Wednesday, December 30, 2009

1990 Anchorage Daily News Article with 1989 Race Info

This is an article from the Anchorage Daily News that was published a couple months before the 1990 race.  It has a great summary of the 1989 race which involved some Wilderness Classic's legends:  Dial, Manzer, Crane, Possert and Comstock.  1989 was an interesting race year that made for some great stories. 

Manzer was in the lead trying to beat Dial's record time and then lost his packraft and almost drowned in the Chitistone River.  Crane and Possert found him extremely hypothermic and gave up their quest to beat Dial's record to help warm him up.  Chuck Comstock flew his parasail off a high point in the Wrangell's and narrowly avoided disaster.  This was also the first year that someone from outside of Alaska won the race. 

I've posted only a part of the article due to copyright considerations but I tried to give you a good rundown of what's in it.  You can pay to read the whole article on the ADN website or you can read the whole article by accessing ADN archives through your local library.  Here's a blog entry that tells you how to do it.


Anchorage Daily News (AK) - Sunday, July 15, 1990
Author: CRAIG MEDRED Daily News outdoor editor ; Staff

As the tiny, nylon raft hit the rock and bounced back toward the brown, swirling waters of the Chitistone River, wilderness racer Dave Manzer realized that his plan to win the 1989 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic had gone horribly, horribly wrong.

The rock was to have been Manzer's salvation. He had reached for it in the way he had reached for so many others over the years, only this time he missed. Now, stuck in a waterlogged, oneman raft, he found himself hurtling into a watery abyss, and in the timeless milliseconds that come with fear in the most dangerous of situations, Manzer knew he had pushed too far.

Every terrified bone in his body warned him the turbulent Chitistone was on the verge of swallowing his little toy of a boat and making him the first fatality in the seven years of Alaska's wildest footrace. Always there had been the fear someone would die in this race. Danger was part of the game. The wilderness classic was more than an ultramarathon across the most primitive terrain left in North America. It was a test of bushcraft, a fastfading skill in the 20th century, and a test of judgment.

Few Alaskans had the skill, endurance and gumption to tackle the race. Fewer still were those from the Lower 48 the Outsiders with the unique but necessary mix of talents, spirit and guts. Here was a race so demanding that most people were afraid to run it.

"I've talked to a lot of people, and I've had a lot of people who are interested," said classic veteran Adrian Crane of Modesto, Calif. "But they're scared off. It's too tough." Up to 50 people consider or, more properly, talk about the classic in any given year. No more than a couple dozen ever show up.

Always they are a weird bunch guys like 61 year old wilderness adventurer Dick Griffith, who'd been on more crazy trips than most people could dream about; Roman Dial, a doctoral candidate in biology who'd spent his life careening between civilized universities and wilderness areas; Tom Possert, an ultrarunner who made his reputation by trotting from Death Valley to the top of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in California; and Brant McGee, a fellow seen most often in suit and tie directing the state Office of Public Advocacy. Why bother? "It appeals to my ego," McGee said. "It's a challenge not all that many people can do."

Nobody ever shortchanged the challenge no matter what route the race ran. And the course kept shifting, from bad to worse to not so bad. But always tough. Racers wanted the classic moved around the state every few years to keep any route from becoming standardized. That would prevent the fastest runners from gaining an edge on those best at orienteering and wilderness survival.

So, for a time, the race crossed the length of the Kenai Peninsula. Then it moved to the flanks of the Alaska Range, where the remoteness terrain and the thickness of the brush humbled everyone. And then it found the Wrangell Mountains. Experienced racers such as Dial, holder of the course record for the Wrangell route, liked that area because there was little brush to battle. A man could travel quickly through the boulders and scree. And there was exhilaration in floating the many whitewater rivers in a tiny, one-man, nylon boat or jogging through the Chitistone Canyon on the so called Goat Trail.

Trail, at least as applied to the Goat Trail, "was an euphemism for a faint shadow across a distant hillside that could be used to glean a route," observed Crane from his postrace vantage point at home in California. Racers debated if it was possible to slip off the Goat Trail and escape without serious injury. Such discussions scared off potential competitors and kept the race from becoming anything more than a curiosity.

Possert knew something about that. He would show slides of the classic at ultrarunning clinics around the country and talk about the exhilaration of wilderness competition. People would ooh and ahh at the slides, but nobody would step forward to sign up. "They'd say, "Those were nice slides,' " Possert said. "I think people are missing out on a lot."

What they were missing was America's toughest crosscountry competition. Of the 13 starters last year, 8 finished. Two of them Manzer from Anchorage and Chuck Comstock from Valdez could easily have wound up dead, if not for tenacity and a little luck.

