Thursday, October 4, 2012

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Packraft Festival 2012: Brooks Range Basecamp

Last year, 2011, 15 of us flew out to Pt Heiden and traversed the Alaska Peninsula to Chignik over Aniakchak. It felt like a packrafting festival and several of us hoped to replicate the big group in wilderness and packrafts again, although Aniakchak's frequent flier miles would be hard to beat (all 15 of us went for "free" last year).

This year, a bunch of us -- including Gordy, Thai, Toby, Ole, Joe and me -- convinced others to come. Thai convinced Clif, Toby convinced Stephen, Ole invited his brother Dennis, Joe brought Kim and I convinced Peggy and Mike C that a basecamp  in the Alatna Valley would be fun for all, Class I-V.

Scheduling for late June, so as to miss the bugs and maybe catch some run-off, worked surprisingly well -- although we needed a bit more water. Some of us went 12 days without bug dope or head net, although the five who walked out in early July hit the bad bugs head-on as they walked to Anaktuvuk from the Arrigectch.

We ran six creeks and rivers and made four summit walks and scrambles, doing wonderful overnight and three day trips out of a luxurious, bear-proofed basecamp near the mouth of Arrigetch Creek on the Alatna River in Gates of the Arctic Park. We hiked and boated and bathed and scrambled and fished and ate well and had fun in the sun. It was neat to have a tent set up to come back to and take a minimalist approach to the overnights in real wilderness with superlight packs, adjusting the gear and food as we learned what worked and what we forgot.

There were great animal trails and no tussocks, firewood and a bit of rain to bring the highlight run up to a good packraftable level -- Aiyagomahala Creek (aka "hot Springs" and "South Arrigetch" Creek) below the Hot Springs. Above the Hot Springs are wonderful drops (Class IV-V) and boulder gardens and even granite slides, but low water prevented us from running much of the upper highlights. Below the Hot Springs were a couple hours of Class III and then a 200 foot a mile section of Class IV+ with five Magic Mile/Little Su type drops, all situated in a beautiful valley of steep walls and spruce forest.

Arrigetch Creek's lower canyon was Class IV bedrock pool drop filled with big granite boulders for boat scouting. Unfortunately the bedrock is schist and as we (Toby, Joe, and I) got lower in the canyon the granite was less abundant and sharp rocks became apparent, eventually disemboweling my boat :(

Awlinyak was super fun, mostly Class II (a spot or two of III-) with an approach directly over a scenic Arrigetch peak called Ariel. The climb is an amazing, improbable scramble and Gordy said it had the best view of any summit he's been atop. We did that loop in three days, two nights, sleeping at the Forks of Arrigetch Creek and at the put-in for Awlinyak.

Unakserak also had a neat scramble on our way to its Class II shallow canyon. It has been a good float for parties coming over the tussock fields east of the Alatna, toward John River and Anaktuvuk, but not the only choice: Kutuk and Pingaluk are more sporty.

Kutuk is an odd, orange color due to a permafrost blow-out in its headwaters according to Dirk of Coyote Air. It is  Class II+ and a bit more appealing if travelling over from the tussock fields. We hiked up and ran its lower five or six miles.

Best looking of all (but too low for us, although I scouted it w/Skurka in 2010) is Pingaluk. Coming from Anaktuvuk and floating the John all the way to Wolverine avoids the tussock fields (mostly -- until heading into the upper Pingaluk for an hour) and offers up the most sporting of the three mid-Alatna creeks (Unakserak, Kutuk, Pingaluk) looking like Class III on beautiful polished boulder gardens. As a consolation prize (we ran none of Pingaluk) on the way back from Pingaluk we climbed a bump overlooking our base camp  for a beautiful view of the Arrigetch.

Overall it was a great trip with 12 days of sunshine and two of rain, great people and good food.

We flew in and out with Coyote Air after driving north on the Dalton to Coldfoot -- much cheaper than flying out of Bettles via Fairbanks.

Next year, I am thinking a road-based trip between Honolulu and Healy along the Parks Hwy: there are like 15 fun creeks and rivers from Class I to Class IV including the Bull, the three forks of the Chulitna, Honolulu, Jack, Cantwell, Windy, Sanctuary, Riley, Nenana's multiple sections, Moody, and more. A scheduled two weeks with planned events like "Class IV Fridays" and "Class II weekends" in June before the Classic, and open to all who want to come, sounds like a good plan for the 2013 Packraft Festival.

Anybody interested in that?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Brooks Range Meta-blogging

The Brooks Range remains my favorite wilderness in the world, that after looking for what I want: big wilderness, politically stable, wild animal trails, mountains, rivers, forests, clean water, good light, long days, glaciers, hot springs, tundra, few people, no roads, good walking if you know where to look, enough wood for fires but not so much that brush is bad, etc. Recently three Brooks Range events have come onto my radar in between moving between our old house and new.

 1) Pat and Caroline, who started in Bellingham, Washington in sleek row-craft that Pat made (!), reached Kaktovik after walking the coast from the McKenzie and were headed south and into the Brooks Range. Their goal is Kotzebue. Check out their blog.

The idea of traveling as a couple for six months to a year across wilderness and under your own power (Ok with gravity assist) is super appealing to me. Unfortunately, I can't talk Peggy into a six+ month walk/boat trip so I must live vicariously through Pat and Caroline and others.

Go forth, young couples, and explore while you can!

 2) Recently got an email from a young, 27 year old Australian, John Cantor, who crossed the Brooks Range from Canada to Kotzebue Sound in -- wait for it -- 31 days! I think that includes about a week's worth of rest days.

He left Joe Creek in early June and developed some achilles problems that, remarkably, led to an acceleartion of his pace. He passed through Anaktukuk and hit the Noatak below Gull Pass and paddled that in less than a week. It's 500 miles long, just that stretch! Wow.

He wrote me recently. "Hi Roman, I have followed many of your trips with great enthusiasm and reading some of your stuff helped with my planning for my trip. I just returned to Australia after successfully traversing the Brooks Range solo. It was my fourth attempt and it took me thirty-one-and-a-half days. I started about 7 miles west of the Yukon border on Joe Creek. I had food caches on the Sheenjek, Marsh Fork of the Canning River, Wind River, Chandalar Landing Strip, Anaktuvuk Pass and 12 Mile Creek on the Noatak. I had a rest day at the Wind River cache, was stuck at the Chandalar Landing Strip waiting for food for two-and-a-half days and had three rest days in Anaktuvuk Pass cause I had torn my left quadricep. Floating the Noatak took just under seven days finishing at the Kotzebue sound. If you were interested I have a facebook page - "John Cantor's Brooks Range Traverse 2012" and there are some photos up and I'll be posting a lot more in the coming days." Wow.

So if I were 20 years younger, after doing a nine month long traverse around the Brooks Range with Peggy, I'd want to try a speed traverse of the Brooks Range.

 3) Speaking of adventures with our wives and solo traverses of the Brooks Range, Kaylene Johnson's biography of Dick Griffith is out and it is GREAT.

