Monday, August 9, 2010

2006 Arctic 1000: 625 miles in 24 days

The Arctic 1000 satisfied two-fold midlife goals of mine: reaching the remotest spot in the USA while finding how far I could walk (not ski, bike, snowshoe, or boat) carrying all of my food and gear. Sort of like "How long could an Alaska Mountain and Wilderness Classic race course be for me?"

The Arctic 1000 answered that.

I have unearthed a bunch of that four-year old material because I will be joining Andrew Skurka for three weeks while he packrafts and walks across the Gates of the Arctic National Park during his own Alaska-Yukon Expedition. We'll travel about 400 miles out of his 4700 mile loop that began in Kotzebue in mid-March and will likely finish there in early September.

I used to think that Hig and Erin were unique, and in a sense they are, as a couple who made a long walk/packraft. But Skurka's going longer and faster and solo, so I guess there are at least two species in that genus.

My job on Skurka's trip is as photo assistant for Michael Brown (check out his China vids), the amazing young photographer whom I joined back in May to cross the Wrangell St. Elias National Park.

To keep up with Andy and help Mike, I have to go light. The old Arctic 1000 gear list (I have all that stuff and use it, too) will be helpful.

Here's what I wrote back then:
This past June, Montanan Ryan Jordan, Alaskan Jason Geck and I left Kivalina on the west coast of Alaska with the goal of walking to the Dalton Highway, some 620 miles away with no food re-supply, no hunting, no fishing, nor otherwise foraging en route.

The idea was to make the longest, wildest walk, we could in the USA, passing through America's remotest spot, 120 miles from the nearest road or village, and do it with just the food and gear we could carry.

Jordan had to fly out 185 miles into the trip from the Utukok River.

Jason ran out of lunch food and had to see his girlfriend after reaching Anaktuvuk Pass, 552 miles into the trip. I traded a bag of mashed potatoes for a cheeseburger in Anaktuvuk Pass and made the final 72 miles in a day and half with my wife's encouragement and a load that weighed less than a dozen pounds.

The key to making 624 miles in 24 days carrying only one bag of food was carrying very little of anything else, and making darn sure what we did carry was very light.'s gear maven, Ryan Jordan, was instrumental in ferreting out the lightest gear for our expedition – the Cucoon overwear, the Oware megamid, and the ULA pack, for instance. Our "skin out weights" (total weight minus the food and the cameras) were on the order of 12 pounds, an exceptionally light base weight for walking halfway across Alaska, even if we did start with close to 59 pounds on our backs.

Besides lightweight, most of our gear did double duty – the dry bags worked as floatation as well as ground cloth; the foam pad was insulation when sleeping, a seat when snacking, and a literal wind-shield when the wet winds were howling; dental floss cleaned teeth and repaired shoes and pack.

Here I report on what we took and how it worked. When I say, "We" I mean Jason and me, for we traveled as a unit, sharing gear, dinners, breakfasts, and even body heat. Besides modern fabrics, multi-use gear, or simply "doing without" -- like carrying no gloves and only one mitten shell each – Jason and I shared gear. We shared a shelter, a cook-pot, even a sleeping bag.

Looking back four months later, I can think of nothing I'd have left behind (save a camera battery) and nothing additional I'd have brought.

The ultralight style of 7-10 pound base weight was perfectly suitable for this trip. A packraft would have made it more fun, but not satisfied the self-imposed goal of walking-only.

Finally, the food I carried – in particular the 45 Cadbury bars – was great and I did not fall into the usual feeding frenzy after the trip. I finished with 2.8 pounds of food after my final dinner at the Pipeline, having started with 45 pounds of food.

I did not, contrary to some internet discussions, take Jason's food after Anaktuvuk. I traded my potatoes for his cream of wheat and ramen noodles.

In Kivalina my body weight was 177 pounds, back in Anchorage it was 163 pounds. I felt not just 14 pounds lighter but 20 years younger.

As for gear that I threw away after the trip, besides the zip-loc bags, only the two pair of socks, the shoes, and a permanently stinky Capilene base layer were tossed. Everything else but the maps is going on the next trip.

