Andrew Skurka embarks on major Alaska trip – – –
Ever since he was the first person to do the 7,778 mile long Sea-Sea route – Cape Gaspe to the Olympic Peninsula, which took 11-months including walking across the upper midwest in mid-winter – Andy has been one of the pre-eminent hikers in the country. He followed that post-college graduation monster with the Great Western Loop (6,875 miles around the west), the Sierra High Route (200 miles mostly off-trail) and a traverse across Iceland, besides spare-time casual hikes like the Colorado Trail and Pacific Crest Trail thru California.
So what’s next?
700 miles thru the Kenai Peninsula and Chugash Mountains of Alaska.
“About 1/4 of that will be on a pack-raft. Without a raft, this route is impossible” Andy says. “Then there’s maybe 100-150 miles on some kind of trail. That leaves 400 miles of bushwhacking.”
“The Kenai bushwhacks are heinous. Pushing thru bark beetle infested Spruce that blew down 5 years ago into a jungle-gym of fallen timber. The undergrowth is Devils Club and Salmon Berries. It might take me 6 hours to go just 2 miles.”
Sound like fun to you?
(There is a current report; see “UPDATE” at bottom of Post)
“I’ve always held Alaska in high regard. I’ve never visited until now, because I didn’t think I had the skill level. I’m going in with a great degree of humility, thinking I’m going to get my ass handed to me; it’s just a matter to what degree.”
“Alaska is a place I can continue to grow and evolve as a backpacker. I’ve done long trails – plenty of them – but the days of hiking 7,000 miles on a great trail day after day are gone. I know how to do that. When I started on the AT in the summer of 2002 I didn’t know anything; I carried 50 lbs of crap including 2 months worth of white gas and a trowel, but now I could do it with my eyes closed and 5 lbs on my back.”
THE KENAI CROSSING
Location (see map): Hope to Homer thru Kenai mts; then to Steward thru Kenai Fjords; then up to Palmer thru Chugash; lastly from Palmer to Cantwell thru the Talkeetna’s. South Central Alaska.
Distance: About 700 miles.
Time: Five weeks, starting June 17. That’s 20 miles/day; much slower than normal due to the off-trail travel. For comparison, Andy averaged 33 miles per day over 208 days on the Great Western Loop, and a blazing 38.2 mpd hiking the PCT thru California in 45 days.
Gear: Andy will necessarily break out of his uber-minimalist style, and carry a little extra – a pyramid tarp tent for storms (though unenclosed); a Primaloft parka, even a knife and handline for fishing. The La Sportiva Fireblade for low-to-the-ground control while hiking.
Packraft: An Alpaca packraft is the new addition. This adds a whopping 8 lbs to the pack, and will be carried the whole trip, but pays for itself by enabling the Alaska traveller to paddle across ocean fjords, down rivers, and across rather than around lakes. With a packraft, crossing rivers, like the mighty Suisitna, will be dangerous but not suicidal (Chris McCandless could have really used a packraft!)
Base Weight (“baseweight” is the holy grail for thru-hikers): 17-18 lbs. With 8 days max of food (he passes thru a few towns), that keeps the total weight to 35-40 lbs.
#1 – Hypothermia – Being wet combined with cold. Rainstorms while up high, tipping over the packraft in a 33 degree glacier stream. Will carry extra warm clothes.
#2 Bears – Will carry bear spray, no gun, use odor-proof food sacks, and hang food up every night.
The whole trip actually has three components (shown on the map).
1) Kenai Crossing (described above); followed by;
2) Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic – An adventure race in the purest style: “Ready, set, go; first one to the finish line wins”. If you want to carry it, you can use it. Only rules: must carry a sat phone, no roads allowed, one check point. 180 miles distance. Starts on 7/26 and must finish within one week.
3) Brooks Range – “Pick something that looks good and go.” A different style: an unplanned exploration. “The Brooks is conducive to go where you want and wander. I’ll pick a starting point, and allow 10 days of travel to get back.”
Andy is using the SPOT locater system (thank goodness). This sends out a GPS signal everytime it’s clicked, which he will try to do every evening. This is a terrific way of tracking someone’s progress. If something really bad happens, he can click a different button, and an emergency signal will be sent. You can check the map on his website which automatically updates!
June 19 from Karen:
Andy called last night because he did not sent out a spot message. He is doing great and finished the first segment of trail. He put his pack raft into the water and went about 10 miles in 2 hours. He said it was work because he had to get around some big holes.
“I’m ready. After all the big trails these past years, last year I did the Sierra High Route (very high and technical) then the Iceland Crossing (glaciated terrain and wet conditions). Late this winter I did the Hayduke Trail, which was mostly off-trail, and further prepared me for Alaska.”
“This trip is unlike any other I’ve done. I just get some maps, and make it my own adventure, figuring out where to go, how to get there, and how to stay alive. It was only last week that I suddenly realized how absurdly ambitious it had become.”