Spend $25 and read about a lifetime of un-sung adventures, many after age 55. It covers his early years in the Grand and Copper Canyons; his solo, living-off-the-land walk from Kaktovik to Anaktuvuk in 1959; his middle age in the Chugach; and his post 55 year old days doing the Wilderness Classic and skiing from Unalakleet to Hudson Bay in his 60s and 70s. It is well illustrated with Dick's photos too. I feared it would lack his witty, aw shucks voice, as any who have read his journals have enjoyed. But it's there in his quotes.

Again, a great book and well worth the price. Only complaint is it wasn't in hard back.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Valdez to McCarthy Wilderness Classic

Download the kml here if interested

Ok so this really doesn't start in Valdez, but rather at the elbow on the Richardson Highway at Thompson Pass. And it doesn't finish in McCarthy either, but rather at the Lakina Bridge, 15 miles west of McCarthy.

As a 130-135 mile traverse of the Eastern Chugach in the Wrangell St. Elias National Park Wilderness, it is indeed a classic. It's as burly as the Nabesna to McCarthy route is fast and easy. Nabesna to McCarthy is open and dry, with essentially no brush, lots of open gravel bars and animal trails, and a handful of ATV trails near Nabesna, Chisana, and McCarthy. Valdez to McCarthy can be slow going, mostly when dealing with alders and devils club. It is wet, with few gravel bars, and no ATV trails. It also has spectacular views, valleys, mountains and waterfalls.

I did it solo from July 8-- July 12, 2012. I think a week or ten days would be a good length, as well, although heavy loads in the Bremner and Little Bremner Valleys of Very Bad Brush will be challenging.

In addition, it was the bushwhacker's route for the 2012 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic and while I found it a really neat route, worth doing again, a number of others either tried it and didn't  find it worth racing again, or didn't finish it. In particular, the brush along the Bremner and Little Bremner is EPIC and so was the Lakina Brush, perhaps surprisingly.

From a packrafting perspective there are 4 pieces: 1) The Tasnuna River (described in Embick's "Fast and Cold") 2) Crossing the Copper 3) Running the Klu (low volume steep creek leading to meandering easy float in picturesque valley, turning into steep bouldery river) and 4) crossing the Chitina. I would suggest crossing the Lakina and hiking to the road as soon as possible as the walking along the Lakina is really horrific in my opinion.

Starting at Thompson Pass most of us contoured on really nice, open benches eastward until the second or so gully heading down. We linked snow-filled gullies and open alder patches (record breaking snows of 2011-2012 led to long-lasting snow) down to the creek that feeds into Heiden Canyon. That creek above Heiden Canyon has many open meadows linked by good animal trails leading to the open flats and gravel bars below Marshall Pass.

Those of us who stayed on the river right side of the Upper Tasnuna had the best going, although the deep snows burying the brush made for really good travel, suggesting that late June might be good in other years, taking advantage of deep snows that cover the brush to make the going fast and easy.

We dropped into a side canyon of glacial fed trib from the south that I was unable to ford so stayed river left until just above the confluence with the main Tasnuna. There I put in -- the others traveling near me put in lower. It was Class II+ maybe III (for those of you who know the PR system, it was PR3-4) with cold water and big waves but very few holes for a mile or two. I put in right around the 900 foot elevation on the side stream.

The 20 miles below the upper section was smooth sailing, although afternoon headwinds pushing up from the Copper were a bit bothersome. With the couple other big glacier tribs coming in the Tasnuna is a real river, fast and cold but easy. There are very few trees in the valley, most likely because of the steep slopes and high snow that crushes them under avalanches as they grow. Some beautiful peaks and waterfalls to the south rise above the carpets of alder on the valley walls.

It took us about six hours to make the 12 miles to the put-in (race pace!) and another six hours to get down to and across the Copper to the Bremner Dunes.

Crossing the Copper is straightforward channel hopping and bar walking. Make sure you do it in the evening when the winds have died (after six PM perhaps?). It would be hard to do in the big winds and a bummer to lose your boat.

I'd been to the Bremner Dunes 15 or so years ago on a Chitina to Cordova hellbike trip with Paul Adkins and Bob Kaufman using mtn bikes and Sherpa Packrafts so I looked forward to hiking them.

I hit the dunes at their most upstream end and walked along the edge with the vegetation until a bear trail took me in and I crossed a channel that comes down from the Peninsula. Fifty yards of brush and I was back to dune walking along the Bremner. The sand is firm and delightful and at night the light and the mountains and the wildness of the place is magic. The Bremner Dunes are certainly among the neatest places I have been in AK, mostly for the scenery , the views the good walking , and the novelty of the sand.

Walking upstream on river right of the Bremner I linked really good moose and bear trails in open sandy blow-outs for a couple of hours. These gave out eventually when the sandy ridge that separates the willow choked wetlands at the base of the mountains from the mixed alder/willow brush along the  Bremner narrowed. The best going was along the beaver trails on the Bremner side, although occasional forays inland to creek gravel bars and meadows led to good walking, too. Still, my best categorization for the stretch to the Little Bremner is as Class III-IV brush (very little V until you reach the steep corner when even on a relativley well-defined bear trail you must climb over and slip under on hands and knees perhaps big alders and some small cliffs).John Lapkass reports that crossing the Bremner to the other side is no better. Josh Mumm waded out into the foot deep waters and quicksand to the islands and made good time, using his boat to get back to the mainland. Mixed in with all the northside brush, especially at the sloughs of the Little Bremner, are nasty, knee-deep bog-slogging stretches.

We found that walking up the western channel of the Little Bremner to get to the Little Bremner proper was expedient: Cris-crossing a small shin deep stream for an hour or two to the Little Bremner. Walking up the river right Little Bremner is best. Bar walking gives way to bar hopping gives way to canyon after a couple of hours and it's here where you might want to head east for the magic 3000' contour line and contour into the East Fork Valley on its south side. The walking there is excellent and spectacular alpine tundra with great views of waterfalls in what seems all directions.

I stayed on river left (climber's right, i.e. south side) of the East Fork all the way to the pass over to Harry's Gulch (this is opposite what the Falcon Guide to Wrtangell St Elias says). The north side never looked appealing and I made very good time (check the graphic at my blog

Descending Harry's Gulch in late June would likely be similar to what we encountered: fast snowpack from avalanches. Down near the two tributaries at about 2500 feet the brush returns. The first trib has a 400 foot cascading waterfall that can't be seen well from below or above, but can be seen from across the creek. In any event, right around this 2500 foot contour stay river left as the Harry's Gulch creek starts canyoning-out and getting very steep. I linked meadows and clear passage to the climber's left of the big waterfall, not immediately left, but up a shallow gully just before it. It was one of the highlights of the route for me, as it was brush free to the top of the waterfall, across a snow bridge above the waterfall and then all brush-free travel from there and into the next valley east and up that and over into the Klu. The views were as good as the walking and it highlights what people fly into these Chugach to experience.

The pass into the Klu was full of new snow from near 3000 feet on the wet southern side to about 4000 feet on the drier northern side. This is another neat area.

