Crow Creek Pass, Iditarod Trail

crow creek

Trail up to Crow Creek Pass (by Frank Kovelchek, Wikimedia Commons)

Crow Creek Pass is a popular summer destination with hikers and backpackers, crossing a scenic pass high in the great Chugach Range of mountains which overlooks Anchorage and separates the Matanuska Valley from Prince William Sound. Crow Creek pass, or Crow Pass as it is often referred to, is also a significant point on the Iditarod Trail, made famous by the similarly-named 1,049-mile sled dog race held annually since 1973.

The Iditarod Trail historically began  in the mountains of the Kenai Peninsula, threaded along the tidal waters of Turnagain Arm, and then turned up Glacier Creek and climbed mapover Crow Pass before dropping down into the Eagle River Valley. From there the trail turned north and wound around Knik Arm, through the trading post of Knik and over the Alaska Range to the gold rush town of Iditarod, just south and west of Denali (Mt. McKinley), and continued on to another gold rush town on the edge of the Bering Sea called Nome.

The trail was about 1,150 miles long and incorporated the long-traveled native trails of the Dena’ina and Deg Hit’an Athabaskan Indians on the southern and middle sections, and the Inupiaq and Yup’ik Eskimos on the northern end.

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 2.15.16 PMOne of the early travelers over the Iditarod Trail was a hearty adventuring Presbyterian minister known as ‘the Mushing Parson.’ The Reverend Samuel Hall Young had spent time traveling in southeastern Alaska with none other than the great naturalist John Muir, who would come to be known as the “Father of the National Parks” and founder of the Sierra Club. The story of their friendship is chronicled elsewhere on this website.

In 1913 Rev. Young wrote an article for the church publication The Continent in which he shared his story of a journey via dogteam from Iditarod to Seward over the Iditarod Trail, crossing Crow Creek Pass in March. He wrote from Knik, “The worst mountain pass of all is before us–Crow Creek Pass over the high Alaska range. Fearsome tales are told me of this pass, but there is nothing to do but to try it.”

team

S. Hall Young photo: “My start from Iditarod to the coast.” [UAF-2001-38-64a]

The Reverend, who suffered from a bad back, hired a young prospector named Fred Taulman to take him over the trail, writing, “Were it not for my lame back I would go alone, but they all say that the pass is too dangerous to be traveled singly even by a strong and vigorous person. So on March 21 we hitched up our eager dogs, whose three days rest has put them in high spirits, and hit the trail again around the head of Knik Arm.”

An overnight stop at a roadhouse near present-day Eklutna and the travelers were ready to start the arduous part of their journey the next day. Crossing the Eklutna River and Peter’s Creek, along the shore of Fire Lake and up the valley of the glacial Eagle River, the mountains on either side closing in and narrowing above them.

Young and Team

Rev. Young and his team at Iditarod, 1913. [UAF-2001-38-3]

“Now hard climbing up a steep road to the base of the pass at Raven Creek roadhouse. A storm is blowing. The snow banners on the mountains that overlook the pass and the fast falling snow make it impossible for us to go on, so we spend a day at this fine roadhouse, kept by three men who are hunters, prospectors and hotel keepers as occasion requires. The second day they hitch up four big dogs as big as Shetland ponies to supplement our smaller ones, and a sturdy mountaineer with ‘creepers’ on his feet comes to pilot us over the summit. From daylight until noon we struggle before reaching the summit, making only five miles in six hours. The descent from the summit is almost sheer for 2,000 feet.”

One of the rarest historic Alaskan photos is S. Hall Young’s image of his dogteams at the summit of Crow Creek Pass in March, 1913. It is the only photograph of dog teams in the pass this historian and author has ever found, and at least two historic societies have verified the scarcity of such historically important photos. This one (below) is part of the Rev. S. Hall Young Album in the collections of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 6.01.21 PM

Rev. S. Hall Young photo: “Summit Crow Creek Pass, Alaska. One of the passes on my trip to the coast. [UAF-2001-38-104]

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About Helen Hegener

I write books about Alaskan history, and titles currently available include Alaskan Roadhouses, The First Iditarod, The All Alaska Sweepstakes, The Yukon Quest Trail, The Matanuska Colony Barns, and others. I am currently researching and writing a book on the early history and construction of the Alaska Railroad. You can contact me via email at helenhegener@gmail.com
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2 Responses to Crow Creek Pass, Iditarod Trail

  1. kevin keeler says:

    Good work Helen! I’ve never seen this pix before, although I’ve seen some of the other ones in his collection…I wonder if he bought them, because I’ve seen them in numerous places (like the mail team Seward-Susitna). The view in that pix is basically E/NE, and I hiked on the black rock ridge above the dog team to the right last summer, and have pix of the same skyline on the top middle to left. So the team is facing south on the trail. I have seen a pix of a dog team climbing Crow Pass from the south in the Belmore Brown book about climbing McKinley; they started at Seward, and he describes having to empty the sled to make it over, and make multiple trips with the gear. I could email it to you; I think it’s a scan or excerpt with a not very clear copy of the picture (but at least I know it’s out there!) Take care, kevin

    • Thanks for the kind words, Kevin! This was a new one to the KMTA folks as well (http://www.kmtacorridor.org/), and we had fun trying to find a copy with good enough resolution for them to use in a historic display. I scanned my copy from Rev. Young’s book, but that one wasn’t large enough, so they found a good resolution version at VILDA (http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg11/id/32320/rec/60). Always fun to work together on this history!

      I would LOVE to see the Belmore Brown photo, and I’m hunting for others showing mushers on that section of trail, as I spent a lot of my teen years exploring that area. I was at the Eagle River Nature Center a few weeks ago and they didn’t have much on that aspect of history, so I’m putting something together for them (Shhh, it’s a surprise! ).

      Helen

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