Wednesday, July 29, 2009
This link is to a webcam at Black Rapids which is where the first checkpoint in the race is, about 50 miles into the race. Click on "All Sites" and then scroll down until you see "Black Rapids". http://akweathercams.faa.gov/viewsite.php
Here's a link to Cantwell weather which isn't too far from the finish.
At least one team was thinking about taking a route just south of the Central Alaska Range via glaciers. This webcam at Maclaren River isn't too far from their intended route.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Sorry, there's no online link to the actual photo but you can probably find a copy of Alpinist in your local climbing store or maybe even an REI.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
There are several very strong contenders this year. Previous winner Roman Dial is running the race with Forrest McCarthy. Previous race winners Chris Robertson and Bob Schnell have signed up as well this year. This duo has dominated the race for the last few years. Also running for the first time this year is Andrew Skurka. Even though he's a rookie and isn't from Alaska, it would a mistake to discount him as a serious contender.
The pre-race meeting at Dick Griffith's house a couple days ago was entertaining as usual. Many racers looked nervous and people hovered over maps and discussed the route. "Discussed" is a loose term because the conversations actually involved significant strategy and bluffing. The idea is to gather information from others about their routes without giving out information on your own.
I'm not running the race this year and I would give updates but there's no way to know where racers are on the route. However, given the strength, speed and experience of some of the racers I would imagine that the leaders should get to the first checkpoint, at about mile 50, about 24 hours after the race starts. Someone could potentially finish the race in about four days.
The route is bound to be brutal with so much time on the feet. Given the likely route, most racers will spend the majority of the race on their feet and not float any significant amount of time until near the end of the race.
The race travels very close to Fort Greely military base which is part of the fledgling missile defense system. Interestingly enough, there are rumors stretching back 50 or 60 years of nerve gas tests in the area and small nuclear test plants. To make things even more interesting on this route, there has been a high incidence of racer-bear interactions in the past. The Wilderness Classic is never boring.
Monday, July 20, 2009
This was a hard morning as I tried to choke down some dry food with ice cold water while hiking. I lagged a bit behind my partners but felt better after an hour or so. I didn't want them to slow down for me and they didn't. That's why a partner on the Classic is so valuable, to keep you on the pace. This picture is in the upper headwaters of the Oshenta River. We came across intrepid adventurers Erin and Hig and talked with them for a couple minutes before going our separate ways. http://www.aktrekking.com/
Climbing to the 6000 foot pass that divides the Susitna River drainage and the Talkeetna River drainage.
On the Talkeetna drainage side of the pass. We followed a nice sheep trail up to the top of the ridge visible in this picture and then slid down scree. The ice was bullet-proof hard so we carefully skirted it on scree and unstable moraine.
After a couple miles of large, unstable moraine rock, this down-sloping tundra was a great respite. About 55 miles into the race. Not long after this picture was taken, Roman and Roman Jr. passed us on their mountain bikes, making excellent time over relatively flat ground.
Friday, July 17, 2009
About Mile 9.
About 40 miles into the race.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Eureka to Talkeetna – June 26--July 3, 2005
Overall Winners: The big news this year is that the 48-hour barrier in a Wilderness Classic was broken by Bobby Schnell (2nd Place 2004), Jason Geck (4th place in 2004), Tyler Johson (5th place in 2004) and newcomer Rory Stark, all of Anchorage. Their time was 1 day, 23 hours and 29 minutes. Solo racer Bjorn Flora of Fairbanks came in second with a time that also nearly broke the two day mark (2 days, 1 hour, 20 minutes). Third place went to Butch Allen and Jim McDonoungh (2 days, 5 hours, 38 minutes). This pair has finished third three years in a row, each year taking a new primarily floating route. All three teams smashed the Gordy Vernon and Thai Verzone “atomic bomb” (cat raft) record carrying only “had guns” (packrafts). That’s how coups are pulled, no?
