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.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Juneau Empire Article about 2000 Race

Here's another article from the archives of the Juneau Empire about the 2000 race from Nabesna to McCarthy. 

Sitka man, brother, win mountain classic. 

Saturday, November 28, 2009

2004 Anchorage Daily News Article

Here's a newspaper article from the Anchorage Daily News about the 2004, Eureka to Talkeetna race. Reprinted in full with the express permission from the Anchorage Daily News.

Vernon , Verzone brave miles of Class V white water to claim victory

WILDERNESS CLASSIC: Pair fights through "Entrance Exam," "Toilet Bowl" rapids.

Anchorage Daily News (AK)
- Thursday, July 29, 2004
Author: CRAIG MEDRED Anchorage Daily News ; Staff

Far from civilization in the backcountry north of the Glenn Highway early this week, Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic racers Gordy Vernon and Thai Verzone stumbled upon a group of trekkers who'd accidentally crossed the path of the state's craziest endurance race.

Better hurry up, the young hikers told 48-year-old Vernon and his 29-year-old sidekick, the other competitors who'd left Eureka Summit on Sunday were far, far ahead in the 100-to-150-mile race to Talkeetna. Vernon told the youngsters he wasn't concerned.

"You don't worry about handguns when you have an atomic bomb,'' said Vernon , the veteran wilderness racer, who now lives in Cordova.

The "atomic bomb,'' in this case, turned out to be a 16-foot-long, frameless cataraft that Vernon and Verzone used to dominate the race. While other competitors made difficult, alder-bashing portages around the Talkeetna River canyon, Vernon and Verzone were riding their secret weapon through 14 miles of boiling Class V white water to victory.

Not that it was easy.

"Never again,'' Vernon said when reached by telephone in Talkeetna Wednesday. "We swam twice.''

"We failed the Entrance Exam,'' added Talkeetna's own Verzone.

Entrance Exam is a notorious hole at the start of the Talkeetna River canyon.

In his book "Fast and Cold -- A Guide to Alaska Whitewater," the late Andy Embick warns that Entrance Exam "has flipped rafts and thrashed kayakers. 'Swimmers' escaping this hole inevitably go into several more holes downstream.''

Verzone said he and Vernon avoided that fate only because they crawled onto the bottom of their overturned raft.

"The boat was upside down and going backward,'' Verzone said. "But we paddled it to the next beach before 'Toilet Bowl,' '' a second dangerous rapid.

On the beach, he said, they righted the boat and "got our composure back.''

Then they put back into the river, made it safely past Toilet Bowl and on downstream until they hit a massive, river-wide hole that almost swallowed the raft. Verzone saw the trouble coming.

"I'm yelling at Gordy, 'Paddle, paddle, paddle!' he said. "Just screaming at him.''

It wasn't enough. Vernon 's frantic stroking with a kayak paddle powered the front of the long, skinny cataraft through the hole, but the back stuck. Verzone felt himself being sucked down to shoulder depth in the river.

"Then the boat disappears and everything turns white,'' he said. "I'm in the hole.''

He eventually pops up. Sees Vernon still paddling crazily. Then goes back down again.

"I wonder, in this chaos, if Gordy knows I'm not on the boat,'' Verzone said.

Not that it mattered all that much. Vernon had no choice but to try to paddle the boat out of the hole, which he finally did. Verzone, meanwhile, managed to kick to one side and break free of the current.

He rode a wave train down to the raft, climbed back aboard, and the two were off to their first Wilderness Classic win since the course went from Hope to Homer on the Kenai Peninsula in 1997.

"It was a good adventure,'' Verzone said. "You never know what's going to happen.''

Second-place finishers Bobbie Schnell and Chris Robertson, a pair of para-rescue jumpers from the 210th Rescue Squadron in Anchorage, can attest to that. They thought they had the race won until they rolled into Talkeetna.

"We didn't sleep during the race,'' Robertson said, "and the first two days we were flying.

"We came down the (Talkeetna) river. We hadn't seen anyone from the start. We'd crossed the creek nobody could cross last year.''

They thought they had the race in the bag, but what they didn't know was that while they had deflated their packrafts and begun an alder-bashing portage around the worst of the canyon, Vernon and Verzone were riding the river to victory.

"We had no idea of Thai and Gordy's secret weapon,'' Robertson said.

