(all distances approximate)
The Crow Pass Crossing is divided into two virtually equidistant halves — but they are very different in character.
Immediately upon leaving the Crow Creek Trailhead, the route climbs steadily for 3.5 miles to the actual Crow Pass. The full trail gains about 3,200 feet and approximately 2,200 feet of this comes in the initial climb.
On the way, runners pass gold-mining ruins from the Monarch Mine, which operated from 1906-1948.
They’ll also see the Crow Pass Cabin managed by the Chugach National Forest and in some years will encounter considerable snow en route to the Pass.
Only if the racer reaches the Pass (elevation 3,642 feet) in less than 60 minutes may they continue.
There begins a 7-mile descent to the Eagle River. Near Mile 4, racers exit the Chugach National Forest and enter Chugach State Park, where they will remain for the duration of the course. Early during the descent are 3-5 short but steep-sloping snowfields that must be navigated. Typically, a somewhat flat path has been created by previous travelers, but losing the path or one’s footing risks a sketchy slide down the snowfield.
After descending the final snowfield (or the adjacent rocky path), racers pick up the main trail down Raven Creek Valley. The first major landmark is a bridge over Raven Gorge (Mile 5.9) followed by another over Turbid Creek at Mile 7.3. Then the brush gets higher and runners spend several miles running (or walking) on faith, as waist- to chest-high vegetation obscures the chunky-rocked trail underfoot (they’ll also encounter cow parsnip and stinging nettle).
Runners will first see the Eagle River between miles 10 and 11. Do not cross the river at first sight, but turn right and continue upriver to the Ford Site at Mile 11.3, where a volunteer will provide a wristband that proves you’ve crossed at the correct place.
Crossing the river — estimated at 150-200 feet from bank to bank — is exhilarating, freezing, no big deal or potentially dangerous, depending on the person, their experience, their height and the river level on any given day (the depth can range from shin to chest-deep). Some racers link arms or put their arms over each other’s shoulders for extra stability; volunteers and a First Aid crew are NOT there to escort racers across.
Once across, racers try to regain feeling in their numb legs as sections of the course become less technical and mostly flat.
While bears can be encountered anywhere along the trail, the second half in the Eagle River Valley is more forested and thus more prominent bear country (bees are also more prevalent).
Thunder Gorge (Mile 12.4) has a downed log and a rope for those who don’t want to cross the creek, as does Icicle Creek (Mile 17.3). In-between, there is a dry creek area marked by rock cairns, Twin Falls and its campsites, the infamous “Chutes and Ladders” section and a boulder field (with a secondary adjacent path, take your pick).
The first major landmark after Icicle Creek is The Perch, a gathering spot for spectators. About four miles from the finish, it’s a steep slab of rock with a scenic view of the valley.
One mile later is Echo Bend (Mile 19.7), where a maze of trails managed by the Eagle River Nature Center begins. Stick to the main trail and signs that point to the Nature Center or Visitor Center.
The last few miles, despite a “rock garden” that can trip you up, are among the easiest terrain-wise, although the 20 miles in your legs make it feel less so.
Then the trail widens and when you first hit the boardwalk, you’re about a mile from the finish. The last stretch is the final insult, a half-mile of uphill until the finish line and Nature Center appear with little warning.
Congrats, you’ve completed the Crow Pass Crossing, no small feat!