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 firstname.lastname@example.org and get the full details for the 2012 Alaska Cross.
It looks like the best new route to come out in years.