Posts Tagged ‘alaska mountain wilderness classic’

Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic 2020

Friday, August 7th, 2020

It was early morning and Tom and I were walking up Yacko Creek, with 40 or so miles to go.  The valley was covered in low lush green grass, the sky was clear and blue, and the walking was great.  After rushing by a mining camp guarded by a friendly looking black lab, and a much less friendly pit bull mix, we were happy to be away from people again.  Off in the distance, some dark shapes were moving around in the grass.  Ravens maybe, I wondered?  We got closer, and Tom and I started wondering aloud what they were..  Soon we were close enough to see it was a small wolf pack, with the younger members bouncing around like puppies while the older ones lay in the sun.  I grabbed a rock, readied my trusty anti bear air horn, and told Tom to get the bear spray.  About the time we figured out what they were, they noticed us, and after giving us brief consideration, they headed off into the neighboring hills.  I could see them occasionally as they weaved in and out of the dwarf birch covering the hillside before disappearing.   Tom and I sped up a bit, feeling their eyes on us as we walked up Yacko Creek in the morning sun. 

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The Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic is a point-to-point semi-organized event that has been held since the early 80s.  The route changes every three years, with the current route going from the Cantwell area to Sheep Mountain Lodge near Eureka.  My normal partner for these sort of adventures, Tom, and I had done a shorter version of this twice, but didn’t do it in 2019 due to a schedule conflict.  Fortunately this year due to Covid we had lots of free time and we were in.  The current route is much longer than the one we had done before, though – instead of nearly two days, we were looking at possibly six days.  It was a daunting prospect! 

In the leadup to the event we studied maps, and talked gear, and generally obsessed too much (or at least I did), eventually settling on a route hitting the ATV trails in the Nelchena area.  Hopefully we would be able to take 50+ miles of ATV trails to the finish, avoid any huge climbs, and enjoy some great walking.   We also decided to take only one boat, a two person packraft, hoping to use it only to cross the Susitna.  We had been warned about giant beaver swamps and slow walking on Tsusena Creek, but we were hoping the lighter packs would make up for it. 

The day before the race, Amanda (Tom’s partner) drove us down to Cantwell, graciously driving us to the start for a brief pre race meeting, followed by pizza.

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A highly trained and very bouncy young dog who was apparently trained as a search and rescue dog at Barry Switzer’s Ground Zero Emergency Training Center. The owner was unimpressed that I didn’t know who Barry Switzer was, but the puppy could fetch tennis balls like a champ!

In the morning Amanda dropped us off at the start (thanks Amanda, you rock!!).  Alaska outdoor superstar Luc Mehl was there and said hi, but I’d had way too much caffeine and was so worked up I think I came across as either insane, on meth (or crack), or both.   Which is sort of funny, as the only other time I have met him in real life was on the iditarod trail 200+ miles into the ITI with less than 6 hours of sleep, and I was pretty manic.  After a slightly awkward (but not nearly as much so as AlaskaCross ) start we were off.  

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The first 30 miles or so were great walking, as we walked up the Jack River, and over to the Tsusena.  We had two groups ahead of us, plus a random person with a white pack we saw just as we reached Caribou Lakes. The Tsusena was great walking, until it wasn’t, as we hit some huge lakes created by beavers, followed by brush.  Eventually it got too dark and we called it good, setting up our tiny tent and getting 4 hours of sleep.   


Our schedule of making camp just as it became hard to see and getting four hours or so of sleep, plus maybe two more hours of fiddling and setting up and taking down camp continued for the rest of the trip.  We had a freeze-dried meal each just before going to bed. Alas, the first night I woke up with hunger pains and had to scarf down some nuts, then again later some cheese. (Tom says the cheese part happened the night after.)   Apparently “Night Cheese” is some sort of 30 Rock in-joke, and Tom made fun of me a lot for it, though I should point out I never saw 30 Rock.  

Night cheese..

After that I made sure to supplement my freeze-dried meals with nuts and coconut oil for more calories.

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Our campsite for the evening..

In the morning we continued down the creek, occasionally seeing the flash of a paddle through the brush along the creek as seemingly everyone floated by.   The walking was never horrible, but in places it wasn’t very fast.  We did find several miles of old trapline that was occasionally flagged and ended at a tree stand and a short airstrip that provided several miles of great walking. 

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Eventually we crossed to the other side of the creek, and I dunked my “nice” camera when I misjudged how deep the creek was – it was so clear it was several feet deeper and a lost faster than I expected.  Alas, that was the end of the good photos, and I had to rely on my phone for photos after that.   The camera survived though; the lens just had some moisture in it.  Good thing I didn’t bring the good lens, but instead my junker lens!

