When Mark Moxon isn’t working on web development projects for the likes of the BBC and the Victoria and Albert Museum, he puts on his walking boots and sets off on hiking and travelling expeditions. Mark has travelled extensively in West Africa and the Far East, to countries including Senegal, the Gambia, Burkina Faso, French Polynesia and Australia. He has done a number of long distance hikes in far flung parts of the world such as Indonesia, Malaysia and New Zealand. Back in the UK, Mark has walked from Land’s End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) and in 2008 he embarked on a fascinating, 500 mile urban walk following the routes of all the London Underground train lines.
Mark Moxon hiking in Indonesia
Mark is also an amateur travel writer, through which he earns enough money to buy a couple of pints every now and then! Mark’s travel writing website contains
over 490 pages of travel writing and advice from 17 countries and six continents, plus over 1550 photographs and at least one good joke…
Hiking Interview with Mark Moxon
With this varied and interesting mix of experience to draw from, we decided to ask Mark if he would tell us a bit more about his long distance and urban hikes…
Cheaptents.com: What inspired you to get into long distance walking?
Mark Moxon: It’s all down to a national park ranger from Western Australia called Scott, whom I met in the Pinnacles Desert, just north of Perth, in 1996. Unlike most visitors, I decided to explore the park on foot, and when it started raining the ranger drove round and offered me a lift. I declined, saying I enjoyed walking, and when he found out I was planning to head north over the next few weeks, he invited me to join him on a week-long walk into the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia. I jumped at the chance and spent my first long-distance walk learning how to do it from a professional, with the two of us exploring the desert alone and on foot, finding water as we walked and camping out under the stars (or, for the first, surprisingly wet night, under a tarp). I loved it – who wouldn’t? – and have never looked back.
Cheaptents.com: What was your favourite section of the Lands End to John O’Groats walk?
Mark Moxon: The River Severn – I loved it! There’s something delightful and hypnotic about walking along rivers, and with beautiful villages, country pubs and the bluest damselflies I’ve ever seen, it’s English country walking at its best. It broke my heart to see the whole area get flooded out in 2007…
Cheaptents.com: What was the most difficult part of the Lands End to John O’Groats walk?
Mark Moxon: Keeping going through the tough parts, of which there were plenty. You might love walking more than anything else in the world, but it’s never easy getting up early on a cold morning, pulling damp boots over blistered feet and heading out across grey, rainy moors…and it’s even harder when you have to repeat the performance every day for three months. But that’s what makes Lands End to John O’Groats a challenge – if it was easy, everyone would be doing it, and the highs more than make up for the lows. It’s an incredible walk to do and the memories live with you for the rest of your life, despite (or perhaps because of) the difficult parts.
Mark Moxon has walked the routes of all the London Tube lines! Photograph by Peta Haigh.
Cheaptents.com: What inspired you to walk the Tube on foot?
Mark Moxon: I did the London Loop and the Capital Ring in stages between 2002 and 2006, and I loved both walks; although walking through a capital city might not be as glamorous as exploring moors or climbing mountains, the city’s charms are unique – even in much-maligned suburbia – and it didn’t take me long to get hooked. The problem was, I devoured the Loop and Ring as quickly as I could, thrilled by the discovery of places I’d seen on the front of Tube trains; Uxbridge came and went, closely followed by High Barnet and Cockfosters, and when I finally came to the last day of the Ring, I was bereft. And then it struck me, lying in bed one night, that maybe I should walk across London instead of around it, perhaps following the general direction of the Northern and Central lines… and from that came my plan to do the mother of all London walks: the entire London Underground, on foot.
Cheaptents.com: Which Tube line was most interesting?
Mark Moxon: It’s hard to choose, as every line has its own charms, but for me it’s a toss-up between the Metropolitan and the Piccadilly. The Metropolitan line is steeped in history, being the original subterranean railway, and it stretches all the way out to Zone 9, further than any other line, so it can’t help being fascinating; and the Piccadilly line has the most beautiful station architecture of all the lines, the country’s biggest airport, and arguably my favourite route through central London. I can’t separate them, to be honest.
