Posts Tagged ‘Andy Skurka’

Alaska Yukon Expedition

March 13, 2010

2/15/2011 Update:

National Geographic Article is published and available Online.

“Nobody had ever done it before: Hike, ski, and raft 4,679 miles through eight national parks, dozens of mountain ranges, and the length of the Yukon territory. Then along came Andrew Skurka.”

Andy Skurka takes it to another level!

(Check for Updates below)

On Saturday, March 13, a small plane will land early morning in Kotzebue, Alaska. Andy Skurka will get off the airplane, put on his headlamp in the pre-dawn darkness, pull on some clothes in the zero degree temperature, and start skiing. He would ski for 12 hours straight, and do at least that every day for the next month and a half. Then he’ll hike and packraft 16 hours every day for the next 5 months.

He’s circumnavigating the entire state, crossing the entire Alaska Range, Brooks Range, and parts of the Yukon. An estimated 4,720 miles, in hopefully 6 1/2 months. Almost all off-trail. Plenty of bears, brush, snow, raging rivers, glaciers (and mosquitos).

Before some big trips, we might say, “The route has never been done before”, but that begs the point in this case … no one has even considered doing this before.


Andy Skurka walked into Kotzebue, Alaska last Sunday, Sept 5, 4,600 miles and 175 days after he walked out in March.

Remarkably, the Alaska Yukon Expedition took less time than expected. Equally remarkably, in a message he sent a week before finishing, he lamented the end of the trip, and sort of wished it would keep going. Huh?

Over 1,000 miles on skis, glacier crossings, packrafting across fjords, crossing streams during spring thaw, mosquitos, bears … others might have been glad it was done. Of course, others wouldn’t have done it period.

I asked Andy a few questions:

Your trip went quicker than expected? I knew there would choices of longer and easier or shorter and harder routes. The conditions were generally good, so I usually took the shorter route. Hiking across the tussocks was a pain, but it wasn’t worth trying to hike around it for example. And everywhere else we’ve ever been, roads take the easy route, so the hikers route is up high, often above timberline. Where I just was, there are no roads. So while bushwacking across vast wilderness, I would nonetheless be able to choose the most efficient route.

Was it really hard?  Not as physical as I thought. Mostly for the above reason – the route has less up and down, more of it follows drainages.

Did the long daylight equal long hiking days?  Occasionally, but my system is pretty well set. I was getting the miles I needed in 13-15 hr days. But because of the day length, every town where I picked up supplies I spent the night, instead of grab and go. And sometimes I’d wake up in the pouring rain, or have a very difficult river to cross, and instead of having to get on it I could wait until the conditions improved and still get 13 hrs for the day.

Did you really consider extending the trip?  I did. But you look at the map, and the route is very clean, logical. To make it bigger I’d have to go out of my way, just for the sake of making it longer, and that didn’t make sense. Plus, I got done before the first winter storm; conditions were good.

How was it having National Geographic drop in on you?  It was OK; I enjoyed the company. They enlisted Roman Dial and Forest McCarthy, who are great, and the photographer Michael was solid.  And a good photographer; they have good images.

Book? Magazine?  I’m hopin’ so. The material is there. National Geographic is planning a 16 – 24 page article for next year, but nothing is set yet.

Hardest part?  Until you’ve been there, you can’t believe how big, how wild this is; there is nothing like it. Sometimes you start to think: what if something happened? In the Yukon Arctic, I was 3-4 hours from the nearest settlement … by helicopter. I went 650 miles without seeing another person. Just a slip, and you could stub your toe on a rock, and not be able to walk. I was super vigilant, super cautious. It was nerve-wracking really.

I was more scared than all my previous trips combined.  Crossing Icy Bay in the packraft, navigating trailless backcountry, crossing glaciers, all in extreme remoteness … it was really stressful.  Not sure if I liked it.  So I asked Roman.  He said,

“Look, this is how big wilderness feels. It’s not like the lower 48. All those thoughts and concepts are gone. Here, you’re just another creature, like a Caribou, just trying to survive until tomorrow.”


July 3:

Dr Jeremy Rodgers of Boulder accidentally paddles past Andy on the Yukon River!

What are the chances: a doctor from Boulder that Andy saw last year for one of his various overuse injuries was paddling the same stretch of water on the same day he was in the middle of Yukon 500 miles from ANYTHING?!

Andy writes (more linked):

I pulled into the historic gold rush town of Dawson, which marks the end of my 450-mile float on the Yukon River (starting in Whitehorse) and the beginning of my final leg through the wilds of northern Yukon and northern Alaska back to Kotzebue. I had been somewhat dreading this section since I enjoy traveling via my feet, not via my arms while sitting on my butt, but it was a surprisingly enjoyable week.

June 3:

A snippet from Andy’s National Geographic Adventure Blog:

The Alaskan wilderness has brought me to tears twice on this trip, both times while talking on the phone with my mother from a “safe” location where being emotional has no serious consequences.

