Many people know of the grueling Mount Marathon racecourse in Seward, some 130 miles south of Anchorage. However, most people don’t know that there’s also a hiking path to the top at Race Point—and it’s far less demanding. This 4.5-mile route, which entails hiking three different trails, takes you up the mountain and lets you to explore a glacial valley along the way.
When you start climbing this route from the gate at Madison Avenue, you might not find it much easier than the race route; the wide Jeep Trail (the first of three trails the route follows) is also steep. But as you head higher into the rain-thickened forest, the dirt road that now functions as a trail settles into a more leisurely angle. Savor the rich, moist taste of the forest air while you can; upon reaching the cistern at the upper end of the trail you’ll be close to the tree line that contours across the mountain’s face.
Along the way, you’ll find enticing glimpses through the spruce trees; look down on Resurrection Bay and the glacier-girted mountains that rise above its far shore. These passing views only foreshadow what awaits you further on.
At the far end of the mountain, the trail climbs steeply to the top of the next shelf. However, it soon leans back to a more leisurely angle as it turns up the valley lying below the north flank of Mount Marathon.
Here you can look across to Mount Benson and the gap below it that, after some serious cross-country travel, will take you to the edge of the vast Harding Icefield (a trip better left for the fittest and most experienced climbers and hikers).
After one last serious climb, the appropriately named Skyline Trail winds up onto the east buttress of Mount Marathon. Here, among the eagles and high-flying ravens, the trail continues to snake slowly up the ridge. But as the trail beckons upward, you may be distracted by the grand view that encompasses almost the entire length of Resurrection Bay. It’s a view that just might make your jaw fall open in forgetfulness.
You’ll eventually pass the down route of the racecourse. Then it’s just a few hundred yards of gradual climbing to reach the famous turnaround boulder on 3,022-foot Race Point.
With the ramparts of Mount Marathon rising behind you, you can now do what few racers have a chance to do—sit, have a snack, and revel in the long, wide view.
Author: Shawn Lyons
Distance: 4.5 miles