Posts Tagged ‘Eureka’

Alaska Cross 2020

Friday, June 19th, 2020

Alaska Cross is point to point semi-organized semi-race. It originally went from Chena Hot Springs to Circle Hot Springs, then branched out to several other destinations. In the latest incarnation it goes from Lost Creek (mile 6 of the Dalton Highway) to the Wild and Free headquarters at Eureka AK. I did it last year with Ned Rozell and had a great time. This time I was back, with Tom, and hoped to take a “better” route. It is about 46 miles in a straight line, but folks are free to take whatever route they want.

The start is pretty awkward as usual, though perhaps a bit more so with the “promoter” Mark Ross sending us off with some sort of late 90s music that I had not heard before.

Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020

There are many route options, but almost everyone took an ATV trail for the first few miles, then groups started peeling off to take their own routes. Tom and I headed up to a ridge that extended for the first 28 miles.

Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020

The next 20+ miles were a mix of okay walking and tussocks, with a bit of brush tossed in.

Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020

When Tom and I first crested onto the ridge there were around 7 or so folks ahead of us, and gradually that thinned out to just one – Brent Sass of Wild and Free Mushing. We would see Brent on and off again ahead of us for rest of the race, always on the next ridge ahead of us.

Alas, it was really hot, and there wasn’t much water on the ridge. By the time we started dropping off the ridge I was very dehydrated and starting to have trouble eating. Tom needed a quick break to adjust his shoes and I ducked behind some rocks to take an dehydrated emergency potty break (a number two) . Alas, just as I was finishing up when Matt (I think) passed by. I hope he didn’t see me and wasn’t traumatized for life. My apologies Matt!

Once off the ridge we took an old road which varied from really great walking to a muddy and brushy atv track for a few miles before heading up to a ridge we would take most of the remaining distance to the finish.

We finally had good access to water and I drank three liters over the next few miles, and stocked up for the high and presumably dry ridge we were taking next. Alas, even after I was bloated with water I was still dehydrated.. too much, too late I guess.

I did stop and take photos of the little shipping container shelter Ned and I peeked into last year. Last year Ned had said he was very tempted to take a nap in it, but I vetoed that idea thinking it was a moldy mess. In a little more daylight it looked a lot more inviting and not all covered by mold as it looked to me the year before, but fortunately it was only 8:30, way too early to take a nap.

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The climb up to the final ridge looked huge from below, but it didn’t take that long to hike up it. Alas, my stomach was feeling off from being dehydrated and I was having a hard time eating the food I bought. Next time, fewer Snickers and more cheese or other non-sweet high calorie items. Tom gave me his only cheese stick, for which I was very grateful – thanks Tom!

The ridge went on, and on. Up and down.. but the walking was great!

Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020 Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020 Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020 Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020

Eventually we left the nice ridge and headed down to the Hutlinana River. Just before we headed down I saw the rind of a tangerine or other small orange on the ground next to some footprints in some dry caribou moss. This ridge is pretty remote, so I can only assume it was from last year…

We headed down to the river in a nice brush free gulley, and quickly found a winter trail we took over to the Hutlinana hot springs trail. Alas the beavers had been very active, and several times the trail went into waist deep pools before we crossed the Hutlinana, and started the six mile walk to the finish just as the skies opened up and dumped rain on us..

Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020

We arrived at the finish around 9am, just after the rain stopped and the sun came out. It was a very welcome relief to lie in the sun on the grass of the Wild and Free homestead, drinking cold pop from a cooler in my truck and listening to the dogs howl and watching them play. I was pleasantly surprised that only four people had finished ahead of us – Brian, Nick, Bob, and Brent. It seemed like we were going so slow I expected everyone to be ahead of us. Eventually we found everyone napping in the workshop and we headed in for a nap before driving back to the start.

What a great way to spend 24 hours, I had a blast. I will probably update this with some lessons learned and other information as I get a chance.

Thanks for the company Tom, and congrats to everyone who showed up for the long walk, and Brent and Ida for hosting us at the finish!