A halfdead Manzer dragged his battered and hypothermic body out of the Chitistone River and onto a beach after his raft sank. Mumbling and incoherent from the freezing water, he was trying to make a fire when Crane and Possert stumbled upon him.

Comstock tried to climb 12,000 feet over the Wrangell Mountains and then fly to McCarthy with a parasail. The first leg of his flight ended in a glacial crevasse. Comstock crawled out to find himself on a ledge from which there was no way down.  He rigged a pair of skis to hold his parasail open and jumped. Luckily, the sail flew. Eventually, Comstock made it to the finish line.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Backpacker - Google Books

Check out yet another quick article on the 1989 Wilderness Classic.  Here's an article in Backpacker magazine I dug up out of the deep recesses of the internet.  The article switched around the dates of the races but it's still an interesting read and gives a bit more information on Chuck Comstock's audacious paraglider strategy. The article says that the race summary is of the 1988 Classic.  It's actually a summary of the 1989 Classic. 

Backpacker - Google Books

Have a great Christmas everyone.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Another Adventure Racing Book

If you're looking for last minute Christmas shopping ideas for yourself, here's another adventure racing book I just came across that you can add to your collection. This one is a little more basic than other books I've listed and is meant mostly for beginning adventure racers but it's still a worthwhile read. Besides, it's fairly inexpensive if you buy a used copy off of Amazon.

Monday, December 21, 2009

1989 Anchorage Daily News Article

This is an article about the1989 Wilderness Classic.  The article was written before some of the racers had finished, so it doesn't post the final results.  Because of copyright considerations, I can't post the whole article but I've posted part of it here.  If you would like to read the whole article you can go to the Anchorage Daily News archives and pay for it or you can read it through your library's online archives for free.  Here's a blog post that shows you how to do it. Library Access


 Anchorage Daily News (AK) - Sunday, August 20, 1989
Author: MICHAEL VANAUSDELN Daily News reporter ; Staff

Dave Manzer was in reach of Roman Dial's Alaska Wilderness Classic course record when he screwed up.

Manzer, a fivetime veteran, instead nearly drowned and ended in a threeway tie.

Tuesday, though, he was flying through the 160mile race from Nabesna to McCarthy until he reached the Chitistone River.

For most of the dozen people entered, the river is something to cross with caution. For Manzer, it is something to speed down. He rode his inflatable raft down the wild river, a vein of white water he had mastered many times before, confident that Dial's record was in danger.

Then, pulling over to the side to dump water out of his raft, the Anchorage athlete and his raft smacked into a rock, sending Manzer into a swirl of water and thoughts of dying.

. . . . . . .
. . . . . . .

1.  Dave Manzer, Adrian Crane and Tom Posser:  3 days 6 hours 9 minutes
2.  Jeff Gedney of Fairbanks:   3 days 14 hours 15 minutes

Scratch:  Ralf Cuba, Harold Markham, Tim Gillis, Brandt McGee
Still on the trail when article was written:  Dick Griffith, Kathy SarnesHickok, Kathy Lambert, Klaus Oberle

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

1988 Anchorage Daily News Article

This Anchorage Daily News article is about the 1988 Nabesna to McCarthy route.  This particular race had a number of savvy outdoor experts competing in it including Dave Manzer, Adrian Crane, Roman Dial and Brant McGee.  This is probably also the most talked-about races of all time because it was the year legendary Chuck Comstock climbed solo up into the Wrangell Mountains and parasailed down thousands of feet to the finish. 

Due to copyright considerations, I'm only posting part of the article.  You can read the full article by accessing the Anchorage Daily News archives and entering the date and title of the article as search terms.  You can either go to the ADN website or access archives through your library. Here's a short guide how to find the archives through your online library website.  Library access. 

Dial Puts Best Foot Forward To Win 160 Mile Race

Anchorage Daily News - Tuesday, August 23, 1988
Author:  Craig Medred Daily News outdoors editor; Staff

His size 81 2 feet swollen to fit into size 10 boots, Roman Dial of Fairbanks led 23 other wilderness runners 150 to 160 miles through the Wrangell Mountains to win the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic last week.

It took Dial 2 days, 16 hours and 28 minutes to complete the unmarked course along animal trails, over mountains, down rivers and across gravel bars.

He claims oversize boots were but one of his secret weapons for the race.

. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . .

Final Race Results: 
Roman Dial: 2 days, 16 hours, 28 minutes.
Dave Manzer: 3 days, 4 hours, 19 minutes.
Crane and Possert: 3 days, 11 hours, 44 minutes.
Hank Timm, Claire Holland and Mark Stoppel: 4 days, 11 hours, 44 minutes.
Brant McGee: 4 days, 12 hours, 5 minutes.
Bob Kaufman: 4 days, 14 hours, 5 minutes.
Bob Groseclose, Rourke Williams and Harlow Akins: 5 days, 3 hours, 20 minutes.
Dick Griffith, Dave Poppe and Hollis French: 5 days, 7 hours, 10 minutes.
Chuck Comstock: 5 days, 13 hours.
(Comstock might have had the most unique strategy in the race. He went 13,000 feet straight up into the mountains on a beeline from Nabesna to McCarthy, and then tried to beat everyone by flying to the finish line with a parasail.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Accessing Anchorage Daily News Archives

Since the Wilderness Classic started in the early 1980's the Anchorage Daily News has occasionally printed articles with race results and a summary of the race.  Most of the articles were written by outdoors reporter Craig Medred, an experienced outdoorsman and veteran of the Classic. 

If you go to the Anchorage Daily News website, you can search for past articles in archives but you can't read them unless you pay a fee. However, it's easy to access the archives for free through your local library.  With a library card and an online library account you can access the entire set of archives online without charge.  You probably need to get a library card in person but once you have a card, you can usually set up an online account within a day or so by emailing or calling the library.

Luckily for people who live out of Alaska, most local libraries connect into Newsbank or similar online services that archives newspapers from around the country. 

Go to your library's website and find the database page.  The newspaper section of the database is usually easy to find.  Sign in with your library card number and PIN.

Since I've already posted as many full articles as Anchorage Daily News will allow me to, I'll be posting the title of past articles along with the date it was published and a summary so you can easily find the archived full text version.  If you have any problems finding a specific article, feel free to email me and I'll see if I can help.

If you live in Anchorage you find newspaper archives by signing in here at the library website.  Loussac Library Database Page.

If you live in Fairbanks you can go to the Fairbanks Library Databases here.  Fairbanks Public Library Database Page.  

If you're a student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks you can access Anchorage Daily News archives here.  UAF Database Page

If you're a student at University of Alaska Anchorage or APU, you can access the Newsbank database here.  UAA and APU Database Page

If you're in Seattle, you can access the library database page here.  Your link will be called Newslink instead of Newsbank. Seattle Public Library Database Page

Friday, December 11, 2009

Alaska Adventure Racing

Here's a link to another adventure race in Alaska. It looks like they have a race coming up in the middle of January somewhere in the Chugach mountains.  I don't know much about it other than looking at the website but if it's in Alaska in January, it's bound to be cold, dark and fun.
Alaska Adventure Racing Website

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

1995 Anchorage Daily News Article

This article was first printed in the Anchorage Daily News on August 15, 1995.  It's about the Black Rapids to Mckinley Village route.  Reprinted in full with explicit permission from the Anchorage Daily News.  


Anchorage Daily News (AK) - Tuesday, August 15, 1995
Author: CRAIG MEDRED Daily News outdoors editor ; Staff
After a 21/2-day-long game of cat and mouse through the wilds on the north side of the Alaska Range, Clark Saunders of Girdwood emerged at McKinley Village last week to claim victory in the 14th running of the 130-mile Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic.

Only two hours back, having encountered problems with a recalcitrant brown bear, were runners-up Kevin Donley and Marten Martensen, both of Anchorage. Martensen, a threetime winner of the Seward Mount Marathon, and Donley, a 35-minute 10-K road runner and seasoned mountain runner, stalked Saunders for 130 miles but failed to catch him.

The 36-year-old Saunders credited his past experience on the route along with rafting skills for his narrow victory over the two men in their mid-20s.

''It was sort of the tortoise and the hares,'' Saunders said.

Donley and Martensen were faster hikers, particularly on the uphills, Saunders said, but they lost some time trying to find the fastest routes into and out of several mountain passes. They also had to walk around rapids on the Yanert River. Martensen and Donley also had a little run-in with a grizzly bear in the dark, and that turned to Saunders advantage. The incident, Saunders said, came just after he was passed in the night about halfway through the race.

Saunders was by then sitting next to a fire, exhausted and hoping to lure the younger men into taking a break with the promise of warmth on a cold night. They resisted the trap, but went only a little farther before running into the grizzly bear in a creek bottom.

That brought them back seeking advice. Saunders said he didn't know what to do and didn't really care because all he wanted to do was sleep. ''They ended up going about 300 yards away and camping and building a big fire and drying out,'' Saunders said.

The bear stayed, too, however. '

'Somewhere around 1:30 or so, I hear some rustle, rustle, crack, crack,'' Saunders said. ''I see this large, hairy mass. I could see it was a bear, but it wasn't a huge bear. But I could see by its head it was a grizzly.

''It was on all fours sniffing under the tree-slash-bush where my food was. I was just thinking, 'I'm too tired for this."''

