Brad Marden and I returned to the Brooks Range for another Galbraith Lake-Anaktuvuk-Wiseman Winter Classic. On the 2010 course Brad’s toe bars ripped out of his boots, yet, amazingly, he never considered not finishing. John Pekar couldn’t make it this year, sadly ending our 3-year partnership. Fortunately Eben Sargent was able to get time off work, so I had his company to look forward too. More discussion about the course below the pictures.
My best gear upgrade this year was switching to big sloppy liners in my modified Dynafit boots. Thomas Bailly had recommended lace-up intuition liners, and the only liners available were 30.0, when even 29.0 would have been large. The lace-up was really nice (except that all of the webbing lace loops ripped out- Intuition says they are changing that part of the design) as it firmed up the boot when pulled tight and allowed me to drive off a lot of moisture by loosening them up during down-time. The outcome was blister-free feet after 200 miles. Awesome!
I also skied waxable skis for the first time. I inherited a pair of e99′s when Mike and Carolyn moved out of town, but I broke one on an Arctic-Indian training day the weekend before the race! I bought the Madshus Glittertind ski because it had the same dimensions as the e99′s. I loved the extra glide I got, and it was essential for keeping up with Brad and Eben on the skate-ski sections. The other guys were on the Madshus Voss. Both the Glittertind and the Voss are excellent skis, I’ll never use fishscales again.
Because I wanted to see a new part of the mountains and didn’t want to suffer through the Tinayguk meanders that were so hard on us in 2010, we opted to double back from Anaktuvuk to go through the Gates of the Arctic on the Koyukuk River. We were very lucky to have blasted up and over Ernie Pass before the wind started ripping, which meant that we had the wind at our backs returning through the pass en route to the Gates. We weren’t able to find any shelter from the wind, and had agreed to travel without a tent because conditions had been so calm the previous year. We pushed into the night until travelling on the river ice in the dark felt too risky. The tailwind had us moving at ~20 miles per hour at times. I was up front because I had the brightest headlamp, scanning the horizon of river ice for anything that would work as a shelter… when the gradient got too steep we edged our way to the river bank and found 2 large rocks to curl behind. I’m pretty sure I slept 2 or 3 hours, Brad didn’t sleep at all. To keep the spindrift out of my bag I closed the opening to about 2 cm across and pressed it up against the rock. Brad hollered out in the morning that he needed to start moving, so off we went! The ice and wind both died down after 5 hours or so, and we had a glorious break that afternoon in the warmth of the sun. We also got to travel with Thomas Bailly, Miles Raney, and Doug Jewell, which was a treat.
The rest of the course was a breeze thanks to the trail-breaking ‘Denali Ladies Ski Club‘ that finished in Wiseman half a day ahead of us. The club, five strong and fun women from the McKinley Village area, had been out for 2 weeks, laughing their way through the heavy knee deep snow. When we caught up with them at Wiseman they were still in trip-mode, talking in British accents and making tons of jokes that no one else could understand. It was really cool to have five babes applauding us at the end of the race!