We finally reached some ATV trails, which we took to the lakes near Tsusena Bluff, which we followed over to Deadman Creek.  We saw a huge tripod in the distance, and were surprised to eventually walk right up to it.  It turns out it was an artificial eagle nest installed in the early 80s – neat!  

AMWC 2020 AMWC 2020 ASWC 2020 An eagle’s nest!!

From Deadman we walked a mile or so up the Susitna to a small creek which we took down to the river. 

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We made a very uneventful crossing, and slowly climbed up to the Fog Lakes. 

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We crossed Fog Lakes as a rainstorm slowly blew in, climbing up over a small hill, to camp in the rain on an unnamed creek as it got dark. 

In the morning it was dry and sunny, and we hiked up into Tsisi Creek, over to Kotsina Creek, and camped near darkness at the divide between George and Goose Creeks.  

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Heading down to Kotsina Creek

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Camping between George and Goose Creeks

The walking was mostly great, and I enjoyed the sun, briefly hiking in my underpants to let my pants dry.   We went to sleep to clear skies, and woke 4 hours later to an icy tent.  Hiking on Goose Creek was great, but alas it turned away from our destination and we had to head up into the dwarf birch near Busch Creek on some small hills leading to the Black River.  Shortly after crossing Busch Creek we had our first bear encounter as we startled a medium sized brown bear who took off bounding up the hill like we were the devil incarnate.  Tom and I both wished we could run uphill that fast; that bear flew.  By midday we hit the start of the ATV trails, which turned out to be a small road that started semi randomly in a huge open swamp.  

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Civilization!

Near the swamp we had our second bear encounter as  a mother bear and two large cubs saw us way in the distance on the other side of the swamp and again ran away at top speed.   Hurrah for well behaved bears!  

A few miles down the road we ran into some footprints.  Later we were to learn Matt K, Brian P, and John P had taken this trail over to and up the Little Oshentna, crossing over Horse Pasture and into Caribou Creek.

The trail ( actually a dirt road) was great walking, and soon we zoomed to the Black River, where we had to inflate and cross one at a time.  I had brought 100ft of p-cord to shuttle the raft back and forth, but alas, that much p-cord turned out to be a big pain to manage, and after several attempts and one huge mess of tangled lines we managed to both get across.  
Several hours later we had to cross the Oshentna, but this time we just both got in the boat at the same time.  Alas, after deflating we learned there was another channel to cross.  Sigh.  Soon we were across, and were back on the fast walking mini-road, only to take a wrong turn and end up at the Oshentna again, headed in the wrong direction. 

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With some backtracking we made it to the correct trail, which alas became a bit of a muddy mess. 

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In the evening we camped at the intersection of two ATV trails in a little pass, on a wonderfully clear and beautiful evening.  

In the morning we awoke to a hard frost with chunks of ice on the tent, and clear skies.  We zoomed along attempting to stay warm until the sun hit us.  We followed Yacko Creek though some mines, passing some old mining equipment, through some much more active mines, and eventually out into a beautiful green valley where we surprised a small pack of wolves enjoying the morning sunshine.   Our plan at this point was just to push though and hopefully finish in the early morning, ideally making good time on the great ATV trails.   

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Tom drying stuff out winter classic style.. but more dusty


Fortunately the trails remained great, but it was oh so hilly, hot, and dusty.  My feet were not enjoying the hard surface.   We had two biggish climbs, then topped out at “Monument”, before descending to Crooked Creek.   From the top of Monument we had cell service, so I called my wife Nancy and my daughters to say “Hi” – the joys of modern life!   From there we had intended to take the Crooked Creek trail, but alas, we wasted several hours trying to find the trail before bailing and walking around it to Belanger Pass trail, swacking though dwarf birch in the almost dark before hitting the trail.   In honor of getting back on the “easy walking” we had a freeze dried meal each, then walked in the dim light up a thousand feet or so vertically, to descend down a wide road to a muddy and mindlessly straight Squaw Creek trail. 

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Early morning manic Belanger Pass trail selfie..


It was surprisingly warm up high, and more surprisingly, pretty cold after we descended. 

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Squaw Creek trail, in one of the less muddy sections.. so straight, so boring!

Squaw Creek Trail was a blur of mud and mist in the distance that ended finally at 6am when we turned off to bump into some folks I had talked to at the start eating handfuls of donuts.  Now minus the donuts they were huddled around a fire, looking warm but glued in place.   Apparently there was yet another beaver swamp and one of their group had fallen in at 3am, getting completely soaked and resulting in a nice big fire and naps for the lot of them. 

