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RRT Adventure: Gates of The Arctic Part 1

Inside the Arctic Circle
Projecting Your Dream
Written by: Bryan Wolf

The easiest part of a trip for me is when I commit to the trip.  Over a year ago I had no reason to say no, in fact if you ask early enough I’m not sure I ever could say no.  Alaska? Sure!  I figure anything that needs done be it planning, saving, packing, or training I have plenty of time to do it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to belittle any of those steps for anyone else.  Individually they are all huge endeavors. At some point however you have to become a Yes Man (or woman). Say “Yes” to adventure and allow yourself the confidence to make your dreams come to.  I like to set a goal and then put all of my energy to making it happen.  So, Saturday morning I’ll drive to Indy, jump on a plane and 4 more flights later step off in the wonderful wild that is Gates of the Arctic National Park.

So besides commitment what else goes into planning a trip like this?  How do you get to one of the most remote National Parks in the world? It takes a dream and a plan. In my case it also took a team.  Start by assembling your team and by projecting your dreaming.  This isn’t happening on two weeks notice for anyone.  Team leaders included our friend Scott and RRT owner Joe.  Scott is great at planning and organizing, when he got a break from work and wasn’t hanging from a wall at the Red, Scott was able to book permits for the park, bush plane and float plane flights, and hotel stays for the whole group.  We had our days picked and some ducks started filing into a row.  This is where Joe came in; Joe has been a guide in Alaska for years and to Gates of the Arctic three times already. With some topographical maps and some beers Joe, Scott, and I sat down to find potential routes.

The Gates don’t have blazed and maintained hiking trails, this is remote and untouched (hopefully forever) landscape.  Our entry point was restricted only by that of the size of the lake we wanted to fly to.  A lake has to be big enough for the float plane to land and take off again. Coordinating a pick-up and drop-off point with your pilot is an important step.  Once we arrive we are free to roam.  If we so chose we could frolic through the wild grass and lake side pebble beach for 10 days.  Honestly though, who goes to Alaska to be on the beach all week?  Looking at the maps we decided that the first two days would cover 8-10 miles per day through a valley on relatively low elevation.  The brush can be thick in places and the terrain is untamed so this is no place for light weight or vulnerable gear.  The game plan then shifts to much shorter days backpacking and setting up base camps earlier in the day.  Doing this will afford us some more flexibility in our travels.

There are 13 people in total on our trip this year.  If you have ever been with such a group you’ll understand that people often want to go at different speeds or even take different routes.  Our gear and trip planning will allow us to do that.  Staying in groups of 4+ we’ll be taking all the safety precautions.  A group of four or more will be much more safe when it comes to wildlife encounters.  We have also brought groupings of gear for just this reason.  We have several stoves, water filters, bear spray, first aids, and other essential items to divide amongst us.  This will come in handy mostly for our day hikes.  After setting up base camp we’ll venture out to higher elevations and bigger WOW moments.  We have already mapped out several snow fields that we’d like to hike up to in the 7,000 ft range.  I’ve only been to Alaska once so far but I can tell you that there is a sense of discovery and natural beauty that is unmatched when you discover your own path, when there is no trail.  Taking the time to stop and pay attention or to look around another corner may just mean that you are seeing something that no one else has ever seen!

By the end we’ll do a full circle right back to our original lake; Lake Agiak.  The loop mileage can range considering our open day to day plan but is expected to be in the 50-60 mile range for backpacking miles.  In doing so we can burn 2-3,000 calories a day leaving us pretty hungry.  That is where having a team member like RRT owner Emily helps out as she broke down our day to day meal plan for the group, which can apply to any back country experience. With food, weight and pack space are just as much of an issue as with any other gear, but unlike your Crazy Creek chair, this is one thing you can’t leave at home.  Here are some tips for your meal plan: try to pack things that you like at home, bring yourself some sort of comfort food or treat, pack some variety, always bring one extra day of food, but don’t over pack.  For ten days in the park we’ll have 1 and 1/4 bear cans each with our individual food weight at 14-15 pounds.  Same rules apply out there as when you are home, being hungry can turn you into quite the drama king or queen so eat often and keep fueled up.

For a gear or food checklist feel free to come buy the store and grab one.  We’ll also be happy to review specifics to your trip.  Always use and double check your checklist no matter how experienced you are.  Upon returning I’ll post Part 2 of this blog.  We will also have a presentation on 8/27/13 over our experience including a beer tasting by Mt. Carmel Brewing Co. I hope you can join us then.  A well planned trip and a well organized group will put you in line for unforgettable moments.

Here is what is in my pack, keep in mind that there are some group items not shown (like first aid, bear spray, and camp fuel):

gear layout

[row class=”row-fluid”]
[col class=”span6″]A. Sleeping Bag and Sleeping Bag Liner (Sea to Summit Coolmax and Trek III)

B. Trekking Poles (Komperdell)
C. Sleeping Pad (Big Agnes Q-Core SL)
D. Pillow (Thermorest)
E. Stove (MSR Reactor)
F. Pack Towel (MSR)
G. Rain Gear (Rab Latok Jacket)
H. Rain Gear (Sherpa Pertemba)
I. Hiking Top (Rab MeCo L/S)
J. Hiking Pants (Rab Alpine Trek)
K. Pack Cover (Osprey)
L. Sun/Rain Hat (Outdoor Research)
M. Backpack (Osprey Aether 85)
N. Bottles (Nalgene)
O. Bowl/Spork (Sea to Summit)
P. Bear Can

[/col]
[col class=”span6″]Q. Personal Hygiene

R. Bug Repellent
S. Knife (Helle Egan)
T. Bug Net
U. Beanie (Rab Fleece)
V. Matches
W. Gloves (Rab Phantom Gloves)
X. Vibram (Maiori)
Y. Tent Poles (MSR Hoop)
Z. Tent Body
AA. Tent Fly in own drysack
BB. Water Filter (MSR Miniworks)
CC. Insulating Jacket (Rab Generator)
DD. Extra Clothes/Layers
EE. RRT Buff
FF. Headlamp (Princeton Tec Vizz)
GG. All Purpose Tarp/Mylar Blanket

[/col]
[/row]