Route Dist. Time Winner(s)
1982 Hope to Homer 150 miles 6 d 10 h 15 m Roman Dial
1983 Hope to Homer 150 miles 4 d 20 h Roman Dial & Jim Lokken
1984 Hope to Homer 150 miles 3 d 13 h Dave Manzer
1985 Mentasta-McKinley 235 miles 7 d 22 h 12 m Hank Timm
1986 Mentasta-McKinley 235 miles 5 d 23 h Hank Timm
1987 Mentasta-McKinley 235 miles 4 d 18 h 27 m Hank Timm & Randy Pitney
1988 Nabesna-McCarthy 150 miles 2 d 16 h 28 m Roman Dial
1989 Nabesna-McCarthy 150 miles 3 d 6 h 9 m Dave Manzer, Adrian Crane & Tom Possert
1990 Nabesna-McCarthy 150 miles 3 d 8 h 42 m Brant McGee & Jeff Gedney
1991 Gates of the Arctic 130 miles 2 d 6 h 18 m Brant McGee & Adrian Crane
1992 Gates of the Arctic 130 miles 2 d 16 h Brant McGee & Dave Dixson
1993 Gates of the Arctic 130 miles 2 d 7 h 52 m Gordy Vernon
1994 Donnelly-McKinley 140 miles 2 d 12 h 36 m Frazier Miller
1995 Donnelly-McKinley 140 miles 2 d 12 h 20 m Clark Saunders
1996 Donnelly-McKinley 140 miles 2 d 12 h 20 m Steve & Rocky Reifenstuhl
1997 Hope to Homer 150 miles “fifth day” Gordy Vernon & Thai Verzone
1998 Hope to Homer 150 miles 4 d 23 h 30 m Gordy Vernon
1999 Hope to Homer 150 miles ???? Jim Jaegar & Laura McDonough
2000 Nabesna-McCarthy 150 miles 2 d 11 h 43 m Steve & Rocky Reifenstuhl
2001 Nabesna-McCarthy 150 miles 2 d 5 h 49 m Steve & Rocky Reifenstuhl
2002 Nabesna-McCarthy 150 miles 2 d 4 h 23 m Roman Dial
2003 Eureka-Talkeetna 160 miles 3 d 15 h 5 m Hans Neidig, Chris Robertson, Paul Hanis
2004 Eureka-Talkeetna 160 miles 2 d 7 h 40 m Gordy Vernon & Thai Verzone
2005 Eureka-Talkeetna 160 miles 1 d 23 h 29 m Schnell, Geck, Johnson, & Stark
2. Bjorn Flora (Fairbanks): 2 days, 1 hour, 20 minutes
3. Butch Allen (Anchorage), Jim McDonough (Anchorage): 2 days, 5 hours, 38 minutes
4. Zach Shloser (Anchorage): 2 days, 13 hours
5. Bill Collins (Palmer): 2 days, 17 hours, 56 minutes
6. Matt Reardon (Eagle River), Robert Kehrer (Anchorage):, Pete Ostrinski (Anchorage): 4 days, 30 minutes
7. John Lapkass, (Anchorage): 4 days, 12 hours
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
2) John Collins, Craig Barnard, Gordy Vernon, Thai Verzone, John Pekar and Tyler Johnson: 5 days, 13 hours, 10 minutes
3) John Lapkass: 6 days, 16 hours, 10 minutes
4) Brad Marden and Merrick Johnston: 7 days, 5 hours, 5 minutes
5) Rourke Williams and Bob Grosclose: 9 days, 1 hour
Scratched: Jim McDonough and Butch Allen, Michael Martin, Mark Ross, Luke Osborne and Robert Taylor, Chris Tellsworth and Mike Sullivan.
Monday, July 13, 2009
1) Bob Schnell, Jason Geck, Tyler Johnson, Rory Stark all from Anchorage: 1 day, 23 hours and 29 minutes
2) Bjorn Flora from Fairbanks: 2 days, 2 hours.