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The donut guys, in happier, drier times.


I moved on quickly, as otherwise the lure of the warm fire would suck me in, and soon it would be me napping.  

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We inflated to cross the beaver swamp, only to find it was actually very shallow for the most part, too shallow to paddle, and only deep in one narrow section dug by ATV traffic.  Then it was up and over the side of Gunsite mountain, then down to an abandoned section of the Glenn Highway, where we pounded out several miles of pavement, followed by a few more miles of sleep-deprived wandering on social trails before finally reaching the finish at Sheep Mountain lodge. 

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Lifelike pavement walking action!

Amanda was there to meet us with Professor the Black Lab, and we were back in civilization, with food, showers, and all the comforts of life. Hurrah!   As we signed in, I was surprised to see just two groups (four people) finished ahead of us.

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Amanda, being the wonderful person she is, had booked us rooms (I even got my own, double yay!), and had food for us – triple yay!   After a nap, we hung out with the other groups who finished. Alas, the winner and new record holder and master packer (his pack was tiny!!) Sam Hooper was already long gone, but Matt, Brian, and John were there and we chatted a bit.  Then we took naps before meeting the next group coming in: Luc Mehl, Lee Helzer, and Alan Rogers.  Then it was dinner, and more sleeping before the long drive back to Fairbanks, chauffeured by Amanda while I sat in the back seat petting ‘Fessor. 

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We made a brief stop in Delta for weird Russian foods from the IGA for my daughter Lizzy, and a burger for Tom, before finally making it back to Fairbanks.

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Квас!

Gear

We took a single packraft.  That was a mistake, probably, as we didn’t get any breaks for our feet.  If I do it again, I will take my own boat.

We took a small 3lb tent, a Tarptent Rainshadow.  It is a great tent, but too small for two adults to sit up and do things like fix their feet.  This slowed things down a bit.  I would take a different tent, or at least a tent that two people can sit up in at the same time.  Perhaps a mid, as the bugs were almost non-existent for the most part. 

We both brought sleeping bags and closed cell foam pads.  I brought a 30 degree bag I originally got for my daughter lizzy.  It worked great.  

We took an older MSR Pocket Rocket and a biggish titanium pot that is the lightest pot I own.  I would have taken my MSR Reactor, but it is on the fritz and takes forever to boil.  In retrospect, I would have taken a Jet Boil or something that boils water faster.   We had a freeze dried meal every evening, which is the only time the stove was used. 

Foot stuff – we brought ¾ of a roll of Lukotape, and used it almost completely up, and lots of a homemade hydropel replacement that our friend Beat made.  I also had a small amount of Sportslick.  The hydropel replacement works great, much better than anything I have used before (at besides hydropel 🙂 ).   Next time I will bring lots more. 

We both brough trekking poles.  Well worth it for the creek crossings, of which there were lots. 

Shoes – I used inov-8 Roclite G 275 and they mostly worked great, until they didn’t. They have weird non-eyelet things for the laces, and they were almost completely destroyed by the end, and I had to cut up a sleeping pad to cushion the front of my shoes for the last 30 miles.   I wore a thin liner sock and a thick outer sock.  Mostly I was happy, I just wish those shoes’ lacing system was a lot more durable.   I would use something else next time.

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Not impressed by the lacing system..



I took a HMG 4400 pack. I have a love hate relationship with that pack. At the upper 30lbs of weight I had in it, floppy and uncomfortable would be the best words to describe it.  After 25 miles I had to stop and repack as it was so uncomfortable.  Also, I wish it was made out of VX style fabric rather than dyneema as it seems to be aging really fast.   However, it is light, and it is laid out well, with good pockets.    And my other pack of a similar size is around 1lb heavier.   I don’t think I will take it on trips where I am carrying more than 30 lbs again.  Maybe I am just a wimp. 

Navigation – we had print maps of the route, made with Caltopo, and the route loaded on two cell phones, with a Garmin etrex 30 as a backup. Next time I might just leave the etrex at home, as cell phones are much easier to use than the etrex is.  The print maps were great for route discussion. 

