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M The 2012 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic

by David Chenault

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Article Summary:

The Wilderness Classic, a test of backcountry skills perhaps unequaled in its comprehensive nature, is now in its fourth decade. In accordance with tradition, a new course was selected for this, the eleventh three-year cycle. The route, from Thompson Pass on the Richardson Highway to the Lakina River Bridge near McCarthy, will fit well into the annals of Classic legend. Brutal bushwhacking, thick and continuous even by Classic standards, prompted an attrition rate over 50 percent. Of the seven finishers, four tactfully avoided the worst brush by taking the Wernicke Glacier east to the Tana River, while the three who completed the Bremner bushwhack represent the past, present and future elite of fast-and-light wilderness travel in America.

Fifteen men took the start this year, a number on the small side of usual in the recent past, and reflective of the lamentable yet unsurprisingly small number of women who feature in Classic history. While it enjoys substantial notoriety in certain circles, the Classic has managed to both fly under the radar and remain a largely Alaskan affair, this last fact due both to the expense of traveling from Outside and the difficulty of preparing elsewhere. The Classic's hallmark is true wilderness travel, on routes totally lacking in human influence. As third-place finisher and Classic legend Roman Dial noted, this year's course was in this respect outstanding: his route lacked even a single foot of human constructed trail, while the six other finishers enjoyed better luck (or the fruits of pre-race scouting) and found a few miles of trail through the brush between the Chitina River and the road.


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