I was able to put in on the Klu at 3800 feet which was running perhaps a bit low that morning at about 150 cfs. For a couple miles it is a steep  creek, drop pool architecture, with some pretty sharp rocks, maybe Class III (PR 3) in places. More water it would be IV-ish. I ran it in my decked scout with a Sawyer paddle and would have preferred my real whitewater paddle and a bigger boat. There was no wood in this stretch and it's all runnable by an experienced creeking packrafter, even on its 200 foot/mile section.

About where the first major trib comes into the Klu from the soiuth, the Klu cuts into a bunch of willow and the going is weird and sieved out by willow brush. After this section the river opens into a beautiful valley with very picturesque side valleys and isolated spruce. The going was mellow enough that I almost fell asleep. Around 3000 feet the Klu heads north and then northeast and starts dropping faster and is full of granite boulders. The volume is quadruple what it was above the first southern trib and it feels like a small river. There is lots of beetle killed spruce here and it's been washed onto the corners by floods. I never had to get out for any but it does keep your attention.

By the time the Klu heads east again at 2700 feet it is pretty much continuous Class II+, feeling a bit like Class III. I had a dry suit, but no helmet nor PFD nor partner and wanted those for this section. I was nervous and wanted a bigger boat and better paddle (I'd broken my Sawyer bade off the shaft and fixed it with a strap and a trekking pole) as the river was maybe 750 cfs and felt like the filler on Little Su at that level. I had originally planned to run the Klu and the  Chakina with a whitewater-skilled partner, but they had all bailed on me, and as I paddled down in my little Scout all alone I was glad that they hadn't come and we had not committed to the Klu-Chakina in July. The water is beautiful and fun but it drops steeper and more constricted.

I got out at the first major trib on river left, downstream of Coal Creek, at about 2500 feet. I was happy to get out and start walking up this trib.

The walking on the climber's right side was terrible. Luc Mehl and Josh Mumm, who did not float all the way to this unnamed creek, cut the corner and said that the walking on climber's left after cutting the corner was "not bad". It took me 2-3 hours to get up and above the lower canyon.

This creek has some spruce and good willows for a fire before heading high into the Steamboat Hills, and over those and down. There's a benchmark called "Shut" on the USGS topo just north of the extreme headwaters of Steamboat Creek (named on the map). Just east of the Shut benchmark is a shoulder and I followed steep tundra to alders to spruce to a burn to the banks of the Chitina through some pretty slow brush. I left the pass on the south side of "Shut" at about 9:30 and reached the Chitina River itself by 2:00 PM. That's like 5 miles and 4500 feet down in about 5 hours or so.

The Chitina crossing was easy, even with a bit of wind, and I climbed the easternmost, lightly vegetated open bluff on the north side, then headed northeast-ish to get to the Lakina.

My advice would be to cross the Lakina as soon as possible and get to the Road. The going along the Lakina itself was as bad as along the Bremner, in my opinion.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

2012 Wilderness Classic

The Thompson Pass to Lakina River Bridge AMWC route was maybe the slowest race in thirty years -- the winners (in Luc Mehl's video above) averaged 1.35 miles/hour. For comparison, Bobby Schnell, Jason Geck, Tyler Johnson and Rory Stark averaged more than twice that speed at 3.4 mph during the 160 mile Eureka to Talkeetna race in 2005. The next slowest (1.7 mph) after this year's race would have to be the Chicken to Circle 180 mile race in 4 days 10 hours by Bobby Schnell and Chris Robertson in 2006.

It took me 4 days 9 hours and 52 minutes (Luc's stats are based on my "I finished 12 hours behind you guys"), a bit less than 12 hours behind Luc Mehl and Josh Mumm and a bit less than six hours behind Gerard Ganey and Todd Tumalo.  John Sykes and Mike Loso came in a couple hours later than I did but I was asleep in Jason Geck's truck waiting for them when they came in so missed their time.

Like Josh (in glasses above) and Luc (back of head above), I took the bushwhacker's route. Unlike them I slept a considerable amount  as I like sleeping more than hallucinating (14 hours sleep, plus camp time). I generally slept under a tree and around a small fire I kept burning all night, no tent, no bag, just a foam pad, a puffy jacket and some expedition weight pants. The bivies were nice.

When I did hallucinate it was of the two in front of me, small figures waiting and watching, sometimes howling at me. Several times I ached to catch them just to share the beautiful moments and compare notes on the miserable.

Like the long day up the East Fork and down Harry's Gulch and then over the pass into the Klu. New snow and wind had buried their tracks going up and when I passed over the divide I found breakable crust and deep snow. I found it ironic that on sore feet after twenty hours of walking I looked for sharp rocks and moraine to avoid the snow. Eventually I found their tracks and they too were looking for rocks and sand and finding wet water beneath the snow.

 Carrying only a 1:250,000 lost me some time on the East Fork. Its lack of detail and a snowstorm combined to make it hard for me to discern big from small.

I cultivated a zen-like state moving through the Bremner River's  (Big and Little) brush, being alone as I was, and extra wary of injury in such deep, often steep stuff.

Curiously I held the lead from about 4:30 PM the first day after I put in and paddled the Tasnuna early on, passing Luc, Josh, and Dave Chenault (DC) in my little Super Scout. They were scrambling butt over rapids and brush and not looking back when I decided to blow up and pass up the lads who were just getting in when I rode the big waves on by. Looking back and seeing them portage gave me hope I might hold a lead.

And I did. But not really for very long.

Like terminators, Luc and Josh with DC in tow closed the gap quickly across the Bremner Dunes, making it to within 20 minutes of me by the end of that wonderful walking near midnight. Then we got into the brush and it took them another six hours to catch me.

Traveling with them for an hour or so was painful. First, poor old DC had a too tall of a  pack and was just stumbling through the brush in a decidedly painful fashion. And Luc, well he charged through the stuff along the bear trail we shared with a youthful vim and vigor I could only marvel at while he chased down his partner Josh, who paced up and down the lower Little Bremner like an impatient dog waiting for his owner .

I must say that aside from the horrible Lakina and Bremner book-ends of bad brush, the heart of the route -- from East Fork and down the Klu -- to be spectacular. The 20 miles of the Klu offer an outstanding packraft (snapped my Sawyer  paddle blade off one hour into it) of a creek turning into river and East Fork and Harry's Gulch waterfalls were beautiful in the rain and snow.

Would I do that route again?

Yes, certainly, even if it's remarkably slow. It is such Classic-Big-Chugach-Wilderness, like the Chugach State Park mountain range pumped up and made virile with testosterone -- bigger, bolder peaks, bigger, burlier waterfalls, bigger, brushier valleys, bigger badder brush -- the real deal in wildness. It's actually a great test of one's tenacity, as evidenced by the high drop-out rate. But once you get through the d-club and alder, you're rewarded as it opens up nicely and, again, the Klu paddle in the sunshine was a real highlight: beautiful water in a beautiful valley.

But next year I think I'll go for that glacier route. It looks neat and running the Tana Canyon really appeals, too. Kudos to Ganey and Todd for pushing on through the snow storms to paddle its Grand Canyon rapids.