But then neither did anyone else.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 16 of the 35 racers who started the race had finished. Here are the early results and times:


Eureka Summit to Talkeetna - Finishers

Vernon and Verzone, 2 days, 7 hours; Schnell and Robertson, 2 days, 9 hours; Jim McDonough and Butch Allen, 2 days, 11 hours, 13 minutes; Bjorn Flora, Jason Geck and Jeff Bannish, 2 days, 12 hours, 30 minutes; Ben Summit, Tyler Johnson, Hans Neidig and Paul Hanis, 2 days, 12 hours, 51 minutes; Roman Dial and Roman Jr., 3 days, 4 hours, 20 minutes; and Bill Collins, 3 days, 4 hours, 50 minutes.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Juneau Empire Article about the Winter Wilderness Classic

Here's a link to a 2007 article I found in the Juneau Empire archives about the Winter Wilderness Classic. It covers the Nabesna to McCarthy route.

Juneau Empire Story

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

2008 Race Report

27th Annual Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic Race Report
June 15, 2008 - Chicken to Central

The running of the 27th Annual Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic race was the third and final installment of the grueling Chicken to Central course. The course will long be remembered as one of extreme difficulty and attrition, with success rates for the three year period hovering below 60%. The fact that this may well be the first ever Classic where the winning time in successive races became longer rather than shorter speaks volumes about the course. This winning time this year was 5 hours longer than the winning time last year, and 12 hours longer than the winning time in 2006.

A Showdown at Circle Hot Springs
The four winners of the 2008 Classic represented the merging of two teams: Tyler Johnson & Craig “Chunk” Barnard, and Butch Allen & Jim McDonough. How these two teams came to cross the finish line together is a story that will pass into Classic legend.

After traveling separately along slightly different routes over the previous 4+ days, the two teams arrived at Circle Hot Springs at almost exactly the same time, with only 8 miles of gravel road separating them from the finish line in Central. After the initial shock of seeing other racers this late in the game wore off, an old-fashioned, Wild West standoff ensued.

The two teams, although tired and battered, squared up, face to face, to size each other up. The tension was palpable. You could smell the testosterone and body odor. Who would blink first? Who would make the first move towards the road to Central? Nobody wanted to back down. As one racer had remarked at the start of the race, “There will be blood.”

McDonough spoke first. “Well, gentlemen, we have two choices: we can take off running and run until the last man is standing, or we can all shake hands and walk into Central as winners.”

After a few seconds, Chunk broke the silence. “If we walk in, does that mean that I would still be exempt from having to pay future race entry fees?” Race director Butch Allen replied, “Yes. Once you win a Classic you are exempt for life.” “Then that sounds good to me!” Chunk replied.

With the tension finally broken, and Chunk dreaming of a lifetime of free races, the four racers shook hands and congratulated each other and began the victory march to Central. After several miles on the hard-packed gravel, the racers all agreed that the decision to not take part in an all-out sprint was a wise one. All four of the racers began to experience the phenomena that the previous race winner Bobby Schnell has dubbed “exploding feet.” Exploding feet often occurs after hours or days of walking on soft, wet trails, followed by a rapid transition to hard gravel or pavement.

Feet swelled and blisters oozed. Walking the last eight miles was challenging, and by the last mile the pace of the group had slowed to 1.5 miles per hour. Fortunately, cold swamp water in the roadside ditches allowed for periodic soakings. Finally, the group hobbled into the finish like a bunch of old men. It was agreed by all that attempting to run the last eight miles would have done some serious and lasting foot damage.

A Tale of Two Routes
The Johnson/Barnard team (293 total miles) and Allen/McDonough team (284 total miles) followed similar routes. Concerned about possible low water in the Charley basin, both teams floated the 40-Mile River from Chicken towards the border. With travel in Canada strictly prohibited, the Johnson/Barnard team took out at the border and headed due north, following the border cut (a.k.a. the “Swath”) directly. They stayed on the Swath for about 20 miles before traversing inland and taking the high country to the Yukon to avoid the last two burned-out canyons and the dreaded “Valley of 10,000 Sticks.”

