Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic


“Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.”  -Steven Wright

So many things happen to a man alone in the wilderness:  the unspeakable beauty of a mountain pass at dusk, gliding through untouched shimmering snow below silent northern lights, the mental machinations of continuous movement, ascending frozen creek canyons uncertain of pending dead ends, lonesome cold dinners with a view, falling painfully on and through overflow, a snow bivy in blue and gold. Most are not expressible through language.

My eyelids are heavy, the woodstove crackles, and my frostbitten left toes provide an odd sensation of fire and numbness.  They froze during a 70 hour push from Skolai Lake to the Nabesna River, during which I slept for five hours.  The temperature dropped while I struggled across the wide expanse of smooth overflow that was the Chisana river.  I started navigating with the stars, as the mail snowmachine track from last week had disappeared.  Making warmth was difficult–only able to slowly double pole on the slick new ice.  Breath obscured the stars and mountain outlines as my boots froze stiff.  Finally a scratch on the ice–the track into the trees.  At dawn a fire to assess my feet– waxen hard left toes from a failed chemical warmer and blister tape, and two dangling toenails.  A mistake.  Too long without checking.  Resolved to keep them warm and no longer travel from 1am to 5am, I head to Notch Creek.

The wall to wall ice in Cooper Creek Canyon required some improvisation.  Without any traction tools and only half metal edges, I put my skis up, lashed a found bolt to the tip of my boot, wrapped my foam pad around my right arm, and vowed to fall right, purposefully diving down inclines head first, ski tips clattering above my pack.  This got me to snow, and the northern lights pushed me on through the wind to the Nabesna and a boots on bivy.

This was all post Golden Horn, the terrible day long brush and ravine challenge slog above Skolai Creek.

Physical limits where reached, and somehow always surpassed.  Mental alacrity failed [to the point where imaginary companions Hans and Klaus commented on everything in their German accents], but the joy of mountain movement remained.  Five days and ten and a half hours of full and true wilderness adventure.  At least 200 miles of Wrangell Mountain Glory.

I would like to thank organizer Dave Cramer for his dedication and unsurpassed hospitality and Log Cabin Wilderness Lodge for the copious finish line comfort and food.

~ by Scott Hamilton Peters on April 11, 2013.

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