In summary, Luc needn't worry that he has killed the Classic.

 No, he has only re-polished its reputation.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


From an email:

AlaskAcross 12:
Bob Gillis:          2da. 5hr. 44mn. (Wildermeister, AKX 12)
C. Roman Dial:      3da. 9hr. 20mn.
Mark Ross: scratched at 18hr. 20mn.

Weather conditions were near perfect for the entire duration of the event: temp 45F to 55F, high overcast to partly cloudy, dry air, ~nil biting insects.
high water provided efficient paddling in creeks and rivers, participants reported good moose and caribou trails.  late remaining snow fields/patches provided good footing above ~3500'.
Finish accomodations at the Meiers Lake Roadhouse are near plush: very comfortable bunkhouse, great hospitality by the Roadhouse owners (Harvel and Tina). Also, a possible mid-point termination station, the MaClaren River Lodge (proprietors Alan and Suzy), is friendly and hospitable.

Here's a bit of a trek log: AlaskAcross 12 (AKX 12) by Mark Ross:
Bob Gillis and Mark Ross met near the AKX 12 start area, old Denali, on Saturday, June 16. Finding no others in near vicinity and with the start impending in 1hr, they drove together in Ross' car searching for other wayward AlaskAcrossers. Finding no others within ~5mi north on the mining road, they planned to trek together, rather than compete, to explore AKX 12 terrain. Then, a man in a dry suit was sighted, reconoitering a swollen creek crossing. He was C. Roman Dial.  Quickly fording the stream on foot,  Dial shook hands and announced his intention of traversing the entire AlaskAcross12 route regardless of how many others participated. Within minutes, Dial took off south on the swollen Susitna River paddling a packraft. Ross and Gillis sent him off with the message not to dally for they would join in and make it a competition.  Setting out quickly overland on an easterly route, Gillis and Ross headed into the Clearwater Mountains. So, AKX 12 was on, with the three participants trekking as solo competitors. Dial's position in the country would remain unknown to Gillis and Ross until his arrival at the Meiers Lake Roadhouse finish area three days later, but he carried a "spot" transmitter which sent his position to computer-linked friends in Anchorage.
Gillis and Ross, traveling in proximity, traversed the narrow Roseveldt pass, intermitently following atv and caribou trails while traversing high snow fields and snow patches. In the high point of the pass a loping wolverine trail was followed for a mile. A day or two earlier the big mustelid had plowed a loping trail through new snow. Surprizingly, except for the wolvervine trail, no track or sign of large predators was seen through the pass; no sign of wolf or bear. Once across the pass, caribou and moose trails led through willow and birch shrub to the western headwater branch of Clearwater Creek. Down stream a few miles a small tributary contributed, and the creek was swollen well above cobble and bank. Gillis annouced his intention of paddling east to Clearwater Creek and down (south) to the Denali highway, then to negotiate his way overland to the Ahtna Plateau mountains south of the hwy (Alphabet Hills). Ross shared his intention of paddling east and assessing the next high pass east to the west fork of the MaClaren River. Thus, the three AlaskAcrossers planned to negotiate separate ~100 routes to the finish. Gillis was on the creek and floating with about a 5min head start. Ross, to his surprise, did not catch Gillis on that headwater creek. Gillis' position in the country would remain unknown until his finish two days later at the Meiers Lake Roadhouse.
In final summary, Ross did not go overland east to MaClaren west fork river, but continued paddling the swollen and fast Clearwater creek south to the Denali hwy. He then continued on foot south of the highway. After ~10mi of overland travel southeasterly, Ross scratched from the event in the early morning hours of Sunday. He backtracked to the MaClaren River Lodge, all the while amid the dawn chorus of boreal songbirds: Ross scratched at 18hr. 20mn of AKX 12. 
Gillis walked south to the mountains, then east to dickey lake, paddled the Gulkana and walked to the finish: 2da. 5hr. 44mn, thus earning the title of first arrival and Wildermeister of AKX 12. 
Dial paddled the Susitna south to the mountains then continued overland (hampered by a high thigh injury sustained early) east to Dickey Lake, then paddled the Gulkana from the white water outlet and finished with an 8mi walk to finish: 3da. 9hr. 20mn.   At the finish, Meiers Lake Roadhouse,  hospitality was plentiful: food, drink, a bunkhouse and friendly folks.
-Mark Ross,  June 24 2012
Gillis carried a camera and there may be photos in thursday's newsminer.

More details later

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Things to Luc For

I seem unable to link to any wordpress blogs on the side bar over left there, so go here to see Luc's awesome adventure across the St Elias from Yakutat to McCarthy.

The packrafts as sleds are so cool in that big mtn landscape -- and Luc in an avy is a bit sobering. Be sure to check it out.

The only bummer about it is that it seems to have somehow tuckered that young wimpersnapper out to the point he can't go run steep creeks in the Brooks Range with us next week.....shucks!

I think it's the expedition of the year so far, although Caroline and Pat are still at it, only halfway through their trip to Kotz from Bellingham.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Other People's Great Adventures

No doubt most have you have seen this:

 Makes Tasmania look like the great packrafting destination that it is. There have been a handful of adventurers reporting on their Tassie trips over the years, from whitewater creeking, to mult-day river trips, to traditional hike and raft, to modern coastal trips, to this wild canyoneering trip.

 And what about Europe? Besides Forest and Moe's fantastic looking exploration of Bosnia


there is the couple who seem to be prepping for a grand Eurasion or round the world trip with their packraft, too (this looks like a marvelous destination for traditional style packrafting):

 Really looks good, Europe does, for packrafting and there seems to be more and more of it happening.

But the trip I have been keeping tabs on is that by an athletic and skilled Alaskan couple, Pat Farrell and Caroline Van Hemert, who left Bellingham, Hig-and-Erin style but with Skurka speed, in March.

They are headed for Kotzebue by way of the Yukon. A PhD scientist, Caroline is from Anchorage and studied English in college. Pat is a carpenter and studied art. Together they have done some amazing trips, like building a birch bark canoe and paddling out from some wild river in the Yukon Territory, or sailing into and climbing Mt Waddington, and climbing Mt. Fairweather then walking and packrafting the Lost Coast to Gustavus. Anyway their blog is worth following as they unveil their adventure.

Oh yes, and rumor has it Luc and crew made it to the summit of Logan on their self-contained journey from Yakutat to McCarthy by packraft and ski. Looking forward to his return and the fruits of their adventure in story, pic, and vid.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Gradient (ft/mile): elevation vs. distance plots

The Local Anchorage Creeks:
The Mat-Su Regulars (Little Su, Upper Willow, Kings Magic Mile)
The Talkeetna Fly-in Creeks (Disappointment, E Fork Iron Ck, Damnation):

The mid-Alatna Valley Creeks:
The Arrigetch Creeks:

I have been using Spruceboy's USGS maps over Google Earth to estimate gradient, then R to make some contour plots of local steep runs and some creeks in the Arrigetch-Alatna Area. Too satisying.

