They say Alaska is a place of extremes. This ranges from the stark changing of the seasons, to the scale of the wilderness landscapes, and of course, the size of the monolithic mountains. But it also applies to the races – and I’m not talking about Nascar. There’s the Iditarod – a grueling 950 mile dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome, that travels through bitter cold temperatures and sub-arctic, coastal storms. There’s Mount Marathon – a blistering roundtrip run up and down a nearly 3,000 foot high peak, covered in loose rock and scree, and lined with dangerous cliffs. And then there’s the Alaska Wilderness Classic.
Started in the early 1980’s, The Alaska Wilderness Classic is less of a formal race, and more of a grass-roots, community driven adventure challenge. The Classic historically traverses a mountain range, anywhere from 150-250 miles in distance, and the rules are simple: get from point A to Point B unassisted, usually by foot, ski or packraft. Participants are expected to leave minimal impact on the terrain they cross, and are prepared to extract themselves in case of emergency. Although the racers are often-times friends, and checking in with each other throughout the race, it’s a serious event, with potentially high consequences.
And this was the case in the winter of 2020, when Emily Sullivan and her partner, Taylor Bracher, began their journey from the historic mining community of McCarthy, Alaska – to cross the heavily glaciated Wrangell Mountains, en route to Tok, Alaska.
This trip report is made possible with the generous support of The Firn Line Patreon backers.
Special thanks to Emily Sullivan
Produced by Evan Phillips
Editing & Sound Design by Pod Peak
Original Music by Evan Phillips
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