The results from Mark R, who likes the results listed from last to first:

 
AKX 2020, June 13, After-math:  

11.  Mike Fisher,  Brandon Wood    - Scratched at 25mi. returned to lost creek. 
10. Drew Harrington, Chris Miles   -   34hr. 43min.
9.  Tait Chandler, Todd Vorisek    -   30'  35"
8.  Mark Ross, WM*                 -   30'  27"
7.  Tracie Curry, Clinton Brown    -   28'  32"
6.  Matt Blood                     -   27'  14"
5.  Jacob Buller                   -   26'  53"
4.  Jay Cable, Tom Moran           -   22'  51"
3.  Brent Sass                     -   22'  21"
2.  Bob Gillis, WM*                -   22'  15"
1.  Nick Janssen, Brian Atkinson   -   21'  58"
   
*Wildermeister

Our route, and stats in Strava:

Some things that worked:

  • I am using new shoes – Inov8 Roclite 275. I love them – blister free
  • Foot-lube – I stopped briefly and re-lubed my feet at half way or so. That seemed to work great.
  • I didn’t run out of food – hurrah! I was definitely close last year.
  • Once again, using a cell phone for navigation rocked.
  • We really only stopped once for Tom to deal with his feet, and for me to go to the bathroom.
  • the last ridge was way nicer than the Elephant Mountain route I took with Ned last year.

Things that worked less well (fails!):

  • I got dehydrated – I should have brought more water carry capacity and started out with more water.
  • I overtreated some of the water I had with chlorine dioxide using aqua mira, which made my stomach feel a bit off, or made it worse.
  • I brought too much sweet foods, and the non-sweet foods I bought – mainly pistachios – were hard to digest. I ended up chewing a whole mouthful, then washing down the paste with a big gulp of water. Not ideal. Next time more cheese and similar stuff would be good I think, and less candy. I had a huge handful of sour patch kids at one point and that really sat in my tummy like a rock for hours.
  • I had chafing issues – I wore a belt and that had my pants a bit too high and I had some rubbing issues. Chamois Butt’r helped, but if this was longer it could have been an issue.

AlaskAcross 2019

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

It was near midnight, and Ned and I had just dropped down to an old road, flanked by huge thickets of alder.  It was like walking in a tunnel, but I was oh so excited to finally be walking on a firm surface again after hours of tundra and tussock walking.   As we made our way through the leafy tunnel I could just barely pick out an old camping trailer that has been taken over by the brush. As we got closer I noticed a weird grunting groan was coming from it.  

I was starting to panic, thinking it was a bear huffing at us.  I started shouting in an attempt to scare it off, and grabbed some rocks to start chucking in case something came rushing out.  Ned, perhaps more wisely, shouted “Mark, is that you?”, thinking that perhaps Mark Ross, the AlaskAcross “promoter” who had taken a route around this patch of brush, was playing a practical joke on us.  After a long minute of looking in the brush, and realizing the noise wasn’t changing regardless of our shouting or a rock or two chucked, I moved around until I could peer into the trailer. Inside, a big porcupine was chewing on the floor in a loud but very non-threatening way.   Crisis averted, we headed down the trail with an extra adrenaline powered skip in our step. 


AlaskAcross is a local point-to-point human powered unofficial “race”.  It was traditionally from Chena Hot Springs to Circle Hot Springs, but Mark Ross has been experimenting with other routes.  This year’s route was from mile five of the Dalton Highway to the Wild and Free homestead in Eureka.  In a straight line it was about 46 miles, but unlike the classic route, there were no floating options (that I was aware of, anyway), so it was all walking.   I had marked out a route sticking mainly to ridges, which I hoped would have good waking. Given that it was around 60 miles, I expected we were looking at 30 hours of walking.   My default partner for these events, Tom, was away in Valdez so I emailed Ned Rozell to see if he was interested, and he emailed me right back saying he was in.  Hurrah! Ned is a calm, steady walker who has done some amazing things in Alaska’s backcountry, including walking the entire length of the pipeline twice. 


The morning of the event, Ned and I drove out to the Dalton, where we met up with a few other folks, including Mark Ross, the “promoter” as he likes to be called.  Mark was in fine form, wearing a hat that appeared to be a wolverine hide that he called “wolfie”. 

