By Tony Gorman
For the Star 

Wilderness race sees Valdez contestants

Racers head to McCarthy from Thompson Pass


Valdez Police officers Kalin King and Chris Shumate were looking for excitement this summer and decided to compete in an adventure race. As they were looking around Alaska for challenging events, they considered competing in the Yukon River Quest; a kayak and canoe race down the Yukon River. The two were set to compete in that race until they found an event closer to home.

The Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic kicked off at Thompson Pass Sunday for only the second time in its 31-year history. For the remainder of this week, participants will battle through the brush, rivers, and glaciers - without much help from the “outside.”

King admits he doesn’t know what to expect from the race.

“We’re going to see a lot of beautiful country, I’m sure,” King said. “Just by reading the website it’s going to be miserable and fun at the same time.”

The history and course

The Alaska Wilderness Classic began in 1982. The event has been held on the Kenai Peninsula, the Alaska Range, the Brooks Range, the Talkeetna Mountains, the Tanana-Uplands, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The first race was held from Hope to Homer.

The course was developed by the event’s coordinator, Luc Mehl.

Greg Mills is competing in the event for the third time. He said Mehl wanted something similar to a road-to-road route. So, he chose the Thompson Pass-McCarthy course.

“He knew that people have been in those woods before. There are lots of old mining camps and things like that,” Mills said. “He had never really heard of anyone going from the top of Thompson Pass to McCarthy. There’s no trail.”

The event course has two route options. King and Shumate are taking the bushwhacker route. The route is what it sounds. Those who choose the brush route must slash their way through the brush of the Copper River Valley. Then, they must raft down a series of rivers. The route is 120 miles long.

“I think the main thing is, we basically don’t have any experience with glacier travel,” Shumate said of the team’s decision to go with the bushwhacker route. “If you get through the Bremner Brush, you got a good chance of finishing.”

The end goal

There is no official winner of the race. No prizes are awarded to the top finishers. Just bragging rights.

Participants must complete the routes in less than a week and they are not allowed to use any outside help. They only amenities available to them are food and a satellite phone for emergencies.

Last year, some of the participants did not finish the race because of the routes difficulty. Mills’ team was one of the teams that scratched on the bushwhacker last year.

“We basically ran out of time,” Mills said. “We weren’t going to finish. For me, completing is winning.”

Some racers will choose the glacier route option. For this route, participants must trek up Wernicke Glacier and down Fan Glacier. It is 170 miles. No matter which route the participants take, the finish line is at Lakina Bridge near McCarthy.

This is the second time the within a three-year period the Thompson-McCarthy course is being used. Officials use a course route for three years before choosing another venue. This is to keep the race challenging for racers.


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