I was sitting in my office in central Christchurch on a Friday afternoon when an email from Christian popped up in my inbox. The subject: temptation awaits. I didn’t open it immediately, instead choosing to let curiosity grow. I got up and walked to the photocopy machine, then made myself a cup of tea. I had just finished a 30 day contract in the Kahurangi National Park and was three days into a nine week stint working in an office. Or so I thought.
At around 6pm I finally succumbed to temptation and opened the email.
“…we’re pulling together a potentially pretty epic trip for May 10 – June 7 this year. Yep, it’s not far away. It’s a mountaineering pack rafting thing, which is why you jumped to mind. It’s in SE Alaska. We are hoping to go from Lituya Bay on the west coast up Mt Fairweather and then traverse east on glacier to the Chilkat River where we’ll pack raft out over 3 or 4 days. It’s about a 25 day trip. Either fly or boat in. One cache at a high camp below Fairweather. It’s remote, has challenging weather (lots of precip), and we haven’t really finalized our logistics yet. I somehow managed to get time off work. I reckon you’d fit great with our team, and have all the skills to complete the traverse. So, if you are in anyway interested, let me know soon!”
The next evening I was in my sleeping bag above the bushline in Arthur’s Pass, unable to sleep as a gang of cheeky Keas tugged at our tent lines. I was with my friend Tara and neither of us could sleep. Conversation was mostly revolving around me trying to convince her to change her Antarctica contracts to join me on a traverse of the Southern Alps. (FYI: it went well, two days later she was committed and we now have a solid crew of four kiwi women for this journey.) Meanwhile, Christian’s email was lingering at the front of my mind. It was certainly tempting. By Sunday evening I’d talked to my boss and on Monday my life was reshuffled to allow space for the trip. My flights were leaving in less than four weeks. So much for staying in one place for nine weeks. Epic fail! My flatmates, who I’ve known for around 6 years, weren’t surprised.
My inbox started filling with emails about equipment and logistics interspersed with amusing banter. “Nice to meet you Dulkara, wanna go on a 25 day trip?” Bruno asked as we waited for a clear connection on a group Google hangout between Nepal, New Zealand and America. The start to our trip posed a logistical challenge. Would we be able to sail to the start point? Our team exhausted all options, following obscure leads from friends of friends and talking to fishermen and sailors from various small towns in South East Alaska. Unable to pin down a sailing boat that was sure to get us to Lituya on time, we canned the sailing idea and committed to Drake, a bush pilot from Haines. The usual expedition planning ensued via several email threads in the coming weeks.
Would we have a rope team of three and two or a team of five? Did people want to have burgers and sausages flown in to high camp? Would we make our approach in ski boots or bring light-weight trail runners? What were our contingency plans, did we have early exit points? What repair kit would we bring? How would we rig our packrafts as sleds?
I was mostly thinking “How the hell do I pack for a 25 day ski-mountaineering packrafting trip!?” I hadn’t skied in years and I’d never combined skiing with packrafting. And we were heading to the Fairweathers. It can get damn cold in there and we were planning on climbing to 15,000 feet. I didn’t know where to begin. “No matter what I do, it’s impossible to win” I told a friend. “I guess our bags are just gonna be…. bloody heavy!!!”
Fast-forward a few weeks and I was that awkward person at the check-in desk at Nelson Airport doing a last-minute reshuffle of gear. I finally succeeded in making both bags merely 300g over the weight limit and got the nod of approval from the check-in lady. Boom! I still had to wear my helmet and PFD onto the plane and my drysuit was ready to put on if they weighed my carry-on in Los Angeles.
Success! I’m coming at you live from Anchorage airport where I’m sprawled out on the floor with 46 kg of stuff, waiting for my mate Oscar to pick me up. I have four days to take care of final gear requirements, packing and some ‘life admin’ before we set off. Getting new AT ski boots and bindings attached to skis which are waiting for me. Making a sled system so we can haul packrafts while skiing. Packing 25 days worth of food rations for 5 people. Stitching maps together as we zig-zag our way between Alaska and British Columbia. And a few other odds and ends.
On 11th May three of us will fly to Juneau, the small capital and main town in SE Alaska. Bruno will join us there and the four of us will then jump on a sea plane to Haines. From Haines we’ll meet up with ‘Drake’ and jump on a small bush plane to the coast in Lituya Bay.
With mammoth backpacks (8-10 days worth of food and ski-mountaineering kit) we’ll slowly inch our way towards the white giant, Mount Fairweather. Our bodies should be warmed up by then and hopefully the notoriously fickle weather will be fair! Once reaching high camp we’ll have a cache flown in with food for the rest of our journey and pack rafting kit, along with our fifth expedition mate, Brett. We’ll make a summit attempt before traversing east on glaciers and then pack rafting out on two different rivers until we hit Haines. Our total trip distance comes to around 300 kilometres, if everything goes to plan.
If you’re keen to follow along, here’s a link where you’ll find tracking. I’ll post some little updates along the way and they’ll pop up on our tracking map Click here to see our live tracking map.
and in my Facebook feed ‘Dulkara Martig – Adventure’