3) Butch Allen and Jim McDonough of Anchorage, 2 days, 5 hours, 38 minutes.
4) Zach Shloser of Anchorage: 2 days, 13 hours.
5) Bill Collins of Palmer: 2 days, 17 hours, 56 minutes.
6) Matt Reardon of Eagle River, Robert Kehrer and Pete Ostrinski of Anchorage: 4 days, 30 minutes.
7) John Lapkass of Anchorage: 4 days, 12 hours.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
The beginning of the 2000 AMWC in Nabesna, Alaska. 27 adventure racers started and 22 finished.
Michael Martin at the mouth of Cooper Creek. The Nabesna River is behind him. Racers typically travel 5 miles from the race start at Nabesna, blow up their packrafts to float Jack Creek for a couple miles and enter the swift Nabesna River. After several miles and a couple hypothermic hours of floating the Nabesna, racers take out at the mouth of Cooper Creek to start hiking.
Michael Martin on the Goat Trail. The Goat Trail starts about 100 miles into the race and travels down the Chitistone Canyon until it reaches the Nizina River. Calling the Goat Trail a trail is a euphemism because it's often impossible to find and goes places humans wouldn't willingly go.
Greg Tibbets floating the Nizina River. The Nizina is the last section of packrafting on the race. It's fast, cold and dangerous. After this section of floating, it's 10 miles to the town of McCarthy, which is where the race ends.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Many racers take some form of life jacket now. Racers have come up with an amazing variety of methods to keep themselves afloat if they dump their boat and ingenuity is rewarded in the Classic with weight savings, versatility and comfort.
The most obvious first choice is the basic kayaking vest. Vests are comfortable and will keep you warm when you're floating. They can double as a sleeping pad and if you have a good sized pack you can also use them as a back support. Vests usually have good flotation capability but they also weigh quite a bit for a fanatically light-weight race and they are very awkward to carry in a small pack. Still, if you're looking for maximum flotation safety, this is the way to go. You won't be sorry you brought a vest when you're floating big water in a small raft. You will be sorry you brought a vest when you're thrashing through slide alder and thick undergrowth and the vest you tied to the outside of your pack keeps getting snagged on branches.
There are a couple different types of inflatable life jackets. Inflatable PFD's are a little more svelte than full sized vests, so they will save you space but they are just as heavy because of the CO2 cartridge that fills them with air. You can alter most inflatables by cutting off the cartridge and extra fabric to make them a little lighter. Just make sure there's a way to blow it up manually before you go crazy with your scissors.
Even better is an inflatable belt. Belts are about half the price of inflatable jackets and weigh a lot less. Buy one that allows manual inflation and cut off the CO2 cartridge and you'll have a skookum flotation device that weighs about 8oz and takes up hardly any space in your pack.
A few racers have used box wine bladders as a creative flotation solution. Buy a box of wine and empty it. Wait until the hangover subsides and you can use the bag as a flotation device. It's strong, it's light and it packs down to almost nothing. Tuck it inside your clothes or maybe tie a few of them securely together. Use your imagination. Preferably though, put it against your chest or stomach and not your back, otherwise you might end up floating face down in the water when you're knocked unconscious by that nasty overhanging sweeper.
This list isn't exhaustive but it'll get you thinking in the right direction. There are other better methods and designs that adventure racing veterans regularly use. Just think light, strong and versatile.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
The 2004 running of the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic was superlative in many ways. The race had the most entrants in twenty years, since Hope to Homer 1984. It assembled the strongest field, including the most previous winners ever, on what is the most technically challenging route. It had racers better prepared than ever before for evacuation as all carried sat phones and at least two racers used them. It had the youngest aged finisher among the 23 annual events. It had the greatest variety of completed routes covering a 6,000 square mile area stretching from the Kings River east to the Oshetna River and from the Matanuska north to the Susitna River. And it had the most daring finish since Chuck Comstock flew the Stairway Icefall in nabesna to McCarthy 1989.