Food 

I took about 16 lbs of food, hopefully enough for 6 days, plus 1200 calories of “emergency chocolate”   That works out to be a little more than 2.5 lbs a day, and included a freeze dried meal.  I bought two of the Expedition Foods (https://expeditionfoods.com/ ) 1k calorie meals and those rocked – they tasted good, and were noticeably more filling with no need to wake up in the middle of the night for a snack.  Alas, they are expensive and they have no US outlet and are based in the U.K.  The Thai curry was particularly delicious.  For the “normal” calorie meals I brought macadamia nuts and little packets of coconut oil to add calories, which seemed to work great.   I had about 8oz of either cheese or pepperoni per day, which was great.  Next time I might bring twice that.  The rest of the 2.5lbs per day was mostly candy bars (mars bars, snickers, m&ms, a few granola bars).   This was a mistake – I bought too many candy bars and not enough nuts and simple carbs.  I was probably short of protein.  Next time I think I will bring some powdered recovery beverages, instant breakfast mixes, or something similar – something I can just add to a Nalgene of water and drink.  I had brought several packets of chai mix which was wonderful just added to cold water in my Nalgene.   I had some electrolyte tablets but didn’t use them.  I should have; my feet swelled up huge the last day, possibly due to a lack of protein or electrolytes.

Nancy suggested I add some pilot bread, which was great.  Next time I will bring a lot more simple carbs in an easy to digest form like that, possibly with other crackers or chips like Fritos.
My daughter Molly (kids are useful for something!) vacuum sealed each day of food individually, and that worked well. 
I finished with a day and half to two days worth of food.  Since it took us about 5 days that seems to be about right. 

Route

Our route was a mixed bag.  The walking was mostly good, besides Tsusena Creek and some of the muddier ATV trails.  The ATV trails got boring quickly, though, and it would have been nice to see some of the higher country.  Not floating was a bummer, as it meant we were always on our feet while traveling.   Next time I think I would try to do more floating, which could be hard if Caribou Creek and Tsusena are both running high.  It sounded like Tsusena Creek was continuous class II+/III last year, which might have been more than we were willing to do.

What would I do again?  

  • Sleeping 4 hours a night was good – we were mostly functional and made pretty good time. It also let our feet heal up and dry off. 
  • A freeze dried meal a day worked great – some sort-of-real food was very nice
  • A tent – a tent was excellent, as it rained a fair bit. 
  • Trekking poles – I almost didn’t bring them, as they weigh slightly over a lb – like half day of food! 
  • Leukotaping my feet two days before, completely covering the heel and the front and using tape adherent (tincture of iodine) worked perfectly.  The original tape stayed on for most of the trip. 

What would I change? 

  • I would bring a different tent, possibly bigger, maybe without netting, so two adults could sit up at the same time to treat their feet and do other tasks.  Perhaps a mid.  A HMG mid if I won the lottery. 
  • Different food. 
  • Different shoes that didn’t have the lacing system fall apart. 
  • More foot lube. 
  • More leukotape – we almost ran out! 
  • Bring a boat per person! 
  • Possibly a different pack
  • Leave the etrex at home, possibly bring another usb battery instead, maybe a AA powered charger. 
  • Cut more weight out – my pack was too heavy.
  • bring compression socks – my feet swelled up a bit the last day, and got really big when I finished!
  • carry my “good” camera in a waterproof bag!
  • Probably lots of other things I am forgetting. 

After Affects

My feet swelled up huge, but otherwise I was mostly fine. I had two small blister on my feet, and one blister on my hand.

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My feet though..

Finally

I would like to give a huge thank you to Amanda for driving us around, picking us up, getting me a room at the finish, providing food, and everything else – thanks Amanda!!! 

Thanks Tom for accompanying me – it was fantastic traveling with you!

I would like to thank Nancy and the twins for letting me disappear on this harebrained adventure.  Thanks, I love you guys so much, and really appreciate your willingness to let me disappear for a week (or several) occasionally.   

I will probably update this post as I remember more things as I remember them. 

Luc posted a wonderful write-up here, with as always better words and photos. Plus he made a video!!

2020 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic: Talkeetna Mountains from Luc Mehl on Vimeo.

Thanks for reading!

Map

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic 2018

Saturday, August 18th, 2018

To preface this post, when I wrote last year’s write up, it showed up as one of the top of the hits from Google for searches for the Alaska Wilderness Classic, which makes me feel a bit bad about it. This write up is just intended to convey my experience. I didn’t approach the event all that competitively, and I am a bit of an idiot (or a really big one if you believe my daughters) . Luc Mehl has a much better write up and Andrew Skurka has a very nice writeup on the 2009 race – I would start with those to get a better understanding of the event, rather than starting here.  -Jay

Last year’s Wilderness Classic was an awesome experence for me. It had a lot of the fun of the Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) without being really cold, and it got me out to see an area that was new to me. Alas, we bailed at the first pass, and took a less optimal route that was way longer than what most of the rest of the folks did. This year I really wanted to stick to the original route, copied from Luc Mehl’s write up from 2016. I mapped out two other options around glaciers in the high passes that could be issues, but otherwise the plan was to stick to Luc’s route. I was a bit worried that Tom was going to be too busy to join me, but he was free and game, so it was on!

