Copper Basin 90, 2012Here a quick report on the Copper Basin 90.
Gerry and Darcy arrived early Thursday morning at my place, dogs loaded. We threw my junk in the truck and headed for Alaska. Part of the plan was to stop at my place in Paxson, so I can get my warm winter cloths and most of my gear I would need for the Yukon Quest. After leaving Delta Junction south, the wind started to pick up and driving became a real challenge. It peaked around Summit Lake, where we could not longer see the road and I walked in front of the truck for a couple of hundred yards. Getting my stuff in Paxson was easier said than done, it was even windy down in the valley, nobody had been in my yard in many months and it took quite a bit of digging to open up the workshop. Luckily the oil monitor fired up and despite Gerry being there, we had a warm night in the cabin. First thing in the morning we headed to Glennallen to deliver out food drops. What a mess we had in the trailer, more or less all due to my Quest stuff piled in there.
Food Drops done we headed for the Caribou Hotel for a much needed nap. Between dropping dogs and feeding, we enjoyed quite a few good meals ourselves. In the mushers meeting at night trail reports sounded o.k., although I knew from Heidi Sutter that previous attempts to open the trail between Meiers and Sourdough had been unsuccessful. This was a big field with 53 mushers and my starting position 46 everything but ideal. Gerry left 1.5 hrs ahead of me, we sure had enough time between hookup for 2 teams. I had Wrangell and Paula in lead. All Males but Stevie and Carl had foxtails for protection, as well as “ chicken feet gaitors “ on Wrangell, Drum and Sanford. Thanks to Darcy´s and Alex´s help the start went smooth. Leaving Chisto the trail had a nice firm base to it, specially considering that some 45 teams had been over it. About 2 hrs in the run, that started to change, and the first big holes appeared. Passing teams was a real challenge, with the snow being deep on both sides of the trail. I replaced Wrangell with Drum and passing went a bit more smooth. At one point I had a whole team turn into mine, quite the mess. Short after that, I came upon a team with loose dogs all over, of which 2 ended up chasing me all the ways to Postys. I tried to catch them, but they were too shy. On the next stretch to Excelsior Creek I pretty much gave up on passing, as the resulting tangles would take up more time than simply staying behind. Excelsior Creek was dry and it took me 4 hrs to get there, a very normal runtime. Going over the “ hump “ I passed a few more teams, as well as down on the Gakona River. Boy did it get cold there in a hurry. Teams were snaking back on forth on the river, avoiding all open water and we had a dry crossing. MUCH appreciated. It was obvious that the trail breakers had spend a lot of time on this trail and did a great job. Going over the 8 miles connecting to the pipeline was a challenge. Drifts and deep holes made for some slow going. I was happy with the teams performance as we went along. Joar Leifson no 48 passed me about halfway to the pipeline and we both started catching a few more teams. Even the pipeline trail was slow, but well defined. Arriving in Paxson we were assigned a miserable parking spot. With each step I would sink in over my knees. Although it was not real windy, there was a steady down valley breeze. There was quite a bit confusion about straw and where the food drop was. 15 minutes after arrival I still had no straw and the dogs were not resting very comfortably. At least our handlers were allowed to bring us the fooddrop, as they seemed to know where it was. As it became appreant the originally designed parking spot was much to small to hold the large number of teams and was full after 20 teams had arrived. Their spot was nice and sheltered. Trying to get water was the next challenge. In the checkers hut, was a big drum, but no water in it. One 45 gallon drum. 50 teams. We are required to take a 3 gal cooker, according to my math, that water trum is empty after 15 teams have arrived. The usual water spot at the lodge had no hose. In the kitchen Wiley, Terry and Crew were busy cooking up a storm, but I finally got some water.
Back at the team I was horrified to see mega chicken feet on Stevie and Carl. I obviously screwed up and did not notice those during the run. The deep sugar snow had shaved all their hair off. Not good. 2 of Gerry´s main dogs. All the other 10 dogs luckily were fine. I was for sure going to put gaitors on all dogs upon leaving here, as on Drum, Wrangell and Sanford, who seem to be prone to that problem, the gaitors had done the trick.
