Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Wilderness Classic (Act II)

The Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic is, by most standards, a significant physical and mental challenge. Since I first became aware of the Wilderness Classic it has challenged me more than anything else to attain the skill set needed to successfully complete this race. My Midwestern agricultural background educated me about how to read a soil sample and how to calibrate a corn planter but I never knew what a climbing skin was and had never touched a crampon.
Two years ago Ed and I competed in our first Classic in the Wrangell Mountains. Prior to that the only real information I had came from Daily News Miner articles and from a few conversations with friends that had competed in the event. The 2008 Classic in the Wrangell Mountains was a great experience and afforded us the experience to prepare more adequately for the 2010 Classic. This year’s race started and ended at the same point that the race did four years ago but this traverse was longer and allowed the competitors more route choices. There was a checkpoint about 80 miles into the race at the Native Village of Aniktuvik Pass. This year I was fortunate to be a part of a four man team of friends. We have all skied and trained together for a handful of years and have the unique luxury of knowing that we all travel at a similar pace and really like spending a lot of time together in the backcountry. This race was much different than the route through the Wrangell’s but the challenge was just as significant. The unbelievable Glaciers and huge mountains that created an awe inspiring traverse in the Wrangell/St. Elias National Park were replaced by night skies filled with dancing northern lights while wolves howled in the naked mountain valley. We had spectacular views of the actual Gates of the Artic that Bob Marshall named during his early travels into the arctic on the Koyukuk River. In a nut shell this race was filled with challenges and fun, but most importantly it was filled with a week of enjoying the freedom of the hills and the spirit of the Classic!

Many of these images were taken by Ed Plumb or John Shook.

The field of racers is filled with a great group of adventures, athletes, and most importantly characters.
We were treated to some phenomenal visual entertainment for the first few nights after we set up camp. Apparently there was some extreme solar activity coinciding with the start of the race which made for some of the best Aurora displays that I have ever seen.

This is a series of pictures taken while we climbed Peregrine Pass. It proved to be the most difficult part of the race for me, but we enjoyed the short time we spent up high.
We spent hours a day melting snow to provide us with enough liquid water.

Ed had an ugly wipe out –which is very rare- and he bent his pole in the wreck. After a minute of retooling he had his gear back in order and powered through the rest of the course.

We made it to the check point in Aniktuvik Pass and enjoyed an hour and a half in the National Park Service building before skiing off into a fairly cold headwind.

We bumped into Dave Cramer and Rob Kerher on the “out and back” stretch of our route. Dave and Rob were bucking a stiff head wind but drove on to Aniktuvik Pass that night. Dave has been the race director for years and is a man that I truly respect. He homesteaded in bush Alaska years ago and has carved out a great life, family, and business since. His race organization is first class, and I hope he continues to be the director for years to come.

John skis down into the Valley of the Precipices. We had a blast ripping though the 3% grade and the twisting icy creek.

Dan skis down the Koyukuk on our way towards the finish.

We saw thousands of ptarmigan throughout the race. It was pretty awesome to see the huge coveys moving across the south slopes enjoying the open tundra after the long winter.

We hit a few patches of bare ground that forced us to drop our skis, but for the most part we were locked into our boards.

Four happy campers just skied into Wiseman after a tough twenty hour push; we covered about fifty miles to reach the finish and grabbed a quick self portrait to put an end the 2010 Classic. 5:30 A.M.

A member of the winning team, Luc Mehl created a fun video that gives a great feel for the Classic. That video can be viewed through the link below:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Spring Harvest

Early March always brings with it a case of cabin fever. I have found that one of the best remedies for this annual ailment is a trip up to the north slope in search of some caribou and some sun soaked adventure with my hunting partner Luke. This year, like the couple before proved to provide us with everything we hoped for: plenty of exercise, plenty of stories and plenty of red meat.
This year we invested in a new lightweight wall tent along with a folding wood stove. After a few modifications we were living large in a warm and spacious dwelling.

The trip into our normal site was a little brutal this year. We bucked a fairly stiff headwind that brought the windchill down in the -35 degree range.

Our new tent was pitched and Luke was dressed for action. Goggles and face shield for protection from the wind and cold, and the trusty Tyvek suit for winter camo.

This photo was a little staged (we had already shot a few caribou out of the herd behind Luke) but it is still pretty cool to see the herd of caribou moving away from us after we thinned the herd by three.

Luke with a nice mature cow.

There is just something spectacular about this hunt. I think it is a combination of solitude, good success, the time of the year and the memories that are created from each trip. I am already looking forward to next years outing.