Alaska Cross 2019

Mark always comes off as slightly crazed, and he was in fine form.  Something can be said for the craziness, as he has been rallying folks for these long walks since at least 2007 – that is more than a dozen years of folks wandering through the wilderness getting a bit out of their comfort zone. 

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After a bit of futzing around, the eight of us took off. 

Alaska Cross 2019

Everyone headed down a narrow ATV trail, winding through the lowland and up to a ridge that we would take for nearly 25 miles. Gradually the pack broke up, and Ned and I were by ourselves, except for the distant dots that were Tracie and Brian, the eventual winners.   The hike up the ridge was pretty good, but the ridge quickly turned into endless tussocks and cotton grass.

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I am not sure what the proper name is for the white flowering plant that grows on the tussocks [multiple species of the genus Eriophorum — Editor], but it was everywhere.

Alaska Cross 2019

  Fortunately, the walking wasn’t bad, as there was a nice ATV trail along the ridge, except for a few miles that were, alas, very brushy.   It was very tussocky though, and would have been truly miserable if the ATVs had not flattened out the tussocks.

Alaska Cross 2019 Alaska Cross 2019

Twelve miles or so in Mark Ross appeared out of nowhere and joined us for the next 20 miles. 

Alaska Cross 2019

Apparently he had found what he thought was a great route, which included a different way up to the ridge.  He was pretty surprised to see us and was irritated to know that everyone was ahead of us. Mark added to the adventure, as his “real” job is as a naturalist at Creamer’s Field, and he has a wealth of information on animal life in the boreal forest.   At one point in the late evening he and Ned stopped to measure the active layer [meaning the depth of the thawed soil above frozen ground, if you’re not from around here — Editor] with his hiking poles in and out of the ATV trail.  Mark had tactically removed the baskets from some ski poles and was using them as trekking poles, which made them easy to sink into the soft tundra and great for measuring the active layer, but not great for walking, so Mark was using them upside down or in “Tundra Mode” as Mark called it.  

Alaska Cross 2019

Later, when passing a small thermokarst [I’ll let you look this one up — Editor] pond, I stepped over a small frog, and pointed it out to Ned, who was excited enough to take a photo. 

Alaska Cross 2019

I guess wood frogs are not very common at 3.5k feet, well above treeline. There was then an extended conversation on how the frog could survive, with Mark providing a timeline of the exact terminal temperatures the frogs could survive, and how scientific thinking has evolved over the last 30 years, and how they can survive body temperatures down to 0°F.  Life must be harsh as a frog on a ridge covered in snow for six` months.. 

Alaska Cross 2019

Eventually we dropped off the ridge onto the “Chocolate Creek Trail” which I had been told was nice enough to ride a bike on.  It turned out to be an old road, probably put in to an antimony mine on Sawtooth Mountain, a ridge above us. Our first few minutes of enjoying the fine walking were marred only by the terrifying porcupine. 

Alaska Cross 2019

In the 1950s and 1960s, Joseph E. Vogler and the Killions hauled 500 tons of antimony out of the mine before the market collapsed overnight, and they left it semi-intact. Apparently at the top of the mine there are tons of antimony ore in rusty barrels still sitting there.   Joe Vogler was a political figure in Alaska in my youth, and the leader of the Alaska Independence Party, which had seceding from the U.S. as part of its platform. He was killed when I was in college, and his body wasn’t found for several years, before showing up in a gravel pit north of town.   Conspiracy nuts still think the CIA killed him to prevent Alaska from leaving the union. Walking the old mining roads made me feel like I was walking part of Alaska’s history – I was walking the roads that gave Joe Vogler his first start.

All that was left was an old road, a very overgrown runway, and a very creepy looking shipping container on wheels set up with bunk beds.  We poked our heads inside the container, and I was surprised to see the door still latched. When I opened it, a huge cloud of bugs swarmed out. Alas, it was dark with no windows, and looked like it had a thick layer of mildew all over everything, so my motivation to poke around more and take photos was very limited.  