I should have gone paddling, but no, I made these graphs instead.

They are pretty informative and suggest that the Arrigetch offers up the closest to California style granite creeks we have in Alaska. What makes the Arrigetch unique is the paucity of glaciers combined with steep glacial carved terrain, much of it above tree line and so wood free.

It looks like the two local boofy-creeks, Lower Ingram and Upper Willow, aren't as overall steep as they feel, while the granite boulder garden creeks, Little Su and Kings, are steep. This holds for Disappointment and E Fork Iron, too, as Disappointment is not as overall steep as East Fork Iron Creek, surprisingly, but is bigger volume and more pool drop. So pool drop, ledgy creeks hide their steepness on these gradient plots, while boulder garden creeks tend to be steepest.

All the kayakers already know this, of course, and this is just like a little homework assignment to see that clearly.

The Aiyagomahala Creek (aka Hot Springs Creek or South Arrigetch Creek) is super steep at top where it's full of slabs and slides and waterfalls. Just above its hot springs it's a boulder garden, like Magic Mile. Upper Awlinyak, I have not yet seen, but I expect that it is a gorge full of granite blocks, like the the Deceptive Pass branch of Awlinyak. Arrigetch Creek is least known to me. It's hidden in the bushes and glimpses I get of it are broken gneiss, rather than boulders.

All the little Alatna Valley creeks offer up a bunch of variety. None seem too hard for beginners, except the inner gorge of Nahtuk, which I have seen and expect to be Class III+ if not IV. Unakserak and Kutuk look like class II, maybe some wood, and Pingaluk is Class III (walked that a couple years ago). Awesome game trails in the Pingaluk. So a basecamp in the Alatna valley offers everything from Class I on the Alatna to Class VI in the Arrigetch, all in a ten mile radius.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

AlaskaCross 2012

Unless you're a PJ or one of the "Luc Mehlons", the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic is a 5-7 day challenge of sore feet, sleepless nights, and a wet butt. It's a big commitment and for first timers and vets alike, it can be a disappointment to drop out due to lack of prep.

For those who aren't sure they want to commit to the main event (July 16), or for those who want a little prep, or if you just want to travel light and fast with other like-minded folk, there's the new Alaska Cross June 16 at 10 AM, starting near the old Valdez Creek Mine, north of the Denali Hwy-crossing of the Susitna River.

From there, head east through the Clearwater Mountains (there are sure to be scads of ATV trails), then south on the MacLaren. Or head south on the Big Su for thirty miles, then east across scenic high ridges of the Alphabet Hills. In either case, the goal is the Gulkana River drainage and the finish at Meiers Lake, just south of Paxson Lake.

Last weekend at Doug Buchanan's Memorial a scientist informed me that he had some good imagery, "a lot better than Google Earth" as he put it, and that the route "looked brushy". He's an experienced skier, climber, and winter traveler, but so far as I know he has yet to do a summertime Classic, nor paddle a packraft for that matter.

He sounded  like the pilots out there who fly around and look down and tell you about "all the trails" they see or how "that area doesn't look so good". Often -- unless these folks are into ground truth trekkers, like Bob Kaufman or Chris Flowers -- what they say looks good is not, and what looks bad is actually not so.

In other words, imagery is great. Flights are great. But without the experience to interpret the images from air or space -- well, let's just say that the Thompson Pass to McCarthy route also "looks brushy." And so does Hope to Homer, Mentasta to McKinley, Chicken to Circle, Chena to Circle, and all the rest of the routes over the years, except Nabesna to McCarthy.

In fact, if a route doesn't "look brushy", then it's likely not very interesting to me. Because the "Bushwhacker's Race" is just that. It's not a trail race -- well it is, but you have to find and hold the trails, the animal trails, and you need to know how to stay out, get out, or make peace with the brush.

And if a route "looks brushy" to a snowmachiner who doesn't packraft, well, my feeling is we are likely not really speaking the same language, nor may we be able to communicate without some collaborating experiences.

So, if you are interested in a short route of 3-4 days (24 hours or less maybe for a PJ or "Luc Mehlon") mixing swift glacier headwaters of the Susitna with the clear headwaters of the Gulkana,  write and get the full details for the 2012 Alaska Cross.

It looks like the best new route to come out in years.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Apple's Lion and TOPO!

Getting a new operating system on my Mac often freshens the experience so much that I feel like I have a new computer. That's certainly been the case with OS X 10.7.3, Apple's Lion operating system. It has many new features, especially in the browser and the interface with the swipe pad, that really feel new.

In fact, it seems that new OS on old hardware could be the model for future economic growth without resource consumption. For example, imagine in the future if we could keep our old car and yet when we have the cash upload a new "look". That way status-conscious could upgrade their status, yet the new look would just be software -- now that's sustainable growth. The growth is people buying and consuming (i.e., the 20th century economic engine model) but what they buy is not extracted from the Earth, but rather from people's imaginations, which seems like a sustainable resource.

Anyway, that digression aside and back to reality, Apple's Lion operating system and TOPO! aren't yet compatible so I have been forced to look at Google Earth alone for Alaska trip planning.

Which brought up an old email from Hig:

Hi All,
 I was talking with a GIS geek this week and he mentioned that you can get
 a feed of all the Alaska topo maps for Google Earth:
 (There's some other cool stuff here too.)  If you zoom in, it will give you progressively more detailed maps, right down to the 1:63k.
  It's a bit sluggish, but otherwise it's a pretty incredible and free tool
 for exploring Alaska.  Maybe you all know about this already and I'm just
 out of the loop, but it's not exactly an easy thing to find, so I thought maybe

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"One on One" with Charles Wohlforth: KAKM: Sun. 4/29 at 6:30 pm & Weds. 5/2 at 10:00 pm

This may be a bit more narcissistic than usual, but during a seven day period back in March, I did three different story-telling venues, two of which were recorded.

One was the pleasure of an interview with author Charles Wohlforth for his local TV series 1on1 ("One on One") on KAKM TV here in Anchorage.

 Here's a preview:


 The show'll be on Sunday, April 29 at 6:30 PM and again Wednesday at 10 PM.

 I haven't seen it yet, but its host, Charles, is the author of The Whale and the Supecomputer and The Fate of Nature, two excellent books. He's a "life-long Alaskan", educated at Princeton, and a really engaging, likable personality

Doing the interview was as almost as much fun as participating in the Arctic Entries, but I got more than 7 minutes and was encouraged to tell more than one story. The guys doing the production, like Travis and Pat Yak, were professional and gregarious.

If this clip is representative, then the production team did a pretty good job of hiding most of my dorkiness.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

2012 Winter Wilderness Classic (Photos by Forrest McCarthy and Derek Collins)

Recent texting between me and an accomplished backcountry ski pioneer regarding the 2012 Wilderness Ski Classic--
Me: "That Luc Mehl is effin' studly."
Chris: "You didn't wup him?"
Me: "Nah. Didn't want to hurt his feelings. He's the sensitive type, you know"
Chris: "Yep. That's why I let him break trail. We are becoming more empathetic with age. BTW do lunges 4 yer hip problems."
My frozen thumb-tip is not yet healed enough to hit the space bar as I write this (my index finger is working that purpose well), but my lips are healed enough to smile, and my feet enough to keep down to bang out this brief report of the Brooks Range Ski Classic.

