I look at gear as simply a means—to stay alive, stay comfortable, and stay moving. In my mind, gear is no different than food, maps, or game trails: gear simply helps me to achieve my goal, in this case to return to Kotzebue after an epic loop around Alaska and Yukon. I carry as little gear as I can—there’s no sense in burdening my body and mind with things I don’t really “need.”
The Gear Lists are designed specifically for the conditions that I will encounter during the AYE. I determined the nature of these conditions by examining historical weather data, interviewing individuals with local knowledge, and researching the experiences of others that have been subsequently shared (via blogs, documentary videos, forum posts, etc.). And then based on my projected itinerary, I determined which conditions I would experience where. I also determined how much daylight I will have, as this affects my need for artificial lighting and the amount of time I spend in camp.
Descriptions of the Conditions
I expect to encounter four distinct groups of conditions (which coincide with the seasons) during AYE:
Winter: Mid-March through late-April | Kotzebue to Cantwell, AK | 1,100 miles
While the worst of the Arctic’s winter conditions will have passed by the time I arrive in Kotzebue, the conditions will still be very challenging. The average low is about -10 F and the average high is about 10 F. Thankfully the conditions become less extreme as I ski southward, get inland away from the Bering and Chuckchi Seas, and move into April: when I reach McGrath about 4.5 weeks into the trip, average temperatures are 10 F and 35 F. The warming trend will be somewhat neutralized when I climb into the higher elevations of the Alaska Range in mid-April, by which time I will have about 18 hours of daylight.
I will ski most of the 1,100 miles between Kotzebue and Cantwell. Along the western coastline the snow will be dry, sugary, windblown, and thin. The snow will begin to melt as I approach the Alaska Range, but I will be following the hard-packed Iditarod Trail, and repeated freezing/thawing will hopefully result in some icy (i.e. “fast”) conditions at night and in the morning. I approach the Alaska Range from the northwest, in its rainshadow, and some sections could be completely windswept; I might be walking. The snowpack in the Alaska Range could be very challenging, especially at lower elevations where it will be melting quickly and rotting out, leading to extensive and arduous post-holing.
Spring: Late-April through May | Cantwell to Cordova, AK | 700 miles
Spring happens quickly in Alaska: the snow melts out fast due to the 20+ hours of daylight and the relatively warm temperatures (average temps between 30 and 50). I will continue to hit pockets of snow at higher elevations and on north-facing slopes, but probably not enough to justify the weight and hassle of skis, especially since these 700 miles are mostly in mid-elevations that should have melted out already. The now-open rivers provide an opportunity for a different type of backcountry travel: packrafting.
Summer: June through mid-Aug| Cordova to Ft McPherson, NWT | 1,950 miles
During the summer I’ll see the warmest temperatures and the longest days: averages will be in the 40’s and 60’s, and I will continue to have more daylight (20-22 hours) than I can possibly use. Some heavy rainstorms will inevitably nail me, but my bigger concern will be maintaining my sanity during the bug hatches, namely the mosquitoes and black flies. DEET, full-coverage clothing, and smart route selection should help my cause, but I nevertheless expect to rejoice when Fall’s cooler temperatures arrive.
Fall: Mid-Aug through early-Oct | Ft McPherson to Kotzebue | 950 miles
The bugs will fade, but Fall brings other challenges. Rainfall increases and the average temperature declines, resulting in more common cold-and-wet conditions. The days also become incrementally shorter, to the point where I have 17 hours of daylight by early-September and only 13 hours of daylight by early-October. Finally, if I do not finish early enough, I will have to deal with the Fall freeze-up, when ice is too thin to support my weight but thick enough to bring an end to river travel in my packraft.
The above text is generally spot-on, in terms of the timing and nature of the conditions I expected to encounter. One small exception is that I skied for two weeks (350 miles) longer than I had anticipated. The bigger exception was that I finished in early-September, avoiding most of the Fall’s miserable cold-and-wet conditions entirely.
The Gear Lists
Download the gear list (right click and “Save As”)