In mid-March 2010 endurance adventurer Andrew Skurka will begin the Alaska-Yukon Expedition (AYE), a 4,700-mile, 7-month-long ski/trek/packraft adventure that begins and ends thirty miles north of the Arctic Circle in northwestern Alaska. The AYE has never before been completed or attempted.
The AYE route is inspiringly spectacular. It travels through the heart of six US National Parks (including the Park Service’s three largest—Wrangell-St. Elias, Denali, and Gates of the Arctic) and two Canadian parks. It crosses only eight major roads and once goes 615 miles through completely undeveloped wilderness (no villages, no roads, no pipelines, etc.). It features lengthy traverses of the Alaska Range (home of Mount McKinley) as well as the Brooks Range, arguably the greatest wilderness in the world. It includes long floats on some of North America’s wildest rivers, including the Copper, Yukon, Peel, and Kobuk. And it follows two historic routes, the Iditarod Trail and Chilkoot Trail.
Only 10 percent of the AYE route follows manmade throughways like hiking trails, ATV tracks, and vehicle-accessible roads; and about 15 percent of the route follows winter dogsled and snowmobile routes. The bulk of AYE route is organic: there are 1,850 miles of off-trail trekking, 350 miles of off-track skiing, and 1,350 miles on rivers and saltwater bays.
Andrew Skurka is an accomplished 29-year-old endurance adventurer, speaker, and guide. Since 2002 he has trekked over 25,000 miles; his two most well known trips were monumental long-distance hiking firsts—the 6,875-mile Great Western Loop and the 7,778-mile Sea-to-Sea Route. More recently he has focused on backpacking and packrafting outings in Alaska, Iceland, and the Colorado Plateau. Skurka has been recognized as “Adventurer of the Year” by National Geographic Adventure and “Person of the Year” by Backpacker.
I will begin the AYE in mid-March 2010, after the Arctic’s toughest winter conditions have passed but before the favorable travel conditions (e.g. frozen rivers and snow-covered muskeg) have deteriorated. The Spring breakup should occur between mid-April and early-May, as I am traversing the Alaska Range. I will enjoy several months of relatively favorable conditions (outside of the bug hatches) while I’m in southeastern Alaska and southern Yukon. Fall will take hold as I am moving across northern Yukon and the Brooks Range—the days will be getting incrementally shorter and cold-and-wet conditions will become more common. My ideal finish date is September 15; October 1 is more probable; and I may be able to slug it out as late as October 15 depending on this year’s exact conditions. I will realistically need to average about 25 miles per day, accounting for unavoidable delays (e.g. due to weather).
My primary goal in attempting the AYE is unabashedly personal: I want an exceptionally unique, rewarding, and challenging experience. I seem to thrive on doing the extraordinary—it makes me feel alive, like I am capitalizing on the 70- or 80-year-long opportunity I have to experience this world. “Because it’s there” may be a long-accepted explanation to such adventures, but I find I am more motivated by the personal growth and learning that takes place whenever I am pushed outside of my comfort zone, which the AYE will surely do. I am not associating the AYE with a particular important cause, e.g. wilderness conservation or clean energy, although during it I do expect to gain unique insights into these types of issues. Marketing the AYE as being cause-inspired or cause-motivated would be disingenuous, probably unproductive, and perhaps undermining of a successful completion
My travel will be entirely self- or naturally-propelled. I will ski until late-April or early-May, by which time I expect to have covered about 1,200 miles. The exact point at which I stop needing my skis will depend on the snow and weather conditions as well as my location. The remaining distance will be covered by foot and by packraft. A packraft is a 1-person, 4.5-pound inflatable whitewater-worthy boat that will allow me to cross otherwise impassable water barriers (e.g. wide rivers and large bays) and to utilize rivers for relatively fast and easy travel.
About 24 percent (1,150 miles) of the AYE distance will be covered on skis; about 28 percent (1,300 miles) will be covered in a packraft; and the final 48 percent (2,250 miles) will be covered on foot.