ULA Pack – We needed a light pack that would be versatile enough to carry 12-60 pounds and keep everything dry during river swims. It also needed convenience features like waist belt food pouches and easily used pockets for clothing. I also wanted something to support the weight of my heavy camera. The place to shed weight was in frame, fabric, and padding. I eschew the ripstop nylon packs and instead prefer packs that are little more than a dry bag harness arrangement.
This pack was still in its prototype stage, version 2.0 of a custom design from Brian Frankle ULA ( Key features were its two Cadbury-Chocolate-Bar-sized pockets, each holding at least 1200 calories on the hip belt and a mesh pocket on the back that allowed us to stuff other food and especially shell clothes.
The pack was light at 24 ounces; however, I had problems with the "frame" (a closed cell pad) collapsing as the load became smaller. Ultimately I shoved a folded Pacific Outdoor Equipment Uber Micro sleeping pad into the sleeve with the foam frame and that straightened it out. I also followed Ryan's lead and sewed the lifter straps atop the shoulders to keep them from slipping off the shoulder straps. Once I did this it was much more comfortable on my back and shoulders. All three of us also had the base of our tail bones rubbed raw by the pack's padding there. The beauty of the pack is that it is essentially a harness for a dry bag, with no real sack.
We used the packs as sleeping pad for our legs which offered real insulation against the permafrosted ground, although a bit narrow. The center/top strap also suspended my heavy camera and case (3.4 pounds total, LowePro Top Load Zoom 1 case holding a Nikon D50 with 24-120 mm zoom lens) thus keeping it off of my neck.
This pack has real potential. I found it beefier than the Dana Designs pack and more versatile than the old Cascade Design version. As the load became tiny at the end, I used only two of the three load compression/stabilizer straps and this made the pack very versatile.