Cheaptents.com: What advantages does urban walking have when compared to rural walking?
Mark Moxon: The obvious advantages are practical: it doesn’t tend to get muddy, it’s easier to get to the start (and easier to get home from the end), you don’t have to carry loads of food and water, you can give up early and just hop on the Tube if things get too hard, and there are more pubs than you can shake a CAMRA card at. But for me the biggest advantage is that there’s so much crammed into such a small space that you never get bored; where country walking is all about landscapes and natural beauty, urban walking is all about people, their history, their architecture and the fascinating chaos that makes up our modern world. They might not have the undeniable beauty of a windswept moor or a snow-capped mountain range, but once you learn how to look at them, cities are just as beautiful… just in a different way.
Map of Mark Moxon's Tube Walk. Each point shows the location of a tube station. The colours represent each underground line.
Cheaptents.com: In which other countries have you done long distance walks?
Mark Moxon: Australia (Fraser Island, Pilbara), Indonesia (Bada Valley, Gunung Rinjani), Malaysia (Taman Negara), Nepal (Annapurna Circuit), and New Zealand (Hinchinbrook Island, Hollyford-Pyke Route, Kepler Track, Mt Cook, Routeburn-Greenstone Track, Taranaki Around the Mountain Circuit, Tongariro Northern Circuit). See http://www.longdistancewalks.com/ for all the gory details.
The walk from Land's End to John O'Groats passes by Cross Fell in the Pennines
Cheaptents.com: What advice would you give to anyone thinking of doing a long distance walk?
Mark Moxon: Don’t push yourself too hard. Injury is the best way to ruin a long-distance walk, and walking too far, too fast is a great way to end your walk early; I nearly had to abort my Lands End to John O’Groats walk because my pack was just too heavy and I injured my ankle, so I took a few days out of my schedule, sent all my camping gear home and finished the walk using B&Bs and pubs, which was not only far more comfortable than camping, it also made the walking itself much more enjoyable. If you can avoid having to make this sort of decision in the first place, you’ll be able to enjoy yourself from day one.
Cheaptents.com: Do you have any plans for other long distance walks in the near future?
Mark Moxon: My next plan is to walk the London Overground and Docklands Light Railway, though I’m trying to work out how to juggle this with the demands of real life!
Cheaptents.com: What has been your worst injury (if any) whilst walking or travelling?
Mark Moxon: That’ll be food poisoning in Sulawesi, Indonesia, in a small village in the middle of nowhere. I had to lie on the muddy floor of a hut for a couple of days after eating some dodgy prawn rice, but luckily the local doctor prescribed me a little white pill, a big white pill and a big black pill, and they worked. I still have no idea what was in them, but when you’re face down in a mud hut, alone and a long way from home, you don’t tend to argue.
Cheaptents.com: What are your favourite bits of gear, and why?
Mark Moxon: I’m not much of a gear person, to be honest. I love my Macpac Ascent Classic backpack, because it’s nicely moulded to my shape after so many miles, and I always walk with walking poles, because they really take the strain off my not-so-strong knees (though they do make me look like a muppet, which isn’t so great)… but I’ve never found a pair of boots that didn’t give me blisters, I don’t really use GPS for anything other than recording where I’ve walked, I prefer paper maps to digital ones, and even my portable computer is ancient (it’s an old, grey-screen Palm m125 that runs off batteries and doesn’t even know how to spell Wifi, but it’s still the lightest computer for writing that I know). Though if you expand your definition of ‘gear’, Google Maps is an absolute blinder, and I wouldn’t have been able to design the 440 miles of my tubewalk without it.
Cheaptents.com: Any people or sponsors that you would like to thank?
Mark Moxon: My fiance, who’s always been very supportive. Walking across Britain would have been so much harder without her hunting down B&Bs and mailing me batches of Ordnance Survey maps, and without her I would probably have slunk back home after two weeks when I injured my ankle in Okehampton…
Cheaptents.com: Anything else you would like to say?
