HIking · Living in Alaska

The Crazy Day I Hiked Mt. Marathon

Well…I think I’m officially an Alaskan now!  Why?

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I HIKED THAT!  Yes, that 3,000 ft mountain has been conquered by Andrew and I and we survived to tell the tale.  This post may have nothing to do with running, but I can say this:  I am so sore that I may not run again until this weekend.  Also, it turns out foam rolling helps with hiking DOMS just as much as it does with running.

Before I even talk about this hike, you need to understand the back story on Mt. Marathon.  You may even recognize the name of the mountain if you read Runner’s World.  Mt. Marathon is the main mountain that borders Seward, AK.  According to this website, in the early 1900s the Mt. Marathon Race started as a bet to see if anyone could run up and down the mountain in under 1 hour.  It’s held every year on July 4th and although it’s “only” a 5k it is probably the hardest 3 miles anyone can run!  I am so excited to watch the race from my office this year, especially since I now realize how difficult the race course is.  Those runners are hardcore.

IMG_0683Mt. Marathon (to the left) from one of our tour boats.  The top of the Race Trail is the lowest point with the least amount of snow.

Andrew and I stare at this mountain from the windows at work every day, and it’s even visible from our room.  Everyone on staff talks about hiking it.  It’s been the one big scary thing on our Seward Bucket List but we kept putting it off because everyone who hiked it talked about how steep it was, especially the first 15 minutes of the trail.  And since we’re from PA and the largest mountain we’ve ever climbed was around 1,000 feet in Maine, we figured that we weren’t really ready for a hike of this size.  I mean, people die on this mountain.  And honestly, that was my biggest fear up there:  sliding off and never being found again.  But Wednesday ended up being a nice sunny day and we had nothing else to do so somehow we found ourselves at the bottom of the Jeep Trail, the start of the easier hiking trail up Mt. Marathon!  Prepare yourself for a crazy amount of pictures right now!

IMG_1463Map of the trails on Mt. Marathon.  My favorite part is the photoshopped eagle mid-flight.

IMG_1464At the bottom in all caps and underlined:  “Use of the Race Trail to reach the race point is not recommended for the general public”

Andrew and I have no interest in running up a vertical wall of loose shale (also, pretty sure we are the general public), so instead we decided that in order to reach the top of the Race Trail we were going to take the longer, more gradual route.  It still takes you up the mountain, just in a less horrible way.  The beginning of the trail was the part we had been warned about, and it was definitely steep!

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Once we got to the tree line the trail flattened out.  It was very pretty but we could see the top of the race trail looming overhead and I think Andrew was starting to freak out a bit, even though I reminded him that we weren’t going that far.  Also there are so many tiny trails branching off and I was paranoid that were were going to take a wrong turn.  It turns out the small trails were created when people were searching for the lost runner (see article above) and they’re still there.  I also saw a few leftover ribbons left by search parties in the woods.  They were scary reminders to stay safely on the trail!

IMG_1371Still so far to go!

IMG_1373Our first views of the bay

We continued up the trail and finally reached The Bowl!  It was so pretty and I wanted to stay here forever.  Little trails went up the hills towards the summit of Mt. Marathon.  We even saw tiny mountain goats on the green patch on the right next to the snow!

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Up until now the trail had been hard sometimes, but nothing we couldn’t handle.  We had definitely done worse.  But Andrew wasn’t done yet.  He pointed to the Summit Trail, a trail that leads out of The Bowl and along the ridge of the mountain to the top of the Race Trail at 3,000 feet.  He looked at me and said words he’s never said before:  “We came all this way, we need to go to the top!”.  I was so surprised that he was this excited about climbing uphill for a while and agreed, even though it was starting to drizzle.

IMG_1394You can barely see the trail, but it’s there and it’s steep

Once we started the Summit Trail I started to have second thoughts.  The “trail” was really just loose shale and I kept feeling like I was going to slip.  To make things worse, we kept seeing fake summits – we thought we were finally getting to the top only to realize once getting there that there was yet another taller point in the distance.  Andrew and I tried to just focus on the beautiful views up there instead of how tired we were!

IMG_1395Looking down into the bowl from the ridge – the true summit of Mt. Marathon is in the center

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The Harbor and downtown Seward!

IMG_1406I work there!  And we live in the building right next to my left hip!

IMG_1408We took lots of breaks

IMG_1411Sometimes there was no trail, so we just kept walking up!

IMG_1412A rainbow over the valley!

Finally, 1.5 hours after leaving The Bowl we arrived at the top of the Race Trail!  It was worth every step!

IMG_1427Seriously, no filter.  Our view out to the Gulf of Alaska, complete with a departing cruise ship!

 

IMG_1422We made it!  So proud!

