Classic carnage

“I killed the classic.” -Luc Mehl

“Yeah, but I don’t know what we achieved.” -Josh Mumm, in response to my congratulations on a “fine achievement”

Luc was speaking, the other day after his finish in McCarthy, not about the latest in his increasingly gaudy portfolio of adventures, but about the abominable difficulty of this year’s route. It will well fit the tradition of Wilderness Classic legend. What follows are the facts as I know them. Some may be wrong. And the important details will have to wait for a more opportune time and place.  Those not already informed should consult the race page and maps at Luc’s website.

Luc and Josh finished yesterday at 830 am, for the win and in a time of 3 days and 22.5 hours. Luc said he hopes to never do anything that hard ever again. Josh slept almost the whole way back to Anchorage, lying on a table in the back of Luc’s van. His head occasionally rattling against the door on the McCarthy road was not nearly enough to disturb him.

Todd Tumalo and Gerard Ganey finished the Wernicke to Tana Glacer route at 2pm yesterday, taking second place in 4 days and 4 hours. They ran everything from the start of floatable water below the glacier all the way to the Chitina, including Tana Canyon. Todd looked impressively fresh as he swatted mosquitoes and drank soda at the Lakina Bridge.

Roman Dial finished solo sometime last night. A stack of recent trips and an impending real estate deal had him begging off, but he showed up at Thompson Pass Saturday evening. The lure of new terrain was too much.

John Sykes and Mike Loso finished the glacier route some time last night as well. They intended to portage Tana Canyon, and presumably did so. On the ice they traveled as a unit with Tumalo and Ganey through up to a foot of fresh snow which fell on Tuesday.

Previous winners Todd Kasteler, Tyler Johnson, and Danny Powers bailed by floating the Copper to Cordova. I assume, but cannot confirm, that bad brush had a lot to do with this.

Team Heavy (Rob Kerr and partners whose names I cannot recall, forgive me) flew out of the Bremner Dunes yesterday with doctor and “jedi of pain” John Lapkass, who holds the record for finishes. I presume similar reasons here as well.

I flew out of the Bremner/Little Bremner confluence Monday evening, enjoying a ride from Paul Claus and his Super Cub. I got an armchair view of the amazing alpine country and clearwater rivers in the mountains, and the abysmal bush in the Little Bremner drainage. I had alternately traveled with Roman, Josh, and Luc through the previous day and night. Five miles from the beginning of the brush near the dunes up to the first clear side channel which led to the Little Brem took eight solid hours of work. The bugs were awful almost the whole time. Roman and I camped and napped from 8 to 10 am Monday morning, but soon after moving again I realized that this year, and perhaps this whole deal, was not for me. Lack of psyche, creeping fear, disinclination to go solo, and a tweaked tendon or ligament (I think) in the top of my left foot from one of the many falls in the brush is a story which will told in full next week. I’ve amused myself since by picking Devil’s Club thorns out of my hands, arms, and shins.


15 responses to “Classic carnage”

  1. Clayton Mauritzen Avatar
    Clayton Mauritzen

    Bummer. I was rooting for you.

  2. Bad luck Dave. Still looking forward to hearing the post mortem though.

  3. Sounds like one tough course. Thanks for the update.

  4. Wow, Dave. I’m glad you’re ok… or at least made the right decision to come out before things got worse.

    This year’s race hits home for me in many ways. I try a lot of big stuff, myself, and often times bail on my trips… for the same reasons/experiences that all the racers experienced this year, or so it sounds. In a way, to hear the stories, suffering, and that so many people didn’t finish, makes me feel better about my route vision, decision making, and coping with backing out on so many of my own trips for many legit reasons.

    When I heard of this route, I thought, ‘No F’ing way!’ I had a real good idea it would be what it sounds like it was, especially based on the fact that the route had essentially never been done/documented before and the nature of southcentral AK & it’s brush & wet climate… Good routes in AK are documented or have been done before and not too many people go off-trail in southern Alaska like we do in the north.

    I’ve been in a real internal debate lately with the whole epic adventure/far-fast-light/remote country view of trips. I love going far, fast, light, and remote, and have done on many trips, but I’ve also experienced A LOT of discomfort, risk, suffering, etc, like most similar-style adventurers have… and the only thing I can hang on to is asking, ‘Why?’ Why not enjoy it more? Why not be more comfortable? etc…

    It’s brought me to wanting to do big things that are simply easier or that involve less discomfort. Maybe Skurka has the right idea in regards to keeping it simple with just his own feet and a packraft, along the easiest routes through the country… for example, not complicating things to the point of misery or failure, or doing something like this year’s Classic simply because it’s challenging or hasn’t been done.

    I can’t help but looking at a map and thinking about how quickly I can cover a big distance. Then, I wonder if I could fatbike it? Or this, or that… and that’s where the fun is but that’s also where the misery, discomfort, and failure reside. But, if you do complete the trip, it’s where there’s the most satisfaction & personal reward.

    You say this ‘this whole deal’ may not be for you… maybe we share the same thoughts, but I’m sure there’s a happy medium that we’re bouncing back and forth over. We want to do this type of stuff, but we also go out there for the same reason anyone goes into the outdoors – to have FUN. We mustn’t forget that, although everyone’s decision of what is fun is different.

    I don’t know… it’s a dichotomy I’m having a hard time with and somewhat upset about in my own head lately.
    I’d love to hear your thoughts… and Luc’s… and Roman’s… and ANYONE else’s for that matter!

    Be well, Dave. Heal up! And big props for at least trying this year’s race.

  5. I am looking forward to hearing about it. Let me know when you’re home I’ll take you out for dinner or drinks!

  6. Congratulations on your attempt and knowing when to pull the plug. There is always next year and other adventures. If you have not seen it Ganey has a nice video online about his experience -> Some burly water..

