My main motivation for the Classics is to travel through large swathes of the landscape, so I was a little disappointed to return to the Brooks Range for the third year without a new route option. But John Pekar flew his mother-in-law up to help take care of baby Sage, so we crammed into his truck with Roman Dial and Thomas Bailly for the drive north.
Within the first mile of the course I realized the supportable crust on the arctic plain would probably allow us to travel to Anaktuvuk over the plain. We’d never really considered it before- the snow surface was a breakable crust the past two years. John and I had a quick conversation and made the decision to head west instead of up the Itkillik River with everyone else. We didn’t have a map, but with the mountains forming a wall to the south it seemed pretty straightforward to navigate. Actually, at the end of the race I discovered that I did have a map, it had felt too cold to check during the race (-22 F at the start).
We covered 200 miles in just under 4 days, sleeping 2 or 3 hours a night. My pack weighed 28 lbs at the start of the race. We carried warmer sleeping bags, no tent, and less fuel than in the previous years.
Though the northern route was harder than the standard Peregrine Pass route, it was awesome to travel 80 miles of new landscape. The light and sunsets on the plains were spectacular, and we saw hundreds of caribou. The plains were cold… we both had thermometers, and they both bottomed out at -20 F, so the low temperatures probably reached -25 to -30 F.
John’s stove didn’t even pretend to start at those temperatures, and I had to warm my canister to get it started. Once started I had Eben’s heat transfer tabs to heat the canister. I was missing one tab so I used my spoon as a third. Both nights on the plains I had to sleep with the canister for a spell to get it warm enough to fire up, then I’d wake up and boil water for our meal and hot water cozy. There wasn’t any open water or overflow, so we had to melt snow. We hadn’t brought enough fuel to melt much snow, so we were a little nervous and very dehydrated the second day. I drank one gallon of water in Anaktuvuk when we made the mandatory check-in.
One advantage of going over the plains is that everything felt so much warmer once we headed south. At one point we both commented on how warm it was and I checked my thermometer to see that it was actually +5 F.
Skiing through the Valley of Precipices and Gates of the Arctic was as good as I hoped. That really should go on the ‘life list’ for folks that love to move fast on skis. It was fun to reminisce about our night huddled in the rocks there last year, but I couldn’t identify where Brad, Eben, and I had bivvied.
We had a fresh snowmachine track to follow down the Koyukuk all the way to Wiseman. Neither of us had skate skied much this winter, but our legs held up and we got to Arctic Getaway Bed & Breakfast in just under 4 days. Bernie, Uta, Julia, and Leo were amazing hosts again. I’ll be sad not to make the trip up next year to visit them, but I’m looking forward to the new race course.
Derek Collins, Andrew Cyr, and Forrest McCarthy finished the course that same day, and looked fresh enough to spend a few more days out there. Thomas Bailly and Roman Dial stopped at Aanaktuvuk with broken ski poles and blisters, Yoshi cut the corner to skip Anaktuvuk, and Dave Cramer and Aaron Wells had stomach bugs and skied shorter versions of the course.
Thanks to Dave Cramer and Summit Consulting for their incredible effort and sponsorship of the event.