Saunders thought about yelling at the bear but decided that might scare it into charging. He wasn't, however, going to let it have his food. So, he said, he decided to run his fingers over the nylon on his 2-foot-high, one-man tent to produce a subtle but totally unnatural sound.

The bear heard it, got visibly nervous, ''and swayed on out of there,'' Saunders said.

He went back to sleep in seconds -- only to oversleep. When he woke at 4:45 a.m., Martensen and Donley were gone.

They didn't have much of a lead, however, and Saunders caught them when they struggled in thick brush he knew to avoid. He briefly gave the lead up one more time, but led the race down the Yanert River and sealed the victory there.

An experienced paddler, Saunders ran the Yanert River rapids in his tiny, one-man inflatable raft. Most other competitors decided to portage, and one of the handful of others who ran the big water ended up complaining this year's race was too easy.

For the first time in the history of the race, everyone who started finished. Twenty-six men and women entered.

''We need to move the course,'' former champ Brant McGee of Anchorage said. Traditionally, the classic has lasted no more than three years on any one course. The idea from the beginning was to move the race periodically to keep the route-finding aspect challenging, said organizer Roman Dial.

The race began as a 150-mile Hope to Homer race across the Andy Simons Wilderness Area of the Kenai Peninsula in 1982. It moved to a 245-mile course on the north side of the Alaska Range from Mentasta to McKinley in 1985.

From there it was on to the Wrangell Mountains and a 145-mile route from Nabesna to McCarthy in 1988 through 1990. In 1991, with McGee organizing the always informal competition, the race went north to the Brooks Range.

Last year, for the first time, it settled into the 130-mile, largely brush-free route across the north side of the Alaska Range from Donnelly to McKinley.

The route requires competitors to cross two glaciers, climb over a 6,000 foot pass, and float about 25 miles of river in little rubber rafts, and 26 people this year proved they could do that.

''It's not a wilderness race if everybody finishes,'' McGee said. ''It should be damn difficult to finish. The achievement should be in finishing. If everybody finishes, that diminishes the achievement.''

McGee finished third this year about two hours behind Martensen and Donley. As usual, Alaskans dominated the competition, but for the first time people from Outside the state faired well.Racers from Seattle; Boise; Reno, Nev.; Hanover, N.H.; and San Diego all managed to follow the unmarked, wilderness route from start to finish.

1) Clark Saunders, Girdwood, 2 days, 12 hours, 20 minutes
2 & 3) Kevin Donley and Marten Martensen, Anchorage, 2:14:21
4) Brant McGee, Anchorage, 2:16:10
5 & 6) Roman and Peggy Dial, Anchorage, 3:09:03
7) Michael Martin, Seattle, 3:09:49
8) Dave Lucey, Anchorage, 3:10:15
9) Jeff Mailloux, Boise, Idaho
10,11,12,13,14) Skip Kula, Steve Daigle, Mike Wayt, Brent Widenhouse and Shane Metcalf of Anchorage, 3:15:43
15) John Lapkass, Anchorage, 3:19:15
16 & 17) Greg Tibbetts and Eric Sachs, Anchorage, 3:23:05
18) Mark Ross, Fairbanks, 4:02:10
19 & 20) Jeff Gedney, Reno, Nev., and John Sisson, Hanover, N.H., 4:04:37
21,22,23,24,25,26) Dick, Barney and Bobbie Sue Griffith of Anchorage, Brian Hall of Anchorage, Sue Ellen Christiansen of Fritz Creek and Tim Gillis of San Diego, 5:09:25.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Full Disclosure

As some of you may have noticed, I recently added some advertising to this blog.  This is mostly because The Classic is product intensive and if you run it both you and your bank account will be exhausted before you even start the race, running around town buying various things.  Despite the motto of "No Gear, No Fear", gear is important for the race and directed advertising is handy for those who don't know what to buy or even where to start.

Some FTC guidelines recently went into effect regarding bloggers and kickbacks.  Since nobody can actually understand what the guidelines mean and how they apply, I'm giving you the full disclosure about my relationship with my advertisers and any products I have endorsed. I'm not going to be the poor shmuck test case that gets sued for not disclosing something. 

Nobody actually has yet, but if anyone were to actually click on some of the google ads I might get a few cents.  In reality, I'll probably never see any actually coin because you have to reach a certain dollar amount ( I think $50) before they send you a check.  The chances of me making $50 from ads on this site are extremely remote.  If you were to buy something off amazon, REI or within a certain amount of time after clicking on the ads on this blog then I would get a very small percentage of that sale.  I don't have complete control of the advertising but I've tried to only list cool stuff relevant to adventure racing and training. 