Several racers have indicated that we maintain the tradition of a three year course; many would like to beat their time and there is some indication that a sub 48 hour time is possible. Sat phones worked better than checkpoints as safety mechanisms and future racer organizers should take their cue from this year's experience with both.
Overall Winners: Gordy Vernon is now a four-time winner of the Wilderness Classic (this year; 1997 and 1998 Hope to Homer; 1993 Gates of the Arctic). He and Thai Verzone (who also teamed up with Gordy to win the 1997 Hope to Homer Classic) carried their "Atomic Bomb" of a boat -- a 34 pound cataraft -- to come from behind and pass all the "hand-gun" toting competitors in a sub-eight hour paddle from Entrance Exam to the finish in Talkeetna. They beat the Roberston/Neidig/Hannis 2003 time by more than 31 hours.
This brazen act of go-for-it competition has been a part of the innovative backbone of the Classic since its inception: in 1982 Dick Griffith introduced the packraft to the Classic and nearly beat men half his age; in '83 one team skied to victory across the Harding Icefield, and in '84 the Harding was skied solo to second; in '86 Dave Manzer and partner skied across the Gakona-Canwell-Black Rapids-Susitna Glacier complex in the Mentasta to McKinley race, taking second; and in 1987 Hank Timm and Randy Pitney blew all the competition out of the water and the mountains with a collapsible canoe on mountain bikes, wheeling it east instead of west and winning by 17 hours on a route twice as long as everyone else's. In 1988 Timm, Mark Stoppel, and Claire Holland packed the collapsible canoe across the Nabesna to McCarthy route to finish fourth. But the boldest racer route in the history of the Classic belongs to the late Chuck Comstock.
Chuck Comstock competed in the 1988 and 1989 Nabesna to McCarthy Classic with a parapente and X-C racing skis. He hiked and skied up the Nabesna Glacier to 11,000 feet, then paraglided solo off the 6000 foot tall Stairway Icefall, finishing last but finishing with style. As one long-time observer notes: "Nobody remembers who won the race those two years. But everyone remembers what Chuck did".
With some confidence we can likely say that no one will forget who won this year's Eureka to Talkeetna Classic or how they did it, even if it happens "never again".
Strong Field: This year had the strongest field of racers ever. Of the 34 starters, 24 had raced a Wilderness Classic before, and six individuals had between them won eight previous Classics. Of those 11 individuals who had never entered a Classic before, their impressive backcountry experience included previous traverses of the Talkeetna Mountains, the Brooks Range, and the Alaska Peninsula.
Technical Course: The competitive field was well matched by the route. The course provides feet-beating and thick brush ("Grade V XX") comparable to Hope to Homer ('82, '83, '84, '97, '98, '99), and technical white-water surpassing Nabesna to McCarthy ('88, '89, '90, '00, '01, '02). It's longer and harder than the Gates of the Arctic ('91, '92, '93) or Donnelly to McKinley Village ('94, '95, '96) routes. Only the infamous 235 mile Mentasta to McKinley ('85, '86, '87) glacier route is tougher.
Most racers ended up in the Talkeetna Canyon following bear trails. This was a bit stressful. Bear encounters seemed likely, particularly with steaming piles of bear scat punctuating these trails. The brush off-trail went from bad to worse as racers traversed the "Side-Hills of Insanity" starting in dry birch scrub but ending in full-on alder and devils club in the rain. Meanwhile the siren-song of boating was never more than 30 minutes down-hill, a risky adventure in a packraft, as capsizing a boat in the middle of a ten mile canyon of Class IV rapids, purportedly the longest run of continuous whitewater on the continent, would not be healthy.
