2000 Race Report
Report from Michael Martin, Race Director. Here are the highlights.
This year's Classic, the 19th, was run from Nabesna to Mccarthy, starting at the Nabesna B&B at the K-Air airstrip on August 6th at 9 a.m. The route covered about 150 miles of rugged Alaskan wilderness. The Wildemess Classic is an annual cross-country foot race held in various mountainous regions of Alaska for extremely experienced veterans of Alaskan wildemess travel. Although the rivers were high and the weather the first two days was bad (cold and raining/snowing in the passes) there were 22 finishers. The weather improved after the first 2 days.
The rivers were high the first 4 days, and depending on time of day, some crossings could be made by wading or swimming but otherwise packrafts were needed for crossings.
The route that most racers took involved floating down the Nabesna river to Cooper Creek, then hiking up to Cooper Pass down Notch Creek and crossing over the Chisana river to Chisana where the first unmanned checkpoint was located. A number of racers chose to drop out of the race at that point and were flown out.
The route continued up Geohenda Creek to Solo Mountain (a second unmanned checkpoint at Solo Mountain cabin), then up to Skolai Pass and Upper Skolai Lake. Racers climbed from there up to Chitistone Pass where they gained the well-known "Goat Trail" which passes above Chitistone falls.
The route then descends steeply to the Chitistone river. Racers descend the Chitistone river to the Nizina, float the Nizina to the defunct bridge at the May-Mccarthy road, and walk the road into McCarthy.
The finish line was on the porch of Wrangell Mountain Air, where Natalie and Kelly Bay, owners of Wrangell Mountain air, were helping to keep close tabs on the status of the racers.
Steve and Rocky Reifenstuhl, of Sitka and Fairbanks respectively, finished first with a new course record of 2 days, 11 hours and 43 minutes.
Gordy Vernon, prior multiple Classic winner finished second with his partner Nora Tobin of Anchorage in 3 days, 22 hours, 24 minutes and, according to Gordy, 5 seconds.
Michael Martin (this years coordinator) of Seattle (who broke his foot in his first Classic 40 miles into the Brooks Range in 1993) and Jeff Mailloux of Boise, ID teamed up with Greg Tibbetts and Mel Strauch (both of Anchorage) about 30 miles out ftom McCarthy to finish in 3days, 4 hours and 36 minutes.
4th in 4 days, 16 hours, 24 minutes
Kevin Armstrong (Healy, AK)
Doug Woody (Eau Claire, Wl)
Derek Temple (Kent, WA)
5th in 4: l8:39
Rory Stark (Anchorage)
Ben Summit (Anchorage)
John Lapkass (Anchorage)
Mike Sirofchuck (Kodiak)
Paul Barnes (Gustavus)
Wendy Sanem (Anchorage)
John Mitchell (Eagle River)
Robin Beebee (Anchorage)
Jerry Dixon (Seward)
Dick Griffith (Anchorage)
David Peters (Eagle River)
Rocky and Steve Reifenstuhl set a new course record by (in addition to being superb athletes)accepting a high level of risk and swimming crossings where others would boat, and boating sections where others would walk.
Wendy Sanem had her boat eaten by a large black bear at Glacier creek, but hours of patching put her back on the river.
Virtually everyone tried floating sections of the Chitistone, but were flogged badly enough by it that they ended up walking most ofthe way to the Nizina, carrying their rafts to begin floating again.
Example: Michael Martin's kayak paddle snapped in half in the middle of a particularly bad rapid on the Chitistone, sending him spinning out of contol through a wide turn of standing waves until he could beach his boat and lash a piece of spruce into the middle of the two halves to make a whole paddle again. But, the cut ends of the spruce branches constantly threatened to puncture his raft during the rest of the float.
Jeff Mailloux snapped one end off his kayak paddle crossing the raging Chitistone in the late aftemoon. After walking down the river to Glacier Creek, which was considered the first possible place to put pack boats in to float, he repaired it that night by lashing sticks in a crosshatch attempt to the bare pole end, wrapping a piece of foam sleeping pad over them and wrapping the whole thing with duct and adhesive tape. Although his partner (Martin) informed Mailloux that his "Fred Flintstone" paddle wouldn't last two minutes on the river the next moming the actual events were worse.
Within a minute of putting in on the Chitistone the next moming, Mailloux snapped off the remaining good end of his paddle leaving him spinning through the rapids flailing at the foaming standing waves with only the Fred Flintstone paddle. Martin, Tibbetts, Strauch and Mailloux (like most others) got off the Chitistone and walked to the Nizina shortly after. To his partner's amazment, Mailloux finished the float using only his caveman paddle.
The Nizina was no picnic. The water was very high, surging up against the cut banks and running very swiftly into the standing trees. Lots of strainers and stick-ups.
Dick Griffith's boat sprung a leak on the Nizina. Dick said he had to keep sticking his head under water to blow it back up while floating. His partner, Jerry Dixon, at times would manuver his boat next to Dick's, and lock arms with him to keep Dick steady while Dick attempted to put air in his boat, but rapid came quickly after rapid, and things were pretty panicky.
John Lapkass (I think) ran into an obstreperous goat on an especially steep portion of the Goat Trail that wouldn't yield the way and threatened to knock Lapkass off into the Gorge.
Greg Tibbetts and Mel Strauch went down into the Chitistone Gorge when the Goat trail went up, and ended up rock climbing a thousand feet before regaining the trail which they then had to climb up also.
Mark Fineman lost both his boat and paddle on the Chitistone and had to be flown out.
People did a lot of the usual sorts of things like going up the wrong drainage miles and miles, especially out of Chisana toward Solo Mountain, and getting off the Nabesna and up to Cooper Pass.
As usual with the Classic, most racers finished hobbling, disoriented, delirious and relieved to be alive. But also as usual, Dick Griffith the informal "father of the AMWC" finished appearing unscathed and wondering only where he could find some breakfast.
The people of McCarthy as well as the Ellis family in Nabesna were wonderful hosts, eager to share in the excitement of the race, and to help out where possible. Natalie and Kelly Bay, in particular, assisted the racers by allowing the AMWC to use their office as the finish line and by having their pilots keep an eye out for racers along the route. As Natalie said at the banquet:" We appreciate having a little excitement in McCarthy. Come back next year!"
The post-race banquet was held at Tailor Made Pizza in McCarthy on Saturday afternoon. It was sunny and cheerful, and everyone shared their "I'll never do that again" stories over beer, pizza, salad and homemade "bear grease" chocolate cake.
Many racers who had been heard during the race fervently vowing that if they survived this thing, they would never race again, were overheard at the banquet discussing how they could do things better next time.