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.
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.