When you’re talking about long distance adventurers one of the first names that springs to mind is Andrew Skurka. Named as “Adventurer of the Year” 2007 by National Geographic Adventure’s and “Person of the Year” 2005 by Backpacker Magazine. Andrew has trekked over 25,000 miles since 2002, when Andrew turned his hobby into an occupation, leaving his “conventional career” behind to become a professional adventurer. Some of his more challenging expeditions have included the Great Western Loop at almost 7,000 miles, and his Sea-to-Sea expedition at almost 8,000 miles.
With a pedigree like this it was hardly a surprise when Andrew set out on his next big adventure in March of this year. The Alaska-Yukon Expedition, a circular expedition of 4,700 miles over some of the worlds most famous mountain ranges, the Brooks Range and Alaska Ranges as well as taking in the amazing Yukon River. The route began and ended 30 miles into the Arctic Circle, and is a route which had never been completed nor attempted previously. Andrew has planned the expedition to last around 7 months. Having just completed the adventure some weeks early, CheapTents sat down with Andrew and talked about his adventures.
Andrew Skurka Interview
CheapTents.com: What inspired you to get into outdoor pursuits and long distance walking?
AS: I find unparalleled beauty, refreshing simplicity, and tremendous humility in the outdoors. And long-distance walking is a great way to experience it: it’s great exercise and it allows me to see vast swaths of nature in a relatively short period of time.
CheapTents.com: How do you overcome the solitude experienced on a long distance hike?
AS: My trips are too engaging to become lonely: I’m focused on sniffing out game trails, fording glacier-fed rivers, staying warm in sub-zero temperatures, and the like. Maybe I’d get lonely if I put in short days and sat around the campfire alone every night singing Kumbaya.
CheapTents.com: What considerations did you take into account when devising your route for the Alaska-Yukon expedition?
AS: The route was driven by wanting to traverse the Alaska Range and the Brooks Range in one trip. The rest of the route was mostly a matter of practicality: the western connection had to be done when the land was still frozen because it’s too boggy and buggy to get across easily in the summer; and the eastern connection could be done if I went into Yukon. The Lost Coast section was an unnecessary but worthwhile addition that I had the time to squeeze in.
CheapTents.com: What part of the Alaska-Yukon route provided the most spectacular scenery?
AS: The Alaska Range was the most majestic, and my route through it was spectacular. The Chugach Range is equally impressive but my route was further away from it. The Brooks Range is a backpackers’ dream, especially Gates of the Arctic National Park in the Fall.
CheapTents.com: What part of the Alaska-Yukon route offered the most challenge?
AS: I was humbled from start to finish. Skiing along the Arctic Coast was stressful because it was as cold as -25F, the wind always howled, and there were no trees around for protection. The Alaska Range was difficult due to rotting snow. The Lost Coast has long beach walks punctuated by moments of terror: long crossings of open ocean bays and fords of raging glacial-fed rivers. The Yukon Arctic has extensive tussocks and muskeg. And the Brooks Range is scarily remote.
CheapTents.com: How heavy was your pack and what did you carry with you on this adventure?
AS: You can find my gear list on my website. My “base weight” (gear only, no food, water, or fuel) was in the high-10’s during both the winter and the summer. In the winter I had to carry a gas stove and a lot of insulation. In the summer I had to carry a packraft. There was one time where I think my pack weighed about 50 lbs including food: I was leaving Dawson YT with two weeks of chocolate and couscous.
CheapTents.com: What boots/shoes do you wear on these long distance treks?
AS: I had 3-pin leather telemark ski boots in the winter, and in the summer I wore lightweight trail running shoes, the La Sportiva Fireblade.
CheapTents.com: What are your favourite bits of gear, and why?
AS: My alcohol stove is pretty sweet: it’s made out of a 3-oz cat food can. You can find the assembly instructions for the alcohol stove on my website.
Here’s a video of those instructions
CheapTents.com: What is your biggest accomplishment?
AS: My trips are impressive but they are not the great thing I’ve done. Rather, I’d point to the fact that I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing with my life, which was not particularly easy to do given the pushback from parents, relatives, and peers who believed that I was throwing away my education and closing doors on opportunities I had.
CheapTents.com: You are clearly enjoying your expeditions, other than expeditions themselves what training did you do before this expedition, and how does this differ from one of your shorter expeditions?
AS: I didn’t train for this trip any differently than I train for others: I’m active every day, which helps develop a baseline of fitness that allows me to “hit the ground running” when I begin my trip. See this article for a comprehensive answer on how to train for a long-distance trip. I’ll point out that I was in good skiing shape too when I began AYE because I’d been skiing all winter (downhill and backcountry/cross-country) in Colorado.
CheapTents.com: You’ve just completed a huge expedition and are now recovering, looking back is there anything you would change about your preparations or the actual expedition?
AS: I made the best decisions I could have made with the information that I had. Certainly there were places where I did not identify the best route (so I had to modify my route in the field) and there stretches where my mileage estimates could have been better, but I just didn’t have enough information at the time to do better.
CheapTents.com: Do you have any ideas in mind for future adventures?
AS: Some, but nothing that I’ve investigated yet.
CheapTents.com: Any people or sponsors that you would like thank?
AS: I received a grant from National Geographic’s Expeditions Council to defer the costs of the expedition, so I’d like to especially thank them. Companies like GoLite, La Sportiva, Mountain Laurel Designs, Headsweats, and DeFeet have helped me out a lot too over the years.
CheapTents.com: Finally, Andrew we would like to thank you for your time in answering our questions today.
If what you have read has sparked your interest in adventure expeditions then you may enjoy reading our interview with Samuel H Gardner who has an amazing hiking project called the “All-In Trek” and also our interview with the worlds most successful adventure racer Ian Adamson.
If you want to learn more about Andrew Skurka’s expeditions you can visit his website www.AndrewSkurka.com
If you have any questions for Andrew leave them below.
Finally, we would like to thank Kraig Becker of the adventure blog, for asking some of todays questions. And of course a final thank you to Andrew Skurka for his time and allowing us use of his images.