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.