Answers to Questions on Avalanches, GPS, Socks, Motivation

What’s been the most intense moment of the trip?—Matt Shaw

I had a few tense moments last week after a spring snowstorm dumped almost three feet of snow up high just before I was about to ski over two steep passes. Both passes had unavoidable avalanche slopes (i.e. I had to cross slopes that are steep enough to slide) and there were avy-prone slopes above, below, and adjacent to my route. I think the conditions were safe at the time, but I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t plan a high-stakes route through avalanche terrain, because when you get there the conditions might not be safe. I would have been better off planning a “safe route” with a “avy route option.”

You recently swapped your winter gear for some of your summer gear (I think). Was that a problem for you in this recent snowstorm? How did you stay warm enough?—asfan

My winter gear was capable of handling -40 F temps and coastal winds. While snow is usually associated with winter, this last snowstorm was not an Alaskan winter storm–it was a spring snowstorm, with relatively warm temperatures (low of 15 probably). So my spring gear was completely adequate.

How much established trail are you actually on versus navigating your own way? Do you have a device that tells temperature (i.e. watch, GPS) or do you carry a thermometer? —John in Cleveland

My website breaks down the 4,720-mile distance into a few different ways (see this page). The first 700 miles of this trip were exceptional in that they were on manmade trails–nearly all of the remaining 4,000 miles thereafter are not. There are some ATV tracks and roads that help connect off-trail portions, but mostly the days of following marked trails are over now, which I’m happy about because it’s much more engaging (and more of an adventure) to be off-trail.

How do you keep up with your “daily” goal (distance) while carrying all your gear? I don’t remember your gear list now, but did you some kind of motorized vehicles to carry all your gear and supplies or you re-stock yourself at points as most thru-hikers do? Thank you.—Min Choi

This expedition is being done “thru-hiker style,” or resupplying in towns as I go along. Some thru-hikers resupply at the local grocery stores, whereas, for consistency and efficiency, I prefer to resupply at the post office by having boxes shipped ahead of time full of supplies and food. My mother ships those from Massachusetts, and sometimes she loves me so much that she includes homemade chocolate chip cookies. In some of Alaska’s small towns it is impractical to resupply at the local grocery store because of very limited selection, and oftentimes very high cost. Even the locals in those towns will have their groceries shipped in.

Karl Meltzer had an issue with wet feet that made him drop his attempt at running the AT last year. Have you had any problems or what precautions are you taking now with the spring runoff that could still last a few months? Be safe.—Kris

Footcare is pretty important out here–I’m worthless when my pads are beat up. The biggest issue I have to deal with is feet that are cold and wet for prolonged periods. I try to dry them out at least once during the day, and then at night I dry them really well before applying a coat of Hydropel to the maceration-prone areas. Dry socks are critical at night too–I keep a pair of dedicated “daytime” socks and pair dedicated “sleepy” socks, the latter of which never get wet. In the West, I don’t need to keep dedicated sleepy socks, but for places where wet conditions can prevail for long periods (i.e. the East Coast, Pacific Northwest, Alaska) this two-pair system works pretty well.

Do you usually carry a GPS to track your path or to switch on and use in case of emergency (for example in the unlikely event that you need to call for help and give your coordinates or you get off the track in the snowstorm and need to double check the location before getting more lost)? How do you cope with the security “in case of emergency” question?—Triin Kanne

I do not carry a GPS and only know vaguely how to use them. I’m pretty proficient with just a map, and if you give me a compass, too, I can find my way around pretty well regardless of the conditions. A few days ago I was actually in a complete whiteout between the Hayes and Gillam Glaciers. I did fine and made good route-finding decisions even though I was unable to see much.

And the other question: Doesn’t it sometimes get lonely hiking extremely long distances alone?—Triin Kanne

No, not really. I’m so focused on what I’m doing and I’m so in touch with my surroundings that I don’t have the bandwidth to be lonely. It might be different if I was sitting in a bush cabin with nothing to do.

I have a GoLite Cady and it seems like it would be awfully thin for high winds and low temps, but I haven’t tested it much. I know you posted a gear list a while back, but I’m curious what all you’re wearing while on the skis?—Brian

I change layers constantly so that I stay “warm enough to be comfortable, but not so warm that I’m sweating.” My clothing system at any given time is some function of my own heat output and the environmental conditions (temp, precip, wind). Yesterday morning I was skiing uphill at 5,000 feet under blue skies and with no wind, and I was stripped down to just a long-sleeve shirt and trekking pants, and wishing I could take more off. But the morning before, I was at 2,500 feet. I had on all my clothes when left camp because it was 15 degrees, snowing, windy, and overcast, and my body had not warmed up yet.

What are your hopes for your legacy of this trip? Do you hope that people spread the word about you, or learn anything in particular from what you are completing? Or are you out there to prove something to yourself? I am curious as to some of the different facets of your motivation for this journey.—soSonja

This trip is motivated by the personal experience I’m gaining from it. If more comes out of it, great, but frankly there are more practical ways of leaving legacies or gaining fame and fortune. You might want to read “The Purpose” section on my website.

Would you do it again?—Kat Vaughan

From Kotz to Rohn Roadhouse, probably not. Glad I did it–I saw a lot, learned a lot, but it was a lot of miles on smowmachine trails through marginal terrain. Everything from Rohn Roadhouse has been awesome and worthy of doing again, but I tend to take a “been there, done that,” attitude so I’m not sure I’ll ever replicate it exactly again.

Posted in on May 12, 2010

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