20140619-231449.jpgThe race trail appears to disappear off a cliff – it’s that steep!

We honestly didn’t stay up there too long – we were afraid of how long it would take us to slowly crawl our way back down the steep loose rocks, plus we were hoping to get down in time for some dinner at Red’s Burgers.  So after a few minutes we headed back down the way we came.  The Race Trail looked too steep to safely climb down!  The problem was that the Summit Trail was also steep, and it was hard to keep track of the trail when there was no real way to mark it.  We ended up climbing down the tundra a few times since it looked safer than the actual trail.

IMG_1430Can you spot the trail?  Yeah, we couldn’t either.

IMG_1432Walking on the tundra – it’s really springy and soft!

Once we reached the bowl again, we decided to take a steep shortcut trail back down.  It was very slippery – Andrew said he felt like he was “surfing” down the rocks when they all started sliding!  But it was worth the struggle when we saw a mommy ptarmigan and her babies!

IMG_1446Starting the steep trail back down – I recommend using the switchbacks to come up the trail, which is what we did!

IMG_1451Brown ptarmigan mom in the bottom middle, and one of the babies on the white rock in the middle!  They are camouflaged so it is hard to see!

Once we got back on solid, non-sliding ground we booked it back to the car and made it to Red’s Burgers just in time for a caribou cheeseburger and the most yummy peanut butter oreo shake ever!  We totally earned that one after 5 hours of hiking!

IMG_1467Red’s is a burger place inside a bus!

IMG_1468Caribou is so yummy!

Overal I think the real difficulty with this trail was the uncertainty of the sliding rocks.  We felt like we were going to slide back down the mountain at any moment, which was unsettling when the trail was so close to the cliffs.  If this trail had been on solid rock I would have loved it, but right now I’m betting that I probably won’t do it again for a while.  Am I glad I hiked Mt. Marathon?  Yes!  I have been loving the feeling of knowing that I made it to the top of that mountain every time I look out the window!  After I finished I felt like I’d run a half marathon, and I was just as proud!

20140619-231524.jpgCrossing that one off the bucket list!

And since I know Bixler and Krystin are reading this, you guys are total champs for hiking and RUNNING that mountain all the time!  As an Alaskan newbie I have to say that it is not easy at all and you need to teach me how to do it!  Please don’t laugh at my rookie status right now!

What’s the most dangerous place you’ve ever hiked/ran?  Would you ever run a race as crazy as Mt. Marathon?

16 thoughts on “The Crazy Day I Hiked Mt. Marathon

  1. Amazing! That is what I would describe a perfect day! Yes, seeing if I could run Mt. Marathon would be hard to resist.

    You should share this with Fitness Friday at jillconyers.com 🙂

    1. It was a pretty perfect day! It hurt and was scary but I felt so awesome afterwards! I honestly think most people who try to run the race trail get pretty banged up. There are so many things that can go wrong. Most runners end the race cut up or badly injured. Someone was in a coma last year after falling off the cliffs at the end and he eventually died 😦 That kind of real danger makes me never want to try it! But I get what you’re saying – I feel like it’s an awesome challenge if I was in better shape!

  2. That is beautiful! I’m so envious of the gorgeous scenery you get to see all the time 🙂
    I don’t ever hike or run in dangerous places, I’m kind of a wuss…that being said, I can’t ever imagine a time I’d attempt Mt. Marathon. (Although its a super cool idea)

    1. I am also a wuss! I want to do cool stuff, but when I find out that people are dying trying it I don’t really want to do it anymore! It was worth it for the views though!

  3. Love your photos! The scariest place I hiked was Franz Josef in New Zealand (ice hiking). It was fun sliding (err slipping) down the mountain, although there were some scary crevices. I dont think I have it in me to do a mountain race – I am a cautious hiker!

    1. Wow that’s awesome! I did hear that Mt. Marathon is fun in the snow because you can slide right down…but yeah, the cliffs and crevices I can slide into are what really scares me! I am also a cautious hiker so I hear you on that!

  4. wow…just wow. That looks like a crazy trail. I have never been hiking but really want to try this summer. Not sure if I could do something that intense though! And I can’t believe there is a race there! No way could I do that lol. But those are beautiful views. And a burger place inside a bus?? That’s so cool!

    1. Hiking is so much fun! I think the key is to go at a manageable pace and enjoy the scenery. I sometimes hike with people who just blow through it which totally defeats the purpose in my opinion! You should look for a local state park, they usually have good trails!

  5. Just finished this trail yesterday. Your description and pictures are the best I’ve found. Very difficult hike for fifty- and seventy-somethings. Six and a half hours round trip but very glad we made it to the top. Very rewarding when you look up from the bottom and can say “I was there!”.

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