018, a 29-year span that began when Shawn Lyons pioneered the climb, 19 people completed the Linkup.

This year was the 30th anniversary of the Lyons climb, and a veritable onslaught took to the mountains that provide the east side of Anchorage with a dramatic backdrop. Eight people completed the Linkup, twice as many as in any previous summer.

Along the way, they recorded a variety of fastest-known and first-known achievements:

— On June 22, Sophie Tidler became the first woman to solo the Linkup, setting a women’s FTK time by competing it in 26 hours.

— On July 13, Julianne Dickerson, April McAnly and Abby Jahn lowered the women’s FKT to 23:50.

— On July 18, Lars Arneson posted the overall FKT in 14:41, shaving three hours off the previous FKT set in 2018 by Adam Jensen and Matt Shryock.

— On July 19, Keegan Crow and Annie Connelly, both 21, finished in 27:36 to become the Linkup’s YKC — youngest known climbers.

— On Aug. 24, Sam Volk clocked 15:46 for both the second-fastest known time and the LKC — the latest-known climb.

Chugach Front Linkup

Most Linkup climbs happen early in the summer, when daylight is ample and water sources are adequate. Lyons started his 27-hour, 30-minute climb on Aug. 12, 1990, and Volk did his nearly two weeks later.

The late date was by necessity, not choice, said Volk, who grew up in Petersburg and lives in Anchorage.

“I commercial fish in Bristol Bay from the beginning of June to the beginning of August,” he said. “I didn’t have this in mind — I was planning on doing the Resurrection 100 but it got canceled, so when I came back I was just running for fun.

“I did a couple runs in the mountains that went pretty well, and that’s when I decided to do the Front Range thing. I knew I wasn’t going to beat Lars’ time, but I figured I might as well get my name on the board.

"It went better than I thought.”

Volk made his climb near the end of a hot, dry summer that melted most of the snow in the mountains by the time he ventured into the mountains. Volk said he carried a 1.5 liters of water in a bladder and another liter in a bottle, and the only place he found with consumable snow or water was at the headwaters of Campbell Creek on his way to Mount Williwaw.

Sam Volk pauses to take a selfie near The Ramp on his day-long hike through the front range of the Chugach Mountains on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019. (Photo by Sam Volk)

The Linkup was on Volk’s radar because as a backcountry skier and trail runner, he knows people who have done it in recent years.

Only nine people completed the Linkup from 1990 to 2015, but the climb started gaining popularity in 2016 when news spread of Harlow Robinson and Matias Saari’s FKT of 22:10.

From 2016 through this year, 18 people have done the Linkup, and there’s been a FKT registered every year. Replacing the FKT by Robinson and Saari were Arneson and Peter Mamrol in 2017 (18:10), followed by Jensen and Shyrock in 2018 (17:43) and Arneson by himself this year.

With most of those FTKs making the news, the 12-peak Challenge caught the attention of more and more people.

“Keegan and I actually got the bug after reading about two others who ran it,” Connelly said by email after her climb. “I know there are a lot of people doing this Linkup this year... The challenge itself is unlike anything I’ve experienced.”

Joe Stock, a mountain guide from Anchorage who did the 12 peaks in 2006, keeps track of Front Range endeavors on his website, stockalpine.com. He’s happy to see more hikers to take on the challenge, but he hopes they keep the details of their routes to themselves.

“I hope that nobody shares their exact route online,” he said by email. “That would spoil much of the fun of learning a good route. Learning a good route through the Chugach Front provides Anchorage runners with years of backyard adventure running. Following someone else's route on your phone removes the adventure.”

Stock said he was amazed Arneson made the trip in less than 15 hours this year, and he figures others will take aim at that FKT.

“Maybe 12 hours for the 12 peaks, car to car, would be a good goal for the speedy types,” he said.

Looking beyond the Linkup, Stock tossed out another idea for hikers in search of FKTs: Bag the peaks that stand 7,000 feet or higher in Chugach State Park. There are 21 of them.

“Completing them in two weeks would be a good starter time,” he said.

Lars Arneson hikes the North Suicide ridge during his 2017 climb with Peter Mamrol. (Photo by Peter Mamrol)

Linked up

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

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)

2019 – Lars Arneson, 14:41 (fastest known time)

2019 – Keegan Crow and Annie Connelly, 27:36

2019 – Sam Volk, 15:46

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