Primal Quest: 11 teams, one grueling course in Lake Tahoe |

Primal Quest: 11 teams, one grueling course in Lake Tahoe

Jack Barnwell
Teams surge from the start line of the Primal Quest event on Heavenly Mountain on Wednesday,. Aug. 19. Eleven teams have 10 days to complete a break-neck course involving mountain biking, mountain climbing, rope courses and running.
Jack Barnwell | Tahoe Daily Tribune

Grueling conditions, a non-stop pace and a myriad of obstacles awaited 11 teams the second they burst from the start line near the top of Heavenly Mountain Resort’s Gondola on Wednesday, Aug. 19.

It’s all part of the action driving Primal Quest race, an adventure event that pits people against the environment and their own endurance.

All 11 coed teams include four members, and the 44 competitors race unsupported while being fully responsible for the gear and supplies they pack. They face a 10-day, 520-mile course that involves rock climbing, kayaking, biking, running and orienteering.

Wednesday’s beginning stretch featured a 6.6-mile run to Lakeside Beach where prepared kayaks awaited, followed by a 5.92-mile paddle to Cave Rock to hop on bikes toward Spooner Summit and onto Tahoe Rim Trail.

Team Bones hit Lakeside Beach first Wednesday, followed by Team GODZone from New Zealand.

The race continues with mountain biking to Kirkwood and orienteering over to Bear Valley. Then it climbs over Lover’s Leap at Strawberry and Calaveras Dome.

“It’s an adventure of a lifetime,” said Melanie Whitchelo with Team MMDJ Racing from Ohio. “You just push yourselves to the limits of where people normally say ‘I can’t do that.’”

Whitchelo has competed in two previous Primal Quest events, and her team members are all older than 50. While her team hasn’t had a chance to see the Lake Tahoe sights, there’s plenty of opportunity along the course

David Engbert from Placerville, Calif., and his wife Maria Burton, the event’s creator, have run the event since 2002. Burton went through the course herself before the start of Primal Quest Lake Tahoe.

Engbert said Wednesday that each team has to find its own route. All teams have 10 days to complete the course — participants have GPS trackers on them in case of emergencies and to track their positions.

This Primal Quest course includes 66,000 feet of vertical gain and 69,000 feet of elevation decent. The event itself has 15 staff members and 41 volunteers, including Barton Health medical practitioners.

Barton Health orthopedic surgeon Dr. Stephen Bannar acts as medical co-director and Barton nurse Khristy Gavigan is the medical coordinator for the event.

Bannar said Primal Quest’s activities correlate with the Lake Tahoe lifestyle.

“We want to be known as an outdoor adventure environment,” Bannar said. “What’s unique is we can do these types of activities 365 days a year.”

People can track the teams online at

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