Late morning Saturday Tom and I headed out of town, joined by Nick from California, and drove up to Wiseman. Alas, the forecast was not hot and it rained on and off for most of the drive. We arrived in at the Arctic Getaway B&B in Wiseman, excited to see that Greg Mills was also there, so apparently the fun was going to happen — hurrah!

Eventually folks started arriving, and we soon had a group of 13. The group consisted of two Nicks (one from Anchorage, the other from San Francisco, California), two Jays (me, and a Jay from Anchorage – yay another Jay!), Greg, Matt, Kevin, Ken, Adam, Steph, and two 17-year-olds, Bremner and Leo. After a nice dinner (thanks Burni and Uta! ), we hit the sack on the lawn of the Arctic Getaway, and in the morning shuttled out to Galbraith Lake. And then we were off!



WC 2018 from JayC on Vimeo.

For the first few hours we were back and forth with a few of the other folks. Much like last year, the walking was great to the first pass.


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We bounced around a bit with a few other folks, including Matt and Kevin from Anchorage, and Nick from California. Jay and Nick from Anchorage were doing the entire route on foot without a boat and were (barely) in sight until the first pass.


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AWMC 2018

At the first pass we took a different route around the glacier that stymied us last year, and while it was work getting up, the walk down to the Atigun River valley was fast.


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Photo compliments of Tom.

After the first pass we didn’t see anyone else until we finished at Wiseman.


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Alas, the Atigun River had a lot of water in it, and we had trouble crossing it until we were most of the way up into its headwaters, making for some less than awesome hiking. It was reasonably fast though, and we made pretty good time.

On the Atigun River we saw footprints, which I assumed were from California Nick as there appeared to be only one set. Anchorage Nick and Anchorage Jay were supposed to be ahead of us, but I (wrongly) assumed that since there was only one set of tracks it must be California Nick, the only person traveling alone near us, and concluded he was ahead of us. Later we were to learn that Anchorage Nick and Anchorage Jay had very similar shoes, and the tracks were from them. Anchorage Nick joked later that they “walked in each other’s tracks” to confuse us. They had a very ambitious route planned, going over several large passes that then took a ridge near Oolah Pass over to the Wiseman area.

We climbed the next pass early in the morning in a bank of fog, and we came out of it into a beautiful valley, only to have to slog up to another pass, with steep slippery scree.


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Photo compliments of Tom.

Alas, my camera’s battery died at this point, and I was too lazy to find the replacement battery in my pack, so I didn’t take any more photos for the rest of the trip.

The third pass had an icy glaze that covered all the rocks, making it really hard to get a grip on anything. Initially I thought I had mud on the bottoms of my shoes that I somehow couldn’t get off – alas, it was just a layer of ice. I assume that overnight, warm wet air blew through, leaving a layer of moisture which froze on the rocks. Fortunately, the sun was soon out, and it warmed up enough that the rocks lost their slippery coating. The climb up to the top of the third pass was slow going, with lots of loose shale scree.


WC2018 - Tom's
Photo compliments of Tom.
WC2018 - Tom's
Photo compliments of Tom.

Once we were over the top it was a long glide down to Kuyuktuvuk Creek valley.


WC2018 - Tom's
Photo compliments of Tom.

Kuyuktuvuk Creek was pumping, and our hopes of fast gravel bar walking were soon dashed by little cliffs and bluffs on the creeks banks. We ended up walking the benches above the creek, which were a bit brushy, but fortunately we were able to follow game trails (some good, some bad) for most of it. The creek looked like it would be fun packrafting, but perhaps a bit on the bouncy side, with big rocks and rock walls. We considered floating it, but the idea of floating a fast creek (it looked like it dropped around 150ft a mile, so a bit steep) while sleep deprived and without any beta seemed not quite worth it. Later we learned Nick from CA floated it, flipped, and swam, losing his boat and gear and ended up having to walk out to the Dalton Highway.

We turned off on an unnamed creek to hike over a lowish pass to Blarney Creek. The unnamed creek had a lot of water in it, and we crossed at the only spot we could find that looked passible. The creek was beautiful, with a wonderful waterfall emerging between two Lord of the Rings looking giant rocks.


WC2018 - Tom's
Photo compliments of Tom.