Other Routes: Most popular was the Talkeetna Canyon route which included a host of variations. The Atomic Bomb route down the gut without a portage, a sneak-around-the rapids, then hike-the-left side, was used by the 2nd place finishing PJ's and 5th place team led by Hans Neidig. A right-side trail, river cross, then left-side trail was used by the 4th place team led by Jason Geck. An all-right-hand side route was used by Betsy Young and Jim Renkert for 12th place finish. There was also extensive variation getting to the Talkeetna. Some went the way of the Little and Big Oshetna (Big O) Rivers, like the 17-year-old on the mountain bike who finished 6th, while others went by way of Caribou Creek and Big O, and still others via Cardioceras Creek and Big O. Of these, some dropped into the smooth but oddly positioned and unnamed east fork of the upper Chickaloon drainage, while still others took Nowhere Creek to a pass into upper Black River and then Aspen Creek. Some skipped Oshetna drainages completely on Caribou/Glass Creek/Chickaloon. Bill Collins floated the Bog O to the Susitna and the Susitna to Talkeetna, finishing 7th overall. The husband and wife team of newcomers Bretwood (Hig) Higman and Erin McKittrick hiked past the Talkeetna drainage and walked down most of Iron Creek, putting in its lower reaches to float to the finish 11th. Farther west than even this route those innovative butt-boaters Butch Allen and Jim McDonough floated down the Matanuska as they did last year, but this year passed the Chickaloon and took out to hike up the Kings River, crossing the ice between the Kings and the Sheep Rivers, then floating the Sheep River to a 3rd place finish. According to Butch they slept eight hours. According to Gordy, he and Thai slept three. The difference may have made Butch and Jim the winners, although the PJ team, who apparently slept not a wink, claimed that sleep deprivation cost them several hours of inadvertent "circum-navigation" and possibly the race.
Women Racers: Erin McKittrick was the first female across the finish line in 4 days, 11 hours, 28 minutes, followed by Betsy Young who started solo but teamed up with Jim Renkert to finish early the next morning with a time of 4 days, 21 hours, 31 minutes. These are the first two women to finish this course. The fastest time by a woman on any Classic course is Peggy Dial's time of 3 days, 3 hours, and 40 minutes on the Gates of the Arctic course ('93).
Youngest Finisher: 17 year old Cody Roman Dial and dad finish in sixth place with a time of 3 days, 4 hours, 15 minutes, nearly 11 hours faster than last year's winning time. They rode mountain bikes to the Big O drainage, carried them over a high pass, packrafted them to the Talkeetna Canyon, then stripped deraileurs, chains, and crank arms to wheel them through the brush. Young Dial says he'll be back sans bike.
Alpacka Raft Drawing Winner: Chris Robertson won the needed raft. He has been borrowing rafts for two years running. Special thanks to Sheri Tingey of Alpacka Rafts for donating the raft this year and last. These rafts have revitalized the Wilderness Classic and made packrafting as much fun as mountain biking. Be sure to watch for new developments at Alpacka (http://www.alpackaraft.com/).
Satellite Phones and Evacs: For the first time the race organization checked for mandatory equipment a satellite phone. Because of last year's search for missing racers, this year required everyone carry the perhaps wilderness-strangling piece of technology. Dick Griffith, who had said he wouldn't carry a phone (and, out of deference and respect to his having finished more races than anyone else, was granted permission not to carry one by race organizers), had this to say:
The 23rd Alaskan Mountain Wilderness Race was held this year between the Eureka gravel pit and the town of Talkeetna. This is the first race that I can remember (I have done 20) that search planes or helicopters have not been used to find late finishers. This year my partner, Jerry Dixon of Seward, flipped his raft in a rapid just before entering the Talkeetna Canyon. He managed to reach shore with boat, pack and paddle. We were looking at the rapids at the entrance of the Talkeetna Canyon. Jerry's pack was very heavy from his recent swim and he slipped on a root and was pitched forward. He had a posterior shoulder dislocation. It was a very painful situation for both of us to be in. The usual technique of grabbing the arm and jerking it did not work. In this situation the sat phone was worth more than it's weight in gold. A trooper's helicopter reached us within four hours. Jerry was transported to Talkeetna and from there by an ambulance. The pain was so intense, even after double shots of morphine and valium, that he had to be removed from the ambulance and put on another helicopter which transported him to Providence Hospital. To reach help from the entrance of the Talkeetna Canyon would have taken me at least 20 hours of some very serious bushwhacking and boating. As far as I am concerned the sat phone saved the day.
