“Ultimate hiker” gives ultimate tips
Lilly Necker / Sun Star Reporter
Sept. 20, 2011
Andrew Skurka, recognized as an “Adventurer of the Year” by National Geographic, traveled 4,680 miles in 176 days in 2010 – 1,315 miles skiing, 2,100 miles hiking, and 1,270 miles pack-rafting – for his Alaska-Yukon Expedition. Skurka talked about his most recent trip in the Wood Center Ballroom Sept. 12. He did a workshop on what camping and hiking equipment to use and revealed why his backpack never weighs more than 10 pounds.
University director of athletics Forrest Karr asked Skurka, 31, and originally from Seekonk, Mass., to speak on campus after he heard about Skurka’s Alaska-Yukon Expedition. The two met in 2009 when both of them competed in the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic, an adventure race extending more than 250 miles. Skurka “has backpacked, skied, and packrafted 30,000+ miles through many of the world’s most prized backcountry and wilderness areas — the equivalent of traveling 1.2 times around Earth’s equator,” according to his website.
Skurka divided hikers into three groups: the Ultimate Hiker, who has a very high skill level and the determination to hike; the Ultimate Camper, who carries a lot of foolproof gear around; and finally the Campers-by-Default, who don’t know their goals and don’t have any skills.
“My presentation today is for everybody who wants to be more like an Ultimate Hiker,” Skurka said. After asking audience members to talk about their hiking experiences, Skurka was surprised to hear how many people sought week-long adventures. “Now I know I’m in Alaska,” Skurka said.
“You need to know exactly your objectives,” Skurka said. He suggested answering a few key questions – where, when, how long, and what to expect – before heading out.”The most important thing is to make good decisions and not get hurt.”
From his experiences during his Alaska-Yukon Expedition, Skurka recommended carrying around enough food and water – in Alaska basically no water at all. Water purification systems, like chlorine drops, make any of the countless springs and lakes found in Alaska’s wilderness a usable source of drinking water.
Skurka suggested consuming about 3,000 calories a day, meaning about 1.5 pounds or 24 ounces of food per person per day. For clothing he recommends comfort, versatility and weight. Polyester, merino wool and nylon are good traveling fabrics. Skurka would never bring two pairs of shoes to go hiking “’cause both will get wet” anyway, he said.
No one should go light on important items – for example, “don’t get stupid light with stakes, get a bunch of real good ones,” he said. Luekotape, Krazy Glue and duct tape work well for medical care.
By reducing his total amount of gear to three layers of clothes and the minimum of what he needs to survive in the wilderness considering the conditions of his trip, Skurka’s backpack never weighs more than eight to 10 pounds.
All things considered, the most important tool is the brain. “You got to be smart out there,” he said.
A diverse crowd attended the event — from Boy Scouts to a woman who said, “I’m getting older, so I want to go lighter.”
Patricia Strait, a 19-year-old journalism freshman, has no experience hiking but has big plans. “After my friend graduates from high school we want to go hiking in Mexico for six months,” Strait said. “We came to Andrew Skurka’s presentation particularly to find out what else we need to look for.”
Mark Oldmixon, UAF’s Outdoor Adventures (OA) coordinator, was impressed by Skurka’s knowledge and organizational skills.
“Students at UAF should know that when someone says ‘there is nothing to do in Fairbanks,’ they are severely mistaken,” Oldmixon said. “It might take a bit more work or time to get out there and do something, but Fairbanks and Alaska are full of opportunities. You don’t have to do a serious trip like Skurka, but you can try something new each season.”
And what does Skurka think of OA? “I’d be disappointed if the state’s biggest campus did not promote the outdoors through such a program,” Shurka said. “I just hope that students realize how fortunate they are and that they take advantage of it.”