Up in the lodge I managed to get almost 1.5 hrs of sleep under a table in the dining room and after a meal of chicken tenders headed back to the team. It was noticeably cooler and the thermometer read 30 below Celsius. After putting gaitors and booties on all dogs I decided to just run Drum in his special coat, which took me some time to figure out. Everybody else had “ windspoilers “ or foxtails for cold protection. Leaving Paxson I had a hard time. Darcy had left to go to Meiers and thankfully a guy named Elliot , a friend of Bonnie and Jim helped me out. But no checkers or volunteers in sight and I had no idea where to go. Good thing I kind of know the layout and finally found my way through a second doglot back onto the mail trail.
Needless to say I did not leave after exactly 4hrs as I had intended. Originally I had planned to stay 6 hrs plus my start time differential, but after having to deal with that many passes and some poor trail, I cut the rest short to get a bit better trail ahead of me. I kept Drum and Paula in lead and they both did very well finding their way out of Paxson. The team was really moving on Paxson Lake and much to my dismay it was getting colder, near 40 below. I was debating what to do. Stop and put coats on all dogs, or wait till we get in the hills past Meiers, which is what I decided to do.
Checking in and out of Meiers went smooth, thanks to Doug Vollman for leading my team on the out trail. Short after leaving Meiers Lake I missed a right hand turn and went straight. Turning the team around resulted in a nice tangle which I used to put more dog coats on the front dogs. Also despite the chicken gaitors, Stevie and Carl had collected snow and ice again, and I decided to put all gaitors inside the booties. A painful and slow exercise. A team approached from behind just as we got going again. Gerry´s dogs are really strong uphill and I did not have to work up a sweat going up the hill. The temperature climbed to minus 25 Celsius again, nice… I knew that would not stay long, latest at the Gulkana River it would be cold again. The team from behind was Aliy Zirkle who passed me smoothly. Running alongside the Gulkana River is a real roller roaster ride, till we finally spill out onto the River. The trail had become noticeably worse, with big holes where snowmachines had become stuck. Next thing I had some snowmachines come my way head on passing. What the ???? Than I saw a toboggan with trail markers discarded next to the trail and knew that combination could mean nothing good. Sure enough a few hundred yards later I stopped behind Aliy who simply said: “ We ran out of trail “. Somewhat hoping she was joking I took care of them team, dished out a wetsnack and put dog coats on all the remaining dogs further back in the team. Sure enough after I was done there was no movement. I walked up a few teams, to see what was going on. We were stalled out. I went back to the dogs, and tried to make each dog bit nicer rest spot with stomping out holes in the deep snow. Than Judy Currier arrived behind me and I relayed the message that we were all piled up. I worked my way up further in the line of teams until I came upon Brent Sass and Tom Lesatz having a nice big bonfire. Up the trail I could see the glow of another fire. In the distance was the whine of a snowmachine trying to make it up a hill. That were Darrin and Bruno, as well as John Schandelmeier who gave it a go of punching in the trail ahead. I went back to Curt Perrano´s Sled where him and Aliy had started a fire. A while later John came back and informed us that we were all going to turn round and go back to Meiers. I like to point out, that there was no wind at all, the trees were snowladen. It was also not 50 below, contrary to what was said on the CB 300 website. I am not sure why they wrote what they did, as all that did was worry the hell out of our family and fans who were following online from far away. There was no danger at any time to us and the dogs. We simply ran out of trail. Aliy really took charge of the situation and convinced the newly arriving teams to turn around, which went smoother for some than for others. By now we were around 20 teams in total stuck on a narrow snowmachine trail. Quite the sight. A line of headlights worked their way back through a beautiful clear night. With so many teams it was quite a bit stop and go. Upon arriving back in Meiers I was glad to see Darcy had arrived with the truck and we loaded up the dogs. Needless to say it was a busy and confusing place, with teams also still arriving from Paxson too, where at the same time 20 teams return from the Sourdough trail. Somehow it all worked itself out. Gerry arrived about an hour behind me, as he had to wait for yet more teams to turn around. A few hours later the race was cancelled and the Copper Basin 300 came to an early end. A Copper Basin 90....
Why the trail was not in? Well, there could be much discussion on that now. It is a HUGE undertaking to put in 300 miles of trail in some very remote country. There is unusually high snowfall this winter, not only in Valdez and Cordova, the Copper Valley got its fair share. A huge thanks goes out to all the volunteers, specially Darrin and Bruno who had spend countless days out on the trail in the weeks leading up to the race. Darrin sacrificed running the Copper Basin himself. But ultimately, same as a dogteam is only as good as its weakest dog, the trail is only as good as its weakest section.