Mark Moxon: If you’ve got an iPhone, check out my Tubewalker app. It’s free to download and gives you a real flavour of urban walking, and hopefully it will encourage more people to explore the capital on foot. Enjoy!
Thank you, Mark, for taking the time to answer our questions!
Walking is such a varied occupation that different types of walking attract different types of people. For some, mountain walking is the thing, with views that stretch for miles; for others the best walking is through gently undulating fields, with picturesque villages tucked away in pretty valleys; some prefer coastal walking, with the sea crashing against the cliffs and the sound of seagulls on the wind; and there are plenty of people whose favourite walks involve short distances, utterly flat terrain and copious pubs. Mark Moxon
More Interviews with Long Distance Hikers…
If you enjoyed reading this interview then you are bound to enjoy our recent interviews with Andrew Skurka and Samuel H Gardner. In our interview with Andrew Skurka he tells us all about his recently completed 4,700 mile expedition around Alaska and the Yukon. In January 2011 Samuel H Gardner will embark on the All-In Trek comprising of the four main thru hikes in the USA. In the interview Samuel talks about his outdoors background, including six months which he spent living in a snow cave! Our interview with legendary explorer Mikael Strandberg is also a great read. Mikael has explored the Kolyma River in north east Siberia and cycled across the Americas, Africa and Asia.
Share your interesting walks!
Have you walked a themed route like the London Underground? Perhaps you have devised a route connecting related points of interest or taken a path that was once popular but know little known? Maybe you have hiked from your home town to some other part of the country? Click on comments below and let us know where you have been walking…
The size of the Cairngorms National Park has been enlarged by one fifth. The park itself is relatively new, being set up in 2003. Since its establishment there has been an increase in the population, the number of businesses and the economy within the national park area. There has also been a decrease in unemployment. The new, extended boundary means that Highland Perthshire has now been incorporated into the national park.
The Cairngorms National Park now covers about 6 per cent of Scotland. With an area of 4,528 sq km it is twice the size of the Lake District National Park.
John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth and constituency MSP for North Tayside, has continually campaigned for the inclusion of Highland Perthshire in the Park, said:
The decision to exclude the area from the original boundaries is one which baffled experts and local people alike. This set in motion a tremendous effort from politicians and local people. I wanted to ensure that this wrong was righted, therefore I introduced my member’s bill in 2006 and continued to campaign tirelessly for the extension of the Park’s boundaries.
Hiking in the Cairngorms
The landscape and wildlife in the Cairgngorms make the national park truly unique. It is home to 25% of the UK’s threatened bird, animal and plant species as well as boasting a fine collection of different landforms, including the ‘montane zone’, which is the largest area of arctic mountain landscape in the British isles. It is no wonder then that there are many great opportunities for hiking, camping, climbing and bird watching.
Some of the best hiking routes in the Cairngorms can be found on the excellent walkinghighlands.co.uk website. The main towns in the region are Aviemore and Braemar. The northern part of the park is mountainous and contains the Cairn Gorm massive. To the south flows the River Dee, with the peak of Lochnagar still further south. On the Eastern side of the park is Glenlivet, where there are rolling hills. In the west is the Spey valley, which is excellent for low level walking. Long distance walks which go through the Cairngorm National Park include the Dava way and the Speyside way.
To get a quick overview of the landscape and activities available, why not have a look at this YouTube video:
South Africa has an enormous amount of countryside wilderness and mountains to attract walkers and hikers. There are a great many walking trails throughout the country, so South Africa has a large amount to offer people who wish to go walking abroad. Wherever you go you can be sure that there will be the possibility for hiking and adventure close by! Below we have a round up of just some of the places where you can go walking in South Africa.
The sheer escarpment of the Drakensberg. Source: Flickr by Fritz Park, taken by the Aitkenheads.
