Last weekend, I took part in the fifth annual Expedition Everest Challenge. This is billed by runDisney as a “5K trek including obstacles and challenges” throughout Disney’s Animal Kingdom, concluding with a scavenger hunt. But is it worth it?
The Everest Challenge is another of Walt Disney World’s growing list of nighttime races. Others in this category include the Tower of Terror Ten Miler and the Wine and Dine Half Marathon. A great benefit to these races is that they usually include an after-party, where the entire park is closed off except to runners and those who bought tickets to the after-party.
The cost for running the Everest Challenge in 2012 was $89-$109 for individuals, depending on when you registered, whereas the after party for adults was $44.00. Teams of two were able to register for $175-$205.
The Everest Challenge was preceded by a runDisney Kids Race at 8:30 p.m. At 9:30 p.m., the first wave of Everest runners took off circling the parking lot. The first obstacle, bales of hay arranged as small hurdles, appeared before entering the park. The 5K path took you through the Oasis and into Africa. Runners then headed backstage and encountered a tire obstacle before re-emerging and heading toward Dinoland. After another backstage segment, runners returned to the Butterfly parking lot for the final obstacle, which involved crawling under a net. Everest-Map-2012
After the final running segment, the first clue of the scavenger hunt was handed out. Individuals and teams received a flashlight, a marker, and a card. The card gave a word puzzle and a location to visit next once the answer was solved. The word puzzles were not incredibly difficult – this is a family event, after all. However, by the time I completed the scavenger hunt, my GPS had recorded an extra mile on top of the 5K already covered in the race because the clues led me from the Oasis to Camp Minnie-Mickey to Africa, to Asia and then to the after party at the base of Everest.
The biggest positives to running this race involve the fact that you are in Animal Kingdom at night. If you have never visited this park after hours, you cannot truly appreciate how much detail went into the lighting, especially in Africa and Asia. Along the race path I encountered characters from the park posing for pictures and performers from Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade. I found out after the fact that one of the props along the race route was the recently removed Jeep from Kilimanjaro Safaris, including the Big Red animatronic. That would have been an awesome picture opportunity if I had realized it at the time!
There are some major downsides to running this race. The event happens in May, so it was humid even at 9 p.m. The paths through the Animal Kingdom are not very wide, and are often uneven, which makes running difficult at times. There were areas of the path which were not lighted well enough. I was in wave two, and when I was re-entering the park to start the scavenger hunt, I was in the same path as those starting to enter the park for the 5K. Crowd control for this needs to be addressed for next year. Bag pickup was poorly handled, with long waits for those who needed to check items after the race. There were also unconfirmed reports that not enough medals were available for participants, but I have no first hand knowledge of this.
The highlight of this race was the opportunity to ride the Dinoland attractions, Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids until 2 a.m. Dinoland really sparkles as a roadside attraction at night. Everest gives incredible vistas after dark, and the ride felt much more intense when no light was bleeding into the mountain. And Kali River Rapids was eerily spectacular, between the strings of multi-colored lights, the mist from the river, the glowing embers in the logging scene, and the light of the “super moon” shining down on the river. I wish my nighttime pictures had turned out better.
This event is well worth the registration cost. I’ve only run this and the Tangled 5K so far at Walt Disney World, but I am going to jump on registering for the Everest Challenge next year as soon as it goes on sale.