2005 Race: Most of this year's racers feel confident that they could improve their finishing time. Several even feel that a sub-2 day (48 hour) time is possible. This year's winning time of 2 days, 7 hours, 40 minutes is the third fastest in race history. The two fastest Classic times are on the Nabesna to McCarthy course, with the 2002 race at 2 days, 4 hours, and 24 minutes fastest. The record-holder finished then with a "hand-gun", breaking the Reifenstuhl Brother's previous record of 2 days 5 hours and 49 minutes.
There was talk that the 2005 race would take place in the Chugach, starting in Whittier with mandatory checkpoints at Knik River, Girdwood, Eagle River Visitor Center and a finish in the Front Range above the Anchorage Bowl. However, many racers would like to improve their time on the Eureka to Talkeetna route, and others would like to maintain the three-years-on-one-route venue that has been a tradition since 1982.
OFFICAL RESULTS FOR THE 2004 RACE.......
34 starters, 29 finishers
1) Gordy Vernon (Kachemak Bay area) & Thai Verzone (New Mexico): 2 days, 7 hours, 40 minutes (Talkeetna Canyon, no portage)
2) Chris Robertson (Anchorage) & Bobby Schnell (Anchorage): 2 days, 9 hours, 40 minutes (Talkeetna Canyon)
3) Butch Allen & Jim McDonough (Anchorage, both) : 2 days, 11 hours, 11 minutes (Matanuska River, Sheep River)
4) Jeff Banish, Jason Geck, & Bjorn Flora (Anchorage): 2 days, 12 hours, 25 minutes (Talkeetna Canyon via Aspen Ck)
5) Hans Neidig (Palmer), Paul Hanis (McCarthy), Ben Summit (Anchorage), & Tyler Johnson (Anchorage): 2 days 13 hours, 16 minutes (Talkeetna Canyon)
6) Roman Dial & C. Roman Dial (Anchorage): 3 days, 4 hours, 15 minutes (Talkeetna Canyon w/bikes)
7) Bill Collins (Palmer): 3 days, 4 hours, 47 minutes (Oshetna, Susitna)
8) Kevin Armstrong (Healy & Girdwood) & Doug Woody (Ft. Collins, Colorado): 3 days, 11 hours, 55 minutes (Talkeetna Canyon)
9) Bill Moslow (Virginia): 4 days, 5 hours, 50 minutes (Talkeetna Canyon)
10) John Lapkass (Anchorage) & Michael Martin (Seattle): 4 days, 7 hours, 45 minutes (Talkeetna Canyon)
11) Bretwood (Hig) Higman (Seldovia) & Erin McKittrick (Seattle): 4 days, 11 hours, 28 minutes (Iron Creek)
12) Jim Renkert (Anchorage) & Betsy Young (Anchorage): 4 days, 21 hours, 31 minutes (Talkeetna Canyon via Aspen Ck)
13) Rob Kehrer (Anchorage) & John Pepe (Anchorage): 5 days, 11 hours, 15 minutes (Talkeetna Canyon)
14) Dick Griffith (Anchorage): 5 days, 13 hours (Talkeetna Canyon)
Not Finishing: Jerry Dixson (dislocated shoulder), Dave Looney, Rick Peckham, Ian Thomas, Thor Tingey, Peter Ostrinski (bad feet).
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
I kept the pace steady and took a sandwich, two liters of water and a jacket. Final tally was about 13 miles and 6200 feet of elevation. It was hot and two liters of water wasn't enough so I ended up slurping meltwater off a small dripping snowfield just below the summit of Ptarmigan.
South Suicide Peak with Rabbit Lake in the foreground.
Ptarmigan on the summit of North Suicide Peak.