So the first and obvious question is "What was I thinking?"

Off the couch and into new boots (Salomon X-ADV 6) back in early March, I figured I had plenty of time to get ready for a 200 mile ski trip across the Brooks Range. After all I'd done that before: skied hundreds of miles across untracked arctic winter wilderness from Kaktovik to near Galbraith Lake (start of this year's Classic), in fact.

I'd even done Winter Wilderness Classics before, too. Hell, they'd originally been my idea: "Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic" (AMWSC) way back in the late eighties, but had become an event organized exceptionally well by Dave Cramer for the last couple of decades.

And training? Figured I could ski to work, and the days I rode the fat bike, I could ski at lunch. Commuting plus an hour a day for a few weeks would do it. Right?


What about winter travel and camping in the Brooks Range? How hard could that be?

Sure it was -22 F in Anaktuvuk the week before the event (can't quite call it a race for me). But wasn't I the guy who's skied across ANWR for three weeks when it never got above zero during a record breaking cold snap? I had the experience, even if was from another century (millennium?).

I even had the gear: a Go Lite 4 season Adrenalin down bag, a sled, some new mittens (toasty warm), a brand new set of Stephensen vapor barriers (top and bottom), and two puffy jackets and puffy pants. I even had modified my Jet Boil and would -- in emulation of the new style of Classic ski racing -- forego a tent.

Problem was, the last time I'd winter camped was 2002, when Isaac Wilson and I, both on the adventure racing Team Earthlink, had entered the AMWSC in the Wrangells and dropped out on day two when we couldn't get out of our NNN bindings after skiing through a bit of overflow.

So at the ripe old age of 51 I headed north with the big bad boys to prove to myself I could finish.

Except I didn't. Instead I made all the mistakes a noob would make.

Carl's advice: "Better get out and ski some miles in those boots -- make sure you don't get any blisters." Hmmm. Guess my commute and half dozen lunch-hour skate skis weren't enough.

Cody Roman's observation: "Dad, you could barely keep up with me on the University ski trails at lunch." He's being generous, actually.

Peggy: "Why are you doing this? You're going to hurt yourself."
Forrest on Day 2

It was -24 F at the noon start on the edge of Galbraith Lake, North Slope of the Brooks Range. Andrew Cyr and Aaron Wells of Fairbanks had bolted, breaking trail across the undulating hills.

Luc and John Pekar, his partner in most of the Winter Classics (this would be their fifth Classic and their fourth win together -- Luc also won last year when John couldn't make it), cut west early, their plan to stay on the Slope until Anaktuvuk River.

The first night, when finally arriving at the camp of Wyoming's Forrest McCarthy and Derek Collins (they'd caught the Fairbanks duo of Andrew and Aaron near dark), I climbed into their two person tent in desperation.

"Thhhh thhhhh tthhhh thanks, Fff fff fforrest. Yyy yyy your ss ss saaaavvv vvin mm mm my ass."

"Yea, well you saved mine last time, buddy."

Here Forrest was referring to the 2009 Summer Classic when his knee went bum on day two. Forrest, from Wyoming, is the only one from Outside Alaska to finish both the summer and winter events. Not only that he took second in each on his first time entering. He's tough and talented.

That night it was at least -25 F (felt like -30) with a breeze, nipping my thumb on a metal gaiter snap as I struggled to get boots and gaiters off and into the tent.

Soon after that nip, my modified Jet Boil nearly caught fire when the copper heat transfer modification melted the plastic while calm, cool, and always happy Derek heated water for me with the melting Jet Boil to soothe my violent shivering.

All of this with us three crammed into one of those tiny Black Diamond Bibler-style tents.

The next morning, in return for the favor of keeping me alive, I broke Derek's carbide ski pole tip. That way he'd be handicapped like me.

"If that's the worst that happens to me," he quipped, "I'll be happy."

One of my tips had broken, too, the day before and on the second day I broke the other as the baskets on the quarter-century old poles crumbled. Not a good sign so early in an event that's mostly on river ice.

An hour later Derek left to catch Forrest, who'd left us to warm up (it was -25 F that morning). I wouldn't see either one's face again until Wiseman, three days later, when Forrest would ski into the Dance Hall in Wiseman with both skis frozen to his boots.

Later that first morning I caught up with Thomas Bailly, a Girdwood/Anchorage backcountry skier who had entered the race last year and had a most miserable time.

"Yea, that first night it was thirty below and Doug was wet from falling face first into overflow. We crammed three of us into a two man tent. It was frosty and tight and we just shivered violently in our plus twenty bags long enough to doze a moment or two, before shivering uncontrollably again." Sounded horrific to me.

"If we'd had a sat phone I would have called for a rescue. Instead I learned that I could survive a hell of a lot of suffering."

I asked him why he was back this year.

"To wash away the demons, really. I was messed up in the head for months after that. We suffered every night from cold and every day our feet were just destroyed. I really like winter and wanted to get that good feeling about it back. This time I have a neg-twenty bag, not plus-twenty."

Same with Luc and John. They've gone from plus 20 to "neg 20" sleeping bags, and, like Thomas and I, carried canister stoves and no tent.
Five toes mean wolverine.

The two of us ended up travelling about the same pace, following the trail of a pack of wolves and cutting wolverine tracks every few hours. I'd given up on keeping up with the Wyoming Team.

Thomas and I travelled the same pace, but not because I could keep up with him, me pulling my dumb-school sled with piss-poor conditioning.

But because I cut the corners on the Itkillik River's bends.

Because I milked the downhills with shallow descents.

Because I never stopped to sit down.

Because, other than drinking and eating, I didn't bother to take care of myself, to spread any sunscreen on my lips (it was frozen too stiff to rub on), to retape my feet rubbed by new boots.

By day two we were holed up together at Summit Lake on the Arctic Divide, and I was suffering physically and emotionally.

"Yea, I think I'm gonna head down the North Fork to Wiseman," I whined, "skip Anaktuvuk, or maybe go back and follow those snowmachine tracks over Oolah Pass. I'm not ready for this. I was falling asleep on the trail today and feel like I am just crawling along. But I'm going to take a 12 hour nap here anyway, see how I feel tomorrow."

"Really? Twelve hours?"

Thomas pulled off his socks and showed me a nasty blister under his foot. "Think I should pop this?"

"No, don't pop it tonight. Maybe tomorrow. You should think about a twelve hour break, too. Might give that blister a chance to heal. You'll definitely feel better after 12 hours."

He admitted to crawling along too, but the fact that in my near-dream state I had caught and passed him spoke to that.

We'd make great Classic partners: the kind who meet on the race because their pace is well matched.

And while we'd begun unbound and selfish, we'd likely finish together and sharing, like partners.

Looking back from Peregrine Pass

Twelve hours later I felt great. "Yea, I think I'll go over Peregrine Pass, head to Anaktuvuk," I announced.

