Geoff's big dream

Dark days are coming; really, they're already here. It's the time of year to build up body fat, pray for snow, and start dreaming about 2010. Most of my ideas for next year encompass things that even normal people would consider a fun vacation (ski touring in Banff), local epics (traversing the Juneau Icefield to Atlin, B.C.), and real big-time bike races (TransRockies).

But, so far, nothing truly huge. I admit that I wish I had something big, even in the abstract sense, lined up for 2010 or 2011 — if nothing else, because it might add some depth to this state of flux I feel like I'm drifting through. But, no, now is not the time for that. Now is the time to focus on the bigger picture and let the adventures fall where they may.

I think that's why I'm feeling excited about an ultramarathon that Geoff has been cooking up that he is calling the Tongass 100. It's not particularly new to me (a lot, though certainly not all of the terrain is stuff I've seen). It's not particularly far away (always within about 10 as-the-crow-flies miles from Juneau city limits). It's not even something I could participate in (Someone like me would require three to five days to complete the route, and even then I would call it "fastpacking.") But there's something about it that feels huge; maybe it's just potential - this twinkle of something larger, like when those Iditabike crazies in the '80s looked at the Iditarod Trail and said, "Let's try to ride our bikes on this."

From what I know about 100-mile foot races, the Tongass 100 would be similar to, well, none of them. There would be times racers would be sloshing through shin-deep mud or balancing on slippery wooden planks; others where they would be plodding up or swinging down 60-degree slopes; and then there's the alpine — hand over head scrambles up peaks, crossing massive snowfields, glissading down and repeating over and over and over again. The crux of the route involves the crossing from Nugget Peak to Ptarmigan Ridge. Either Geoff will have to drop the route several thousand feet and ford Lemon Creek (which is a raging river in my opinion), or stay high and cross over the Lemon Glacier, which I've heard has been done by people in running shoes, but still ... glacier. Big, shifting river of ice that tends to be full of large crevasses (usually exposed in summertime).

Of course, this race would be unofficial. It's an insurance nightmare, dangerous in many ways, but oddly doable. People could run this route. It would be one of the toughest 100-milers ever attempted in the U.S., for sure. I wouldn't be surprised if the elevation gain is in the 30,000-35,000-foot range. But it wouldn't be anything like the big climb-fests of the Rockies. Sure, there's no real altitude in Juneau, but what we lack in elevation we make up for in bad trails, treacherous terrain, horrible weather, and sheer remoteness even so close to a populated area.

I would hope my contribution to this race would be to man a checkpoint at a place near Cairn Peak called Camp 17. It would be located between to two huge ridge traverses, where runners would gain an endless string of peaks and a large bulk of their elevation, all without touching any hint of civilization. I would have to backpack in any provisions, over a seven-mile, 5,000-feet-of-climbing hike for me and anyone I could convince to do it. But I envision setting up shop in the unheated quonset hut, rolling out the extra sleeping bags I carried, firing up the camp stove to melt snow for water and filling up a small number of water bottles with some kind of endurance drink. And if I could find a really good friend with a big backpack, there would also be sliced oranges. Runners would drop in after their long traverse of Heinzelman Ridge, summit run over Nugget Peak and crossing of either Lemon Creek or Lemon Glacier. I would hand them a water bottle and a sliced orange and say, "there are only seven more peaks and maybe 10,000 feet of climbing and then a huge drop to sea level before the next aid station." Yes, that would be lots of fun ... for me.

But it is inspiring to watch Geoff dream up this monster, and maybe even talk others into joining him. I hope he pulls it off, and I hope I can somehow be a part of it. So if anyone out there has any crazy ultrarunning aspirations, I encourage you to get in contact with Geoff. It's not about how fast you can do it — it will be amazingly impressive if anyone can even do it, even Geoff, with his hometown advantage and superhuman endurance. But the Tongass 100 may be just crazy enough to become the next big thing.


  1. Sounnds like the band is getting back together.

  2. i dunno about the next big thing. i was serious when i said i'd be stoked to get one person to do it with me... and i suspect if i did, it would be either you or dan.

  3. I'd help you man the checkpoint- and offer to hike the pack full of oranges.

    It's just insane enough to be fully tempting.

  4. Juancho ... um, no. :-)

    Geoff ... I'm trying to drum up people who might be crazy enough to come run it with you. I don't think I'd be one of them. That hike with the oranges would be hard enough.

  5. Sounds completely and utterly miserable...

    ... about right for any endurance crazy (Geoff)

  6. screw oranges... we want an endless supply of chia seeds at camp 17.

  7. And Toblerone and cream cheese sandwiches, please!

  8. How about a PBR and bacon station?

  9. It's for the better. Their last record was weak.

  10. I am in for sure. I can probably talk Dave into flying down as well. It sounds epic and better than running on cement hard trails down in California.

    Maybe you can make an Alaskan grand slam with the event. The SU, Rez, and Tongass. See who can get the lowest time for all 3.

  11. evan, i like the SU, REZ, Tongass idea. i actually see this tongass race maybe being a lot like Rez as far as mostly being a "real" race, but also very laid back, with just a few aid stations, no entry fee, and so on. in the beginning this is certainly how it would be. maybe it would become something more "official" at some point, but not in the first year or two. the big difference will be that the tongass will likely take 12 or so hours longer than the REZ.

  12. Anonymous8:57 PM

    woe, no thanks, i raise a beer in your direction though.

  13. geoff, saw this on your blog but am commenting on jill's just because i happen to be here...i'd be interested in participating. have an idea for the date? is there a mailing list? sounds fun

  14. Julie in Alaska8:22 PM

    Jill, I keep thinking about that quonset hut from your earlier post...and here you have mentioned it again! Sounds like a good post from which to call the helicopter rescue....(tee hee) Have you seen the book on AK Quonset Huts? It's a neat one!


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