No company has ever sent me products and all of the stuff I have reviewed was bought by me.  Except for that cool Sherpa Adventure Gear jacket that I gave a link to once.  My brother-in-law gave me that and I would buy it anyway even if I didn't already have one. 

Yes, believe it or not, I'm not getting rich off this blog and the time I put into researching and posting is my small contribution to making the race better and developing the community of extreme adventure racers in Alaska.  The adventure racing community in Alaska is so small, we're almost family and I think contributing to community is important.  

And since we're talking about complying with the law here, I spent the last four months negotiating, goading prodding, and cajoling the Anchorage Daily News into letting me post the full text of their older Wilderness Classic articles.  They hemmed and hawed and finally decided that their copyrighted, archived articles of the Classic are so valuable, they will only let me post the full text of three articles.  Theoretically, I could post links to the other articles but they are older, they're in archives and the Daily News can't (or won't) spend the 60 minutes they said it would take to pull them out of archives. 

I'm not going to get dinged for posting copyrighted material but what I can do is post race results from each year and under "fair use" rules write a summary of each article.  I'll give you the specific date it was published and search terms so you can look it up in the ADN archives.  I'll even tell you how to legally avoid paying ADN for accessing archives. 

So in true Alaskan form, this post is my one finger salute to the FTC. I intend for this blog to be a good resource for Classic racers and adventure racers in general so stay tuned and I'll keep posting useful information. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Alaska Adventure Race 2002 Article from Anchorage Daily News

Here's a newspaper article from the Anchorage Daily News about the 2002, Nabesna to McCarthy race. The 2002 race was one of the more notorious years when the weather could only be described as "biblical" in proportion.

Veteran racers are still amazed at the severity and swiftness of the July snowstorm. At the top of Cooper Pass, about 25 miles into the race, the snow was hip deep and previously running streams were completely frozen. In the small canyon just below Coooper Pass, there was so much snow that my race partner and I witnessed avalanches.

After making it through Cooper Pass, we tried for 30 minutes to start a fire but it was too cold and wet for even military style chemical fire starter. We dug a shallow hole under a spruce tree and went to sleep. I was so cold, I was wondering if I shouldn't fall asleep for fear that I wouldn't wake up. I did and we finished the race in respectable time a couple days later.

Anyway, you don't have to take my word for it, I posted the article here so you can read it. I got the text from archives and I included a picture that I had scanned and saved from the original newspaper.

Reprinted in full with the express permission from the Anchorage Daily News.

Wilderness Classic racers court death in July blizzard

'BRUTAL': Roman Dial sets new race record 20 years after his first win.

Anchorage Daily News (AK) - Sunday, August 18, 2002
Author: Craig Medred Anchorage Daily News ; Staff

At the start, the cold rain came down October-ugly. Only one of the 27 hardy souls gathered for the start of the Alaska Mountain and Wilderness Classic race through Wrangell-St. Elias National Park read the meaning of the snow line creeping down the mountains above and showed the sense to go home.

Twenty-six others set off across the Nabesna River toward 6,000-foot Cooper Pass, some 20 miles to the southeast. They never imagined the late-July weather could get any worse.

And then it did.

By the time people started bailing out of the state's most notorious wilderness race, huddling in the safety of a cabin in the remote outpost of Chisana instead of risking more snow in the Wrangell Mountain passes, the 150-mile classic had gone from adventure race to survival challenge.

''Brutal'' is the word racer Mel Strauch uses to describe it.

When the rain turned to wet, heavy snow, it was bad. When the wet, heavy snow started falling so hard that Strauch and partner Greg Tibbetts of Anchorage got turned around in whiteout conditions, it was worse. When the snow piled up a foot and a half deep, then started avalanching off the mountains, it was simply dangerous.

A veteran of winter races along the Iditarod Trail, Strauch, a salesman at the local REI, remembers looking repeatedly at his watch, reading the July 28 date, and wondering, ''How can this be?''

He and Tibbetts, another veteran ski racer , would end up spending a night huddled beneath a pair of inflated one-man rafts, shivering over a tiny stove, and worrying about what the next day might bring.

And even as those two Anchorage men were thinking about making that uncomfortable forced bivouac high in the Wrangells on July 28, two others -- orthopedic surgeon John Lapkass from Anchorage and medical professor Michael Martin from Seattle -- wandered around in near-whiteout conditions, hoping they wouldn't lose the route through the pass and have to spend a night in the open.

Howling wind piled snow in drifts three to four feet deep. Martin's feet were cold, soaked and losing feeling. More than a week later, he would still be limping on them.

Lapkass was in better shape, but he was rattled, too. A veteran of wilderness races all over Alaska, including previous Wilderness Classics through the Brooks Range of the far north, Lapkass had never seen anything like this.