Pacific Outdoor Equipment (P.O.E.) 65 L Pneumo Dry Bag – At 12 ounces (24" X 37") this is another very versatile piece of gear, but I would have preferred a longer, narrower profile to keep the pack's shape. Generally I use the 50 L version as its dimensions (20" X 40") are ideal but the 50 L bag did not have the volume needed for this long of a trip. The 65 L monster dry bag was the pack body, holding 42 pounds of food and my gear – a total of 59 pounds at the start of the trip (minus the 3.4 pound camera). At Anaktuvuk I swapped it out with Jason for a POE 15 L Pneumo Lightweight dry bag (4.4 oz) which held my sub-15 pound load more efficiently.
This big dry bag kept food and gear dry in both rain and river crossings. It also was key for swimming the Colville and Ipnavik Rivers. I used it as a pillow stuffed with food and at the end followed Jason's lead and slept on it for additional warmth. Amazingly it made a significant difference.
Pacific Outdoor Equipment 5 L Pneumo Dry Bag – I brought this to protect my camera during anticipated swims – which it did, although not a drop got into the 65 L bag. Day to day, this was the bag that held my non-food items and sleep clothes. Probably not totally necessary. Zip Lock bags could have done the same job.
Pacific Outdoor Equipment Uber Micro sleeping pad – This pad is very light, only 3 ounces, and I found it excellent for its weight. It is constructed as a laminate of two thicknesses of foam, and is a torso sized pad (17" X 37"). I folded into thirds and early on in the trip kept it clipped to the top of the pack for sitting on during rest breaks, keeping my bum off the permafrosted and often damp tundra. I also used it as an insulating layer under my jacket in very windy and/or wet conditions and also rolled it and put it across the front of my shoulders for buoyancy when swimming the Colville. Finally, as noted above I shoved it into the pack's frame compartment to stiffen the pack at the end of the trip. A very versatile piece of gear, it was plenty of insulation for the permafrosted ground for my torso, and I knew when I rolled off of it.
Sleeping Quilt -- 57" opening tapering to 48" foot and 70" long with Polarguard Delta insulations and ¾ oz Pertex Quantum fabric. This weighed 25 ounces and slept Jason and me. We put a hole in it for the center pole. It had a draw cord but this was not very useable for two, since you'd have to wake the other to get out of the bag. There was just a single Pertex layer on the bottom (uncoated) and it worked well. I think the loft was like 1.2" and when used with dry sleep base layer and the Cocoon pants and parka was plenty warm. I was only cold when I rolled off of my pads and onto the permafrosted ground.
Only improvement I would make is to put the tent pole holes in the quilt before leaving home, instead of sewing them with dental floss during the trip.
Cocoon and Sleep Clothing – Both Jason and I found the 10 ounce hooded parka and 7 ounce pants to be wonderful. At the end of each day while still warm from hiking we'd strip off our traveling clothes (all of them) and put on a dry base layer. The base layer I wore was women's Patagonia Pointelle 3 oz long underwear and a ~12 ounce medium sized Smartwool Versaweight Shadow Hoody (I am now a convert to wool) for sleeping and a pair of Teko Eco-Merino 100% wool socks – which got the "Most Disappointing Piece of Gear" award for wearing holes in less than three days while walking, then the Cocoon layers ("Most Comfy Gear Award"). These are Pertex Quantum fabric and Polarguard Delta insulation. I stuffed them daily, and they still held their loft. The hood needs a draw string system similar to Patagonia's hoods to keep it out of the eyes, but what a treat to pull these at the end of each day.
My wife sewed an extension onto the pants with a draw cord so I could close off the pant legs and cover my feet for extra insulation. This worked really well on my oversized pants, although Jason's fit him too well to work this way. The extensions helped me to heal the little pus pockets on my right foot.
Oware Megamid –style shelter – This was a standard sized 8' by 8' pyramid style floorless tarp that Jason and I shared. It weighed 14 ounces and was made of a racing sailcloth called Cuben Fiber, which was so light that Jason feared it would blow apart (in some winds I shared the feeling!). We were careful not to let any sharp sticks near. I reinforced the stitching at the corner tie downs with a seam sealer. Each of the 8 tie downs had a 40" piece of 1/16" Specter cord with a bowline. These I tied to rocks with clove hitch on gravel bars (wore holes in the sheath) or better yet to willows and birch shrubs on the tundra with quick-releasing clove hitches. After Ryan left we used six titanium stakes more than half the time. They were convenient and got the tent close to the ground but insecure in high winds. Ti is much better than aluminum (stiff) but lighter than steel.
This 'mid was considerably heavier than 14 ounces when wet, but only leaked during rains near the tunnel vent at the top, probably because I didn't seam seal it there. Jason slept in his head-net most nights. Mosquitoes seemed to fly to the top and stay off of us, so bugs were not an issue for me. When staked down, the 'mid could be sealed against bugs quite well and wind, too. I have been using this style of shelter since the mid 1980's and have, of course, spent many nights in 'mids modified with mosquito netting. I don't feel that they are really anything more than window dressing, these mosquito net skirts and have never felt the need to add one to my own 'mids. Nor do I ever worry about wet ground in a floorless tent, eschewing bivy sacks and ground cloths. I find it easy – and satisfying -- to create an island of dryness on wet ground, in contrast to the anxiety I feel in trying to keep a dry floor protected from moisture and wetness. It was custom made for us by Oware (
Trekking Poles – "Most Surprisingly Useful Award" Jason and I each used one Bozeman Mountain Works Stix trekking pole. It had an EVA foam grip and was made of carbon fiber in the shaft. These weigh 3 ounces each. We strapped them together with short, 20" X 1" accessory straps for the 'mid's center pole and that worked great. I put rubber gaskets on the shaft of one of the trekking poles so there would be friction to keep them from slipping. The accessory straps used a clove hitch and then the buckles to cinch the poles together.
These carbon fiber poles are so stiff and light that we never wanted to be without them. In the past I have disdained trekking poles unless lame. But past poles were heavy, sloppy, and had straps. These were so stiff and light and well-balanced that as Jason said, "The pole is a part of me."
I found that a pole was indispensable in the tussocks, great for the tundra and cobbles, a hassle in the brush, and a liability on talus. Jason lost the basket quite soon into the trip, but didn't seem to mind. At the end I had his on my walk from Anaktuvuk to the Haul Road in one hand and my basketed pole in the other. I preferred the version with the basket. It doesn't sink in and can be used far more aggressively for jumping, propulsion, and balance.

