Wednesday, July 12, 2006

1,000 km with 7 pounds of gear.

We blogged on the guys who were trying to do a 1,000 km unsupported traverse of the Arctic in Alaska when they started. They finished July 4. Here's their wrap up. It's worth reading, and checking out their site, if for no other reason than to appreciate how light they went. If you don't include the weight of food and water, they carried less than 7 pounds per person. Wow. I carry more than that on a day hike.

Bozeman, Mont. (July 7, 2006) - On July 4, a team of long distance trekkers completed the first and longest ever unsupported trekking traverse of America's most remote, roadless, uninhabited wilderness, a distance of 1000 km (600 mi) across Alaska's western Arctic region from the Chukchi Sea to the Alaskan Pipeline.

En route, in addition to completing America's longest wilderness traverse, the party became the first to visit the most remote location in the U.S. by fair means - carrying all of their gear, food, and supplies for the entirety of the trek in their backpacks and traveling entirely on foot.

"We crested the final hill, and there it was: the remotest place in America, situated in the mouth of a shallow draw, with a gravel band above, and a cluster of pretty mountains behind it, and a hundred-foot cliff bank below it. It was a beautiful scene." -- Expedition Member Roman Dial, from America's Remotest Spot on June 25, 2006

Their route traversed the most remote (westernmost) region of Alaska's Brooks Range, starting at the Chukchi Sea near the Native village of Kivalina and ending at the Alaskan Oil Pipeline Highway ("Haul Road") near Wiseman. This region is notable for two key characteristics: it is the largest contiguous roadless, uninhabited, and unprotected wilderness in America, and it contains America's remotest spot (defined by its distance from the nearest roads or habitations) in an area that is more than 15 times the area of the remotest spot in the contiguous U.S., which lies SE of Yellowstone National Park.

They faced tremendous challenges, including trekking up to 40 miles per day in the Alaskan bush and tundra, crossing the Brooks Range, swimming rivers swollen with snowmelt, standing down threatening grizzly bears, managing foot injuries, and trekking quickly to the end in the face of rapidly dwindling food supplies.

Early in the expedition, expedition member Ryan Jordan badly sprained an ankle, requiring the party to adjust their already precarious schedule, travel off their maps, and navigate to a safe location for a bush pilot to land. In another incident, they surprised a grizzly bear protecting a moose kill. On another day, they swam across one of the largest rivers in the Arctic. A few days later, they crossed the crest of the Brooks Range in a storm that threatened them with hypothermia.

The party completed the route in ultralight style, using fragile and lightweight gear considered absurdly inadequate by mainstream outdoor industry manufacturers. They slept under tarps made with the lightest racing sailcloth materials available, carried
backpacks that weighed only 24 ounces but carried 55-60 lbs (mostly food), and cooked over bush fires. They wore trail running shoes and carried no extra footwear. They traveled at night, and slept during the day - minimizing the amount of insulating gear they had to carry. The weight of their trekking gear, not including food and water, was less than 7 pounds per person.

During the expedition, readers of the live satellite dispatches sent by the team to their web site,, expressed controversial opionions about the team's style and strategy, from their choice not to take guns for bear protection, to their use of a satellite phone to ensure safety in an emergency, to their use of running shoes as a means to trek through the Alaskan bush.

Expedition member Ryan Jordan, publisher of Backpacking Light Magazine and the web site, says: "This expedition was ambitious. There was never a guaranteed outcome of success, even towards the end. It was a serious test of ultralight trekking technique and gear, athleticism, and sheer power of will. On a personal level, it was the most engaging strategy I've ever used to enjoy a wilderness traverse."

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