Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Race Report - Raid the North Extreme 2007

After a hiatus of several years, I jumped back into adventure racing this year with a bang. Instead of easing my way back in with some short races, I had the opportunity to compete in an expedition length race up in the far northwestern reaches of British Columbia, Canada. I raced with three guys (Paul and Phil from Detroit, Michigan and Kenny from Houston). The six-day race featured open water kayaking on ocean inlets and channels, mountain biking, and running/trekking, all the while navigating through the dense rain forest bush and tundra with map and compass.

The race was held in two locations as two separate stages, very uncommon for adventure races. This was due to extreme flooding in the original race location that whittled down the available safe areas for us to access. Therefore, the bulk of the race was held on the Queen Charlotte Islands, which are typically off-limits. These are a large group of islands located about 50 miles off the mainland of northwestern British Columbia, close to Ketchican, Alaska. The Queen Charlottes are the carrot-shaped land mass shown on the map here; Prince Rupert is off to the northeast.

The terrain is rugged to say the least. Below about 2,000 in elevation feet is temperate rain forest; moss, lichen and enormous trees, both upright and fallen, are everywhere in this dark world. Above the tree line is alpine tundra; wet and boggy. Above that are snowfields and glaciers. Steep fiords end abruptly at the water’s edge. Everywhere there are cliffs, some rock-faced and some covered with slimy moss and vegetation.

We began the race on Monday morning, June 25th, at 6:00 am with a paddling section up Skidgate Channel. We arrived at CP1 within 4 hours, somewhere around mid-pack, and felt very good about our effort, as none of us would claim to be an expert paddler. A quick transition found us initially hoofing it to CPs 2 and 3 at a jog. Then we entered the dense rain forest. My team, and most others, had difficulty traveling on terrain that looked passable on the 100-foot, 1:50,000 scale maps. An area that appeared reasonable on the maps hid many cliffs and waterfalls of just-less-than 100 feet in size. Getting “cliffed out” would be the theme of the next 2 days.

Based on information provided by the race course staff in the race materials, my team and many others assumed the trek to CPs 2 and 3 would take no more than 10 hours. We packed clothes and food accordingly, thinking we would be back to our gear boxes before nightfall. However, after obtaining the CP code for the unmanned CP2 and heading off toward CP3, we were nowhere near CP3 yet. The weather began to get nasty, night was approaching and we were cold and wet. We would be cold and wet for most of the race. We descended below the tree line and re-entered the spooky forest. Finally, at about 2:00 am Tuesday morning (16 hours into the trek) we decided to pile up on the ground with our emergency blankets and rest, getting maybe 20 to 30 minutes of actual sleep on the cold ground.

We got moving again at about 4:00 am on Tuesday morning and began to climb back up again, looking for a saddle that would supposedly allow us to access CP3. We never found the saddle. Instead, we kept getting “cliffed out” as we ascended higher and higher. Clouds and rain set in and we couldn’t see any features of the nearby peaks to accurately determine where we were located. After climbing up a very steep section, we arrived at a ridgeline that clearly did not lead to the saddle. Phil and I refused to go back down the way we had come up; it was too steep to safely down-climb. We could not go forward to the north, toward CP3, since it was too steep to go down as well.

It was almost 2:00 pm on Tuesday and we had been at this supposed 10 hour trek for 28 hours. We had been out of food since the night before and we were really cold. Unsure of our location, we decided to get the two-way radio out and call for assistance. Unfortunately, we could not get a signal out, so we planned a reverse route to get off the ridge, still steep, but doable. Instead of going to CP3, we decided to head back toward CP2 and veer off to the east to get to an ocean inlet where we could hopefully arrange for a Coast Guard rescue. At about 8:00 pm on Tuesday evening, after 34 hours of trekking, we finally arrived at the water to find another team (BanffLodging) sitting around a fire and waiting for the Coast Guard to arrive. All eight of us fit into the Cutter and were transported back to the race head quarters at the Haida Gwaii Heritage Center, where we found many other rescued teams.

