We meet an extreme hiker. He recently completed a more than seven thousand kilometer exploration of the state of Alaska and Canada’s Yukon territory.
Andrew Skurka is an athlete, outdoorsman and writer. But when he goes for a walk outside, it is not your average trip. Mr. Skurka is known for going on hiking trips that last for thousands of kilometers. He walked more than eleven thousand kilometers alone through the western United States in two thousand seven. The next year, he hiked more than eight hundred kilometers to cross Iceland alone.
The twenty-nine-year-old has become known among explorers as a very skillful extreme hiker. He is also known for carefully preparing and researching every detail of his trips. A story on his most recent trip was published in this month’s National Geographic Magazine.
Andrew Skurka spent about six months hiking, skiing and rafting through Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory. The more than seven thousand kilometer trip lasted from March fourteenth until September first of last year.
It was not an easy trip. Snow covering much of the area was beginning to melt. So it could not support his weight on skis. And it was difficult to walk through the knee-deep snow. Mr. Skurka was not traveling along established paths. He was finding his own way through the complete wilderness of Alaskan “backcountry”.
He said the most difficult period of the trip was crossing the Yukon Arctic and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. “And I went six hundred and fifty seven miles, or roughly I guess it’s about about eleven hundred kilometers and twenty four days without seeing another human being and without crossing a road. And it certainly didn’t help that during that section I got clobbered by bugs and I was caught by two different floods.”
But he says the biggest difficulty he struggled with was how huge and wild that area of the world is. “There is something about that stretch that made me feel so much more vulnerable and susceptible and exposed to the natural conditions. And I think a lot of it had to do with knowing that I was so far out there that if anything were to go wrong, help was a long way away”
To succeed on these difficult trips, Andrew Skurka does a great deal of research. He finds out exactly what kind of territory he will be travelling through and what he will need. He uses hundreds of maps to plan his route. And, he does not carry much with him. This way he can move more quickly and is more comfortable as he travels.
For example, in summer he carries about ten kilograms of equipment. For the Alaska trip, he planned in advance where he would stop along the way to buy food and supplies so he did not have to carry extra weight.
His diet during his trips includes chocolate candies, nuts, potato chips, cookies, dried beef and energy bars. It is not the most healthful diet, but his aim is to eat as many calories as possible. “I try to eat about forty five hundred to fifty five hundred calories per day. And that is enough for me to avoid losing an excessive amount of weight when I am out there. But it’s also enough to keep me sustained. And I’m putting in really long days. I’m moving for fourteen to sixteen hours a day.”
Mr. Skurka says that he always loved the outdoors as a child. But he did not think he could make a career out of this interest. After working at a summer camp for two seasons, he realized he did not have to follow his expected career path of working as a financial expert. He decided to make a career out of being an explorer and athlete.
The National Geographic Society helped Mr. Skurka pay for his most recent trip. But he says if that money had not come through, he was ready to raise money through public speaking, guided trips, and his writing.
We asked Mr. Skurka for advice on how beginners can learn to backpack and take long trips outdoors. He says learning to take these trips is a skill and takes work. He says the best way to learn is to read books about backpacking trips, talk to experts and then get outside and start doing it.
Andrew Skurka says he is not sure where his next trip will be. But he says wherever he goes, it will be under intense conditions through big, wild places.