View Full Version : 100-mile race (maybe?), White Mts, AK

John B
12-10-2009, 09:24
For those who have been following the growing tension between trail race organizers and various federal land management agencies, this article illustrates some key questions: what is 'wilderness'; who gets to be in it, for how long, and why; and, who decides who can and can't, what are the criteria used, and who establishes the criteria?

This issue has also found its way onto the PCT (Oregon PCT section, the Timberline Marathon) and the AT section in Dolly Sods (Highlands Sky 40).

From Fairbanks Daily News Miner, 12-10-09

http://assets.matchbin.com/secure/4bdcc0ed0071665557cb6edde94fe3dc/4b20ed1b/sites/635/assets/RaceWindow2.jpg (http://assets.matchbin.com/secure/4bdcc0ed0071665557cb6edde94fe3dc/4b20ed1b/sites/635/assets/RaceWindow2.jpg)

Ed Plumb, the guy who thought it up, thinks a 100-mile ski/bike/foot race in the White Mountains National Recreation Area in late March is a great idea.

So do a lot of other people, it seems. It took only three weeks to hit the cap of 50 racers after Plumb announced the race through an e-mail and Web site last month. As of Tuesday, there were nine people on a waiting list to get in the race.

The Bureau of Land Management, however, doesn’t know what to think about having a 100-mile human-powered race in the popular 2-million-acre recreation area 50 miles north of Fairbanks, which is why the federal agency completed an environmental assessment of the race and is taking public comment before deciding whether or not to grant Plumb a permit to have it.

“We have such a constituency built up out there over the years that we wonder how the users are going to feel about this potential race going on,” Collin Cogley, an outdoor recreation planner with BLM in Fairbanks, said, explaining why the agency is seeking public input. “We don’t want (the race) to impact other users.”

Neither does Plumb.

“I’m a regular user out there and totally respect that,” he said.

The race would take place March 20-22 with a maximum of 50 entrants in three divisions — skiing, cycling and running. The proposed route is a 100-mile loop beginning and ending at the Wickersham Dome Trailhead at Mile 28 of the Elliott Highway.

The BLM completed an environmental assessment for the event with three basic alternatives. One would allow race organizers to use three public-use cabins as checkpoints; another would require organizers to use Arctic Oven or wall tents as checkpoints instead of public-use cabins; and one wouldn’t allow the race.

BLM is taking comment on the race through Jan. 7 and should make a decision whether to allow the race a week or two after that, Cogley said.

Agency concerns

Reserving public-use cabins for the race is the main concern for BLM.

“Since the inception of the White Mountains (National Recreation Area) it’s been institutionalized to keep cabin availability as open as possible,” Cogley said of the 11 public-use cabins built along the trail system. “We don’t want to set a precedent for people getting special rights and uses to cabins.”

The weekend the race is scheduled is one of the busiest of the year for cabin rentals, with an occupancy rate of about 80 percent, he said.

The only race currently held in the White Mountains is a small event run by the Alaska Skijoring and Pulk Association on a Saturday in March from the Wickersham Dome Trailhead to Lee’s Cabin and back, Cogley said. That 14-mile race, which also requires a permit, usually attracts a field of about a dozen skijorers.

In addition to displacing traditional cabin users and increasing traffic on the trails, BLM identified human waste as another issue. Outhouses at the cabins, if used, aren’t designed to accommodate large groups. Increased use could leave the outhouses so full other users wouldn’t be able to use them, Cogley said.

“If we have 50 people using one outhouse there’s going to be significant impact,” Cogley said.

As a result, the BLM required a portable toilet system to be set up at each checkpoint for racers to use in it’s alternatives.

Perfect setting

The idea for a race in the White Mountains is a no-brainer, Plumb said. There’s an established trail system, it’s close to Fairbanks, the race course is a 100-mile loop instead of an out-and-back format, and the public-use cabins make for perfectly situated checkpoints, he said.

There are only two other similar races in the state — the Susitna 100, a 100-mile ski/bike/foot race in February in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, and the Iditarod Invitational, a 350-mile human-powered race on the Iditarod Trail from Knik to McGrath in late February.

The White Mountains course would be more challenging than the Susitna 100 course, said Plumb, a veteran of both the Susitna 100 and Iditarod Invitational.

“In the White Mountains you’ve got a variety of terrain — ice, rocks, steep ups and downs,” said Plumb, noting that there is about 7,000 feet of vertical climbing involved in the course. “Having the hazards and stuff to deal with make it a lot more interesting.”

If BLM decides not to allow the use of public-use cabins for checkpoints, Plumb said he probably won’t go ahead with the race.

“Logistically that would make things a lot more complicated, plus it would really tap our resources,” he said. “That would mean a lot more stuff to haul out and set up.”

Lots of interest

Even though he didn’t have a permit to hold the race yet, BLM let Plumb put up a Web site advertising the race last month to see what kind of interest it would generate. Plumb was inundated with calls and e-mails.

Within three weeks the sign-up list hit the cap of 50 entrants, with two-thirds of those (34) coming from Fairbanks. There are 15 entries from Anchorage and one from Juneau.

There are 29 skiers entered, 17 cyclists and four runners.

The list of racers signed up for the race read like a Who’s Who of Alaska’s top winter endurance athletes.

• Cyclist Peter Basinger of Anchorage, a two-time winner in the 350-mile Iditarod Invitational.

• Fairbanks cyclist Jeff Oatley, the defending Iditarod Invitational champ and perennial top 5 finisher.

• Fairbanks cyclist Rocky Reifenstuhl, the patriarch of winter extreme racing in Alaska who has won the Iditarod Invitational and been a top contender in other similar races for more than 20 years.

• Fairbanks skier Ned Rozell, a veteran of the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic, Iditarod Invitational, and Susitna 100, was the first racer to sign up for the race.

“I think it’s a neat idea,” Rozell, who takes several trips into the Whites each winter, said.

Reifenstuhl would love to see the race become a reality, in part because it would save him gas money by not having to drive south to compete in one of the two Southcentral races, which he has been doing for 23 years.

“I think it would be great to have a serious human powered race in the Fairbanks area,” said Reifenstuhl, whose wife, Gail Koepf, also is signed up to ski in the race.

The White Mountains are the perfect place for it, said Reifenstuhl, a regular user.

“It’s got places that can be turned into good checkpoints and the probability is the trails should be awesome for running, biking and skiing,” he said.

12-10-2009, 13:53
So is the main question just the use of the cabins? Or is it also the number of people interested in the race? Or the affect of having such a concentrated group in the area?

I know nothing about this proposed race or this area, but I am curious.