2013 Winter Wilderness Classic, Wrangell Mountains

I joined Josh Mumm, Eben Sargent, and John Sykes for the ~170 mile route from McCarthy to Tok-Cutoff via President’s Chair. We slimmed our packs to 30 lbs each, which included minimal glacier gear. The weather and snow conditions were great. John and I were able to coast behind the trailbreaking power of Josh and Eben. It freed John to take care of his blistered feet and me to pull out the camera more often than usual. We averaged ~40 miles per day.

Lined up in McCarthy
Lined up in McCarthy
Madshus dominates the field
Madshus dominates the field
Scott Peters
Scott Peters
Josh Mumm, John Sykes, Nizina River Skate
Josh Mumm, John Sykes, Nizina River Skate
Scott Peters, Josh Mumm, Nizina Glacier
Scott Peters, Josh Mumm, Nizina Glacier
Nizina Glacier Cave
Nizina Glacier Cave
Nizina Ice
Nizina Ice
Eben Sargent, Nizina Glacier
Eben Sargent, Nizina Glacier
John Sykes, Nizina Glacier
John Sykes, Nizina Glacier
President's Chair
President’s Chair
Josh Mumm
Josh Mumm
Josh Mumm, melt break
Josh Mumm, melt break
North side of President's Chair
North side of President’s Chair
Josh Mumm
Josh Mumm
John Sykes, Eben Sargent
John Sykes, Eben Sargent
Eben Sargent, HMG mid
Eben Sargent, HMG mid
John Sykes, Nebesna Glacier meltwater channel
John Sykes, Nebesna Glacier meltwater channel
The Dream Team
The Dream Team: Josh, John, Eben
Nebesna meltwater channel
Eben Sargent, "No Go"
Eben Sargent, “No Go”
Eben Sargent, Ice Boulders
Eben Sargent, Ice Boulders
Josh Mumm, John Sykes, Ice Boulders
Josh Mumm, John Sykes, Ice Boulders
John Sykes, Nebesna meltwater channel
John Sykes, Nebesna meltwater channel
Nebesna Glacier
Nebesna Glacier
Mountains in Mountains
Mountains in Mountains
Noyes Mtn Pass
Noyes Mtn Pass
Josh Mumm, Eben Sargent, Noyes Pass
Josh Mumm, Eben Sargent, Noyes Pass
Eben Sargent, Skate to Finnish
Eben Sargent, Skate to Finnish
Beware of dog!
Log Cabin Inn, Beware of Dog!

link to Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article

I would get frustrated feeling that I don’t contribute if Josh Mumm wasn’t so humble about his strength. Josh broke ~80% of the trail, Eben Sargent rounded out the remaning 20%. John Sykes and I just had to embrace it and enjoy the carpet ride. I’ve always thought it would be smart to do a classic course a few days after the racers have passed through, and that is pretty much what it felt like. John used the time to take care of blisters, I pulled out my camera more than ever before.

It was awesome to travel with these guys again, a dream team. We’ve logged 100’s of miles together and often had to remind ourselves that we were on a Classic, not just romping through the snow like usual. Much of our conversation was about features that reminded us of previous trips together. We didn’t actually talk much, we take breaks on our own schedule so that someone (Josh) is always breaking trail, and at night we have our own stoves and food so that melting and resting are as efficient as possible.

We slept well, ate well, and finished in good shape. The scariest part of the trip was the ferocious dog YUKON snarling at us from the lodge. The course was just what Josh wanted, a challenge, but much easier on his body that the summer Classic. He took an accidental ‘ultralight’ approach by forgetting his parka at the start and breaking his water bottle on day 1. John, now at the ripe age of 23, is still thrilled to learn new tricks, figure out what foods work for him, etc. Next on his list will be blister prevention. Eben pulled two huge trail breaking pushes on days 3 and 4, finally giving himself the chance to work up a sweat.

Blue skies and warm temperatures at the start had everyone in good spirits. The starting 16 was filled with good friends and big smiles. Andrew Cyr and Aaron Wells returned from Fairbanks, this time teaming with workhorses Danny Powers and Tyler Johnson. Tyler bailed early, but the Fairbanks crew charged on, putting in a 22-hour push to finish. Danielle Pratt pulled Paige Brady in for Danielle’s third attempt on the Wrangells course. A crevasse fall and dislocated shoulder thwarted her; Paige’s strength and Dave Cramer’s incredible organization got them to the Tok emergency room after one sleepless night on ice. McCarthy guide Scott Peters traveled with our crew effortlessly despite being on slower skis and carrying more weight. We split paths where he went up the Skolai drainage to complete the rest of the course solo. Other newcomers Katie Strong and John Wros accomplished the President’s Chair route; Katie is the first woman to finish in the six years that I’m familiar with. It is rumored that she didn’t even get blisters. Team Heavy, Rob Kehrer and Greg Mills, returned true to form, but without beer, so I guess that isn’t actually true to form. I think Chris Zwolinski travelled with Team Heavy, but I’m not sure.

The highlight of the course for me was descending the Nebesna Glacier via a meltwater channel. The snow cover was very thin, and not having crampons we didn’t consider travelling down the bare glacier ice. The meltwater channel pinned out several times, but travelling within its walls of blue ice was spectacular.

Gear: Madshus Glittertind and Voss skis dominated the field, and six of the starters had Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs.

11 Comments

  1. Nice photos and write up Luc! Thanks for the geology, photography, and wilderness classicography lessons.

  2. 1. Very nice. I am really looking forward to the video. Glad you had good weather (as I did in Norway).

    2. “He took an accidental ‘ultralight’ approach by forgetting his parka at the start and breaking his water bottle on day 1.” I think he also ripped his orange jacket … ^^

    3. Btw. … was this a race and, if yes, why does noone publish the sign in sheet ( http://www.scsalaska.com/ski/ )? Also no Newsminer news. I really looked every day …

    1. Hi Volker!
      1. Global good weather! What a treat!
      2. It was actually Eben’s jacket that Josh ripped.
      3. Yes a race, sort of. The Winter Classic is more about completion than anything else. Every team would stop to help another team in need. The final results aren’t out yet because three guys are still on the course. I expect FNM to have an article today or tomorrow.
      4. See you here for it next year?

      -Luc

      1. “See you here for it next year?”

        Yes, if you drag me behind in a pulk sled ^^ More seriously, a part of me would indeed like to participate in the Summer or Winter Classic (although I am certainly much weaker and slower than you top racers). Moreover, I identified a terrific route through the Tasnuna brush that might save an hour or so (if there were no snow patches left next year). However, my job would make it extremely difficult to properly prepare for and participate in such a race. And without proper preparations, I would only humiliate myself. But maybe sometime… you’ll never know.

      2. I wouldn’t place much weight on the ‘race’ component. With few exceptions everyone packs according to their expected finish time. It is more like using the logistics help and comfort of having like-minded friends around to travel difficult terrain and experiment with cutting corners with gear and comfort.

    1. Greg- anyone can bring beers to the start of a race… it takes a real TH to brew those beers. Oh wait… you did.

      PS. Glad you guys are ok; bummer about the late storm!

  3. my coat was ripped before the start, i just tricked josh into carrying it for 3 days then re-claimed it when the nights got cold. the night shots in the video came out great!

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