In an unusual move, the race staff decided to let the many rescued teams continue racing. We ate and got some sleep. The next morning (Wednesday), we headed out for the paddle to Moresby Island. Crossing an open water channel, a storm kicked in and served up 4 foot waves and strong winds, making the 3 hour+ paddle challenging but fun in an odd way. From the paddle take out, we transitioned to a trek that would take us from sea level up and down 3,800 foot high Mount Moresby. Our goal was to make it off the mountain before nightfall, as the forest below the tree line was dark and the trail hard to follow. Once above 2,000 feet, moving up the snowfields was slow. We bagged CP13 at the top of the mountain at 9:00 pm on Wednesday and hustled down. We could glissade on our butts on the snow in many sections, which was really fun.

We made it quite a ways down the mountain before night fell, but had some trouble keeping to the trail once it got dark. Somewhere between 2:30 and 3:00 am on Thursday morning we arrived at C14. Paul, who was fighting off the sleepmonsters, napped while the rest of us ate and warmed ourselves by the fire. Warm and fed, we hopped on the bikes for the 5 CP bike Rogaine. In a Rogaine, the CPs can be gathered in any order. We planned to get CPs 16-19 first and then find CP15, which was off a ways. Paul was still suffering from the sleepies and exhaustion. He also had not eaten as much as he should have. As a result, he would repeatedly fall over while riding, either falling asleep or passing out. It was painful to watch. However, our navigating was spot-on and we found the first four CPs in short order.

With daylight, Paul perked up and we headed for CP15. There appeared to be two ways to access this CP and it turned out we selected the way that would not work. Our route supposedly lead to a trail that would lead to the CP, but the trail died in a dense cedar forest that was too vegetated to carry the bikes, let alone ride them. We finally abandoned the CP and rode to the bike drop to complete the paddle back to the Heritage Centre. The paddle was awful, but we ended up at a beach of cheering spectators to brighten our moods.

All teams boarded the ferry for an overnight trip back to Prince Rupert on the mainland, so everyone got a little bit of sleep. On Friday morning we took off from the ferry dock on a run through town to our deflated kayaks. We pumped them up and were off for a frustrating paddle due to currents that made the rudderless boats tend to spin. The water ended and all teams got out for what we knew would be a long portage. We had no idea how long! We deflated the boats, rolled them up and strapped them to Kenny and Phil’s backs. We then proceeded to bushwhack, or boatwhack as it became known, for 10 hours through an extremely overgrown road and then down the side of a mountain to Work Channel. I am still amazed that those guys carried the almost 60 pound boats, big as large-screen TVs, on their backs for so long and through such rough terrain.

We were elated to get back in the boats to paddle! The sun was setting and casting a pink glow on the nearby snow covered peaks. Misty clouds formed above the water. Steep fiords plunged into the water from high up. This was the prettiest part of the whole race and I forgot to take a single picture! Once the sun set, we paddled in the dark to CP24, which was thankfully manned, as we were all very cold. After warming up by the fire, we took off on the second and last bike leg of the race. I would have liked more riding, since all four of us were pretty fast on the bikes. We eventually arrived at a mosquito-infested checkpoint on the water with our boats, which we inflated and hopped into for the last paddle. It was just before dawn on Saturday and we all had to fight off the sleep monsters while caffeine pills took effect.

The last section of the race was a trek up Mount Hayes and then down into town for the finish. It took much longer than any of us had anticipated, but finally at 2:30 pm on Saturday, my team crossed the finish line. We had been on the move almost non-stop since Monday morning. Our goal of simply finishing was achieved and bettered in that we finished 17th out of 23 teams. It was an amazing experience and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.

Believe it or not, this write up is the SHORT version. It was six days afterall! Please click this link to access the more detailed story of my Canadian adventure:

Here are my pics (finally), all taken with a dispoable camera:

Check out my team mate Kenny’s blog posts about the race here:

You can find lots of pictures of the race (click on GALLERY) and maps of the CPs (click on MAP) here at the RTNX website:


Jason h said...
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namrita o'dea said...

what an awesome place to race. it makes me want to get back into AR.

trainwreck said...

ighty bighty you are too HC!


p.s. Defendant did create a hazardous or physically offensive condition, by operating a bicycle naked in Forbes State Forest, an act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor.