July 03, 2023
The 2023 Endless Mountains Adventure Race
The second edition of the Endless Mountains Adventure Race, the only US-based qualifier for the 2023 Adventure Racing World Championship, finished yesterday. The event, presented by Rootstock Racing, took teams on a journey highlighting the rich environmental and industrial history of the Pennsylvania Wilds region, and there is perhaps nothing that better illuminates those connections than the start line of this year’s race: the Tioga-Hammond Dam. Constructed in 1978, the dam blocks the Crooked Creek and separates the Tioga and Hammond reservoirs.
The following is a breakdown of the course preview, shared when the race was only just beginning!
On Stage A, presented by Micro Rafting Systems, racers will travel by foot and packraft in, above, and along the creek and lakes, collecting eleven checkpoints along the way to TA 1, six of which are mandatory.
Thanks to the enthusiastic support of the Army Corps of Engineers, teams will have the opportunity to portage directly over the dam and take in the dramatic, humanmade gorge that separates the two lakes. The stage ends at the Lambs Creek boat launch, where racers will pack up their rafts and set off by bike for Stage B.
Stage B, presented by Crooked Creek Campground and Crooked Roots Adventures, is the most diverse leg of the race, offering teams a dose of multisport adventuring at its finest. They will start with a ride through the forest roads of Tioga State Forest. At Fall Brook, they will drop their bikes for the first of two embedded sections: a foot loop that includes a visit to the striking Fallbrook Falls. From there, they continue riding through a maze of ATV trails and single-track, which drops into Sand Run Falls and then up through picturesque downtown Wellsboro. While straightforward enough on the map, some teams may find themselves wandering a bit here as the race’s characteristic tricky navigation kicks in, especially after the Fall Brook foot loop.
In Wellsboro, racers will encounter a mandatory media stop at the Penn Wells Hotel. There, Brian Gatens, host of The Dark Zone: An Adventure Racing Podcast, will interview each team for five minutes. When they leave the hotel, they will continue by bike toward the old Hesselgessel Quarry, built upon a former indigenous burial ground. James Hesselgessel disappeared in the 1860s, and soon after his quarry became inactive. But rumors continue to circulate of ghostly activity in the area on warm summer nights…
Racers will drop their bikes near Hesselgessel for the second embedded loop – a trek to Blue Run Rocks for some scrambling and time on rope. Here, teams will encounter four top-roping routes in a playground of boulders, crevices, and small cliff faces, set and staffed by Crooked Roots Adventures. Each racer must complete at least one climb in order to avoid a time penalty, before continuing onto TA 2 via a route that will require sharp attention to the maps. A lucky few will arrive at the transition, at a sweeping overlook at Colton Point State Park, in time for sunrise on Day 2.
This edition of the Endless Mountains is nicknamed “The Grand,” and racers will find out why on Stage C, presented by Garmin. This stage takes teams on a point-to-point trek through the sculptured landscape of the Pine Creek Gorge, the so-called Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Known by the Seneca nation as the Tiadaghton Creek, the waterway and its adjacent trail served as a critical travel route into the 1800s, linking the Great Shamokin Path and Iroquois
territory along the Genosee River.
The development of the railroad and the growth of the state’s lumber industry disrupted the natural landscape and forced the indigenous communities to relocate. In the twentieth century, the forest service spearheaded efforts to rehabilitate the flora and fauna of the region.
As teams trek through the rugged terrain, they may catch glimpses of bald eagles soaring overhead and river otters floating down the shallow creek. With a reclaimed rail-trail along the creek, spectacular waterfalls in the deep gorges that drop down into the Pine, a long-distance hiking route in the West Rim Trail, and a maze of mapped and unmapped trails on the plateau above, the Gorge is a gem of an outdoor playground.
Unfortunately, during the summer months, water levels are too low for paddling, but adventure abounds nonetheless, and teams will have a unique challenge of navigating part of the stage using only written instructions and distance estimates.
This section ends at Rattlesnake Rock, where teams will retrieve their bikes and head out on Stage D, presented by the Clinton County Visitors Bureau.
During this relatively short ride, racers can let their feet recover and put their navigational chops to work, as they explore the beautiful Cedar Run Valley on their way to the Cedar Run CCC Camp, which operated from 1933 to 1941. There, under the direction of Lieutenant J. Wickerling, workers were tasked with planting trees, fighting forest fires, and building miles of roads and trails in Tioga State Forest, the great outdoors serving as a salve to the pains of the Great Depression.