The Allen/McDonough team arrived a few hours later and took out at Sam Patch Creek, about a quarter-mile before the border. Having experienced the pain and misery of the Swath in 2006, the boys immediately headed for the high ridges just west of the border. By connecting the ridges and high points, they avoided traveling in the burned out valleys where the trees resembled a giant’s game of “Pick-Up-Sticks”. The ridges were fairly easy traveling since the burned up trees at elevation were smaller diameter and had not started falling over yet. Higher yet, the traveling was even easier on the treeless tundra. Their new route was 9 miles longer (34 miles versus 25) than taking the border cut directly, but they were able to shave almost 7 full hours off their time from 2006 (29 hours versus 36 hours). Having avoiding the dreaded "Valley of 10,000 Sticks", they were literally giddy with laughter when they reached the Yukon and inflated their rafts.

The 110-mile float down the Yukon to Woodchopper Creek that followed was fairly smooth for both teams, with Allen/McDonough making only two brief stops to allow storm squalls to pass. It was also a great opportunity to rest the feet and take some cat-naps in the warm sun. McDonough had purchased a larger packraft specifically for this purpose, and with his 5’5” frame nestled fully inside the raft, it was like having a fully enclosed cabin-cruiser.

Allen/McDonough arrived at Slaven's Cabin just as Johnson/Barnard were leaving. Johnson said they had overslept, taking a total of six hours rest. They told Allen/McDonough exactly where they were going - all the way up Woodchopper and into the high country to avoid the swamps and bushwhacking. There are very few people in Alaska that are stronger in the high country than Tyler and Chunk, and they were certainly playing to their strengths. Tyler recently summitted Cho Oyu without bottled oxygen and Chunk, a Cooper Landing carpenter, arguably spends more days backcountry skiing than anyone else in Alaska. Both are mountain goats for sure. After drying out their gear, Allen & McDonough slept for only three hours to make up some lost time. They gorged on sausage fried in bacon grease before hitting the trail.

The Ghost of Joe Vogler
Allen/McDonough initially planed to head all the way up the valley to the head of Woodchopper Creek, traverse the pass, and then drop down in the Yukon Fork of Birch Creek to float from there. However, the possibility of low water in Birch Creek had cast serious doubts on their plan. As they headed up the valley and started to climb, they crossed what later turned out to be the infamous Joe Vogler (a.k.a. Bielenberg) Cat Trail. They had heard rumors that the trail went all the way to Woodchopper, but nobody associated with the race had yet found the missing link. The Park Service claimed that they had stopped Vogler and his D-8 Caterpillar at Webber Creek, miles short of his intended destination: his mining claim at Woodchopper. The news reports said that Vogler’s dozer was left in its tracks. The July 14, 1984 armed standoff between Vogler’s crew and the Park Service was later dubbed the "Battle of Webber Creek" by the media.

Having a passable trail in front of them, Allen/McDonough abandoned their plans to head into the high country and followed the trail. It seemed to be the only possible way they could keep pace with Johnson/Barnard who, at this point, were several hours ahead of them.

Apparently, Old Joe Vogler must have snuck back in a few weeks later and fired up the cat to finish the job. The dozer track does indeed go all the way from Vogler's claim (now owned by Stan Gelvin) at Woodchopper, past Webber Creek, to the east shore of Birch Creek, and finally on to Circle Hot Springs. Allen/McDonough stayed on the track the whole way in, almost 40 miles from Woodchopper to Circle Hot Springs. Although the track is overgrown in spots and under water for at least half of its length, it was still manageable. By staying in one of the two depressions left by the dozer tracks, they avoided having to walk on top of the wobbly tussocks. The muddy sections presented the greatest challenge, where the depths would range from a few inches to over a foot deep. They had to be careful not to let the deep mud suck the shoes off of their feet.

It took Allen/McDonough about 36 hours to make the 40-mile run from Woodchopper to Circle Hot Springs. Several sections of trail forced them to wade through thigh-deep swamp, but by staying in the dozer ruts they could still manage at least a half-a-mile per hour through the worst of it. They slept on the trail for only one hour during the heat of the day, knowing full well that Johnson/Barnard may still have the advantage in the high country above them. Allen/McDonough could see the ridges and peaks to the south the whole time, and could only speculate on what kind of progress the other team was making.