  7. Thanks for the quick report! And for scouting the route ;)

    “abominable difficulty”, “abysmal b[r]ush in the Little Bremner drainage” : maybe I should change plans for my summer vacation …

  8. Josh has it: there’s a reason no one has done this route before. Anyone heading in should be fully aware of that. The glacier route is, as a guide told me at the bar in McCarthy last week, the gentleman’s route. It will be popular next year.

    Josh, we have many of the same thoughts. I’ll get on it tomorrow when I’m caught up on sleep.

  9. Any additional information about the Glacier route would be highly appreciated. Are there many crevasses? Can it be done solo or is it too dangerous?

    1. You could contact Ganey through youtube (video above). They didn’t report much in the way of technical difficulties, but having not been there I cannot say.

      Late in the summer any crevasses would be open, but the Tana would likely be even bigger.

  10. Thanks, Dave. Did you raft the Tasnuna? Noone mentioned this part so I guess it was indeed easy and unremarkable (no log jams etc)?

  11. Sorry. One more question: Did you have the chance to make an aerial photo of the ‘lil Bremner drainage when you flew out? Thanks so much.

  12. The Tasnuna was good. We put in below an unnamed glacial side creek around 850 feet. The first mile or so has some fast water and big waves. After that it stays fast and a bit braided for a while, and is quite enjoyable. The bottom section is flatter and slower, and we had a headwind which was a bit of a drag.

    I didn’t have the camera out for the Little Bremner, Paul and I were looking for Luc and Josh. Steep walls all the way up, thick spruce brush up to at least 2.5k, and a good canyon above where the east fork comes in. It’d be a great fly-in hard whitewater float if the bushwack down from Tebay Lakes wasn’t what it is.

    it should also be noted that Team Heavy floated out the lower Bremner proper, and had a helluva time with shallow water and quicksand. Most of the time one is inclined to think that nature just can’t get that bad. The lower Bremner appears to be one of the exceptions.

  13. Hrhrhr…it’s really hell on earth ;)


    “A good summer trail ascends Bremner River from the Little Brem-
    ner to Golconda Creek. It is on dry ground all the way and offers no
    more difficulties than are usual to mountain trails in new and little
    traveled regions. Horses have never been taken down Bremner
    River below the Little Bremner, for the river flood plain is quicksand
    and the steep mountain slope on the river’s north side is covered with
    thick alders and in places with spruce.”

    Click to access report.pdf


    “The mountain slopes of the Bremner and Little Bremner valleys
    are covered to a considerable height above timber line by a heavy
    growth of alder, which makes climbing extremely difficult and tiresome and in many places renders it impossible
    to travel with a pack horse without first clearing a trail. In favorable localities the alder
    grows to a height of 12 to 15 feet, but the trunks, instead of standing
    erect, run along or near the ground, all commonly leaning in the same
    general direction. Those that grow on slopes lean downhill, being
    bent that way by the weight of snow that covers them during much
    of the year, but even those growing on a level show the same attitude
    and parallelism of trunks. The alders not only obstruct travel but
    hide outcrops and thus make prospecting difficult. Fortunately moss
    is not so plentiful in this region … The devil’s club, however, is
    common, and commands respect from those who have had experience
    with it.”

    Click to access report.pdf


    “After Salmon Creek, no real riffles or rapids; current 2-3 mph. About a mile below Salmon Creek the river leaves its small valley closely flanked by bluffs and ridges and enters glacial flood plain 1/2-2 miles wide with many channels. Most channels very shallow 1-3′ deep and choices sometimes hard got hung up several times.

    On bars much shallow quicksand affectionately known as “quagsuck” (almost). Often hard to land boats and walk around.

    We tried to stop at Little Bremner River confluence to hike up to cabin shown on map at MacCree1 Creek confluence one mile above Bremner. But most of river swings to far side of valley and we were unable to get over to where Little Bremner came in.

    Although we had been following “main” channel along south bank in late p.m., we were unable to find good campsite, although we did fill up water bottle at clear water stream coming off of Bremner Mountain. So, we crossed river to north side and camped on immense, desolate-looking sandbar. Crossing difficult due to downriver winds and very shallow channels – had to drag and line some.

    Beautiful scenery surrounding campsite; Henry Glacier across Copper, Bremner Peak to south, the Peninsula to northwest, mountains upriver – huge dust cloud over Copper caused by upriver winds.

    Vegetation still white spruce with a few birch (no Sitka spruce seen). Lots of alder on islands and shorelines. Clearwater scarce, but found clear pools in sand by camp at edge of river. Firewood scarce.

    One mile below camp Bremner bends sharply south to parallel the Copper. Here scenery spectacular with huge amphitheater of mountains and glaciers. At bend current 3 mph and had just as good luck floating and letting current choose channels as choosing ourselves. Still we got stuck in very shallow spots and had to get out and push off or line through several times. Most channels 6″-1 1/2′ deep. If wind had been blowing would have been tough.

    After lunch about five miles below bend much easier finding good channels -more confined. After 2:30 p.m., headwinds came up and steady, moderate paddling required to make headway in 1-3 mph current, couple places had to get out and line/ drag boats to deeper channel. Channels near confluence not like shown on map-most water goes out across sand flats toward Copper while only very small channel was along east side next to mountain slope.

    We kept in small channel to find suitable camp site -nice sand bar between Bremner and Wernicke Rivers, a little clear water in pools and trickles out of sand bank but we had to rely on water jug filled earlier in day.”


    But maybe..just maybe…the Tebay route is better.

  14. I doubt it. Local word is that warmer winters have seen the alder/club forest ascend and thicken considerably in the last 3 decades.

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