Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

March Madness!

Think college basketball is crazy this time of year? Check out the White Mountains 100—they’ll show you crazy. 

“If you are fortunate enough to travel this stretch in the daylight, the warm March sun on your face and spectacular scenery will distract you from the bruises you may have gained while descending the 'ice lakes' below Cache Mountain Divide in the dark, or that involuntary twitch that has developed in your left eye because you haven’t slept in 20 hours.” Photo courtesy whitemountains100.org

We’re monitoring a different kind of March madness this weekend: the White Mountains 100 race (WM100), to get underway in Fairbanks, Alaska, on Sunday morning. In its inaugural year, the WM100 will challenge 50 entrants to bike, ski, run, mince, slide, crawl, etc., through 100 miles of interior Alaska’s most rugged—and glorious—terrain.

We discovered the WM100 a few weeks ago when we asked colleague Christie Haupert what motivated her to run and ski to/from the Fairbanks office most days—a round-trip of some 16 miles.

Christie Haupert spends her birthday camping in Denali Park. Photo courtesy C. Haupert

Preparations to ski the WM100 race, of course.  Beyond that, training “is just a good excuse to spend my weekends skiing in the mountains with friends,” Christie explained. “And it makes for a wonderful commute every day to and from work. I see the sun rise and set. I see the river ice break up and refreeze. I run by an elementary school in the morning and listen to the children playing. I run into moose on the ski trail and watch the late afternoon sun hit the tops of the spruce trees reminding me of why I love Fairbanks. Just this morning I witnessed the morning sunlight glowing on the Alaska Range. It doesn’t really get better than this. This time of year is so magical here in Fairbanks and throughout Alaska, I couldn’t imagine missing out on all of that, in order to get somewhere quicker.”

The WM100 promises to be an unforgettable experience.  Read the race course description, which captures the brutal allure of the itinerary. (For example, this jaunty description of some late race course treachery: “A perennial spring seeps water across the trail no matter how cold the air, often creating a bulbous patch of glare ice a few hundred feet long. If traveling in zombie mode, you will find yourself in the downstream dwarf birch bushes without knowing how you got there. Resist the urge to nap.”)

Christie training on a section of the WM100 race course, perhaps near where downed spruce may intrude: "it is possible that an occasional spear may protrude out into or completely block your path. Be cautious as to not impale yourself on one of these lurking hazards." Photo courtesy C. Haupert

Christie described her personal hopes for the ultra-marathon yesterday in an email: “The competitor in me hopes to finish strongly in the middle of the pack, the realist looks at the names on the race roster and prepares to warmly embrace the red lantern (last place). Regardless of the number of hours on the course, my real goal is to truly enjoy the experience. I hope to smile as I see the trail marker that reminds me only 32 more miles to Windy Gap cabin. I hope not to scream profanities as I careen down the “ice lakes” section by headlamp, but rather laugh at the absurdity of it all. I hope to lose myself somewhere in the depths of the race and find myself again as the sun rises for the second time. I hope not to cry from ill-placed feelings of loneliness as I reach the 10 miles to go checkpoint and to find some delirious enjoyment as I carry my skis and walk up the “Wickersham Wall,” reminding myself at least there aren’t crampons, ice axe and a rope in my pack. And most of all I want nothing but a smile on my face and a light heart as I see the finish line, the race directors and the smattering of friends who may be waiting with open arms to welcome me home.”

We await your post-ski stories, Christie.  Happy trails, supergirl.

The goddess herself, Christie Haupert, on a some outdoor adventure.

Christie plays in the Alaska Range. Photo courtesy: C. Haupert