The hike up and over the pass was fast, and soon we were heading down Blarney Creek. We stayed up high on a bench on the right hand of the creek, worried we would get cliffed out, but eventually walked in the creek — only to get cliffed out. We had to climb up out of the creek, where we immediately found some awesome game trails. Alas, soon after that we encountered a bear trail — in some places bears walk so frequently on a trail they leave offset depressions. I have only seen these once before in the Brooks, but they are pretty common in Southeast Alaska where I grew up. I immediately went on full bear alert, and soon after that we saw a mid-sized dark colored brown bear on the other side of the creek. We then cut away and hiked directly over to the Hammond, where we inflated the boats and hopped in. Hurrah – the walking was over!

We floated until around 1:30 am or thereabouts, when it got a bit too dark for floating, then pulled over and made a fire. The fire wasn’t as big as I would have liked, but it was warm, and Tom and I got a bit of napping in while waiting for the sun to come back up. Eventually it got light enough to float again, and we were back to floating. Alas, the temperature had dropped a lot overnight, and it was cold enough that I had frost on the deck of the boat.

Fortunately the sun eventually hit the river, and mid morning we pulled over for a short nap in the sun, then floated down to the canyon. I was a bit worried about the “falls”, a rock slide in the canyon that isn’t runnable — at least in packrafts. A bit to my surprise there was some large rocks in the creek that created some bouncy rapids that were a bit more spicy than I expected, but fun. The canyon itself was pretty mellow, with beautiful rock walls and very slow current. The waterfall ended up being a narrow pinch with a shoot of water flowing between it onto a pile of rocks. It was possibly runnable in a kayak if one could get out beyond the pile of rocks, but who knows — I don’t kayak. Tom and I ended up deflating and portaging on river right, then inflating and floating the last 10 miles or so into Wiseman.

When we arrived at Wiseman we were greeted by both Nicks, Anchorage Jay, and the Hickers (Uta, Berni, and Julia ). Our total time was around 50 hours. The evening was spent waiting for other folks to come in, and eating a wonderful dinner compliments of the Hickers — thanks! In afternoon Matt and Kevin came in, and near midnight Steph came in. When we left Wiseman Bremer, Leo, and Greg were traveling together, and about to start floating the Hammond. California Nick, as mentioned, lost his boat and gear, and had hiked out to the Dalton Highway to be picked up. Anchorage Nick and Anchorage Jay had bailed near Oolah Pass, and had also hiked out to the Dalton to be picked up. Ken and Adam turned around on Atigun Creek and floated back to the road.

California Nick had a bit of a adventure – losing his boat and gear, but still made it out without (too) much drama – major kudos to him for pulling that off. His mishap made me think a bit about what gear I will keep on my person in the future – I think I might start carrying a lot more stuff on my person in case I lose my boat (and gear) like he did.

Bremner and Leo are I think 17, which makes them some of the youngest finishers of the ASWC. Wikipedia says Cody Dial did the 2004 Eureka to Talkeetna course when he was 17, so that is a select group. Congrats to Leo and Bremner for pulling it off, I am not sure I could have it at that age!

I would like to thank Tom for his company. You are a great adventure partner, Tom; thanks for joining me on this adventure! I would also like to give the Hickers a huge thank you for the awesome hosting. You guys rock. And of course thanks to my family for letting me disappear for a few days.

Alas, this is the last year of this route. Hopefully next year the course will be as awesome!

Things I need to do better:

  • Keep a full set of survival gear and communications stuff on my person. I kept some gear on my body, but I didn’t keep my Inreach or other critical items on me. If I had lost my boat like California Nick did, I would have been in trouble.
  • Use something besides a bivy, perhaps a tarp. I tried a very light bivy and it worked in light rain, but there was a brief spell of hard rain when I was trying to get an hour of sleep and it leaked. Some other option so I can get a few hours of sleep would be a good idea.
  • I need to bring a “real” camera, or a tiny camera that doesn’t suck. I took an older camera (an Olympus-zx1), which normally works great, but the battery died almost immediately. I should have taken my mirrorless camera with the nice lens; it would have worked better, and I would have taken better photos.
  • I need some sort of mount for the little Go-Pro (that doesn’t make me look like a bro getting ready to huck off a building – in other words looking like an idiot). I just carried it in my hand, and that was a bit of a pain — or in my mouth, which was more of a pain.
  • The HMG pack – I am still a bit meh about the HMG pack. It is light, but it is a bit short of perfect, regardless of how much other folks seem to love theirs. The side pockets suck, and it is hard to get a water bottle out of them with the pack on.
  • My pack was too heavy. I should pare it down a bit. Other folks seemed to be in the mid 20s, I was almost 30 lbs. I think I could cut it down a bit, and I finished with a fair bit of food.
  • My food selection could use some work. I took too many protein bars, and not enough cheese. I took out a ⅔ of a pound brick of Gouda, but left in ⅓ of a pound of Wensleydale. The Wensleydale was great, but I should have packed a brick of smoked Cheddar as well. I also should have added in some dry crackers, perhaps pilot bread.
  • As always, I need to be in much better shape. If I was 20 lbs lighter those hills would be a lot easier.

Things that worked well:

  • This spring I purchased a new packraft meaning to get the zipper in the body to store gear. That system works great, and I can stuff my whole pack in there, which is great. I used a big bow bag to keep everything I needed accessible, and that also worked well.
  • The shoes: I really like the old Montrail Mountain Masochist trail runners. I used a brand new set for this race, which I had never worn before, and didn’t have any blisters — hurrah! Alas, this is my last set; I don’t know what I will do once these wear out.
  • I packed two freeze-dried meals, which were awesome, and fast to make.
  • Leukotape: I pre-taped one foot with Leukotape and the other with some other brand of tape recommended for feet. The Leukotape lasted the entire race, while the other stuff fell off half way. I am not sure if the taping helped or not, but I didn’t get any blisters.

On the route:
I am not sure that this route is much faster than the option going over to the Oolah Valley, across to the North Fork of the Koyukuk, and though Kinnorutin Pass to the Hammond. I think that route is slightly longer (7-10 miles), but a lot flatter, and it has pretty good walking.
Besides all the climbing (and there was lots of climbing!), the route was pretty awesome. It would make a good trip, though having all the packrafting at the end might be a bit of a bummer.

Stats for the route, minus most of the float:

I will probably update this post with details as I remember them.


WC2018 - Tom's
Photo compliments of Tom.

Our route:

2017 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic – No Sleep ’til Wiseman!

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

To preface this post, this page is now near the top of the hits from Google for searches for the Alaska Wilderness Classic, which makes me feel a bit bad about it. This writeup is just intended to convey my experience, and I didn’t approach the event all that competitively, and I am a bit of a nincompoop. Luc Mehl has a much better write up and Andrew Skurka has a very nice writeup on the 2009 race – I would start with those to get a better idea about the event, rather than starting here. -Jay

For years I have followed the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic, following the antics of Rocky R and Roman D, and later generations. I have wanted to do one for years, but alas, there was always some sort of conflict making so I couldn’t attend, or they seemed a bit too crazy. Finally last year the route switched to Galbraith to Wiseman, which is an area I am fairly familiar with (and shorter than some of the past routes!), and after sitting out last year due to conflicts, this year my friend Tom agreed to join me – yay!

We drove to Wiseman, spend the night camping on the lawn of the Arctic Getaway (great folks!), and the morning loaded up and drove to Galbraith. There were 14 folks and 7 teams doing the event, including another group from Fairbanks.

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
The Winning Edge
Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
Lindsey and Ellen, team Giggle

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
Matt (I think)

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
Harlow in his bug proof ultra running attire

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
John (I think)

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

After a bit of futzing around and someone waving a flare gun around, it went off (fortunately pointed up and safely at the sky), and at around 12 we were off!

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Our plan was to take the “direct” route over to the Hammond River, going over 4 passes, and floating the Hammond out to Wiseman.

Things started well, zooming along enjoying the fast walking..
Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
photo compliments of Tom

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
photo compliments of Tom

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alas, when we reached the final pass, we couldn’t find a way over it, working from the west side to the east side. It ended in a small glacier which had a pretty shallow angel, but was a bit too steep for me to feel comfortable to walk on. Later I would find the Toby and Harlow walked straight up it.

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
Failing at route finding.. photo complements of Tom

It was pretty socked in, and the brief glimpses of the east side of the pass showed cliffs – so we turned around and headed back down to take the scenic route around the passes.

On the way down we bumped into Lindsey and Ellen on the their way up. We wished them luck with the pass. I was pretty sure they would find a way across, Tom was less certain. Later we were to find out they found a pretty straightforward up it on the east side.

We headed back down, and over to the Itkillik River, taking a pass over to an unnamed creek that lead to the creek. It was mostly uneventful though at 2am I got a bug stuck in my eye, and there was a few minutes of fussing before I got it and a ruined contact out of my eye in a comical bit of futzing.

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

We headed over to the divide between the North Fork the Koyukuk and the Itkillik, then headed down to the North Fork.

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
photo complements of Tom

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

There is a deep canyon were the north fork drops off the divide, and while I had been told it was possible to walk the canyon, we walked the benches above the river. Eventually we dropped down to the river, and followed the creek until it looked (safely!) floatable.
Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
my styling head net replacement..

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

The north fork quickly turned floatable, and we put in, deciding to take the scenic route to Delay Pass and out the Nolan road to Wiseman.