The Amazing Taco Bell Traverse
As Allen/McDonough slogged through the swamp trail below, Johnson/Barnard were busy working on their masterpiece in the high country. The dynamic duo climbed to the head of Woodchopper, and stayed in the high country for close to 42 miles. Their route to Circle Hot Springs took them up and down no less than ten different peaks, with a total elevation gain of over 15,000 vertical feet (per TOPO route data). Johnson said they had no other choice than to tackle each peak directly. Slippery and unstable slopes of slag would not allow for any side-hilling whatsoever. Additionally, large, unstable boulder fields also had to be navigated, and on more than one occasion, the boys had to react quickly to avoid being crushed by an unstable boulder.

Their traverse should go down as one of the more noteworthy efforts in recent memory, especially when considering how late in the race it took place. At a time when most racers begin to fall apart, Tyler and Craig seemed to get stronger. Also noteworthy is the food the boys were carrying – mostly burritos from Taco Bell.

Into Circle Hot Springs
When Allen/McDonough hit the final stretch of the trail after crossing Birch Creek, they saw no human footprints in the mud ahead of them. Filled with adrenaline at the prospect of their first Classic victory, they pushed hard for the last 11 miles through the muddy trail.

McDonough was pumped up for what looked to be their first Classic victory in six attempts. Allen refused to acknowledge him, repeating the phrase "It's the Classic - anything can happen. Somebody could pop out of the brush at any moment." And Allen was absolutely right. The team was only about a third of a mile from Circle Hot Springs Resort when Johnson/Barnard simply “appeared from nowhere” from the high country and descended onto the trail. It took a few seconds to realize that the two men approaching them were not a hallucination.

McDonough summarized his thoughts: “All along the course, we kept waiting for the wheels to fall off like they typically do. But it just never happened. The food was plentiful. No major navigational mistakes. The route seemed to lie down in front of us. We slept for a total of eight hours which was just enough to avoid hallucinations. As the race went on, we became more and more aware of what was happening, as unbelievable as it was. It's not something that happens often during these races. Sharing the victory with Craig and Tyler was also special, after witnessing what they had done up in the high country. To watch those guys pull off such a huge traverse, especially so deep into a long race, was nothing short of spectacular.”

The Jedi of Pain
This year’s 2nd Place finisher was none other than the “Jedi of Pain” himself, Dr. John Lapkass. As most of you know, John typically makes it a point to race solo and goes to great lengths to keep his whereabouts and his route top secret. John also enjoys longer routes versus shorter ones, assuring that he will enter the “higher plane of enlightenment” that he seeks year after year. The 2008 race represents John’s 16th Classic.

John followed a similar route as the winners, but skipped past Woodchopper Creek and opted for Thanksgiving Creek instead. After battling up Thanksgiving Creek (which is a straight-up bushwhack with no trails whatsoever), he hooked up with the Vogler/Bielenberg trail and followed the swampy track to the finish. His time of 5 days, 15 hours and 57 minutes was almost a full day faster than his time from 2007. John’s 2nd place effort represents what is believed to be his best finish ever. Congratulations, John!

Those racers who stayed up into the wee hours of Friday morning to see John finish were able to witness his euphoric state firsthand. While standing around the fire, John pointed out many of the vivid hallucinations he was experiencing, most notably the Tin Man (from the Wizard of Oz) and the Talking Squirrel in the Fire. John also described the “rock radio” he encountered on the trail last year and again this year. He said the boulder was in the exact same location as last year, only this year it was playing Spanish music rather than Top 40 pop. The particular hallucination was so real that he actually inspected the rock to see if any wires were attached.

7 Days of Bliss
This year’s 3rd place finishers consisted of “Iron” Mike Sullivan and Leo Claunan, both professional pararescuemen (or “PJ’s”) with the Air National Guard in Anchorage. Mike and Leo were the only racers to complete the Charley route this year, and they deserve special mention for grinding out the route despite the low water conditions. They suffered through low water, dwindling food supplies, a few navigational errors, a huge hole in Mike’s raft and Leo’s blown-out shoe. As was the case last year, the Yukon Fork of Birch Creek had very little water in it, and the duo was forced to walk many miles of creek bed before they could float in their rafts. Mike, having scratched the two previous years, was bound and determined to finish the course this year. Their perseverance paid off with a finish time of 7 days, 8 hours and 44 minutes. Way to stay with it, fellas!

