For 24 days in June and July Ryan Jordan, Roman Dial, and Jason Geck braved sub-zero temperatures, rabid packs of mosquitoes, numerous bear encounters, and dangerous river crossings in their quest to be the first group to traverse the Brooks Range of northwestern Alaska. The Brooks Range is the largest contiguous roadless and uninhabited wilderness in America -- 15 times larger than the next-most-remote spot in the US. Theirs was the first group to attempt the 600 miles (1000km) trek unsupported and completely on foot, starting at the Chukchi Sea near the Native village of Kivalina, and ending at the Alaskan Oil Pipeline Highway ("Haul Road") near Wiseman.
There could hardly be three hikers better-suited to make this trip. Dial and Geck, both seasoned trekkers from Alaska, have competed in adventure races worldwide, including the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic (considered by many to be the toughest expedition adventure race in the world). Jordan, from Bozeman, Montana, is also an experienced outdoorsman. All three have brains to match their brawn – Dial and Geck are both academics, and Jordan is the publisher of Backpacking Light Magazine, which advocates ultralight camping.
The use of ultralight gear on this trek was absolutely necessary in order to minimize the weight of the non-food gear, allowing them to carry the 45 pounds of food they would require to get them through a 600-mile trek. Aside from food, they carried only 10 pounds of clothes and equipment for cooking, navigation, and shelter.
One piece of equipment they carried was the PDA, with which they managed to post daily dispatches and photos from the road. You can see their journey chronicled on the expedition website, www.Arctic1000.com. After covering roughly 30 miles of wilderness each day, they sat down every night and recorded every blister, wildlife encounter, and route change until the end of their trip on July 4th.
Readers were not only kept abreast of their progress, but were able to discuss events in the Comments section of their blog. Trekking is not a sport without conflicting opinions, and several topics sparked more than a few lively debates. For example, when Jordan sprained his ankle on Day 5 (after which he dropped out on Day 9), many readers questioned whether his decision to wear ordinary road shoes rather than hiking boots contributed to his injury. Others questioned whether the trek was truly unsupported, since the trio carried a satellite phone and GPS equipment in case of emergency. Some wondered why they were making the trip at all – was it to satisfy their egos by trying to set records, or to try to conquer a wilderness that should be left untouched?
I caught up with Ryan Jordan shortly after the traverse was completed to get his take on the expedition and some of the controversy surrounding it, as well as his personal opinions on wilderness trekking.
How is your ankle doing?
It’s OK. I have to go to the orthopedist again and get some more x-rays and get the long-term scenario, so we are not really sure what we are looking at yet in terms of the future. I’m afraid this may take a long time to heal.
What first inspired you to start trekking and how old were you when you started?
I’ve been doing it as long as I can remember. My dad started taking me trekking when I was a little kid, then I joined the Boy Scouts when I was 11 and that’s when I really got into it.
When did you first get into the ultralight concept?
It was with the Boy Scouts, when I was working as a guide at the High Adventure Base in Washington State. In the late 80’s we started experimenting with radical pack lightening for the boys to see if we could push their mileage up and see if we could get them into more remote areas.