One Gallon Aluminum Cookpot with lid– This is the standard size pot I use for 2-3 people. It has no handle. I use sticks, rocks, or the sleeves of wool garments to pick it up. Also a couple of folded empty coco powder packets work well. On this trip Jason and I each drank about 2.5 liters of liquid both for breakfast and for dinner. We had a 1.3 L hot drink followed by a 1.2 L soupy meal. We built the fires around the cook pot. Generally each evening I unpacked and pulled out the cook pot, filled it and the two 2 L Big Zip Platypus water bags with water from stream, river, or lake while Jason collected wood. He then built the fire around the cookpot while I set up the shelter.
Titanium was too expensive and in Anchorage I was unable to buy an uncoated titanium one. It weighs about the same as the aluminum one (15 ounces). I would take titanium because it would not likely bend as easily as the aluminum pot. I had several superlight plastic grocery bags I wrapped the cookpot in before slipping it into its snug-fitting silicon-coated nylon stuff sack to keep the blackness off of my pack contents. This was the only stuff sack I brought.
TinderQuik and Esbit Cubes – Jason used one half to two TinderQuiks and a Bic lighter to start willow fires every night and morning. We sometimes slept with dry wood under our shelter to use in the morning should it rain overnight. I think he used the Esbit cubes for wet conditions twice. The wind was great for firing up the fire and getting our fire hot and water boiling quickly. We spent about 1.5-2 hours between sleep and traveling each morning and evening, setting up camp, cooking, packing/unpacking, etc.
Nalgene 1 L Wide Mouth Cantene – These were a big surprise. They are "flat technology" made of a collapsible plastic and fine for hot drinks. I pull off the cap and use it as a sip cup, pouring the piping hot fluids into the cap for easy drinking when the bottle's contents are too hot. During the day we kept them handy, strapped to the packs top/back strap or to our shoulder straps down by the waist belt. We drank their 42 ounce capacity in untreated stream, river, lake, even puddle water at least four times a day. Our total fluid intake each day was generally over 2 gallons for each of us. When I didn't get my proper intake, I had calf cramps. Indeed we treat water a bit like motor oil, without enough the pistons seize up. Neither of us ever got sick from drinking the untreated water, although I got sick the next day from too much olive oil one night.
REI Titanium Spoon – I carried a Ti spoon and Jason carried a more conventional plastic spoon. I used mine to dig holes for my shoulder in camp, and we both used it to pry off the tight fitting cookpot lid when cooking. It also tended to get used more for cooking than Jason's plastic spoon.
Axis Outdoor Orikaso Bowl -- Jason carried this clever, 2 cup folding bowl (1 ounce) for eating out of and we used it as a dip cup for filling the Nalgene Cantenes with hot fluids. I ate out of the cookpot. Food cooled faster in the Orikaso Bowl and so I would refill Jason's bowl as needed.
Platypus bags – Besides the 2 L Big Zips for water (which we filled from the zipper end), we each had two more Platypus bags. Each of us started with 1 L of olive oil (I finished with 0.3 L of oil and Jason in Anaktuvuk had 0.6 L) in a 1 L Platypus bag. I carried 3 pounds of home-made almond butter in a 2 Liter Big Zip. I am unsure how much Jason carried….

