Sunday, January 31, 2021

1992 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic

In reviewing my archives, I came across some information about the 1992 race. It's a great piece of history with lots of detailed information, most of which came from several Anchorage Daily News articles drafted by none other than Craig Medred. Craig is an outdoor columnist extraordinaire and Classic veteran himself who still writes prolifically.

 Here's is a brief summary of the race. 

The 11th annual race was held in the Brooks Range, beginning at Oolah Pass on the Dalton Highway and ending at Wiseman approximately 130 miles away. There were several recent grizzly encounters in the area of the race not long before the race started so several racers carried bear spray. Even Brant McGee, three-time winner of the race considered taking bear spray and carrying the extra 8 ounces. 

There had been four days of heavy rain and every river and waterway was at flood stage, giving those with packrafts an advantage. McGee, a lawyer from Anchorage, teamed up with Dave Dixon, to finish in first place. Dixon is a graduate of the University of Fairbanks and currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. McGee and Dixon started the race and quickly ran into blowing snow on a knife-edge ridge as they ascended into the clouds. They dropped into an unnamed drainage toward Ernie Creek for better visibility and hiked until darkness, huddling under a large rock for the night. Dixon got two 10 minute naps attempting to fight off hypothermia while Brant was snoring. Dixon just lay there and tried to get his feet above his head so they wouldn't swell up and massaged his legs the rest of the night. The two were back on the trail at 4am. 

Claire Holland, a state park ranger from Kodiak, finished in second place about 12 hours behind McGee and Dixon. If she had not stopped to help another racer who lost his raft and gear in the river she may very well have won. 

Clark Saunders finished in third place with John Lapkass. Lapkass ended up with a leak in his packraft and had to battle four foot waves to beach the boat every thirty minutes and keep pumping it up. 

In fourth place, Dick Griffith finished with several others. Dick was 65 years old and completed the race in worn-out Saucony running shoes. In the group that finished with Dick, Kathy Sarns endured blowing snow and also a swim in the Glacier River being chased by sweepers. She and Connie Hubbard encountered a blizzard going over the pass near Barrenland Creek in 32 degree temperatures. As they were wading the Koyukuk River arm in arm they were swept off their feet. They tumbled down the river submerged until finally working their way to the shore. In the swim, Connie lost the safety guard to her bear spray and had to permanently wedge it open with a rock. This fix worked fine until she was down-climbing a cliff and the spray went off in her face. 

Kathy and Connie took the lead in the race after about 100 miles but Connie's knees gave out and she ended up walking backwards down the road with ski poles. This is when Dick and other caught up with them. They eventually finished together in a group and celebrated with a case of beer and Yukon Jack until the early hours of the morning. 

 Eric Cramer was the youngest competitor at 17 years old and he finished with his father, David. Kathy Lambert ran out of energy close to the finish so Brant McGee rode up the trail and brought her beer to help her finish. When she didn't arrive a while later, others went to check on her and found her asleep in the bushes. 

Dan Whittemore from new Hampshire was one of the few from out of state to finish. 

John Gartiez was the last person of 27 to start the race. Long overdue, a search party began looking and a plane began conducting search patterns. Everyone was concerned because he had started the race without a sleeping bag and had trouble reading a map. Even though he was a veteran of the Iditarod and Mount McKinley, he had no waterproof gear and only a space blanket and a rainfly. He lost his compass in a river and had been gone for six days in constant rain, flooded rivers and nights below freezing. Having no raft, he hiked to the headwaters of the North fork Koyukuk, moved west into the Hammond river drainage and followed it to Wiseman. He ate blueberries to supplement his dwindling food for a while and then luckily ran into a group of Outward Board hikers who gave him food, energy bars and hot tea. He eventually made it to the finish as the last person to arrive, having survived severe hypothermia by making a fire several times and walking an average of 16 hours a day. When all the finishers arrived, they partied with a barbecue of caribou donated by a local miner.