The floating was fast and fun, eventually turning very fun, with lots of nice fun boulders and water features. Alas, Tom was having spray deck issues, and we ended up walking a few miles around Bombardment Creek, but soon we were back in the boats enjoying gliding along with minimal effort..

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

After a nap on a sandbar near mid night with a small fire, we pushed on to Delay Pass, where we took out, and grabbed another hour or so of sleep, then packed up and began the hike out.

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
Me, catching some sleep, and breaking the no-sleep-til-wiseman rule

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
signs of racers in the past..

Everyone says Delay Pass is miserable hiking, but I didn’t find much of it to be actually miserable, and while it was a bit of a slog, we made pretty good progress.

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

We cut off a fair bit of the winter trail by taking a ridge around the worst part. Climbing up the ridge kicked my butt, and my feet were starting to get a bit sore and waterlogged, and my achilles were starting to hurt, but otherwise everything was mostly fine. Once I loosened my shoes a bit my achilles were much happier.

Soon we were on the road out of Nolan, slowly shuffling down the road to Wiseman. These 6 miles took forever and were a bit hard on the feet..

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
two miles from Wiseman..

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

We finished Wednesday at 4:30am, 65 ish hours since the start.

It was a great experience, thanks for the company Tom, and thanks to the Hickers of the Arctic Getaway Cabins for hosting us!

I am already thinking about next year..

As a post scripts of sorts – folks often accuse me of saying things were “mellow” when they are not. This trip wasn’t mellow – but the walking was mostly good, and the floating really split things up so my body got a nice break, making for a relatively trauma free adventure. And of course, we got 4 ish hours of sleep, making things even nicer. The “harder” parts, and things I need to improve on would be to walk a bit faster, concentrate more on micro scale route finding (sticking to the bands of nice walking though the areas of not nice walking), and “staying the course” when the planned route appears to go bad, and finding a way to make it work. On the last point, I feel pretty disappointed with myself that we turned back at the first pass, assuming there was no way over, even though we knew at least one other party had gone over – Harlow’s footprints were pretty distinctive, and I saw the prints on the first climb up the pass, so I so I knew folks had made it over.

A second post script – here are some brief notes (to myself mainly) on things that worked or didn’t work:

  •  i used Gaia GPS for a bit of the navigation on this trip, and was amazed by how much easier to navigate with vs the garmin unit I normally use.  I should pre-cache satellite imagery for tricky bits, i expect that would help with navigation.
  • I brought a ultra lightweight bivy, and it was great for a little extra warmth and to keep the bugs off.
  • I pre-taped my forefoot and heels, and the tape lasted most of the trip, and I survived with only a few small blisters – success!
  • I had treated my shirt with Permethrin, and it worked great for keeping the bugs away.
  • The hmg backpack was awesome – worked great, comfortable, and light.  I wish it was made of something besides cuben fiber, as it already appears to be showing signs of wear, but I guess that is life.

A few things that worked less well:

  • My food choices could have used a bit more thought – i bought about 5 of the ominously named “Meal Pack Bars” – they are very calorie dense and pack well, but taste bad and are like eating dirt – dry and unrewarding.  Otherwise my food selection was fine, though perhaps more Snickers next time.
  • I brought a freeze dried meal, which I made before hiking delay pass – I should have brought two more, it went down great.
  • I was a bit unhappy with my footwear – montrail mountain masochist trail runners.  They are light and grippy, but need a stiffer rock plate for some of the walking – i bruised my feet a bit.  Otherwise they worked great – I just wish the forefront of these shoes were stiffer.  Otherwise they worked fine.   If anyone has recommendations I would love to hear them.  I would love to just use low top hiking shoes for these sort of trips, but alas I can’t find any that are not goretex.
  • I didn’t bring enough foot lube – I could have used a lot more after my feet dried out after the nap before delay pass.  Live and learn..
  • trekking poles would have made some of the hiking faster, and some of the stream crossings easier – next time I will bring them!
  • I really wish I had brought some sort of lightweight bug proof long sleeve top with a hood – it would have made the bug pressure a bit easier to deal with at times.
  • I suck at micro scale navigation – I need to work on finding those sections of nicer walking in sections of bad walking.  Mostly I think it just requires me to be more aware of where I am going – something to work on.

The route:

Summer of 2018 update
The 2018 version of this is just around the corner, and I was digging around for info on the water levels when we did it in 2017. Alas, I didn’t save the info (curses!), but
The Slate Creek Gauge looked like this:

The current state of the gauge is: Slate Creek
For some reason I cannot find historical data on the river gauge at Bettles, but the current info can be found here: Koyukuk at Bettles