The best known place to go walking and trekking in South Africa is the Drakensberg Mountains wilderness area. Located in the KwaZulu-Natal region the Natal Drakensberg is an escarpment approximately 120 miles in length rising almost sheer to over 3000m in height. The highest peak in South Africa is Njesuthi in the Drakensberg which is 3,408 m (11,181 ft) high.
Two other well known peaks for hiking are the horn on Rhino’s Peak and Cathedral Peak. Cathedral Peak is 3,004 m (9,856 ft) high and is known as Mponjwana (Little Horn) by the local Amangwane people.
There are many hikes suggested on the Drakensberg Tourism website. The three that are most recommended are:
1. Northern / Central DrakensBerg Day trail
Walking the lower reaches below the Drakensberg escarpment in Giants Castle Nature Reserve you will find the most impressive scenery that Drakensberg has to offer.
“Worlds View” an easy 3,5 hour hike (14 km) and ends with a spectacular 360 degree view. More of this walking beneath the escarpment can be found at Injasuti, Monks Cowl, Champagne, Cathedral and Royal Natal. Its similar but the scenery is different and all spectacular.
2. Sentinel, Tugela Waterfall and Escarpment Top
At the Sentinel it possible to Drakensberg escarpment and back down again in one day. The walk is 5 hours in total. After ascending the last 20 meters using a chain ladder you are rewarded with a view overlooking the Royal Natal Reserve. From here you can also see the source of the Tugela river, where the Tugela waterfall has a drop of 950 m, which is the 2nd highest waterfall in the world.
3. Southern Drakensberg and the San (Bushman) Rock Art
Drakensberg is famous for prehistoric rock art and some of the best examples can be found at Kamberg. The scenery in south Drakensburg consists of valleys and sandstone caves where the ancient paintings can be seen.
Coastal Walks in South Africa
South Africa has a large amount of coastline, so there are good opportunities for coastal walks and expeditions.
Located in the Eastern Cape, The Otter Trail along the Tsitsikamma coast is said to be the most popular hike in South Africa. The trail follows the rugged shoreline which is punctuated by mountain streams and waterfalls with a back drop of lush green forest and shrub type plants called fynbos. It is an undulating trek with lots or ups and downs although the overall distances are not that long. Also along the Tsitsikamma Coast is the 17 km long Dolphin Trail.
The Wild Coast is another popular coastal walk in the Eastern Cape. The scenery along this part of the coast can be rocky with a splattering of tropical forest, but it mainly consists of miles of deserted beaches.
Hiking in the Western Cape
Continuing to travel westwards along the coast from the Eastern Cape, there are many more walks in the Western Cape. These include the 108 km Outeniqua Hiking Trail as well as many other shorter trails.
Wolfberg Arch in Cedarberg National Park. Source Wikimedia by Amada44.
Located near Cape Town are the Cedarberg and Groot Winterhook wilderness areas. The Cederberg Mountain range is 100 km sandstone formation. There are many famous mountain hiking routes in the region, for example the Wolfberg Cracks & Arch, the Maltese Cross, Sneeuberg and Middleburg. There are also plenty of opportunities to go climbing, bouldering and scrambling. Wildlife in the area includes the Cape Fox, Cape clawless otter, Honeybadger, and Porcupine. If you a lucky you could also see a Mountain Leopard or an Aaardvark.
For anyone who enjoys nature, the outdoors or just getting away for the weekend, the Cedarberg is unparalleled in its rugged beauty and quiet spirituality. hikecapetown.co.za.
Hinterland Wilderness Hiking
The Amatola Mountain Range in the Eastern Cape extends from the north of Grahamstown and west of Stutterheim. Some of the peaks are over 2000 m in height and are snow covered during winter. There area a vast amount of trees in the region, making the 65 mile (105 km) Amatola Hiking Trail one of South Africa’s top mountainous forest-clad walks. Many of the trees in the Afro-Montane rainforest are indigenous, such as the Cape Chestnuts, Yellowwoods and Stinkwoods. The forest provides a habitat for many species of birds and animals. The trail takes about six days to complete when walking a strenuous pace. Some of the best views in the Amatola range can be found at the Katberg pass.
