Alaska-Yukon Expedition: Approaching the Unavoidable, Bittersweet Finish

Skurka-blog-update-150Follow adventurer Andrew Skurka as he skis, hikes, and rafts 4,720 miles through eight national parks, two major mountain ranges, and some of North America's wildest rivers in Alaska and the Yukon from March to October. Read his blog updates here.

For the last 12 months, my life has revolved around a singular purpose: to complete the Alaska-Yukon Expedition. In the first six months I planned how to do it, which entailed intricate spreadsheets, goodie boxes from sponsors, and Sam’s Club shopping carts overflowing with food. And for the last six months (168 days, to be exact), I’ve actually been doing it: I skied along the Arctic Coast and through the Alaska Range, I paddled my 4.5-pound inflatable boat across terrifying Icy and Yakutat Bays, I endured the Yukon’s ravenous mosquitoes, and I traversed the length of the Brooks Range.

But now that I’m just 200 miles and 7 days away from finally achieving my goal, I find myself pouring over maps looking for ways that I could extend the experience–side trips, detours, and even backtracks. I just don’t feel entirely ready to finish yet. The journey really is the most important part, not the destination.

It’s been so good out here recently that it’s no wonder why I’m hesitant to stop. Three weeks ago I rolled into Coldfoot all charged up after completing the most difficult leg of the trip: going 600 miles and 24 days without crossing a road or seeing another person, carrying up to two weeks of food, and overcoming horrible bugs and major floods. And my route across Gates of the Arctic National Park was a joy–fall foilage, great game trails, fun raftable rivers, airy granite peaks and passes, abundant sunshine, northern lights, and good companionship for most of the way. A month of favorable weather still lies ahead and some of the world’s greatest wilderness is reachable if I could pull together some food and some better maps. Why not go for it?

The idea is appealing but I think I’ve come to terms with the finish to this trip being both unavoidable and bittersweet–I can’t extend it forever, and it’ll always be somewhat disappointing to finally return to Kotzeube. All good things must come to an end, right? I may be finishing one chapter but I’m starting another. So my plan from here is to continue mostly as planned: float the Kobuk River downstream to the village of Kiana; take a water- or land-based route to a put-in location on the east side of Hothan Inlet, weather depending; paddle about seven miles across the inlet to the Baldwin Peninsula; then walk the shoreline to Kotzebue. I should be done by early next week.


  1. Buzz
    August 30, 2010, 11:23 am

    Incredible … the toughest hike I’ve ever heard of and you want to keep going!

  2. Dan
    August 30, 2010, 2:22 pm

    Many of us will miss following your updates now that your expedition is coming to an end! Here’s hoping that you’ll write more fully about what you’ve seen and experienced!

  3. Paul
    August 30, 2010, 11:24 pm

    Many thanks to you for confirming such remote wilderness still exists and taking us with you on your journey. Even though I may not get there, knowing it is there sets things right in my world.

  4. Felix Cooke
    August 31, 2010, 12:53 am

    The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are just a couple miles off the river… great place to milk the trip another day or two!

  5. kosher travel
    August 31, 2010, 6:22 am

    frist i will say – great post and blog, and that i love kosher travel and looking to spred the word of jewish travel world wide

  6. Del
    August 31, 2010, 8:41 am

    Way to go Skurka!!!! I know your trip’s end will be bitter sweet, but I don’t think it will be long until you are back out there on another adventure. Thanks for sharing this experience with those of us that have followed. Your trip has been an inspiration that gets me jacked about throwing on my own pack over Labor day weekend. Can’t wait to find out what you learned from your experience. Finish strong!!!

  7. samh
    August 31, 2010, 11:16 am

    Way to get ‘er, Andy. What’s next? Perhaps consider winning the Arrowhead 135 this winter.

  8. nathan
    September 1, 2010, 2:37 am

    There is no end to your journey, man! Don’t get bummed. It just morphs into another mode. There are other wildernesses to explore. The universe is yours.

  9. Phil
    September 1, 2010, 9:51 am

    I and other fans from Troop 77 will miss your posts, Andrew; but we will be happy to have you back in the relative safety of civilization. We look forward to seeing the many photos that I am sure you have collected.

  10. Roman Dial
    September 1, 2010, 4:08 pm

    The only way to beat the feeling is to push that trip into freeze-up, when you’ll finally have enough. Hopefully you don’t come back unfulfilled.

  11. Bobby Schnell
    September 4, 2010, 2:40 pm

    Hey man,
    Great job, Harp and I will be in Kotz on Saturday the 11th to go moose hunting, was hoping to get a chance to see you, sounds like you might finish early….if you are still in town be good to see you.

  12. Joe
    September 5, 2010, 1:39 am

    What fun its been following you this summer on a daily basis! I don’t what is more impressive… the scale of the trip, the pre-trip organization, or the daily remote tweets to keep your followers posted. I can’t wait for the next ‘project’.

  13. Nancy
    September 6, 2010, 7:20 am

    Congratulations!!! I saw on Twitter that you finished a couple of hours ago…what a journey. Thanks for taking the time to share it with the rest of us. Have a safe trip home.

  14. air jordans
    September 19, 2010, 8:40 pm

    Thanks for sharing your article. I really enjoyed it. I put a link to my site to here so other people can read it. My readers have about the same interets

  15. Fine art oil painting
    December 1, 2010, 9:34 am

    Incredible adventure, despite of the challenge that you faced.

  16. Fine art oil painting
    December 1, 2010, 9:50 am

    Incredible adventure, despite of the challenge that you faced.

  17. Canvas art print
    May 19, 2011, 10:49 am

    Great adventure, no matter what that challenge was you did not let it scare you away.

  18. Art gallery
    May 19, 2011, 10:51 am

    Great job, for achieving this.

  19. Hai
    February 25, 2012, 11:00 am

    Where there is a will there is a way.
    You’ve made it.We are so proud of you.