First Aid Kits – Contrary to some claims in the networld, we each carried first aid kits. Mine had moleskin (unused), 7 bunion pads (used), tape (20" by 1" adhesive and 20" by 2" duct some used), 5 bandaids (all used), 3 sachets antibiotic ointment (used) and two sachets Betadine scrub (used), 1 needle (used) and some cotton thread (unused), 5 butterfly bandages (unused), tweezers (unused), 4 antibiotic pills (unused), 50 anti-inflamation pills (mostly used), 14 pain-killing pills (unused), and 2 pills for giardia (unused). Jason had similar things, but I used his big role of 3M adhesive tape (2" by ??feet) we got from the PJs the most.
Swiss Army Knife – Super small version with scissors. Excellent choice as it is light, sharp and versatile. Jason had one, I had none.
Tooth brush, floss, toothpaste – I carried a half-sized brush and 3 mini tubes of toothpaste from a British Airlines flight. I also had a trial sized floss, which I ran out of sewing the pack and shoes. Jason shared his floss with me as he does not floss daily (tsk, tsk). His glide floss worked surprisingly well for sewing my shoe patches. It lasted.
Dermatone – I started with a full 14 g tine of Dermatone and finished with it about 1/8 full. I used it as a sun screen on my lips, nose and occasionally arms and neck. Also a lubricant and moisturizer.
Bens 100 Pump Spray insect repellent – I started with 1.25 fluid ounces and finished with ¼ of a bottle. I used it only for the last week or so when the bugs finally came out. The pump spray is easier for me to apply than the liquid.
Black Bug Headnet with steel stiffener – I slept in mine maybe 3 times. Jason maybe fifteen or twenty times. Neither of us ever wore it during the day as the bugs simply were never that bad. We chose to do our trip in June "between the snow and the mosquitoes" and we ht it pretty much right on. It helped that it was a cooler spring this year as well.
Sunglasses – I wore a pair of "Faux-klies" I bought for $3 in Malaysia several years ago and can't seem to lose or break them. They were fine, if goofy-looking in their blue-fading-to-pink frames. They matched a pink cotton headband I made from a cotton T-shirt I brought for sleeping but didn't used and burned at our last camp on the Wulik River.
Men's Patagonia Capilene Seamless Shorts – These stretchy underwear bottoms are like cut-off tights that come to mid-thigh. They prevent chafing. I took them off each night. I only brought one pair and they were great and ready for the next trip.
Cut-off Mid Weight Capilene Zip T Top – This is a typical mid-weight layer but I cut the sleeves off midway between the elbow and the shoulder. It was only about a year old but so very stinky! Still this is a versatile style for me as my base layer. I like the zippered turtle neck. I will switch to wool as a base layer, probably Patagonia's new "wool 2".
Smartwool Versaweight Shadow Hoody – XL size. As mentioned above, I am now a convert to wool. This was the layer I wore over my cut-off top and having a hood and long sleeves was great. I prefer the hood to a hat as in the Arctic especially, the temperatures during the trip, during the day, during the hour can vary widely and this hood is an efficient and convenient means of dealing with it. I wish that the hood was just a little more technical, covering just a bit more of the face. I liked the black color and the white stripes.
Patagonia Cool Weather Tights – These were several years old and I had to sew some holes with dental floss as the holes developed from wear and from snags in brush. I like tights rather than pants because I can see my foot placements better, plus tights seem to slide through the brush more easily and move through river crossings more sleekly than pants.
Patagonia Mid Weight Capilene Bottoms – Generally I wear two layers on my legs in cold and especially rainy weather. However, we had none of that the first week and I thought I'd never need these, so I decided to burn them. Sensible man that he is, Jason stopped me and said he'd take them. A week later I took them back from him and wore them twice: once on a rainy, thirty mile day on Lookout Ridge, and once on a rainy then snowy day we climbed a 5500 foot pass over the Brooks Range. That was it: I wore them twice and gave them to Jason at night to sleep in.
Smartwool Adrenaline Socks – After the Teko socks blew a hole in them within two days of the start, I switched to these Smartwools. They worked well. I should have used them from the beginning. Still they finished with a quarter sized hole in each sock, right on the ball of my foot, and a dime sized hole on the outside of my right baby toe. Gear maven Ryan Jordan informs me that tight-weave, high nylon content wool socks last longest. He says the Smartwool Steel Toe model is the best way to go with that manufacturer.
From the first hour of the trip to the end our shoes and socks were always wet – always! For a trip of this magnitude (indeed anything over three days in Alaska), I find it important to get out of wet socks for at least four hours and preferably 12 hours a day. I invariably keep one pair of socks clean and dry for sleeping (that is sleep socks never get used as walk socks except maybe the last day). I generally never wear the sleep socks for hiking. This trip was an exception because my first pair of socks, the Teko Merino, I used for hiking until that ruined them, and I had to switch socks. Should have used the Tekos for sleeping from the beginning and the Smartwools for walking.
The debris, sand and mud in our socks forced us to rinse the socks every couple days. Every day would've been better but we did not always have the time or ambition. The rinsing likely extended the life of the socks and helped clear up the "pus pockets" on my right foot.
Salomon XA Comp 2 Adventure Racing Shoe (NOT Gore-Tex) – The web wars notwithstanding, I had the lightest footwear of any of the three of us (Ryan had the heaviest), and I alone finished the trek. I have been adventure racing (AR), packrafting, and trekking in Salomon AR shoes for the last five years. The mesh on these shoes allows them to dry very fast, which is important when the shoes get wet frequently. If it gets wet easily the shoe generally dries easily. The Kevlar and cord-lock lacing system is far superior to tieing shoes in that it is fast and easily adjusted. Jason would have to triple tie his fuzzy laces.