Other Hiking Trails
There are many hiking trails in South Africa. For example, trails in the Free State including the Rhebok, Christmaskrans, Mont-Aux-Sources and Sentinel Hiking Trails. Further north the Soutpansberg mountain range lies on the northern border of South Africa. It get is name from the salt pans and is about 80 miles in length. Again there are many trekking opportunities in this region.
Map of South African Provicences. The Drakensberg Mountains are located in KwaZulu-Natal.
There are such a lot of opportunities for adventures and hiking in South Africa that this article can only scratch the surface! Some other suggestions can be found on Best Hike. If you know of any great South African treks that are not included please leave a comment below!
For those wanting more Adventure…
Adventure Racing is fast becoming a popular endurance sport these days and South Africa is no exception. The 28 mile Baviaanskloof Trail Run takes competitors through challenging terrain in which the temperature can be 40 °C or it can snow! There is also the added element of Black Rhinos, Cape Cobras and Leopards!
In most areas of South Africa rain is possible, so summer or lightweight waterproofs are recommended. The temperature does not tend to be extreme, but it can be variable and it can get cold at night. Therefore a warm fleece would be worth taking. An insulated jacket should be considered if you are going to the semi-desert regions in the north west. Zip-off trousers are particularly suitable for the South African climate, along with a lightweight baselayer. If you feel the cold, particularly after exercise an additional medium weight baselayer would be worth taking.
Some areas are very remote, therefore a map, first aid kit, whistle and emergency rations are essential. Most importantly you should carry a good supply of water.
The climate in South Africa is generally temperate and should usually be comfortable. A variety of climatic zones exist within the country, which is mainly due to varied topography and the influence of the oceans which surround three sides of South Africa. Therefore the weather that you are likely to experience will depend upon exactly which part of South Africa that you are travelling in.
In the south west around Cape Town the climate is similar to that of the Mediterranean with mild wet winters and hot sunny summers. Further east the chance of rain is about the same throughout the year, with an increasing amount of rain the further east you go.
Towards the north east the climate is almost tropical, where the winter are warmer and the summer is wetter. The north west is more desert like with low and unpredictable rainfall.
Th eastern interior around Johannesburg has dry, mild winters with cold nights, whereas the summers are warm with regular rainfall.
The best time to go hiking and trekking South Africa are the months of June and July. This time of year it is winter in the southern hemisphere, however the weather tends to be reasonably settled with clear days and cold nights.
Plants, Birds and Animals in South Africa
South Africa has a myriad of bird species. Source Flickr by babasteve
South Africa has an extremely diverse range of flora and fauna. It has 10% of all known plants. It is possible to arrange hiking excursions in game reserves where, if you are lucky you could see the Big Five, which are the elephant, black and white rhino, African Buffalo, lion and leopard. You could also see the impalas, kudus, blue wildebeest, springbok, hippopotamus, hyenas, giraffes and cheetahs. South Africa is also a haven for bird watchers. There have been over 850 species of birds sighted in South Africa.
Share Your Hiking Experience
Have you been walking in South Africa? Where are the best hikes? Did you enjoy your trek and what tips would you offer to anyone going there? Share your experience, click on comments below…
At CheapTents we like to help up and coming outdoor athletes by giving them some exposure. We were recently contacted by downhill mountain biker Tim Graham. Tim is an avid downhill racer who is pursuing his dream of a professional MTB racing.
Tim Graham getting some downhill action on his Specialized Big Hit.
It was watching downhill riders on the trails at Fort William that gave Tim the inspiration to take up mountain biking. That was two and half years ago and he has not looked back since…
The excitement and thrill of new trails and meeting new people got me into downhill mountain biking!
Best Downhill Trails
Tim’s enjoys riding the trails in Scotland around Fort William, where he got his first taste of mountain biking. He also rides many of the singletrack trails in the North East of England including and Chopwell Woods, Dalby Forest and Keilder Forest. There are plenty of downhill trails near his home where he gets his MTB fix and regularly practices his skills. Training also includes going to the gym and running. Tim can’t hide his passion for mountain biking, when we asked him which trail was his favourite, he replied…
My favourite trail is every single one I have ridden!