From the camp in Leetonia, mapwork will get interesting, with a variety of feasible routes connecting to the old rail grade that serves as part of the Midnight Madness bike race. Dot-watching should be exciting for this part of the stage, which ends at TA 3 in Ole Bull State Park. Here, racers will be treated to hot food as they prepare for the Stage E, presented by the Lumber Heritage Region, the crux of the race.
This stage brings racers into the remote and rugged Hammersley Wild Area, which encompasses more than 30,000 acres of remote forest and earns the distinction as the state’s largest area without a road. Hammersley was last culled in 1900; today it is lush with second growth forest, rocky ridgelines, and ambling creeks, including the fourteen-mile Cross Fork tributary, home to one of the biggest rattlesnake roundups in the country.
Not to worry, though: the snake-hunters will be long gone by the time Endless Mountains racers pass through. The 2023 roundup took place while racers were checking in last Sunday… This massive stage – projected to take top teams upwards of thirty hours – ends at Kettle Creek State Park, the best spot for elk encounters on this year’s course (especially for short-course teams that might elect to approach the next transition area from the north, along Kettle Creek Rd).
Encompassing the middle third of the course, Stage E will likely shake up the race for a number of teams. The trek is roughly broken into thirds; the middle of the stage is rogaine in nature, with more linear routes on the front and back ends. Teams will have to strategize how many of the optional checkpoints to commit to, and many may find themselves going for 24-36 hours without seeing another person.
How teams cope with sleep strategy, fatigue, nutrition, and sore feet will be a more significant factor than the 40+ miles and extended stretches of bushwhacking that they will encounter. By this point in the race – more than 48 hours in – teams will be craving real food over gels, bars, and snacks, and bagged rehydrated meals like those from Expedition Foods become a critical piece of a racer’s nutrition in the back half of a multi-day event.
Preparing for this stage with that in mind will no doubt pay dividends on days four and five. After a long day on their feet, teams should enjoy Stage F, presented by the Clinton County Visitors Bureau, a pleasant ride out of Kettle Creek State Park and then a short, punchy climb up into the Whiskey Springs ATV trails for a sixteen-point mountain bike-o. All checkpoints here are optional, and dotwatchers should expect to see some interesting squiggly lines on the map as tired navigators work to stay oriented in the labyrinth of trails and checkpoints.
While the area is well mapped, there are plenty of route options and rogue ATV trails that can make for some more complicated routefinding. Teams inclined to bypass the challenge, or those who are up against the clock, can save a few hours or more by pedaling along the West Branch Susquehanna to the boat put-in in Renovo, where the full-course and short-course routes converge for Stage G, presented by Micro Rafting Systems. The West Branch, meandering for 243 miles, bubbles up in the Allegheny Mountains and zigzags through central Pennsylvania.
The region’s earliest recorded inhabitants were the Susquehannock people, drawn to the river’s drainage basin and the steep valley’s rich hunting grounds. Until the early nineteenth century, the river provided the main canoe route connecting the Susquehanna and Ohio Valleys.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the West Branch carried timber to the many mills lining its bank. At the height of the timber industry, these mills produced 5.5 billion board feet of lumber. In the 2022 Endless Mountains, racers took on a particularly bony stretch of the river to the northwest.
This year, teams will take to the West Branch once again, but they should encounter a decidedly less frustrating float. On their thirty-mile journey, they will pass under the Hyner Hanglide Launch, where lucky teams may see adventurers of a different sort sailing overhead. They will also paddle by the Red Hill archaeological site, where in 1993 paleontologists excavated fossils dating back 365 million years.
While there are no checkpoints along the way, giving teams a break from some unrelenting navigation, the real challenge will be contending with fatigue. If teams have managed their sleep well leading up to this stage, they should enjoy the steadily moving river paddle. If they didn’t, this relatively straightforward stage could become a nightmare of a different sort, as racers contend with prehistoric hallucinations on their approach into Lock Haven and the final transition of the race.
In the early eighteenth century, members of the Anabaptist church arrived in Pennsylvania, escaping the religious persecution they had experienced in Europe. The state’s Amish population grew exponentially in the three centuries that followed, now numbering nearly 90,000.
In Stage H, presented by New Trail Brewing Company, teams will encounter this lived history as they ride through the Loganton Valley, where in 1972 an Old Order Amish community settled. From Loganton, teams will climb up into Bald Eagle and Tiadaghton State Forests, enjoying the quiet calm of the gravel roads, some final route choice and navigational decisions, and unique historical ruins, before descending through the Mosquito Valley and into the bustling downtown of Williamsport for the finish line of the 2023 Endless Mountains Adventure Race.
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