The Indomitable Dick Griffith
The 2008 Classic marked the first and only time that the race has had a Master’s Division. Race director Butch Allen created a special rule that allowed all racers over the age of 80 to both enter Canada and use the Steese Highway from Circle to Central.

We only had one official entrant in the Master’s Division – The amazing Dick Griffith, just shy of 81 years old. As most of you know, Dick is truly the Godfather of Alaska adventure racing and the Wilderness Classic. Dick also pioneered the use of the packraft and has floated more rivers since the Classic began in 1982 than most of us can count.

Dick was accompanied by longtime racing companion Jerry Dixon. Some of the duo’s history includes racing together in 4 Wilderness Classics, traversing 7 mountain ranges and skiing 600 miles of the Iditarod Trail. For Jerry, a former smokejumper and Fire Management Officer in the 40-Mile/Eagle area, it was truly an honor to travel with Dick through his old stomping grounds. The pair made several historical stops along the way, including the Long Tom cabin on the 40-Mile River (built in 1910), Jerry’s hand-made log cabin in Eagle, The public use cabin at Nation (built in 1908) and, of course, the amazing Slaven’s Cabin. Dick and Jerry finished the course in the neighborhood of five days.

Jerry described his time with Dick as a magic journey, and likened the experience to “being 20 years old again.” Jerry said one of the highlights of the trip was experiencing the thunderstorms, lighting and rain while on the Yukon.

Dick announced that this, believed to be his 25th race, will be his last Wilderness Classic. He said, “I was already old when this started”, way back in 1982. Dick’s favorite course is still Nabesna to McCarthy, with Eureka to Talkeetna a close second. When Dick introduced the packraft to the Classic in 1982 and nearly beat men that were half his age, he uttered one of his most famous quotes: “Old age and treachery will beat youth and vigor every time.”

We sincerely thank Dick on behalf of all racers, past and present. Dick, your contributions to this race and to human-powered exploration in general will live on for generations to come. Sharing the course with you for one last time has certainly been our privilege. Best wishes on your future journeys.

Return of the Iron Maiden
The 2008 race marked the return of Nora Tobin, whom Dick has dubbed “The Iron Maiden.” As most of you may already know, Nora suffered a severe back injury while skiing back in November of 2007, requiring extensive surgery and rehabilitation. She shattered 3 vertebrae, but luckily did not damage her spinal cord.

To have Nora on the course again was a treat for everyone, as she carries such a positive energy with her wherever she treads. Although low water in the Charley and blistered feet forced her and her partner Brook Kintz to scratch and float the Charley to Circle, it was still a great effort considering, just six months ago, she was hobbling around in a walker with metal rods and screws holding her spine together. She had the body cast removed in March. We all hope to see Nora again in 2009, when she is fully recovered and showing all of the boys how it is supposed to be done. Welcome back, Nora!

Cat Scratch Fever……
As was the case last year, the Charley drainage was low and not kind to racers. The rookie duo of Kyle Amstadter and Ryan Johnson made a noble effort, but eventually scratched at Circle. After dropping into Fish Creek too early (they were lured in by snow that appeared to be water), the duo became separated and lost precious time to bushwhacking and attempting to float the low water in Fish Creek. Their key learning points were: stick to the plan, don’t get separated and never forget that Alaska is Big.

Michael Martin, a professor of Oral Medicine for the University of Washington and a Classic veteran, was fully prepared to lay siege to the Charley route. Knowing it was a long course, he carried a well-stocked pack that weighed 44 pounds at the start. Unfortunately, he succumbed to severe nausea about 30 miles in. After resting and attempting to recover, he decided to slowly head back to Chicken.

Rob “The Yak” Kehrer and Matt Reardon, veterans of the Eureka to Talkeetna races, also fell victim to a similar illness when Rob went down during their traverse from the 40-Mile to the Yukon. The pair had been moving together very well up until the point where Rob’s GI tract literally stopped them in their tracks. By the time Rob had recovered, the duo decided to finish the traverse to the Yukon and float down to Circle where they officially scratched. Knowing how much these guys enjoy racing together certainly guarantees that they will be back in the not too distant future.

