Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Skurking around Alaska

Andrew Skurka's planning to come back to AK next year. I think anybody reading this likely already knows that.

So what does it mean?

Well, it looks like he'll be putting athleticism into a trip that scales with a well known effort of 2008 from Seattle to Unimak. He, too, plans on several thousand miles by foot, paddle, and ski, but over, along, and through mountains and big, fast rivers. While the Wild Coast route was mostly coastal plodding -- intentionally, of course -- it was mostly impressive in that a married couple lived in their pyramid for a year as backcountry nomads. Skurka could just as easily live in his mid for a year, too, but he is strong and fast and likes to move that way, and solo, too. So he plans on nearly the same distance in less than half the time.

So, again, what does it mean? It means that he's upping the ante in Alaskan wilderness travel: fast, light, very BIG, and solo. Over 4000 miles in six months, with far more elevation gain and loss, whitewater, and wilderness than Alaska's most recent mega-trip. But more importantly it means that doing a week or two from Hope to Homer, Nabesna to McCarthy, Wonder Lake to Skwenta, or even Coldfoot to Kaktovik is something "normal" folks can do on their vacation time. By pushing the limits, extreme adventurers make what once seemed like a stretch now doable for the rest of us.

"If Andrew Skurka can do 4000 miles of wilderness travel in six months, then me and my buddies should be able to do 100 miles in six days, right?" Right!

I remember when Bachar hit the National spotlight with his incredible soloing. Just knowing what he was doing solo encouraged me do more in my own climbing. Seeing Tim Johnson roll his packraft inspired many of us -- some, like me, who may never be able to role it even if glued into my boat -- to put thighstraps in our boats and get far more control. The extremists in pushing their own extremist limits actually open up everyone else's horizons, too.

He and I have been emailing a bit about his route, which is certainly a reflection of his style: maximize trail-use (his winter route is the Alaskan wilderness equivalent of following a road -- nothing wrong with that!), travel long days, and long distances. He's embraced packrafting rivers and whitewater, and has won a Wilderness Classic, so averaging 20 miles a day for six months is doable (he averaged 30 miles a day for 200 days in his mash-up of Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trails). He spent some time up here this past summer, walking and packrafting through south central, and got bit by the Alaska bug and showed that he's strong and smart enough to wander trail-less country effortlessly and efficiently.

His route might not be the route I'd choose, but it is his route and it's beautiful and ambitious and meaningful for the rest of us, too.

I'm excited to see its boldness.


  1. It sounds an amazing trip. I'd love to undertake something like that; I reckon I could gain the requisite experience and skills over (a long) time, but along with the need to earn a living, I'm just not sure I've got the psychological strength. Six months alone in the Alaskan wilderness? I'm pretty sure it's going to be life changing for him, and I'm eagerly awaiting updates.

  2. Holy cow, that sounds like a fantastic trip. So jealous... sortof. I'm not sure I have the psychological strength either. I do believe in the power of inspiration though.
    To boldness!

  3. A nice write-up, Roman. I know Andy appreciates your advice and I'm glad to see you appreciate what he's doing.

  4. I wish he would write some books on his adventures as they would be a good read I think. The trip he is planning in Alaska is incredible in its: scope scale and timeline. It is testament to his: skill, fitness, determination and vision to see the route and then plan to make it a reality.

  5. Thanks Sam, Andy's doing something very neat -- he's always doing something neat, but now it's in Alaska with Alaskan toys and tools.

    And most likely, Martin, this may well be a book-motivating experience. The Alaskan experience will be qualitatively different than his previous journeys that share proximity to roads and people.

    The Villages and wilderness -- honestly there's essentially no wilderness in the Lower 48 -- plenty of good backcountry but no true wilderness.

    Brad and I discussed that WIlderness is more than a day from the road - 30 miles is a doable day (ask Andy!) and there is no place in the Lower 48 more than 30 miles from a road.

    OK you say, then, there're some remote places that are remote because it is slow going. Big deal. Two days then. An overnight. I challenge anyone to find a place in the Lower 48 that takes longer than 48 hours to get into or out of.

    Most of Alaska, however, is that remote, and the remoteness changes how you deal with people and perceive yourself.

    Andy's ARC (Alaskan Ranges Circuit?) will change him in ways he's yet to be changed.

  6. In the UK Roman it is maximum 8 miles to a road and that is in Scotland in one or two places. Most 1 to 4 miles will see you somewhere to thumb a lift or knock on a door. 30 miles from anywhere sounds scary. Trails only made by animals would be another world. See the point on how that would change you.

  7. Ever since spending this past summer in Alaska, I have been dreaming of attempting a trip of this magnitude at some point in my life.

    I can only imagine the amount of inner drive Andy has to want to cover that much distance by himself in just six months. I still can't imagine covering 30 miles on foot in one day through the Alaskan Wilderness, let alone doing that every day for six months. I really hope he is able to accomplish his goal.

  8. One amazing thing about Andy Skurka is that he is a really pleasant bloke to be around -- I mean he's likable and smiley and fun, and yet he sends himself out on these lonely epics.

    On this upcoming gnarly trip he'll be stretching the limits of his alone time, as there are sections where he may se nobody for a week or more. And as you point out, Mike, a thirty mile day in AK is a long, tough, painful day. Skurka, however, knows what he's getting into and proved that last summer.


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