The Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic could be considered “the original adventure race.” It was first held in 1982, seven years before the first Raid Gauloises, thirteen years before the first Eco-Challenge, and twenty years before the first Primal Quest. I’ll add that the Classic could also be considered the only “real” adventure race – today’s most well-known races are really just a prescribed sequence of outdoor sports – and burdensome rules, substantial mandatory gear lists, aid stations and support crews, and numerous checkpoints neutralize much of the “adventure” from these television-oriented events.
The Classic has always been an organic, non-commercialized insider’s race. The race is not coordinated by a formal organization; the race organizer is a volunteer position; there is no dedicated race website or online forum; entry forms are distributed via email to a select group; publicity about the race rarely goes beyond the Anchorage Daily News and a few low-traffic blogs; some portion of the $150 entry fee is always returned to the racers after expenses are paid; there’s no prize money, sponsors, race standings, or official records; and racers are explicitly told before the race, If you get yourself in trouble, you need to get yourself out of trouble. We’re not responsible for you; you are. If you’re not okay with that, don’t come.
One of the most redeeming features of the Classic is the near absence of rules. The information I was given before competing in the 2009 race went something like this: “The 2009 race starts on Sunday, July 26 at 10:00 a.m. at the Gerstle River bridge over the Alaska Highway. Racers must reach the gravel pit located three miles south of McKinley Village on the Parks Highway by Saturday, August 1 at 5:00 p.m. There is one mandatory check-in point at Mile 238 on the Richardson Highway. All racers must be self-propelled and self-contained (i.e. no motorized vehicles or pull/pack animals; and no caches or aid stations), and they must have a satellite phone and either an Alpacka or Sherpa raft (no Sevylors). Mapped roadways are off-limits. See you there, and good luck!”
Race results from the 2009 race (courtesey of Roman Dial’s blog):
“The winners, PJs Chris Robertson and Bobby Schnell teamed up with pro-hiker Andy Skurka, and finished in 3 days and 18 hours at 4 AM on Thursday. Forrest (McCarthy) and I limped in later that night, 7 PM, for a finish time of 4 days, 9 hours. Six hours later (4 days 15 hours) Brad Marden and his Vermont partner Eben Sargent beat Luc Mehl who finished solo, by about 30 minutes. At least a dozen racers dropped out after the initial 40 mile prelude to Donnely. By six o’clock on Saturday Rob Kehrer of Anchorage/Eagle River (perhaps?) finished with Steve Taylor and Forrest Karr, both of Fairbanks. Yesterday, nine full days after the start, John Lapkass limped into McKinley Village on feet he said were the worst they’ve ever been (this after completing 17 Classics), having run out of food, fallen prey to the morass of willows and alders that is the east fork of Dick Creek, inadvertently swum the Wood River, and had the only rain cloud in miles “surgically strike” his drying gear with rain.”
You can find my complete race report at BackpackingLight.com, and here’s a video:
Tags: Andy Skurka