The night before I'd tried to talk him into going down the North Fork with me but Thomas said he wanted to go to Anaktuvuk. He'd never been there before.

In the morning he said, "Funny, I was just thinking I'd go down the North Fork, but that'd be great to have you along and go over Peregrine"

So that was that. We skied past small bands of 'bou and followed the Fairbanks-Wyoming teams' trail up and over Peregrine Pass together.

On the way down to Grizzly Creek I fell, rolled over a pole and broke it in half. This was no problem for a couple miles of wonderful trail to the start of Grizzly Creek overflow, but then fearing I'd break a rib after slip-sliding on the steep ice without metal edges or any ski-pole tip, I climbed out of the canyon and we cut the corner to Ernie Pass.

The cold snap had broken and while maybe 10, 15 below zero it felt far warmer than -25 as we clambered over sastrugi and bare tundra.

Around midnight we stomped out a bivy pad at Ernie Pass and put in another 12 hour camp.

It was nice to lay there as Thomas melted snow and heated water, passing me food and hot drink beneath clouds too thin to snow more than the flurries that fell, but thick enough to make the sub-zero night feel warm.

By Ernie Pass my boots, out for blood, had bitten and chewed my tender foot flesh and the beautiful tour into Anaktuvuk turned into a painful shuffle.

Wyoming and Fairbanks teams in Anaktuvuk Valley
At first we made a good ten miles in two hours with a tail-wind and a downhill on wind-blown snow followed by blue ice. It was exhilarating, but also clear from counting skate ski tracks that the Luc-John and Fairbanks-Wyoming teams were already heading toward Wiseman after tagging Anaktuvuk. It felt like they were a good two days ahead of us, at our pace, and we were only on day four day into our race.

At this point in the event I felt like an amateur who takes art and music classes not to make art or music, but rather to appreciate the artists and musicians who can: wilderness artists like John and Luc, Andrew and Aaron, Forrest and Derek. They awed me.

If we had found the others pushing on from Anaktuvuk over the pass to Tinayguk, then I would have followed, but I had neither the time nor pain threshold to break trail on our own to Wiseman.

And I had no interest to ski back this way, uphill into a head wind, with just a single pole -- a pole that lacked a tip.

On the blue ice I called out, "Heh Thomas!! can I borrow a pole!"

"NO!" he called back over his shoulder and poled quickly away.

Well it was my own hubris that led me to bring my old Excel poles from the 80s, poles with sun-rotted baskets and snapped carbide tips.

A few moments later, he must have remembered that what I had was more like a stick then a ski pole, as he dropped one of his carbide-tipped skating poles for me to pick up.

Thomas and I had not been racing after Day 1, really, and enjoyed the tilted, layered mountains all around, crusted in frost that soared above us in brilliant blue. The warm sun in our faces and wind to our backs, made for an enjoyable 25 mile day following hard snow, blue ice, ski tracks and snowmachine trails.

At one point three monster snowmachines, each pulling sleds and one pulling two sleds full of action packers and fuel stopped alongside me.

"Hi there," I said.

"How's it going," asked one as he stopped his motor.

"Great. Nice day. Park Service?"

"Naw. Not quite."

"Where you going?"

"Kotzebue and on to Nome."

"Wow. See any other skiers?"

"Yea, four of em on the other side of Ernie Creek. Another two passed us when we were camped up at Bombardment Creek."

"Yea they're racing. And those guys are animals. They're skiing like 50 miles a day with sub-thirty pound packs and no tents."

As I shuffled into Anaktuvuk in the fading 10 PM light, a young Nunamiut girl in her PJs walked up pulling a sled with her younger sister.

"Going sledding?"

"Yep," she smiled and added, "your friend is waiting for you."

"Thanks," and I shuffled on.

"You're very old," she called after me as I gimped onward with short strides and sore feet to catch up with Thomas and see what we had next in store for us on this adventure.

Which was where to camp in Anaktuvuk.

I struggled to remember names and finally a truck pulled over. Its driver told me where the Nome-bound snowmachiners who'd come to town earlier that day were.

"That brown house over there. At Juste the Norwegian's place."

I knocked at the door.

It opened.

"Hi! Are you Juste the Norwegian? Is this the hotel?" I half joked.

The man at the door squinted his eyes at me, "Do I know you?"

"Maybe. You look familiar. My name's Roman."


"Yea. We just skied over from Galbraith and need a place to sleep. Feel bad to impose this way, but could we give you some money to sleep on your floor? We don't have a tent."

And of course Alaskan Bush hospitality held the day.

Thomas and I swapped stories and gear lists with the snowmachiners and our hosts, school-teachers for 17 years in Anaktuvuk. It was warm and lively and an excellent interlude on our arctic adventure.

Luc's video:

The next day we caught a Wright's Air flight to Coldfoot ($200/each), where Luc and John picked us up from the truck stop where Lance and Dick Mackey held court with stories of their recent dog-mushing caribou hunt on the Slope.

Telling Lance that I was an admirer of his style, I mentioned that Luc and John had just skied over 200 miles in less than four days, the same four days that the Mackey men were recounting as gnarly-cold days to be in the Brooks Range.

"Yea, well those distance skiers, they are hard-core, especially up here. I need dogs to pull my sorry ass around. Ha ha ha!" said Lance.

John and Luc had finished the 200 mile course in less time than it had taken us to ski less than half the distance and fly the rest. And while John looked a bit like a sleepy, disheveled wolf, Luc looked like the Wolverine character from then X-men movie, as if the wilderness had changed him into a beast.

Yes, they were wild animals indeed, those two, champions of a new era of wilderness ski racing in the Winter Wilderness Classic, perhaps the most challenging adventure race in the world.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Alaska Mountain Wilderness SKI Classic: the first two

This years marks the 25th birthday of the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic, an event that begins early next month in the Brooks Range.

The first race was in 1987 across the Chugach Range from Eureka Roadhouse to Valdez. The route was the idea of a couple Valdez adventurers (Brian Teale and John Weiland), whom I thought would show up, if that was the route.

But they didn't show up, of course, and the route had avalanche danger, so the second year course was through the Alaska Range, "the Denali Dash".

The Dash Route (1988-1990) was the route I had envisioned since 1981 and the route that Audun Endestadt and I skied in 1986 in about 3.5 days, making two, 12 hour camps en route (Black rapids Pass; Susitna-West Fork Pass). That was an amazing ski trip and the route is a great nordic mountaineering adventure: up the Black Rapids, down the Susitna, over to the Gillam or over to the West Fork and the down the Yanert. This is the route Luc et al did in the summer classic across moraine, bare ice, and river by foot and packraft last summer in the 2011 Classic.

But as a ski trip in springtime it is a TRUE classic.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Last minute silly season planning: Arctic 1000 maps and miles

By the way, every square on the 1:250,000 quads below is six miles (i.e., 10 km, not five miles as some seem to think).

Walking up the Wulik was second choice. First choice would have us leave from Pt. Hope but bad weather prevented us from landing there.