Tim takes part in races at Hamsterley Forest and has won the Springs Down Hill race. Tim will be entering all the northern downhill MTB events and hopes to progress on to the national events. His favourite racing events are the DH World Cup series, which are his eventual aim.
Fortunately Tim hasn’t had any major crash related injuries. The worst one was a dislocated finger which took 3 months to fully heal. During that time Tim had to confine himself to peddling on a cycle machine, 4 times a week for 1 hour each time.
When racing downhill Tim rides a Specialized Big Hit 2009 full suspension MTB with Rock Shox Boxxer forks. He also has a Commencal Absolotue AL2.
I love [the Rock Shox Boxxer] they are so plush.
And Tim’s Favourite clothing? Anything that makes him stand out!
Best Downhill Mountain Bikers
There are a number of top downhill mountain bikers that inspire Tim Graham, these include:
Steve Peat just because he is so old but still pinning it
Come enjoy the last October weekend and celebrate Halloween with this year's spooky-themed Adopt-a-Crag event. Our annual clean-up will again be at the popular bouldering and roped climbing area in Minnewaska State Park. Please bring work gloves, sturdy shoes, work clothes and climbing gear for free climbing afterward! Spooky tours through the 'caves' are also available. Meet at the Peter's Kill visitor's center at 10am.
Participants will transport and spread bark mulch at many erosion impacted areas along the base of the crags. Bootleg trails and micro trash will also be addressed as time permits.
Hosted by the Gunks Climbers Coalition on October 30, 2010. For more information contact GCC@gunksclimbers.org.
Sunday 26th September 2010 will be ITV’s National Walk4Life Day, with a series of 10 walks taking place around the England and Wales. The walks will be open to everyone from highly experienced ramblers to absolute beginners.
Organised in conjunction with Walk England, Natural England, Living Streets, Sustrans, Rambler’s and the British Heart Foundation, Walk4Life is part of the Change4Life campaign.
ITV’s Walk4life Day is part of ITV’s support for the Department of Health’s Change4Life campaign, a nationwide movement which aims to help us all eat well, move more and live longer. Change4Life brings together brings together local, commercial and governmental partners to help people all over the country understand the long-term health risks of a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. – ITV W4L
As well as the 10 organised and sponsored events, there are many many more events going on. If you want to see what walks are going on in your area, you can visit the Walk4Life Events website.
Given the Walk4Life is all about promoting health, it is no miracle that the Walk4Life website has a few nice features such as: creating your own walks and tracking your progress (times, weight, health and much more).
ITV Regional Walks on 26th September ITV Anglia Cambridge – Mill Pond at 11am ITV Central Birmingham – Highbury Park at 11am ITV West and Westcountry Bristol – Millennium Square at 10.45am ITV Meridian – Brighton Seafront at 11am ITV Wales Caerphilly – on Thursday 23rd September at 11am ITV Border/Tyne Tees Newcastle – Quayside at 11am ITV Yorkshire Hull – The Humber Bridge at 11am ITV London – Gabriel’s Wharf at 11am ITV Granada Rochdale – Hollingworth Lake at 11am
If you’re off on one of the ITV Walk4Life Day walks or maybe your blazing your own trail, let us know.
Last month we posted about Ed Stafford who had just completed a 4000 mile, 859 day expedition along the entire length of the Amazon river. Yesterday, Outside Blog posted a great interview with Ed Stafford, which is well worth a read.
Ed Stafford walked the entire length of the Amazon. Source Flickr by Ivan Mlinaric.
Walking the Amazon
In the interview Ed reveals how he got the idea for the expedition on Google. However, he does not reveal whether or not the expedition was undertaken as a reconnaissance mission for Google’s River View project. Inspiration also came from projects that his contemporaries have undertaken. Ed goes onto explain that his experience in the military and leading conservation expeditions set him in good stead for the adventure.
