A self portrait shows Josh Mumm hiking on a ridge near the Yentan River. (Photo courtesy Josh Mumm via the Homer News)

A self portrait shows Josh Mumm hiking on a ridge near the Yentan River. (Photo courtesy Josh Mumm via the Homer News)

Homer man wins Wilderness Classic

In the grueling Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic, where contestants race unsupported through the wildest country of Alaska, just finishing can be an honor. But when you’re not only the first to finish, but the only one of 29 competitors to do so in the scheduled time, the honor gets doubled.

Homer racer Josh Mumm did just that, winning the 250- to 300-mile 2015 classic with a time of 5 days, 22 hours. Starting on June 28, Mumm finished about 8 a.m. July 4 at Red Shirt Lake near Willow.

“First of all he finished the course, but he came in with a respectable time for 250 miles,” said another Homer racer, Gordy Vernon.

Mumm, 33, said he didn’t see any other racers after the first day. For a while he got concerned that he had chosen a bad route and gotten behind. When he got to the Kahiltna River, he realized he was ahead.

“I crossed the Kahiltna there and was surprised not to see any tracks on the other side,” he said.

Mumm downplayed the event as a competition.

“It’s really not a race so much as it is a chance to go out and do a trip with a bunch of other people at the same time, just moving fast and seeing a bunch of country,” he said.

While about half the course involved rafting rivers, the first three days involved hiking. That meant Mumm averaged 40 to 50 miles a day, said Luc Mehl, one of the racers and who won the 2012 race with Mumm.

“He’s a monster,” Mehl said of Mumm. “He was just motoring. It’s amazing, actually. … What he did was just mind blowing.”

Mumm said his feet are a little sore and his arms and legs chewed up by alder and devil’s club.

“My feet didn’t swell up to quite as nearly as grotesquely as they did in 2012,” he said.

The Mountain Wilderness Classic usually takes the same route for three years, then changes to a new route. With no fees and no big corporate sponsors, it’s a totally volunteer effort. This year’s race varied from the usual schedule as a one-year route to honor the late Rob Kehrer, who died in the 2014 Wilderness Classic. The route went through country associated with him: Rohn, an Iditarod checkpoint where Kehrer volunteered, and Red Shirt Lake at Nancy Lakes, where Kehrer had a cabin. The race started at the end of the Petersville Road. Racers had to check in at Rohn but otherwise could pick their own path.

Vernon said a lot of racers ran into thick alder.

“It’s a lot of bad alder bashing. We gave up early and just floated to Anchorage,” Vernon said.

Vernon and his racing partner, Thai Verizone, floated down the Susitna River and then paddled across Knik Arm to Verizone’s home near the Coastal Trail.

Mumm said thick brush was the worst part of the route.

“Probably the low point for me was the brush coming down from Fairview Mountain by Collinsville where you cross the Yentna River. It was really thick, I was tired and the bugs were out,” he said.

Ironically, Mumm said he sat out the race until this year because of thick brush he ran into in 2012.

“That ended up being a really brushy route, reportedly the brushiest, nastiest route they had,” he said. “As it turns out, it (this year’s race) ended up being relatively brushy, too.”

The race had some high moments, too. Following the Yentna River, Mumm said he came to a canyon he knew would be bad so he popped up on a ridge on the north side.

“It was really beautiful and good walking up there,” he said. “Tons of sheep. Good views of Denali and Foraker and looking across at the Kahiltna Spires.”

Mumm said he saw lots of wildlife, more than he had seen on other trips: 12 grizzly bears, a lynx standing in the middle of the trail, sheep and moose. Floating down a river, Mumm said at one point he dozed off.

“I woke up and saw this sow and a couple of cubs on the bank,” he said. “It was a shocking experience to wake up and see this bear right there.”

Just eight racers made it to Rohn, Mehl said. Some racers scratched because of injuries, but most dropped out because they ran out of time.

“This course was too long to be realistic for everybody except Josh,” Mehl said.

When he got to Rohn, Mumm said he expected to see other racers arrive, but nobody showed up. After a 10-hour layover, he moved on. Rohn was the only stop with outside food, burgers and brats shipped in by the competitors.

Mehl said he joked that the reason Mumm finished so fast was that Mumm had rented a satellite phone for the week.

“I was imagining Josh thinking ‘I’ve only got this phone checked out through next Sunday. I had better make sure I get it in,’” Mehl said. “He just rips through and finishes Saturday morning.”

For photos of the race and Mehl’s account, visit his blog at thingstolucat.com.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

More in Life

Minister’s Message: What unites? Being one in Christ

It seems everywhere you look and on every level people are gridlocked

The secret to this homemade vegetarian lasagna is the addition of fresh noodles from scratch. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: The secret’s in the noodles

Handmade pasta adds layers of flavor to vegetable lasagna

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: Downtime

Now here we are, two-thirds of the way through the longest month of the year

Robert “Bob” Huttle, posing here next to Cliff House, spent the night in this cabin in April 1934 and mused about a possible murder there. (Photo courtesy of the Huttle Collection)
Twists and turns in the history of Cliff House — Part 2

How much of the doctor’s actions Bob Huttle knew when he stayed in Cliff House 10 years later is difficult to know.

Achieving the crispy, flaky layers of golden goodness of a croissant require precision and skill. (Photo by Tresa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Reaching the pinnacle of patisserie

Croissants take precision and skill, but the results can be delightful

This 1940s-era image is one of few early photographs of Cliff House, which once stood near the head of Tustumena Lake. (Photo courtesy of the Secora Collection)
Twists and turns in the history of Cliff House — Part 1

Here, then, is the story of Cliff House, as least as I know it now.

Minister’s Message: What’s in a name?

The Scriptures advise, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.”

Visitors put on personal protective equipment before an artist talk by Dr. Sami Ali' at the Jan. 7, 2022, First Friday opening of her exhibit, "The Mind of a Healthcare Worker During the COVID-19 Pandemic," at the Homer Council on the Arts in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
ER doctor’s paintings follow passage of pandemic

Dr. Sami Ali made 2019 resolution to paint every day — and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Almond flour adds a nuttiness to this carrot cake topped with cream cheese frosting. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: A ‘perfect day’ cake

Carrot cake and cream cheese frosting make for a truly delicious day off

Minister’s Message: A prayer pulled from the ashes

“In that beleaguered and beautiful land, the prayer endures.”

A copy of “The Year of Magical Thinking” by author Joan Didion is displayed on an e-reader. (Photo by Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Off the Shelf: Didion’s “Year of Magical Thinking” is a timely study on grief

‘The last week of 2021 felt like a good time to pick up one of her books.’