Recap and Looking Forward to 2009
2008 was a success in that nobody required outside rescue. All of the people who scratched were able to self-rescue. No planes or helicopters were put into the air. Undeniably, the primary reason for this is the use of satellite phones. Sat phones will continue to be the one and only piece of mandatory gear required by every racer. It is a small price to pay to keep our humble little race off of the front page of the Daily News.

In keeping with Classic tradition, 2009 will mark the start of a new course for three more years. No course decisions have been made yet, but rest assured that the new course will be challenging, unique and will offer many possible route options.

A Special Thanks
Many thanks to the Busby Family and the crew of the Chicken Gold Camp, who once again sent us off in style from Chicken. Your kindness and accommodation will not soon be forgotten.

Thanks also to the Steese Roadhouse in Central, who served many meals to hungry racers and allowed us to use their facility as our command post.

We were fortunate to once again have use of Rourke William’s family homestead at the finish line in Central. Rourke, we are forever in your debt! Many beers were consumed and tales told and retold around the comfort of your fire pit. And we can’t say enough about having real beds to sleep on.

Sherri Tingey has come through once again and agreed to donate a brand new Alpacka Raft. Butch will be coordinating the drawing, which will take place at the post-race party. Stay tuned for times and dates….

And, last but certainly no least, a heartfelt thanks goes out to Ann Marie Sack and Gabriel Goldstein for giving up their time to help the racers at the finish. Ann Marie continues to be our “Angel of Mercy” at the end of a long course. We hope that she still finds us entertaining enough to lend support next year on the new course. And Chef Gabriel is welcome back anytime. That beef stew was to die for, brother!

Respectfully submitted,
Jim McDonough

Official Results – 16 starters, 9 finishers

First Place:
Butch Allen & Jim McDonough
Tyler Johnson & Craig Barnard: 4 days, 22 hrs, 56 minutes

Second Place:
John Lapkass: 5 days, 15 hours, 57 minutes (solo)

Third Place:
Mike Sullivan & Leo Claunan: 7 days, 8 hours, 44 minutes

Master’s Division Winner:
Dick Griffith, age 81 (accompanied by Jerry Dixon): Approx. 5 days.

Matt Reardon & Rob Kehrer (illness – floated out to Circle from above Eagle)
Michael Martin (illness – floated 40-mile back towards Chicken)
Nora Tobin & Brook Kintz (low water in Charley/bad feet – floated out to Circle)
Kyle Amstadter & Ryan Johnson (low water in Charley – floated out to Circle)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Blog update

Hi everyone, this fall has been a busy one but I hope to start posting more often again pretty soon. Start training now for the 2010 Classic. You'll be glad you did when next summer rolls around.

Quote of the day: "The power to believe in yourself is the power to change fate".

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

2008 Race Results

1. Butch Allen
Jim McDonough
Tyler Johnson
Craig Barnard 4 days, 22 hrs, 56 minutes

2. John Lapkass 5 days, 15 hours, 57 minutes (solo)

3. Mike Sullivan
Leo Claunan 7 days, 8 hours, 44 minutes

Master’s Division Winner:
Dick Griffith, age 81 (accompanied by Jerry Dixon): Approx. 5 days.

Matt Reardon, Rob Kehrer, Michael Martin, Nora Tobin, Brook Kintz, Kyle Amstadter, Ryan Johnson

Thursday, August 27, 2009

2006 Race Results

1. Bobby Schnell
Chris Robertson 4 days, 10 hours, 42 minutes

2. Tyler Johsnson
Craig Barnard
Gordy Vernon
Thai Verzone
John Pekar
John Collins 5 days, 13 hours, 10 minutes

3. John Lapkass 6 days, 16 hours, 10 minuets

4. Brad Marden
Merrick Johnston 7 days, 5 hours, 5 minutes

5. Rourke Williams
Bob Groseclose 9 days, 1 hour

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Good Motivation

Watch this video next time you're feeling lazy and don't feel like doing a workout.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

2009 Race Results Addendum

Take a look at the 2009 Race Results again. Luc Mehl came in fourth place but was accidently left out of the original results. Sorry about the ommission Luc, and congratulations on finishing the race. The results should be correct now.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

2001 Race Report

Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic

2001 Race Report and Results

The superhuman android boys, Steve and Rocky Riefenstuhl set a new course record of 53 hours and 49 minutes. Roman Dial came in second. Chad Taylor, Kevin Armstrong and Doug Woody came in third, and Dick Griffith and Donna Klecka finished in time for the Roast.

It was a wildly unusual year. It had been raining for weeks prior to the start, and just getting to the start was an ordeal. There were a series of impressive washouts on the Nabesna road. My top heavy camper swayed to such a degree on the first of the washout crossings, that Dick Griffith was considering calling Child Protective Services on me since my kids were in the camper during the crossing. They pretty much know how to swim, but the windows in the camper are fairly small (hard to get out).

Those few who made it to the start were pretty daunted by the conditions. We sent up one of those hardy Riefenstuhls in a plane with a digital camera to photograph the Nabesna and Jack Creek, and when he returned, we all gathered in the Devil's Mountain Lodge to view the results. We decided to wait till morning and see how things were. Morning wasn't much better, with a steady drizzle and grey skies. We decided to go anyway. After all, it's the AMWC. By the actual start time, there were only 15 starters. By the time I said "Let's go" there were 13. By the time we blew up boats, there were only 12 going on. Wow.

Things got progressively better, but what a race. Of the 13 actual starters, 8 finished. (Actually a slightly better-than-sometimes ratio.) No bears ate boats (like 2000). The banquet was wonderful. For the 20th running of the AMWC to be faced with all this stuff up front, it turned out that we had a great time joining with the McCarthy folks (especially Natalie and Kelly Bay) in "roasting Dick". The McCarthy Lodge served up a tremendous spread, and the case of champagne special-ordered for the event didn't hurt. Roman Dial, Peggy, and kids drove all the way from Anchorage for the event.

Roman, Donna Klecka, Claire LeClaire and I, among others, told lots of stories about Dick, some of them true. For 2002 there will be an ABSOLUTE LIMIT of 30 racers. So, enclosed you will find a registration form and some photos of the race. Due to the very limited field, the registrations from the 2001 race did not quite cover expenses. This year again, the cost of the color enclosures in this packet is not taken from race proceeds (there weren't any). So Merry Christmas from me to the race. I still don't think we need to change anything we are doing, (in terms of $ or organization), I just can't send a partial refund like usual to those who paid the entry fee. Maybe this year'll be different.

Keep in mind that this is the last ofthe 3 year cycle. We will be moving on from the Wrangells next year. I will be gone for a while this summer, so Dick Griffith has generously agreed to co-organize. Please note that entries and fees should go to his address, which is listed on the entry form.

p.s. don't take this personally, but if you don't respond to this letter, with at least a "yeah, I'm here", this is the last announcement you'll receive. Thanks to all of you for everything. I hope to see you in Nabesna..

Rocky Reifenstuhl
Steve Reifenstuhl - 2 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes

Roman Dial - 2 days, 13 hours and 14 minutes

Kevin Armstrong
Doug Woody
Chad Taylor - 3 days, 16 hours and 42 minutes

Donna Klecka
Dick Griffith - exact time unavailable but they finished about 6:45 p.m. Saturday

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

2009 Alaska Mountain Wildereness Classic Race Results

Here's a good article about Forrest Karr and Steve Taylor from the Fairbanks Daily News Miner that includes the full results of this year's race. Congratulations Forrest and Steve on a respectable rookie finish. Race Results and Article.

1. Bobby Schnell, Chris Robertson and Andrew Skurka — 3 days, 17 hours, 54 minutes
2. Roman Dial and Forrest McCarthy, 4 days, 8 hours, 41 minutes
3. Eben Sargent and Brad Marden, 4 days, 14 hours, 11 minutes
4. Luc Mehl, 4 days, 14 hours, 41 minutes.
5. Stephen Taylor, Forrest Karr and Rob Kehrer, 7 days, 5 hours, 42 minutes
6. John Lapkass, 8 days, 22 hours, 22 minutes.
Scratches — Kyle Amstadter and Jesse Bernwald; Craig “Chunk” Bernard and Jordan Manley; Michael Martin and Michael Penuelas; Donna Kleck; Don Moden and Scott Wilk; Christopher Bernshoof and George Feree; Mark Ross; William and Clay Collins.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Video from 2009 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic

Here's a great video made by the team who won the 2009 race. Congratulations Chris, Bobby and Andrew!

