Valdez men scratch in two days as did half the entrants
Going into this year’s Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic, organizers had an idea of what to expect from the trail. For the second year in a three-cycle, the event’s route from Thompson Pass to McCarthy proved to be one of the most difficult in its 31-year history.
Just ask Valdez men Kalin King and Chris Shumate. The duo from the Valdez Police Department competed in the event for the first time. They expected several challenges such as brush and high waters, but didn’t prepare for unseasonably hot temperatures.
“For me personally, it was the temperature,” Shumate said. “We weren’t carrying any water. We were just planning on filling up here and there with some of the clear water streams. When we got on the dunes, it really zapped us.”
Twelve competitors started Sunday from the Blueberry Lake Campground near Thompson Pass. The goal was to make it to the Lakina Bridge near McCarthy within a week. Each team could choose from two routes. There was the bushwhacker route, which is mostly rafting and clearing brush for 120 miles or the glacier route, which features trekking across glaciers on a 170-mile path.
Shumate and King chose the bushwhacker route due to their experience with camping and hunting in the area. The Valdez team’s first challenge was to cross the Tasnuna River drainage. They had planned to cross it high. But, it was higher than they had thought. When the river was a little lower, the team made another attempt to cross it and head to the Copper River.
They made it to the river only to find that other participants also had a difficult time with the Tasnuna. Some had flipped their rafts in their attempts. One other team had lost its raft and gear. The Valdez team helped the others dry out their clothes. The next day, the team paddled 20 miles down the Tasnuna River to the Copper River. It took them two hours to cross the 1 ½ -mile wide Copper River.
Then, they trekked across the Bremner Dunes. Shumate described that leg of the route as being “un-Alaska” like.
“It was literally like being in the Sahara Desert,” Shumate said. “It had to have been 95 degrees and several miles of sand. You would have thought you were definitely not in Alaska.”
An injury ended the team’s Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic experience during its attempt through the Bremner Brush.
“I had pulled a muscle in my left hip. I had trouble raising my left foot,” Shumate said. “We were slow, going so slow at that point. We felt we needed to come up with a different plan.”
The team decided to salvaged their trip by going down the Bremner River, to Copper River, and on to Cordova. They chartered a floatplane back to Valdez. Shumate and King participated in the event for only two days.
Overall, Shumate said he enjoyed the experience and hopes to do it again. When he and King checked in with the event organizers, half of the participants were out of the event. As of Sunday, no competitors had finished the route.