Monday, April 12, 2010

Chasing Skurka: Forrest and Mike Brown Leave Town

Forrest McCarthy and Michael Brown, the National Geographic Photographer, took off from ANC yesterday to go chase Skurka along the Alaska Range, Rohn to Tonzona and maybe to Wonder Lake (doubtful unless awesome crust skiing).

Forrest has these fat short tele skis (150 cm long and 105 mm at the shovel) and Michael -- who's fresh from China -- picked up thinner, metal edge skis with backcountry NNN bindings from AMH. They are skiing east from Rohn Roadhouse, where Andy'll be waiting, and following in reverse the route that Carl Tobin, Paul Adkins and I biked/walked in '96 and Mark Stoppel and I walked in '89.

The stretch from Tonzona to Muddy River just before Wonder Lake is the wildest in the Alaska Range and the longest un-hunted area in Alaska: western Denali National Park. Caribou will be heading toward their calving grounds and moose will still be wandering the willow flats maintaing the best game trails in the state. Andy will cross the high empty plains at the base of Denali and Foraker, perhaps the place that is most magnificent for wilderness and wildlife in a State known for magnificent wilderness and wildlife. No signs of man on the ground (none!), but of course hourly jets overhead between Fairbanks and Anchorage.

They'll have three mountain passes where avalanches are possible, one with a small glacier; there may be bears busting out of hibernation; there's a storm now, so I bet that the pair will not get in right away from Talkeetna as the weather will shut down the flight until the low passes. I'd expect a slush swamp or two on their way to the Tonzona. I wouldn't worry about thin ice, just melt water. Hope they have neoprene socks.

The kid Michael Brown -- well a 32 year old kid -- is remarkably like Surka in age and temperment. I think they even look a lot alike. Smily, young athletic guys full of modern adventure and creative energy.

Mike's traveling around China in a van with an interpreter and 600 rolls of Kodak negative film. His work is beautiful and after meeting him I can see why he gets such intimate portraits. He's a warm and welcoming soul. What an incredible time to be in China, documenting its rush in to the present. A nation of a billion who are interested in him as he is in them. A traveler's dream trip, really, and he's only midway through. He's combining the Skurka trip with a trip to see his folks in WA and then back to China. He is excited and passionate about all that he's doing in China, from loading little cameras and Leicas with negative film to seeing China's headlong rush into modernity.

Maybe we can meet up in September, looking for ice worms in Tibet.


  1. You're going to Tibet, Roman?!

    Andrew's & the two "kids" trip is epic, I'm curious to see the photos and videos he will be coming back with. It is nice to read his updates over on the NG blog and see his occasional tweets =)

  2. Hendrik, yes possibly going to Tibet -- the wet eastern and lowland-ish area at the headwaters of the Bramaputra -- looking for ice-worms.

    It's funny that there is some sentiment up here among some Alaskans that Andrew will fail miserably due to the so-called "Alaska Factor".

    Knowing Andrew I doubt he will fail. Even if he gets slowed, which seems unlikely, he'll catch up. He just has so many miles walking fast that he knows what he's capable of whereas his detractors do not.

    Anyway, I am supporting him as best I can and pulling for him, and will be joining him and Mike Brown on a portion in the Wrangell Mtns and Chitina/Copper Rivers section next month, maybe farther if it looks good.


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