Video of 2009 Race

Here's a great video made by the second place team in the 2009 race.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

More Classic Info

Roman keeps posting great stuff about the Classic on his blog. I should probably put a permanent link on my opening page but until I get around to doing that, check out his page here.

Also, here's another cool site with some great Alaskan adventures and great cycling gear.

And yet another tidbit of Classic beta: a brief article in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner about this year's Classic.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

More Photos from 2000 Race - Nabesna to McCarthy

Here's some more pictures from the 2000 race.

Race start at the end of the Nabesna Road. The Ellis family very graciously allowed us to gather and start near Devil's Mountain Lodge. The ice climbing out here in the late fall and spring is excellent. However, ice climbing in the middle of winter here is not feasible because it's just too cold.

Old school method of blowing up rafts. About five miles into the race on the bank of Jack Creek.

Floating Jack Creek. It's slow and winding but faster than walking. Jack Creek eventually flows into the Nabesna River where the excitement really begins.

The Nabesna River looking much warmer than it actually is.

Checking the maps after about an hour of floating on the Nabesna to make sure we haven't passed the take-out at Cooper Creek.

Packing up the rafts to begin the hike up Cooper Creek.

Never ending ankle abuse on Cooper Creek.

We hiked until it was so dark that we couldn't see our feet and then bivied in the open. Here's sunrise the next day after we had been hiking for an hour. The fresh snow on the mountains was lower than we would have liked.

Stellar scenery coming down Notch Creek, a few miles shy of Chisana, which is about 50 miles into the race. If you look carefully, you can see a member of our group who was lagging just a bit.

Happy times and good weather at the first checkpoint in Chisana.

Checking the maps near Geohenda Creek. We lost several hours thrashing around in the woods by missing an obvious drainage.

After sleeping under an alder bush in pouring rain near the top of Geohenda Pass, we woke up to see that snow level was twenty vertical feet above us on the hill next to us. Yea, the picture is dark and poor quality but it accurately reflects the mood at the time.

This pack trail at about 5200 feet is between Geohenda Pass and Solo Mountain. We lost the trail several times because of fresh snow. The soft ground trail is a welcome relief after the unstable rocks of creek drainages.

The legendary Solo Mountain Cabin about 75 miles into the race. It's real, and you will never see a more welcome sight.

Smooth terrain in the White River Valley near Lime Creek.

Past Lime Creek and starting up the moraine of the Russell Glacier.

Unnamed 7500 foot peak near the Russell Glacier.

Near Skolai Lake with Castle Mountain in the background.

Standing on the edge of Chitistone Pass. One of the most beautiful places in the world. Chitistone Pass is about 100 miles into the race.

The Chitistone Gorge.
The Goat Trail.

More ankle torturing rocks, near the confluence of Glacier Creek and the Chitistone River. About 125 miles into the race.

After arriving in McCarthy at the finish line at about 4am, we stood sopping wet and hypothermic in the street for three hours until a local inkeeper woke up and took pity on us. She gave us small cups of hot coffee and an apple each. Since we had run out of food 16 hours and 30 miles before, it was highly appreciated.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

And the winners are . . .

The winners of the 2009 Classic are Chris Robertson, Bobby Schnell and Andrew Skurka, all finishing together. Roman Dial and his partner Forrest McCarthy finished second. Roman has a nice summary of the race with more information on his blog. Roman's summary also has a great picture of "Wilderness Classic Foot" that is a must-see. Or not, if you happen to have a weak stomach.

It sounds like it was a great race with a fair number of people dropping out at the first checkpoint and many people surviving excessive hardship. I'm sure there are a lot of great stories about the race and it'll be fun hearing them as they come out.

No Results Yet But Hopefully Soon

Ok, I know everyone is clamoring to find out who won so I'll try to find out as soon as I can. Most racers should be across the finish line by now. I'll post as soon as I find out some preliminary results.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The weather looks to be good for the Classic so far this year. The race is through wilderness so there's no telling for sure what weather the racers are experiencing but here's a few webcams that could be similar.

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".

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

Wild Thing

Check out the full page advertisement for Wild Things Gear in Alpinist Magazine on page 21. The ad features Chris Roberston and Jon Davis on a 300 mile long Brooks Range trek. The photo is taken by Bobby Schnell. Bobby and Chris are perennial contenders and winners in the Classic and are competing this year also as I'm typing this.

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.