''It was good, solid knee-deep,'' he said. ''There was one place I went into a drift up to my waist. It was a mid-winter blizzard-type thing. It got a little desperate.''

Lapkass does not use the word ''desperate'' lightly. Like others who enter this wilderness race, he is a man who has seen plenty of snow and lived with wet and discomfort. He has felt the uneasiness of being lost. He has faced down grizzly bears and swum bone-numbing glacial rivers.

But this time Lapkass worried he was near his limit.

''No one could have anticipated a true blizzard at the end of July,'' Martin said. ''In the 21 years of the race, no one could remember anything like this happening before.

''We all go extremely light. I, for example, was wearing running tights, very light boots, two light polypro tops and light rain gear. I had light polypro gloves, which were soaked or frozen 100 percent of the time. I had a tiny tent and light (sleeping) bag, but the idea of bivvying in two feet of still-accumulating snow with my level of hypothermia seemed like certain death.

''Our only chance was to keep moving, hoping to get below the snow line and . . . make a fire.''

To keep up their spirits, Lapkass and Martin struggled to find some humor.

''When we first started hitting the snow,'' Lapkass said, ''I made a comment to Michael, 'Wouldn't it be funny if there was a foot of snow on the top.'

''As we went on, Michael said, 'Well, you got your foot.' ''

From then on, it only got worse.

''It was pretty much put your head down and put one foot in front of the other,'' Lapkass said.

Martin, a race veteran, admitted he was scared, particularly after Lapkass pulled away in the storm. At first, Martin followed the tracks of his faster companion, but then Lapkass' tracks started disappearing under blowing snow.

When Lapkass started downhill out of the pass, he noticed Martin missing. He waited 20 minutes, shivering in the wind before deciding he should go back to look for Martin. Luckily, Lapkass said, Martin appeared out of the blowing snow just then.

''By about midnight,'' Martin said, ''we had managed to wade out of the snow and down onto Notch Creek. It was another three or so miles to any spruce. By about 1:30 we had a fire going and felt that we might live after all.''

Neither could relax until they had sparked that warming smudge into a full-fledged bonfire.

''I wasn't happy until the flames went as high as my head,'' Lapkass said.

Ahead of them, meanwhile, the race leaders faced a grim situation.

Defending Wilderness Classic champs Rocky and Steve Reifenstuhl -- along with arch-rival Roman Dial -- had struggled through snow all day toward the Chisana River with Steve in bad shape.

The Sitka-based racer had started despite a cold. Weakened by illness, he struggled to withstand the beating the weather dished out.

Dial wasn't in great shape, either, in part because he'd cut his gear to the bone to save weight and travel faster. He carried neither cap nor gloves, wore a wind shell of fabric the weight of parachute cloth and had soaked himself in the raft crossing of the Nabesna River that starts the adventure.

''When I got out of the boat,'' Dial said, ''I was so hypothermic I couldn't talk.''

He knew he had to get moving to warm up. He knew he lacked adequate insulation. To supplement his meager clothing, he stuffed a small piece of foam pad down his shirt as a makeshift vest.

''That helped,'' he said. ''I managed to fight over this hypothermia,'' only to march into the snow.

''It was ankle-deep at 4,000 feet,'' Dial said. ''Shin-deep at 4,500 feet. Knee-deep at 5,000 feet.

''It was a total whiteout at the (6,000-foot) pass.''

Thoughts of racing started giving way to thoughts of surviving -- even as Dial caught the Reifenstuhls wallowing in snow about a mile high in the Wrangells.

An Eco-Challenge veteran and a professor at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage, Dial had entered the race feeling dissed by comments the Reifenstuhls made about his second-place showing in the 2001 Classic. There was no love lost here, but Dial thought the Reifenstuhls would be happy to see anyone in the storm.

''I was so glad to see those guys,'' Dial said. ''And then they wouldn't even talk to me . . . . I felt like a stray dog.''

He didn't realize the Reifenstuhls were in big trouble -- but didn't want to admit it. Steve's problem, however, would crystalize in the hours ahead as another group of racers caught the lead pack.

Nora Tobin of Anchorage was in that group with Kristian Sieling and Jason Geck of Anchorage. When they found the tracks of the leaders near the top of the pass, Tobin was elated.

''I was thinking, 'Yeah baby,' '' she said. ''I told those guys, 'If we catch them, that'll make my race.' ''

And catch them they did.

Only to discover a strange scene. The Reifenstuhl brothers were hiking arm in arm. Tobin thought at first that maybe they were even closer than she had imagined. Then she noticed Steve was stumbling a lot.

''That was weird,'' she said. ''Initially, we thought he was drunk.''

