As Mount Marathon approaches, event coordinators and safety officials stress, the mountain trail should by no means be mistaken for a brisk afternoon hike.
“There are always people getting saved off that mountain,” said Mount Marathon event coordinator Erin Lemas. “We actually try to steer people off that mountain.”
It was just three days ago on June 10 that another man required rescue from the mountain, according to an Alaska State Troopers dispatch.
Troopers received a call from Michael Keefe reporting he was lost on Benson Mountain in Seward. Keefe reported he was cold and wet and could not find his way off the mountain, according to Troopers. Several agencies, including Seward Fire Department, responded to search for Keefe. Luckily he was located, and then transported to Seward Providence Hospital for treatment of his injuries.
Seward Fire Department chief Eddie Athey was present at the time of Keefe’s rescue. Athey credits Keefe for remembering to bring a cell phone with him, allowing the stranded hiker to notify emergency crews. However, it was clear Keefe wasn’t properly prepared to hike Marathon.
“He went up in jeans and a t-shirt and that’s just not appropriate,” Athey said.
Keefe’s situation speaks to a larger misconception that Seward officials are working to dispel. Lemas along with the staff at the Seward Chamber of Commerce have started a campaign to ensure people understand the very real dangers often with Marathon. It involves changing verbiage, signage and local colloquialisms associated with Mount Marathon. It’s a bold initiative, Lemas admits, that will likely take time before it can go before Seward city officials.
It’s not the first time people have taken measures to improve safety and danger awareness on Marathon. Athey is aware some individuals had taken matters into their own hands to install hardware at sections of the climb up the mountain. Recently rebar and rubber hosing loosely secured to the side of the mountain was discovered by hikers at certain sections. However, the problem is the hardware instills a false sense of security, Athey said, and dangers of their own kind.
“These potential devices were installed on the mountain without the consultation of the city of Seward,” Athey said. “It’s raised a stir within the community, because there isn’t oversight provided for these devices.”
Unless crews can determine where these devices are, Athey said, the only way they can find them is when someone mistakenly attempts to place their trust in them and ends up getting injured. “We are asking the person who installed the devices to come forward,” he said.
With the 3.1-mile race now three weeks away, crews and officials are working hard to ensure every measure is taken to ensure the safety of racers and onlookers, Lemas said. That means spreading the word about potential dangers and making sure adequate personnel are available to oversee the race trail.
In the time leading up to race day officials will be conducting trail sweeps. A trail preview from 1 p.m. till 3 p.m. will be held on June 21 where veteran runners will be taking runners up the trail to help them familiarize themselves with the course. Lemas also said the race committee is also hoping to contract the help of veteran ski patrollers to lend their expertise for the day of the race.
Despite all of the precautions, though, Lemas and Athey both know there are only so many preparations that can be made. Ultimately racers and onlookers must take accountability of their own choices, which means coming prepared.
Athey advises anyone thinking about climbing Marathon, whether for a race or for a challenge, to pack appropriately. Let family or friends know where a plan before setting out and provide them a time frame, Athey said.
“A lot of folks want to consider (Marathon) a day hike, and that’s just simply not a good way to do that,” Athey said. “If you’re going to make a journey up that mountain, you should go with the mentality that I could spend more time up there than I thought.”
Bring a cell phone, extra water and food, a rain coat, and most importantly some sort of GPS, Athey said. “We have to be able to identify where you are,” he said.
“It’s not for the faint of heart; it takes a real professional to do it,” Athey said.