The 2022 Kahtoola Uphill—A Flagstaff Tradition Returns!
The 2022 Kahtoola Uphill—A Flagstaff Tradition is Back and Better Than Ever!
The feeling was electric as 364 racers gathered at Snowbowl and made their way to the start line of the 15th edition of the GORE-TEX Kahtoola Uphill. Some in costume, others dressed to race, but each ready to take on the mountain’s unforgiving slopes—running, walking, on snowshoes, or on skis—for a great cause.
That special feeling was due, in no small part, to the fact that this is a big year for the event. Not only was this the 15th edition, but it’s also our first year back in person since 2020. On top of that, 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of Arizona’s Camp Colton—a special place for many Northern Arizona residents that gives kids the chance to learn about the outdoors from an early age and become lifelong stewards of the environment.
Showing up for Camp Colton
The positive potential of people was on full display as racers aged 3 to 73 made their way up the mountain. This year, racer fundraising, combined with proceeds from entry fees and raffle tickets, raised over $57,000 (the most in the Uphill’s history!) for Friends of Camp Colton, enabling more kids to benefit from access to the outdoors.
Of the 364 racers to enter the Uphill, 117 raced the full Lumberyard Brewing Co. Agassiz Climb (2,220 vertical ft.), 104 braved the Midway Climb (1,550 vertical ft.) and 117 took on the Fun Climb (600 vertical ft.). The field included 46 Camp Colton Alumni and 46 W.L. Gore Associates.
Kahtoola Associates were also there mixing things up in a number of different categories. Highlights include Kahtoola Shipping Associate and ultrarunner, Tyler Welch, taking 2nd place in the Agassiz Climb Men’s Traction category and Kahtoola Design Associate, Nico Francis, taking home the Champion of the Mountain prize in the Non-Binary Traction category.
On the Slopes With Aisling King
Now in its 15th year, the Kahtoola Uphill means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but it holds a special place in Aisling King’s heart. Raised in Flagstaff, she’s a Camp Colton Alumna and has competed in the Uphill several times. This year, her son, who has also attended Camp Colton, took on the race for the first time himself. Here’s what the Uphill and Camp Colton mean to Aisling in her own words:
The Kahtoola Uphill is a fun, yet extremely intense race that I have “won” once and barely completed a few other times. It has come full circle for me as my son competed for the first time this year taking first in his age in the Agassiz race (aka “ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP”!—proud mama moment). Kaiser is my 6th grader, and he was excited to participate this year, especially as he was able to partake in the coming of age tradition that Flagstaff calls Camp Colton early this fall. Although the programming was different from when I attended 25 + years ago, his excitement was the same!
As a 6th grader, understanding the topography and complicated history of the San Francisco Peaks—the mountain range that my little hippie hometown of Flagstaff, AZ, was at the base of—was far less significant than managing the profuse sweating of palms when partnered with my most recent crush during a square dance. Yet somehow, I found myself in a world where all of those things happened in a single day at Camp Colton.
During my time at Camp Colton, I remember standing in Hart Prairie, when our Camp Colton counselor told us that if you held your left hand flat like a pancake, and aligned it with the slope of Agassiz, then did the same with your right hand along the slope of the former San Francisco Mountain while touching your fingertips together, that pyramid that your hands formed represented the former summit of the range before a volcano rearranged the landscape; a solid 4,000ft higher than the current height of Humphrey’s peak. At the time, my 12-year-old brain couldn’t imagine a mountain that high.
Fast-forward 27 years, as I heave myself one step at a time up the Snowbowl ski slope during the Kahtoola Uphill, my glutes find it impossible to believe there was ever a hill higher or steeper than the one we are currently braving. But I harness a strength almost as great as the one I did when I had to do the do-si-do with Alex Baul, hoping that my square dance skills would make him love me forever.
My tread-worn tennis shoes, which would hardly suffice to do a light jog through Buffalo Park, are transformed into summit-worthy gear with the addition of the Kahtoola spikes, and I find myself climbing higher as we race against the pending sunset. The unseasonably warm weather provides the costume-clad racers more liberty than in years past, and I appreciate the distraction. I see a new mom hike past with a two-week-old attached to her chest, and seven-year-olds zip past me, but I assure myself we’re all just doing our best out here.
I think it’s a good reminder. This is the first time in almost two years that this event has taken place. Some participants may have lost a loved one or dealt with the effects of COVID in a way that makes the 8,000ft elevation feel like a cruel enemy to their lung capacity, or maybe some just haven’t been in a crowd this big since before the start of the pandemic. But we’re doing it. We’re all just doing our best. For some, their best is dressing like a coalition of cheetahs (I just learned what a group of cheetahs is called!), or a pair of walruses, or a mouse in a suit, and for others, it’s simply showing up.
But I think that’s something I’ve always known about Flagstaff. We show up. Some of us learned how to do that early on at Camp Colton, as we unrolled our Strawberry Shortcake sleeping bags next to our friend’s Gore-Tex insulated camping cocoon and realized we had a very different night’s sleep ahead of us. Others learned it as they became immersed in this tight-knit community. A community where the star celebrity athlete also crafts beautiful hand-made cutting boards for the winners. A community where even if we haven’t seen each other for two years, there is still a hug and a smile. A community where those strong enough to race to the top cheer on those who barely make it down.
As I near the end of the “fun run” where an 11-year old finished in under 30 minutes, I find myself very grateful for that volcano all of those years ago, so I don’t have to try to prove myself on that grandiose summit. But I’m even more thankful for this community where people show up, dress up, and run up a mountain, all to support the youth of this city. So that they too can learn and love this mountain, and if they’re really lucky, get paired with their crush at the square dance.
Coming Together for People
At Kahtoola we know first-hand the difference access to the outdoors can make in people’s lives, and that’s why we strongly support the work that Friends of Camp Colton is doing. We’d like to thank all of the racers who turned out and made this an Uphill to remember. Your fundraising and entry fees, as well as the raffle tickets purchased by you, your friends and family will help numerous young people access, and learn about, our natural world. We’d also like to thank the Uphill’s many sponsors—without them, this event wouldn’t be possible.
This year’s Uphill was one for the books, and we hope to see you next year so we can make 2023 even better!
Thanks to a generous offset donation from Native Energy, this year’s race was the first carbon neutral Kahtoola Uphill event.