When Rocky -- a Fairbanks cyclist known for his many victories in the Iditasport races along the frozen Iditarod Trail -- asked if anyone had a spare hat to loan his brother, Tobin started to put things together. Under any normal circumstances, the Reifenstuhls are not the type to seek help.

They didn't have any choice here. Steve was seriously hypothermic, though with huge ego in play Dial was reluctant to accept this at first.

''You know, it was funny,'' Tobin said. ''Roman and Rocky have never liked each other, and at first Roman wouldn't believe (Steve was in trouble).

'' 'They're just faking,' he said.''

Tobin shuttled between Dial and the Reifenstuhls, trying to open a line of communication. But when a still-stumbling Steve picked up his pace, Tobin said, ''Roman bolted.

''Can you say 'major testosterone?' ''

With everyone wallowing in deep snow, however, there wasn't much chance of anyone pulling away. The group was soon back together, and Dial said he began to get concerned when he noticed Steve was babbling incoherently.

''And Rocky was asking the other people for clothes to take care of his brother,'' Dial said.

That was so far out of character that Dial accepted the situation as dangerous. In such circumstances, the code of the trail dictates that even the most dysfunctional groups are duty-bound to pull together.

Helping Steve make it over the remaining 20 miles of trail to Chisana became a team goal. At Chisana, everyone knew, a cabin with a wood stove waited.

''That's what motivated everyone,'' Tobin said. ''Steve was incredible.''

''The Reifenstuhls are the grittiest guys out there,'' Dial said. ''They're tough, tough, tough. They're not really wilderness people, but they're great endurance athletes.''

''It was grim for me,'' Steve said. ''I literally shivered for seven hours.

''I had to wrap a couple space blankets around myself inside my jacket. I could not warm up. I was so depleted. It was just a matter of grind it out to where you could get to a place to make a fire.''

The strongest members of the group took turns breaking trail through the snow. At times, Tobin said, they waded down creeks because the going was easier in the shallow snow there.

Below 4,000 feet, Dial said, the snow finally turned to rain. Night began settling in, and it was cold. But there was no stopping now.

''This was probably as desperate as I can ever remember,'' Steve said. ''Probably the warmest temperature was 40. It was 32 and slush at the snow line. Probably 22-23 degrees in the pass with horizontal snow.''

When the group finally made it down to the banks of the Chisana -- a wide braided, glacial river -- there was a debate about what to do.

Some suggested stopping to make a fire.

''(Steve) was shaking,'' Tobin said. ''He was just ashen white.''

Dial was among those lobbying for a fire. Steve Reifenstuhl looked so bad, Dial feared the cold water of the Chisana would push his hypothermia to a potentially deadly state. Steve, however, was coherent enough to demand that everyone keep going.

''To me,'' he said, ''there was no choice.''

He couldn't imagine getting warm by a fire and then having to force himself to cross the Chisana the next day to get to the air strip by the cabin. Better, he said, to keep on going and put all the worst behind.

With others helping, Steve Reifenstuhl struggled through river channel after river channel -- some chest-deep.

But they made it across and within minutes were at the cabin. Everyone pitched in to take care of Steve there. A couple people got the fire going. One went for water.

''I got to hug Steve,'' Tobin said.

''A lot of people say stuff about Roman,'' Martin said later. ''A lot of people say stuff about the Reifenstuhls. But I think they're all heroes.''

For hours, Tobin said, everyone at Chisana sat around the fire talking. Steve was still shaking, but he was coming out of it now. The others, though exhausted, were so charged with excitement they couldn't sleep, despite being on their feet for a hard 14 or 15 hours.

''More than anything,'' Tobin said, ''we were concerned about the people behind us, because this was the year everyone went really ultralight.''

Many had little more than the clothes on their backs, and the light-weight inflatable boats necessary for crossing and floating rivers. Those boats would become improvised shelters.

''It was snowing the whole time,'' said 40-year-old Anchorage teacher Jeffrey Bannish. ''The only time it wasn't snowing was when it was raining. . . Many people dropped out (after that first day) -- not because they couldn't dry out but because their energy was spent, or they didn't have enough food because they'd burned up too much time.''

People survived by steadily moving to keep their bodies pumping out heat and gobbling food to keep the internal furnaces burning as hot as possible.

''I'm glad no one perished up there,'' Steve Reifenstuhl said. ''We sure worried a lot. We worried who was going to get stuck in the snow.''

Fortunately, bowing to the judgment of wilderness veterans like former Nordic ski racer Jim Renkert and legendary 76-year-old backcountry rambler Dick Griffith, both from Anchorage, many racers elected to bivouac on the north side of the pass and wait for the light of a new day before crossing. That saved them from the worst of the blizzard.

