There were 28 starters, or maybe 29, hard to say as people showed up within minutes of the start on Sunday morning near the Gerstle River south of Delta Jct. They flew off in all directions, all combinations, all ages.
Forrest McCarthy of Jackson Hole, WY, hot off the couch and on his vacation left with me.
We took a rather straight line (green on the map); others took more circuitous but faster routes (red lines). The winners, PJs Chris Robertson and Bobby Schnell teamed up with pro-hiker Andy Skurka, and finished in 3 days and 18 hours at 4 AM on Thursday.
Forrest and I limped in later that night, 7 PM, for a finish time of 4 days, 9 hours. Our route is about 170-175 miles.
Six hours later (4 days 15 hours) Brad Marden and his Vermont partner Eben Sargent beat Luc Mehl who finished solo, by about 30 minutes. They’d been trading places for days, suffering, like we did, across the soft "sponga" and hard glacial moraines of the north side of the Hayes Range, and enjoying the fast floats on the flooding waters of the Wood and Yanert Rivers.
The weather had been hot and dry, thankfully, as none of these finishers carried sleeping bags, bivy sacks, or shelters of any knd save for some who carried one-use space blankets. We slept around fires ourselves in dry socks and the clothes we'd hiked in
At least a dozen racers dropped out after the initial 40 mile prelude to Donnely. One team, Craig “Chunk” Barnard and his partner Jordan of eastern Oregon, dropped out at the unlikely point of the Denali Hwy’s Susitna River Bridge. The duo had walked up the Black Rapids Glacier, dodging the continuing rock fall of the 2005 earthquake slides there, then crossed over to the East Fork Susitna Glacier, trading crampons for packrafts as they paddled down the ever steepening East Fork. At one point they both piled into a big hole in Class IV waters, Jordan bumping Chunk out of the hole. Unfortunately Jordan, on his second-ever packraftng experience, lost his boat, his paddle, and his right shoe, thirty miles from the road. He said his PFD saved his life in the river and his foot on the tundra, as he made a makeshift shoe from the PFD's foam.
Using his mandatory sat phone Chunk called his girlfriend to say they were OK, but heading out to the highway. Walking downstream Chunk spotted the raft in an eddy, retrieved it and in the process found Jordan’s paddle, too. They floated down to the Denali Hwy and called it quits there.
Just another day of the adventure in the Classic. It will be interesting to hear what else went on out there.
More as I find out.