A few hours later, Mark dropped off after pulling on a balaclava and saying he was going to take a nap.   Ned and I trudged onwards, eventually ending up near Quail Creek, and after a bit of route-finding confusion we found ourselves walking through a quiet mine at 7am.  It was very tempting to go knock on the bunkhouse doors and ask about the best route into Eureka, and maybe even get a cup of coffee, but we resisted, We walked through the silent equipment, eventually finding an ATV trail heading up Quail Creek, but alas it petered out.  Soon we were bushwacking and skipping from game trail to trail, working our way up Thirteen Pup Creek. Pup is apparently a miner’s term for a very small branch valley or creek. Eventually we reached our final ridge, Elephant Mountain, a series of little peaks that are connected together.  I was nearly out of food at this point – apparently my plan of 3000 calories of energy bars plus three monster cookies from Bun on the Run was not going to work. Climbing up the ridge was hard work on our slow legs, but we made it.

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I was pretty confused about why Elephant Mountain was called what it is – when looking at it on a map it doesn’t look anything like an elephant.  Stupid miners! Ned pointed out at one point that the northern ridges that are all exposed rocks had lots of little Elephant faces in them, thus probably the name.  Silly miners, actually looking around them at the rocks instead of trudging head down though the tussocks!   

Alaska Cross 2019


On the first ridge of Elephant Mountain I inreached Nancy (my wife) to let her know that we were six hours out.  Alas, those six hours included two half-mile-long tussock fields, a bushwack though alders thick enough I couldn’t see the sky at several points, and a winding spruce forest that seemed to never end before finally hitting a dirt road that led us to Eureka and the Wild and Free homestead.  

AlaskaCross

My friend Trusten was there to meet us, and I was so excited to see him. And he had pizza! After a few minutes of hanging out, we packed up and drove down the road to the Tolovana trailhead where we camped until morning, then finished up the drive home. Thanks Trusten! 

Alaska Cross 2019

A huge congratulations are due to Brian and Tracie, who came in 12 hours before us and rocked the course! 

A huge thanks to Ned for his company on this long walk – you rock Ned, I couldn’t have asked for a better traveling companion. 

1.) Brian Atkinson & Tracie Curry            26hr 38min

2.) Drew Harrington & Chris Miles          29hr 13min

3.) Mark D. Ross                                      35hr 59min

4.) Jay Cable & Ned Rozell                      37hr 18min

5.) Scott Brucker & Steve Duby      (bailed to Elliot Hwy mi108)

Things that worked: 

  • I carried a bike bottle and a small ¾ liter water bottle.  There was lots of water around, so that was more than enough.  Perhaps later in the season that would have been a problem. 
  • My shoes – I have some “special” Montrail Mountain Masochist II shoes that I love.  I love them so much I bought three pairs when they looked like they were changing the model.  Alas, the model was changed, and these are my last pair of them. So sad. About 65 miles, and no blisters! 
  • Smartphone navigation – I had print maps, as had Ned, but mostly we navigated off an old smartphone of mine with the Lotus Maps app.  It worked great, and kept us on course for the most part. I think the end of the specialized GPS is pretty much here – the apps like Lotus work so much better. 
  • A “real” camera – I brought my Sony Nex-6 with a 12-105 lens.  That camera rocks, and takes much better photos than I can do justice to with my limited skills. 
  • My feet and body held up for the extended walking just fine.  I had been pretty worried that without riding to Nome or doing anything else epic had dropped enough I couldn’t pull something like this. 

Things that I should have done differently:

  • I should have brought more food.  I was going to bring a large bag of Fritos, but alas, my little pack was stuffed completely full.  I should have added an extra 2000 calories at least, as I was rationing my food for the last 12 hours.  It wasn’t the end of the world, but I should have brought more food. 
  • I needed to have brought a slightly bigger pack so I could pack more food (see above).   I was using a small 12 liter pack, and once it had my “minimal” safety gear (small puffy, long underwear bottoms, shell, fire starter, first aid, water treatment, maps, phone) it didn’t leave a lot of room for things like food. I either need to use something bigger or pack better. 
  • I should have taken more photos (shipping container – I am talking about you!!)