By the time those people hit the pass, the storm was abating, though they still had to slog through a snow-slickened route.

The Alaska-born Renkert, 42, had never seen anything like this.

''Now that everything's done, people are tending to downplay it,'' Renkert said. ''(But) the one word that comes to my mind is 'horrific.'

''There were even avalanches. That would have been embarrassing, to have been killed by an avalanche in July.''

Renkert, Griffith and a bunch of others waited until July 29 -- the day after the start -- to make their way through Cooper Pass. At Chisana on the other side, they joined 11 others catching chartered flights out of the race.

Martin, his foot aching from a bone broken earlier in the year, was among the dropouts. Griffith left with an injured foot. Steve Reifenstuhl with his hypothermia, Rocky Reifenstuhl with a swollen knee, Strauch with a sprained ankle all quit. Tobin, her enthusiasm for the race gone, went home to breast-feed an 11-month-old baby.

Only 11 racers kept going -- chief among them Dial. He left Chisana with Sieling and Geck. He remembers Geck mentioning how the Reifenstuhls would probably hold onto the course-record time because of what happened.

''That sort of lit a fire under me,'' Dial said. ''I started running. They couldn't keep up. So I took off and just kept accelerating.''

By nightfall, he was at Chitistone Pass. Armed only with a thumb-

size LED light, he kept going, working his way down the notorious ''Goat Trail'' toward the Chitistone River. He scared himself when he stumbled and stopped for a half-hour nap in the middle of the trail. He woke up and kept going until he stumbled again.

Then he grabbed a full hour of sleep. By morning, he was at the Chitistone River.

''I had a secret weapon,'' he added. ''My wife's dry suit.''

He pulled it on, put together the kayak paddle he'd been carrying, blew up a one-man raft, and launched into the river. No Wilderness Classic racer had ever before tried to float this stretch of fast, shallow and rocky white-water in a 6-foot raft.

In ''Fast & Cold -- Alaska Whitewater,'' author Andy Embick rates it Class II-plus. Others would peg it Class III. Martin thinks it could be Class IV.

Dial admits paddling was a gamble, but he contends special rafts now being made by Sherri Tingey of Eagle River make such gambles feasible, particularly for a paddler in a dry suit.

''I had light coming over my back instead of in my face,'' Dial added. ''So I could see well, too. I rafted the whole Chitistone.''

That cut two to four hours off the travel time from the end of the Goat Trail to Glacier Creek, where racers usually put in for the float to McCarthy Road. By then, Dial knew he was in position to set a new record for the Wrangell version of a Wilderness Classic course that bounces between different Alaska venues every few years.

He started paddling down the Chitistone to the Nizina River and took a short nap in the boat. By the time he hit the the ruins of the Nizina River bridge, he packed up his gear and started the run for McCarthy.

From there in his only stop was to strip off his polypropylene tights and stuff them in his pack when the chafing on his legs became too painful.

''I broke the Reifenstuhls' time by an hour and 45 minutes,'' he said. ''So, I've got the new record. It feels pretty good to do it 20 years after the first time I won it. If I can follow the Reifenstuhls' lead, I can do this up into my 50s.''

Martin, the unofficial race organizer, was in McCarthy by the time Dial arrived, having flown over the mountains from Chisana.

''Roman Dial finished first, running naked -- other than a tiny loincloth -- from the waist down up the main street of McCarthy to the finish line on the porch of Wrangell Mountain Air.''

The official winning time for the 150 miles was 2 days, 4 hours and 24 minutes. The second-place finishers, Kevin Armstrong from Healy and Doug Woody from Colorado, were more than a day behind.

''In some ways, it was (all) pretty unbelievable,'' Tobin said, ''but the one thing about the Wilderness Classic is that it makes you do things you'd never do.''

Here are the 11 finishers, in order:

1.) Dial; 2.) Armstrong and Woody; 3.) Jeffrey Bannish of Anchorage; 4.) Kristian Sieling, Hans Neidig and Ben Summit, all of Anchorage; 5.) Kyle Joly and Martin Robards of Anchorage; 6.) Butch Allan and Jason Geck of Anchorage.

Daily News sports editor Beth Bragg contributed to this story.
Caption: Photo Courtesy Of John Lapkass Photo By Jim Renkert Anchorage physician John Lapkass is shown in the snow on his way up Cooper Pass. Conditions would get far worse as entrants in the Alaska Mountain and Wilderness Classic climbed toward the 6,000-foot pass on the north side of the Wrangell Mountains in late July. Dave Peters, Donna Klecka and Dick Griffith make their way through 13 inches of snow that fell the first day and night of the Wilderness Classic in late July.