I knew going into this that the outside baby toe spot would wear. I considered shoe-gooing it but worried about how it might rub if I did. Shoe goo on the toe and outside of the foot stitching really worked well in preventing threads from wearing through. Jason's shoes looked far more worn than mine at Anaktuvuk. Nevertheless I had to sew two patches on each shoe at the widest part of the shoe where holes in my shoes wore through due to the abrasive low brush, particularly resin birch.
As with my food, I could have squeezed another two days – i.e. 70 miles out of the shoes and pushed the 700 mile mark. A local newspaper article quoted Jason as saying that my shoe repair slowed us down. Unlikely. Generally when I was sewing my patches on the shoes in camp (each took about 30 minutes) Jason was sleeping! What really slowed us most was my photography. The weight and bulk of the camera and the time taken to frame, compose, and stop to shoot 1200 photos took far more time than repairing shoes and took the time when it was needed – while traveling.
I would use these shoes again; however, I have been told that I am more careful about my foot placements and traveling surfaces than most people and so maybe easier on shoes. In other words, they may be too light for others.
Patagonia Specter Pullover – This gear wins the award for "Most Functional". We used it as wind shell, rain gear, river swimming gear, bug and sun protection. We used it as part of our sleeping system, a ground cloth. Its kangaroo pocket was always full of food, bug dope, map, sunglasses. One sleeve served as a mitten shell – if we had bought a larger size both sleeves would have been mitten shells. It kept the rain out and breathed wonderfully. It is an incredible 6 ounces of fabric with an ideal hood and no frills, not a one. Just 100% functionality. Jason tore a 2 inch hole in his in the brush but was able to patch it with duct tape.
Montane Featherlight pants – These 3-4 ounce pants seemed impossibly fragile. They are the gear incarnate that ultralight opponents point towards when saying, "Throw-away gear! Will not last a New York second in the real wilderness!" However, these were great. I did eventually put a hole in my thigh in the brush but repaired it with duct tape. We used them perhaps every other day and they were wonderful. I did have my doubts when they arrived in the mail! Such light fabric (Pertex Microlight)! But they were both windproof and water resistant. They worked well for the river swims and wet brush. The calf-length side zips were also very convenient for pulling on. They looked like warm-up pants for playing basketball but are a good choice for ultralight advocates who can take care of gear.
OR Mitten Shell – Jason brought two mitten shells and shared the right one with me – he used the left. Our other hands we pulled inside our Hoody and Specter pullover sleeves. I thought this a great application of our style of going light: sharing. However when asked what other gear Jason would bring, he responded, "Another pair of mitten shells for you, Roman."
Maps – I took 1:250,000 scale maps where 1 inch equal four miles. I had ten sheets that I bought directly from the USGS. I carried a two inch pencil stub with eraser for writing notes both on the map and its back side for the blog entries. Unfortunately twice we ended up where we had not intended to go (Kivalina instead of Pt. Hope and upper Utukok instead of Archimedes Ridge) and so I used 1:500,000 (1 inch equals 8 miles) aeronautical charts. I did no map trimming. Map trimming is mostly a symbolic gesture and it leads to cutting off useful information – such as the map itself. The edges are also a good place for notes.
Silva Compass – I carried a small simple model with no declination feature, no mirror and no gizmos. It had a 2 inch straight edge on one side in inches and a 7.5 cm edge in mm on the other. In the fog I carried it round my neck.
Garmin Geko GPS – This Jason carried with one set of extra batteries that he never used. We used it for locating our camps to report for the blog. We also used it to get to the most remote place , which we had pre-loaded after finding it with a GIS this last winter. We only used it for navigation twice. Once when finding Ryan's fly-out strip and again for getting to the most remote place. We also used it to generate an index of straight-line travel by dividing the GPS point to point distance since last camp with the map measured distance. We never left the unit on to measure our actual distance traveled as we had insufficient batteries to do so.
Ziplocks and Aloksaks – While Ryan prepackaged daily food, Jason and I did not. We went with bulk packaging so that we could create meals as we went and adjust and ration intake as needed. Most foods were in zip-locks. Freeze-dried meals (Jason and I each carried 7 freeze-dried meals marketed as "2-person") were emptied from original packaging into the thin produce bags found at any supermarket. I used a small Aloksak for first-aid kit, one gallon-sized Aloksak for my collection of used and unused maps (12 total) and one for the map that we used at any given time. It was kept in my Specter kangaroo pocket or in my shirt, always handy.
Iridium Sat Phone with Lithium battery – Excellent. When talking to my wife to arrange the pick-up for Ryan, she kept expecting the phone to cut off as that had been her experience with Globalstar phones in the North. We always had good to excellent connections and the phone was well worth its weight. The one Lithium battery lasted and we never needed the spare. Is a sat phone cheating? Certainly. Are you unwise not to bring one? Certainly. I have only started carrying them since 2003, but think it wonderful, particularly as I am old and not so bold these days as I was the last time I weighed 163 pounds – in my twenties!
LowePro Top Load Zoom 1 case holding a Nikon D50 with 24-120 mm zoom lens (3.4 pounds total) – Heavy (oh so heavy!) but nice to have the type of camera (SLR) I am used to shooting with to get the 1200 photos I took using three batteries and three 1 gbyte cards. I shot small or medium sized photos in fine. It was my first trip shooting digital, completely converting me.


