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Alaska wilderness women shamed by lawyer from the East Coast

Craig Medred
Scott McMurren photo

A newly arrived, East Coast-reared law clerk by way of the University of Virginia and Stanford Law has schooled a pack of backcountry Alaska women to win the annual Wilderness Women Contest in the tiny community of Talkeetna, the jumping off point for tours and climbs of Mount McKinley.

Talkeetna community radio station KTNA reported Monday that Khalial Withen bested two Anchorage women in the finals of the weekend event. "How is it this Virginia woman beat out a field of Alaskans? And where were the Talkeetna women?'' wondered Talkeetna reporter Melis Coady.

The three finalists were among a field of more than 50 whittled down by contests including hauling water and driving snowmachines. Tiffany Hall, the philanthropy officer for the Providence Alaska Foundation, according to her LinkedIn profile, won the snowmachine competition, despite never having driven a snowmachine before, the radio station reported. And Rachel Kidwell, an Anchorage engineer who grew up in Bullhead, Ariz., hung on to reach the finals. But they both faltered in the fishing, shooting and snowshoeing competitions.

"The event was won easily by Khalial,'' Coady reported. "Her cast was smooth; she needed no coaching to put on her snowshoes; and she shot her ptarmagian (a grouse-like bird) on her first try."

According to KTNA:

In an event that was once characterized by local gals in oversized coveralls and bunny boots sloshing buckets in a controlled speed walk, this year the event was better characterized by what women from out-of-town weren’t wearing in competition… Sports bras, skeleton costumes, beaver hats, tutus, and running shoes have become the new norm.  (Among the tasks, the women) made sandwiches and served a beer to a waiting bachelor before they pushed off to circle the village park by snowmachine.

Talkeetna, population 896, is an unincorporated community just off the George Parks Highway about 100 miles north of Anchorage. It is famous for, among other things, fooling naive reporters into believing it has a cat as mayor. Busy in the summer with tourists and climbers bound for 20,320-foot McKinley, North America's highest mountain, it quiets right down once the midnight sun gives way to the long, cold dark.

The Wilderness Women Contest began in the 1980s as a way to break the boredom of winter. The rationale, according to contest website: "Many a guide has told the joke. 'What does an Alaskan man want? -- A woman and a truck, that both work.'  In the spirit of this humor, the Talkeetna Bachelor Society birthed the Wilderness Woman Contest. Women are asked to drive, or fly, many miles to show men that women can do all the work."

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com