There were several entrants who did not finish, seven of them dropping out within the first 48 hours. Howard markham of Anaheim, CA and Tim Gillis of San Diego decided to quit when they were on top of a ridge about 15 miles from the start. They couldn't tell if they were above Alignment Creek or Blarney Creek and wisely determined that they were in over their head. Michael Martin of Seattle got as far as Barrenland Creek and then had to drop out due to a stress fracture in his right foot. 

Final Results

  1. Brant McGee of Anchorage and Dave Dixon of New Mexico. 
  2. Claire Holland of Kodiak. 
  3. John Lapkass of Anchorage and Clark Saunders of Girdwood. 
  4. Dick Griffith, Barney Griffith, Kathy Sarns, Connie Hubbard and Tom Aho, all of Anchorage; Mike Sirofchuk of Kodiak and Jenny Magee of Girdwood. 
  5. Steffan Offerson of Anchorage. 
  6. Rourke Williams of Fairbanks and Gordy Vernon of Homer. 
  7. Eric and David Cramer of Mentasta. 
  8. Kathy Lambert of Anchorage. 
  9. David Poppe of North Pole. 
  10. Dan Whittemore of New Hampshire. 
  11. John Gartiez.
Did not finish: Michael Martin of Seattle; Jeff Mailloux of Boise, Idaho; Tim Gillis of San Diego; Howard Markham of Anaheim, Calif.; and James Benham and Dorothy Lash of Phoenix.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

2021 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic

 Ok, so it's been a while since my last post.  A few years perhaps . . .  But with the new year arriving, it seemed like a good opportunity for renewal and update.  

Hopefully this blog isn't your only source of information for the Classic.  If it is, I'm here to tell you that the race has still been run every year.  I'll try to fill in back results soon.  

Per inside information, the 2021 Classic will begin on August 1, 2021 and will conclude August 7, 2021.  The route is the same route it has been in the previous two years:  Jack River Trailhead to Sheep Mountain Lodge.  By all accounts, an epic route with stellar terrain packed chock full of challenges and exciting features.  

Only a few months left to buy your gear, cut all of it up into smaller and lighter pieces and start logging those 14 hour training runs! 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

2016 Wilderness Classic

The 2016 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic just finished a few days ago.  The course this year ran from Galbraith Lake to Wiseman and looks to be have had all the benefits of being in the Brooks Range.  Open tundra, snowfields, great packrafting and unbeatable views. 

22 people started the race, 9 were rookies and about half of the starters had finished a prior Classic. 

Luc Mehl and Todd Tumolo finished first in 34 hours. 

Other participants included:

Jack McClure
Lee Helzer
Alan Rogers
Ron Koczaja
Jeremy Vandermeer
Danny Powers
John Lapkass
Morgan Lizabeth Bender
Matt Kupilik
John Pekar
Alex Gould
Drew Harrington
Bob Gillis
Alex Agosti
Jon Agosti
Kyle Thompson
Kalin King
Josh Mulkey
Steve Duby
Robert Wing

Luc Mehl has a great summary and a video on his website here.
You can also read Jack McClure's trip report here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

2015 Classic Winner

Here's an article in the Homer News about Josh Mumm who is the winner of the 2015 Classic.  Congratulations Josh!

Monday, July 13, 2015

2015 Classic Results Pending

No word yet on the results of the 2015 Classic.  I'll post though as soon as I hear anything. 

Here's some good reading material though about another great event while you're waiting: 

AlaskAcross - News Miner Article

Monday, June 29, 2015

2015 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic

The 2015 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic was scheduled to start yesterday.  I didn't hear anything about a delay due to forest fires, smoke or other unpredictable events so I'm assuming everyone is off and running.  Probably literally.  The route venue is typically changed once every three years.  However, due to the tragic river death last year of participant Rob Kehrer, this year's race is a special one-time remembrance route starting in the Peter's Hills.  The route then proceeds to Nancy Lakes via Rohn. 

The weather looks fine along the route from where I am but everyone knows weather forecasts in Alaska are not a reliable predictor of reality.  We'll have to see what happens.  Good luck to all everyone who was at the starting line this year. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

2015 Wilderness Classic and Rob Kehrer

It is with mixed emotions that I write this overdue post.  A message last week from a friend and Classic veteran prompted me to finally finish what I have attempted to write a number of times.  Anticipation of a new Wilderness Classic this summer is building but the Classic community is still grieving over the loss of Rob Kehrer during the 2014 event. 

Classic participants have always known that this is an event not to be taken lightly and that the consequences could be fatal.  There have always been dangerous situations that even obsessive training and planning can’t control.  Severe weather, unpredictable water and wild animals are objective variables that are impossible to predict. 

Reciting the dangers of the Classic does not make Rob’s passing any easier.  Rob was popular, friendly and his passion for the Classic was unequaled.  Rob’s respect and love for the Alaska wilderness permeated his life.  He was a Classic veteran and was simply the victim of one of the uncontrollable dangers of wilderness travel.  His was the first death during the 32 year history of the event.  We all knew it could happen.  We also all hoped it never would. 

This is why the event has always been word-of-mouth and why applications are scrutinized carefully.  You must have not only the physical experience but also demonstrate an appreciation of your insignificance in some of the wildest places on the planet.  Humility not bravado is key.  You will never conquer the wilderness.  However, you may sometimes pass through it if you have properly prepared. 

People who have not run a Classic may incorrectly assume that the attraction of the event is the danger.  The hazards of the Alaskan wilderness are undeniably a part but play only a minor role.  Completing a Classic is not the same as the head-rush of cheating death on a free-solo rock climb or skimming inches from a sheer rock wall in a wingsuit.  The distinction may seem trivial to arm-chair observers but motivation of the spirit is key to understanding why so many are attracted to the event. 

The allure surpasses mere endorphins.  Be assured, there is no adrenaline rush 110 miles and four days into an event when you discover that a miscalculation on your creased and dirty map led you five miles off-route up a box canyon. 

The Classic is analogous to a vision quest.  It is a modern continuation of the ancient practice in many cultures of communing with fundamental life forces to gain insight into your own life.  Most participants are hungry, cold, miserable and exhausted when they finish.  They swear they will never do it again.  However, the clarity gained by participating in the Classic is magnetic. 

Sleep deprivation, exhaustion and unplanned suffering must all be expected when starting a Classic.  These factors can lead to clarity but can also lead to miscalculations.  As Classic participants, we must carefully balance the joy of traveling quickly over vast distances with the dangers faced in the wilderness.  Consider also loved ones at home who are concerned for your safety, who do not fully understand your drive to do this event and the devastation in their lives for many years if you do not return.  It is possible to give safety a priority and not diminish the experience.  Please remember that the edge is closer than you think. 

Although there was discussion in the Classic community of cancelling this year’s event out of respect for Rob, everyone agreed that Rob would urge this year’s event to be held.  So, yes, there is going to be a 2015 Wilderness Classic.  In the middle of your Classic this year, pause for a moment and remember Rob.  Build a small cairn at a natural cross-roads on a bear trail.  Listen to Rob’s footsteps behind you as you hike from dusk into darkness.  Hear his laugh as you huddle over a small campfire to keep from freezing. 

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
                                    W.B. Yeats

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Team Heavy - Rob Kehrer

The 2014 Wilderness Classic ended in the tragedy of the death of Rob Kehrer.  Rob was well known in Alaskan wilderness adventure circles and the community has pulled together to grieve his loss and celebrate his life.  Rob added a tremendous amount of color and personality to Classic events.  

Luc Mehl has created a wonderful website as a memorial to Rob.  Please visit the site and add your memories of Rob and his love for the Alaskan outdoors.  There is also a button to contribute to the Rob Kehrer memorial fun.  Please do so.