  1. Looking over your recent "nostalgia" posts, I am very, very grateful that you hauled that camera with you. These pictures are incredible.


  2. Fascinating article that I've been waiting about four years for!

    Interesting that you rate the Salomon laces. Whilst I have found them less 'fuzzy' and stronger than normal laces I also found them a pain to repair when they do fail. The tiny lace holes on the Salomon shoes are a bitch to try and rethread!

  3. Wonderful info, Roman. It takes a true gear geek to share that kind of detail. I can empathize with and relate to the umpteen thousand small decisions (and experiences) it took you to get to what made the 'final cut'.

    Very glad that you took the DSLR. Loved the pic of Jason (?) looking out over the tundra from on high. But, only 1200 pics? Why so frugal?!?!

    Methinks we need to plan an over-the-snow trip for this winter. Difficult to think about during mid-summer desert heat, but as fall rolls in maybe an idea or three will present themselves.



  4. MC -- too busy walkin for shootin....

    Joe -- somehow managed to tie the wear spot on the laces...

  5. Hey Roman
    Loved the griz encounter. Know fear.
    Whats amazed me following Young Skurka is the remarkably few numbers of bears he's come across. Up until he hit the Richardsons, he'd run into TWO, unless he's not reporting them.
    Two for cying out loud, I run into more than that in a week of mountain biking here in Whitehorse for god sakes.
    Back in my 20s, I never thought twice about bears, or pepper spray, or firearms. But I had two long trips up in the Peel river that changed all that. Many bad encounters involving Griz. All ended well, so really they must not have been that bad.
    Now, I am ashamed to say, I usually "pack" something, regardless of weight. If in a larger group, ie. 3-4+, I don't worry about it.
    Being in the US, you have more options for firearms (handguns).
    Whats your own personal ethic on the whole "to carry or not to carry" question?
    Ultimately, its obviously not that big a hazard, as Skurkas fantastic journey only too well illustrates, but even one close (and by close I mean something like what you described above) sure reinforces our place in the food chain.
    Thanks for all the images BTW.

  6. Hi Paul,

    Happen to be in Anaktuvuk w/Skurka right now -- we saw sow and cub the first day off the Haul Road and he saw bears like every three days or so from Ft McPherson over to here...

    To answer your question, if anybody's nervous then I bring what makes them not nervous. Bears can sense fear so the means of reducing fear and apprehension is important in keeping bears at bay, in my opinion and experience.

  7. Epic write-up.

    Never had any issues with Salomon laces here either, reckon the shoe will fall apart first...

  8. I love going camping, and just any outdoor activity. My favorite shoe is also Salomon for the hiking trail. They are extremely comfortable.

  9. Great post and photos :)

    Interested in what antibiotics you bought with you? Anything specific to what you thought you might get or just a general penicillin?

  10. @Tomas We brought Cipro and Tinadizol (for giardia, which nobody got), and the neosporin in little tubes

  11. More photos and georeferenced at


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