32 teams played 78 games in four days at the 17th annual Mt. Edgecumbe Invitational Basketball Tournament in Sitka. For the second year in a row, Haines Sports Shop won the men’s open division. This year the team, which also included players from Sitka, beat Anchorage’s Snow City 85-70. Andrew Friske, who helped coordinate the tournament, played on that winning team, adding six points to the win. Friske said the tournament raised a whopping $35,000 for Mt. Edgecumbe, its highest-grossing year yet.  The winning teams took home trophies, championship hoodies, and — most importantly — bragging rights for the year. Friske, a former Haines resident, played in all three adult divisions this year and got to celebrate his 45th birthday in style.Though, he said it took him about a week to physically recover. Players who play in multiple divisions are known as “ironmen,” and Friske said they crown a new one every year. This year’s winner Dave Clarke played for Haines, Wrangell and Team Alaska. Beyond the points, Friske said there are always inspiring stories happening behind-the-scenes at this tournament.“Folks recovering from addiction or maybe they’ve had a heart attack,” he said. “These are the stories that I think are really great and it shows, you know, that it’s important to stay healthy but even if you do have a setback you can persevere.” 

Liz Landes at the end of a 40-day trek on the 800-mile Arizona Trail. (Courtesy photo/Ben Aultman-Moore)

Liz Landes recently returned from hiking the 800-mile Arizona Trail. She started in mid-October at the Utah border and finished at the Coronado National Monument at the U.S.-Mexico border at the beginning of December. She covered between 20 and 25 miles a day.  “It took me exactly 40 days” she said. Landes’ journey took her through a series of diverse ecosystems in Arizona, including through the “sky islands,” where some mountains are more than 6,000 feet above the desert floor making the plants and animals living in the lowlands and the highlands drastically different. She said the trail does a good job of winding through both ecosystems, and the result is a beautifully diverse landscape. “It’s like a painter’s palette,that somebody randomly squeezed blobs of paint on,” she said. Because she started in the late fall, Landes said she didn’t see a lot of other people but did spend the first month on the trail camping with a person she met on Facebook. “We didn’t hike together very much, but we did plan through enough to say that we’d do the same mileage — we both felt safer and our loved ones felt better about us doing it this way,” she said. Ben Aultman-Moore joined her near Tucson at mile 630 to complete the leg of the trail. This isn’t Landes’ first long through-hike — she got 1,700 miles into the Pacific Coast Trail in 2021 before wildfire smoke forced her to stop. She’s also done a long hike on the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand. This time around, Landes said her greatest achievement on the trail was learning to change her attitude. “I used to be really bothered when leaves get stuck on my trekking poles. It doesn’t alter my life at all but it really bothered me,” she said.”So I tried to change that attitude while I was hiking and it happened really fast. It was a total 180 degree change, and then I was like ‘Oh hello friends,’ as these little oak leaves would get stuck on my trekking poles and eventually they’d just fly off on their own.” 

The River Talk storytelling series has returned with a strong first show at the Chilkat Center, as confirmed by organizer Annette Smith. Last month’s theme, “Told You So,” brought in a full house, she said. “I guess everybody is looking for a little entertainment,” Smith said. The season happens every third Thursday through April. The next session, scheduled for Feb. 15, invites tales of love – on two legs or four. Smith said proceeds this year are going toward ongoing renovations of the Chilkat Center’s kitchen. The biggest thing they need right now is storytellers. “It’s hard getting people, they don’t seem to want to volunteer so you have to ask them,” Smith said. “I’ve just about gone through all of the people that I know.”

Tate Dunnivan prepares for a River Talk. (Lex Treinen/Chilkat Valley News)

Coleman Stanford, the coach of the high school girls’ basketball team, shared insights from their recent expedition to Craig. Traveling to Craig is an adventure in and of itself. “The trip is always planes, trains and automobiles,” he said. “We take a ferry, then a jet, then a ferry and then we take a bus. Then we hop off and play the game.” Stanford said the team is resilient, though sleep is hard to come by with this type of travel. “Keeping them hydrated and well-fed is crucial, especially with the little sleep they get,” he said. The inclusion of eighth graders in the team was a highlight for Stanford. Now they can play at the junior varsity level. Stanford said the girls team took three eighth-graders. He said they held their own. “Any time those girls can get on the floor at this point is just bonus time for their careers in high school,” he said. One other standout moment was a close finish at the end of a varsity game when, with about 10 seconds left, the team managed to get the ball to a wide-open Raven Hotch. The senior then hit the game-winning shot. This weekend, Metlakatla’s teams are headed to Haines. Stanford said he hopes they won’t be delayed by the record snow Juneau is getting.