Taking on such a long journey in a remote place is no easy task. The daily grind was a hard challenge and there were some hairy moments too:
There were five dugout canoes full of Ashaninka Indians. Half of them were standing up at this point in an impressive display of aggression with bows and arrows pointing at us, some with shotguns as well, and all the women with machetes. They beached and ran towards us. Because we’d had that threat of being killed the day before, I thought they were coming to kill us.
Ed gained a lot of satisfaction from completing the expedition and not only that, he improved his Spanish too!
And what is the best piece of outdoor gear to take if you are going to walk along the Amazon? We thought it would be walking boots, but Ed says that it was a boat! But it wasn’t cheating…
The pack rafts were phenomenal. Without them, I think the expedition would have been nigh on impossible. There are so many tributaries that sometimes you’re inflating the rafts six or seven time a day.
Congratulations again to Ed and Cho for completing the expedition and thanks to Outside blog for an enjoyable interview.
A Snowdonia peak has been found to be an extra 1.8m, due to more accurate height measurements, and has become the 5th “super-mountain” in Wales.
Glyder Fawr - Source Flickr MarchiCTID
Glyder Fawr was measured at 999m using a “photogrammetry” method where detailed aerial images are used to create a 3d model from which measurements are taken. However, this method can be wrong by up to 3m. Enthusiasts from G & J Surveys have used more accurate measurements made by GPS equipment to find the mountain is actually 1000.8m above sea level.
Other than meaning the National Trust can now use the term “super-mountain” for a fifth peak what does this new measurement mean?
Emyr Williams, director of land management with the Snowdonia National Park Authority said the new measurement would mean “new obligations” for the park authority from a land conservation and management perspective.
“We now have a fifth peak in Snowdonia which is higher than 1000m and as a result it is sure to attract more walkers to this area”. – Source BBC News
But this isn’t the first time enthusiasts have found height where it was never before. Last September we told you about Mynydd Graig Goch, also in Snowdonia. Mynydd was found to be 75cm taller than previously thought, taking it just into the mountain classification.
When you’re talking about long distance adventurers one of the first names that springs to mind is Andrew Skurka. Named as “Adventurer of the Year” 2007 by National Geographic Adventure’s and “Person of the Year” 2005 by Backpacker Magazine. Andrew has trekked over 25,000 miles since 2002, when Andrew turned his hobby into an occupation, leaving his “conventional career” behind to become a professional adventurer. Some of his more challenging expeditions have included the Great Western Loop at almost 7,000 miles, and his Sea-to-Sea expedition at almost 8,000 miles.
With a pedigree like this it was hardly a surprise when Andrew set out on his next big adventure in March of this year. The Alaska-Yukon Expedition, a circular expedition of 4,700 miles over some of the worlds most famous mountain ranges, the Brooks Range and Alaska Ranges as well as taking in the amazing Yukon River. The route began and ended 30 miles into the Arctic Circle, and is a route which had never been completed nor attempted previously. Andrew has planned the expedition to last around 7 months. Having just completed the adventure some weeks early, CheapTents sat down with Andrew and talked about his adventures.
Andrew Skurka Interview
CheapTents.com: What inspired you to get into outdoor pursuits and long distance walking?
AS: I find unparalleled beauty, refreshing simplicity, and tremendous humility in the outdoors. And long-distance walking is a great way to experience it: it’s great exercise and it allows me to see vast swaths of nature in a relatively short period of time.
CheapTents.com: How do you overcome the solitude experienced on a long distance hike?
AS: My trips are too engaging to become lonely: I’m focused on sniffing out game trails, fording glacier-fed rivers, staying warm in sub-zero temperatures, and the like. Maybe I’d get lonely if I put in short days and sat around the campfire alone every night singing Kumbaya.
CheapTents.com: What considerations did you take into account when devising your route for the Alaska-Yukon expedition?
AS: The route was driven by wanting to traverse the Alaska Range and the Brooks Range in one trip. The rest of the route was mostly a matter of practicality: the western connection had to be done when the land was still frozen because it’s too boggy and buggy to get across easily in the summer; and the eastern connection could be done if I went into Yukon. The Lost Coast section was an unnecessary but worthwhile addition that I had the time to squeeze in.
CheapTents.com: What part of the Alaska-Yukon route provided the most spectacular scenery?
AS: The Alaska Range was the most majestic, and my route through it was spectacular. The Chugach Range is equally impressive but my route was further away from it. The Brooks Range is a backpackers’ dream, especially Gates of the Arctic National Park in the Fall.
CheapTents.com: What part of the Alaska-Yukon route offered the most challenge?
AS: I was humbled from start to finish. Skiing along the Arctic Coast was stressful because it was as cold as -25F, the wind always howled, and there were no trees around for protection. The Alaska Range was difficult due to rotting snow. The Lost Coast has long beach walks punctuated by moments of terror: long crossings of open ocean bays and fords of raging glacial-fed rivers. The Yukon Arctic has extensive tussocks and muskeg. And the Brooks Range is scarily remote.
Alaska-Yukon Circular Route Taken Andrew
CheapTents.com: How heavy was your pack and what did you carry with you on this adventure?
AS: You can find my gear list on my website. My “base weight” (gear only, no food, water, or fuel) was in the high-10’s during both the winter and the summer. In the winter I had to carry a gas stove and a lot of insulation. In the summer I had to carry a packraft. There was one time where I think my pack weighed about 50 lbs including food: I was leaving Dawson YT with two weeks of chocolate and couscous.
CheapTents.com: What boots/shoes do you wear on these long distance treks?
AS: I had 3-pin leather telemark ski boots in the winter, and in the summer I wore lightweight trail running shoes, the La Sportiva Fireblade.
CheapTents.com: What are your favourite bits of gear, and why?
CheapTents.com: What is your biggest accomplishment?
AS: My trips are impressive but they are not the great thing I’ve done. Rather, I’d point to the fact that I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing with my life, which was not particularly easy to do given the pushback from parents, relatives, and peers who believed that I was throwing away my education and closing doors on opportunities I had.
CheapTents.com: You are clearly enjoying your expeditions, other than expeditions themselves what training did you do before this expedition, and how does this differ from one of your shorter expeditions?
AS: I didn’t train for this trip any differently than I train for others: I’m active every day, which helps develop a baseline of fitness that allows me to “hit the ground running” when I begin my trip. See this article for a comprehensive answer on how to train for a long-distance trip. I’ll point out that I was in good skiing shape too when I began AYE because I’d been skiing all winter (downhill and backcountry/cross-country) in Colorado.
CheapTents.com: You’ve just completed a huge expedition and are now recovering, looking back is there anything you would change about your preparations or the actual expedition?
AS: I made the best decisions I could have made with the information that I had. Certainly there were places where I did not identify the best route (so I had to modify my route in the field) and there stretches where my mileage estimates could have been better, but I just didn’t have enough information at the time to do better.
CheapTents.com: Do you have any ideas in mind for future adventures?
AS: Some, but nothing that I’ve investigated yet.
CheapTents.com: Any people or sponsors that you would like thank?
AS: I received a grant from National Geographic’s Expeditions Council to defer the costs of the expedition, so I’d like to especially thank them. Companies like GoLite, La Sportiva, Mountain Laurel Designs, Headsweats, and DeFeet have helped me out a lot too over the years.
CheapTents.com: Finally, Andrew we would like to thank you for your time in answering our questions today.
If what you have read has sparked your interest in adventure expeditions then you may enjoy reading our interview with Samuel H Gardner who has an amazing hiking project called the “All-In Trek” and also our interview with the worlds most successful adventure racer Ian Adamson.
If you want to learn more about Andrew Skurka’s expeditions you can visit his website www.AndrewSkurka.com
If you have any questions for Andrew leave them below.
Finally, we would like to thank Kraig Becker of the adventure blog, for asking some of todays questions. And of course a final thank you to Andrew Skurka for his time and allowing us use of his images.