Stretching for nearly 700 miles across the northernmost regions of Alaska and Canada, the Brooks Range is one of the most remote and rugged mountain chains on the planet. Largely uninhabited, and seldom visited, even in the short summer months, it is a beautiful, but demanding, wilderness that will test the resolve of all but the most hardened of adventurers. In the winter, the region freezes over into an arctic landscape, with temperatures routinely dropping well below zero, and weather conditions more closely resembling those found at the North Pole. That’s exactly the environment that two explorers currently find themselves as the attempt to become the first team to traverse the Brooks Range during the coldest and harshest season of the year.
Last week, Aussies John Cantor and Evan Hoard set out from the village of Kotzebue, which falls along Alaska’s west coast on a body of water known as the Kotzebue Sound. Over the next two months, they hope to travel roughly 1050 miles to Kaktovik, which is found on the northernmost coastline of Alaska. They’ll get there on skis and by dogsled, enduring brutal weather conditions along the way.
Because of the northerly latitudes at which the Brooks Range is located, the early stages of the journey are being conducted in complete darkness. On top of that, temperatures will likely fall between -10°C/14°F and -60°C/-76°F. Wind chill factors will take that number even lower, often bottoming out at a bone chilling -100°C/-148°F. That is the kind of cold that you typically only find at the North or South Pole.
Cantor and Hoard make no promises that they’ll actually be able to complete this expedition, after all, no one has ever traversed the mountain range during the winter before. They recognize that the weather could ultimately prevent them from reaching Kaktovik, and updates posted to their Facebook page indicate that the early stages of the journey have been more difficult than they imagined. But, now that they are a little more than week into the expedition, they are also gaining confidence in their ability to survive, and cover solid distances on a daily basis. High winds and deep snow in the first few days made progress painfully slow, but they seem to be acclimatizing to the cold and hitting their stride now, which is boosting morale considerably. That said, with potentially 6-7 weeks of travel still ahead of them, there is a very long way to go,especially with the most challenging terrain and conditions yet to come.
If you like to follow along with very cold explorers, John and Evan are posting daily updates on their progress to Facebook. It should be interesting to see how they fair on this grueling journey.
Update: And not long after this post was written, the boys are calling it quits. They shared the news via their Facebook page, where they revealed that John has contracted frostbite in one of his fingers and it has gotten so severe that he could face having it amputated if it isn’t treated soon. So, after careful consideration, they have decided to end the expedition before they ventured too far into the backcountry, where safe rescue became much less of a possibility. For now, the Brooks Range remains untamed in winter.