My first tears were shed in Unalakleet, Mi 281, after enduring continuously for two weeks the brutal combination of coastal wind and Arctic cold, and the associated stress of always being just one mistake away from death. I was recently brought to tears again, on the porch of a Glenn Highway convenience store, Mi 1402, my emotions rubbed raw and thin after skiing 600 miles across the Alaska Range in the peak of variable springtime conditions.

Everyday for the last four weeks I have woken up with at least some amount of anxiety, nervousness, and dread about the exact conditions I’ll encounter that day.

April 17:

Andy is doing it.  Brrr.  Here’s his first post upon arrival in Alaska on March 13:

Just landed in kotz. -25 below; ouch. Intimidating landscape – snow and ice covered tundra, flat and windswept, no lights beyond village …

Motel tonight. Plan 34 mi push tomorrow to cabin. High to be 15 below; low, -25. Tough start: last wk, 75 deg in Mass. Confident I can do this.

Glad he was confident.

Here he is, after a few weeks into it:

Mi 707 McGrath. Taking Fri off, yipee: need to regain strength, weight, after flu; have cache in Nikolai, 50 mi away. Changing landscape as I move east. Started in barren tundra, moved into textbook taiga & now among large spruces.

And finally, he’s now started “Leg Two” of the route, and this is what he posted last night:

Full on AK Range mtneering experience: whiteout, 50mph winds, crevasses. epic day. trip just got real

Go here for an overview of the trip, including how to subscribe to Facebook feeds and an excellent route map with a link to his “Last Reported Position”:

Here is his National Geographic Blog, containing in-depth descriptions and advice:

Go Andy.  And be safe.


Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic

August 13, 2009

The Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic could be considered “the original adventure race.” It was first held in 1982, seven years before the first Raid Gauloises, thirteen years before the first Eco-Challenge, and twenty years before the first Primal Quest. I’ll add that the Classic could also be considered the only “real” adventure race – today’s most well-known races are really just a prescribed sequence of outdoor sports – and burdensome rules, substantial mandatory gear lists, aid stations and support crews, and numerous checkpoints neutralize much of the “adventure” from these television-oriented events.


Multi Day Update

July 30, 2009

“I DIDN’T FAIL” – David Horton on the Colorado Trail

David, the multi-day king, wanted to go out on a good note after a sour day on the CDT last year. He and Jonathan Basham came to Colorado to train and acclimate for three weeks; their preparation was good.

I was thus taken aback when David’s smiling face greeted me at the Grouse Gulch aid station during the HR100. He was in excellent spirits, looked good, and it was great to see him. He had called it quits after 6 days – oddly while still right on schedule for the record – but with mounting issues that clearly precluded continuation.

His blog has an excellent account, excerpted here:

DH“Going after the CT record might have been my most difficult multi-day attempt so far. The CT record is very TOUGH. The trail itself was tougher than I thought it would be. I averaged 40 miles per day on the PCT and AT and 45 miles per day running across America. Averaging over 54 miles per day on the CT was VERY tough. I started very day before daylight, usually around 4:00 AM and finished every day after dark. My average time on the trail was around 17 hours per day. This left very little time for anything. I was usually in bed 30 to 45 minutes after finishing each day. Each day, the last section ATE my lunch. It took everything that I had to finish each day. I never knew at night if I would be able to go again the next day.”

“Day 6 should have been an easy day but it was not. We got lost before daylight and ran 4 miles off course. Later in the day it was very hot and the dry heat started sucking the life out of me. In the middle of the days my hands started swelling, sausage fingers you say. I have had them before but NEVER as big as they got this time. In the last section of the day, I became very concerned about them and how big can they get before damage occurs. On the back of my hands, the skin stuck grossly very high. My forearms started swelling all the way up to my elbows. It was getting tighter and tighter. How big can they get?? What damage can occur?? I was also thinking about the next day as it was going to be the toughest day yet, over 60 miles with one road crossing. I knew the possibility that if I got in trouble in this section that I would put myself and my crew in a serious problem. I knew then that I must stop. Could I have run the next day? Yes. Could I have caused myself or others some serious problems? Yes.”


Call Of The Wild

May 27, 2009

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)



Sierra High Route

July 17, 2008


The SHR is a route, not a trail, envisioned by Yosemite guidebook author Steve Roper, and first chronicled in a 1982 book.  Subtitled “Traversing Timberline Country”, it described a route that tries to stay higher than the nearby John Muir Trail while still avoiding serious technical difficulties.  Crossing 33 passes, it was about 200 miles long, mostly above timberline, and included some sections of maintained trail, some obscure user paths, no shortage of tricky terrain over the high passes, and as much cross-country alpine cruising as possible.  Soon out of print, Roper later brought the book back out in 1997 under the title “Sierra High Route”.  
At that time, it was basically a guide for section hiking, and I doubt if 10 people had ever thru-hiked it.  Last year Backpacker Magazine Editor Steve Howe thru-hiked it in a month, doing a daily podcast via sat phone, highlighted by his arduous off-trail experience.  Kevin Sawchuck, an expert backpacker and former record-holder on the JMT, called it “My favorite backpack trip of all time.”  I suspect the popularity of this route is about to take a significant upswing.