Crossing De Long Mountains we saw much wildlife -- wolverine, bears, caribou, birds -- but not too scenic.

Fantastic walking on these ridges. Best a little below on subsidiary ridges that offer water to drink and less exposure to blasting wind.

After Ryan left, we headed east into boggy, tussock uplands between Colville and Utukok. Following the Colville wasn't much better.

Lookout Ridge was great walking. Saw another wolverine here.

Among the worst travel of the trip: tussocks off Lookout, swimming the Colville and Ipnavik, more tussocks, mosquitoes, and the first shin high willows. Also the remotest spot in the USA.

Bugs came out as green up hit so thankfully this was fantastic ridge and gravel bar walking.

The stretch into the mountains and across them to the Killik and beyond followed caribou trails for 20 miles, non-stop. Perhaps the longest continuous animal trails I have followed.

The grind into Anaktuvuk started fast then bogged down in tussocks and wet willow brush.

This is the Anaktuvuk to Haul Road stretch. Solo, fast and a bit sentimental. Also radically scenic.

So here's a little R graph. I plotted our cumulative distance as function of day since start, the fit a quadratic through the points and the origin after finding that the intercept was not significantly different from zero.

Even before that the curve was a nice fit, with an R-square of "triple nines".

So the quadratic gave me where we were from the start as a function of day, so the derivative gave me speed as function of day.

So on average we made 19.37 miles per day + 0.57 (miles/day/day)* days. That is, we accelerated as our packs lightened up by about 0.6 miles per day each day.

Not what I'd expected exactly, 25 years ago when I first dreamed a trip like this up, but heh.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gear Esoterica

No, I don't mean gear a la BPL. Or even paddling or ski gear (collectively known as WHITE water gear).

I mean gear as in bike gears and ratios between front and back for the kind of riding I like.

MC has shown me the amazing La Marg-rie combo and I want to put on a freewheel, one that will match my speed and terrain.

Last summer I experimented with a Middleburn ProTrials bashguard 16t up front and a White Industries DOS ENO freewheel 16/18t in the back. For shifting I used a wee old (1972) Campagnolo Nuovo Record der that is very short cage. What does that give me? It gives me shifting, simplicity, and plenty of clearance on brushy trails and rocky beaches/gravel bars. It gave me the two gear ratios I used the most -- or close to them -- from the old hellbiking days: 1.00 and 0.89

That set up was great on the beaches of the Lost Coast and would go on my bike again for that trip, except that I did want a slightly higher gear too: mostly to keep up with Doom.

Right now, daily I ride the same DOS ENO out back and a Middleburn double up front, 27 by 38. That combo works well for town riding summer and winter (for me). Summer time and when the winter roads are well plowed and icy I use the big chain ring on roads and the little chainring on trails. Winter time I use the 27t front and the 18t rear for soft trails and the 27t and 16t rear for harder ones. It's amazing (to me) what a gear difference of 0.2 does on "slow" surfaces like snow and wilderness trails and "trials".

But now I am planning a wheel-set for something more mountainous. My experience when off-trail (or animal trail/gravel bar riding) in wilderness mountains, is that most of a day is either down a drainage or up a drainage. In other words, I could get by with one DOS freewheel all day.

Heading up a drainage or riding caribou trails of North Slope gravel bars most of the day? Then go with a 17/19 t DOS in the back and 18 t Middleburn up front, giving nice low spin gears of 1.06 and 0.95. Heading downstream all day, where the major variability is going to be sand spinning or cobble plowing vs vegetated smooth pea-vine bars? Then go 16/18 t in back to push 1.00 and 1.13 ratio.

How to carry both? two rear wheels. One run as front one run as back, swapped appropriate to the day's anticipated riding.

Of course my dream rig would be a 20/16t White Industries DOS ENO as that would give two versions of gearing that differs by 0.2.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Doug Buchanan: May 19, 1947 -- February 7, 2012

Seven nights before Valentine's Day, while the temperature climbed 80 degrees from -50 to freezing in Fairbanks, Doug Buchanan died.

Doug lived many lives, all connected, all enacted thoughtfully, artfully, meaningfully. He enjoyed the respect and company and humor of many, many, mostly in Fairbanks, but also around the world, where he was famous.

Famous for rabble-rousing, for elevating freedom above safety, security, control.

A revolutionary who did not call us to arms -- us being climbers, mostly in Alaska, but elsewhere, too -- not to arms, but to action, to take responsibility for ourselves and so protect our freedoms.

He was really the first to say that while conservation is critical, mountain freedom will be curbed in the name of conservation.

He was right, of course, as he almost always was during mid-winter party talk, serious parties, serious talk, but witty, too, and humor in those smiling blue eyes.

Yes he was right about the inevitable tension between land managers and freedom-seeking adventurers (like you, brother). This conclusion of Doug's came long before the Access Fund founders even sensed a problem.

In the mid 1980s Doug pioneered climbing insurance in this country. The Mountain Rescue Expense Fund was the first. It lived on for decades, protecting the runners, skiers, and packrafters of the Wilderness Classic.

Doug also pioneered climbs in the Alaska Range and Wrangells, especially first winter ascents. He specialized in the nameless, the unknowable, the cold and the desperate, the lonely.

His many first ascents, while not solo, remained anonymous, purposefully protecting the sensibilities of those who followed, so that they, also, might savor the feeling of first. While Doug must have craved and received recognition and respect, as all humans do, he shunned making his personal conquests known.

Doug was a climber-skier-boater-skydiver-self-propelled-subsistence hunter for 40 years. He jumped out of hot-air balloons, rappelled into glacier bellies, lined his boat upstream and returned with it full of moose. Recently, he and a friend designed and built ice tower climbs in Alaska's Interior. One hundred miles from anyplace steep and wet enough to hold natural ice, they built and colored 150 foot towers of ice in psychedelic colors winter after winter.

Doug experimented with fabrics from the 70s-80s, lightweight fabrics he sewed himself in designs he imagined while pursuing wild, icy mountain and solo ocean adventures so far out of the league of everyone else that decades passed before others did the same. He knapped arrowheads, made museum-quality pipes and sculpture, and later kept incredible entertaining and provocative websites of stories and this and more.

Yes, a revolutionary, a visionary in ways, physical, metaphysical, and herbal, as some may recall (smiling if they happen to read this).

Doug served with the 7/17 Cavalry as platoon leader and helicopter pilot in Vietnam during the late sixties. Soon after, he grew a pony-tail and long beard to match. Head hair reached down his back, face hair his chest. Truth be told in later age, his beard was longer, and in the most recent photos I see the pony tail is gone, but the beard, the long, gray, full beard, an enigmatic blend of wisdom, counter-culture, and liberty shines in resplendent display.

He organized an Alpine Club recognized by the UIAA, sponsoring the likes of Todd Skinner to competitive climbing events. He served on the board of the NRA, too, but quit in disgust of what seemed to be self-serving elitists (just like East Coast climbers, yea?). He fought federal regulations and won.

Yes, he was a visionary. A mentor. And a friend.

More than that, he was a model of a man.

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