James Croy pre mission SITREP-
It's fall here in Alaska, which of course means fall colors, back country adventures and hunting season. My good friend and former Ranger Mike approached me last year about going on a 15+ day ATV excursion into the back country of Alaska to go hunting. I immediately agreed and we began pre mission planning for what would truly be an epic adventure with a great friend. The concept may seem fairly simple but honestly when it comes to heading into the "bush" as we call up it here nothing is simple. In fact there are many challenges to overcome for an extended trip such as this.Undertaking an Alaskan mission like this is daunting and requires more than a simple 3B's (Beans, Bullets, Band-Aids) logistics plan. In reality there are many dimensions to surviving and thriving on a multi-day self-supported Alaskan big game hunting trip. To give some scope this trip is for two men unsupported for 15+ days in a really remote part of Alaska (remote= 50+ miles down an unimproved dirt road, then 30-50 miles as the crow flies off that road with no other road within 100 miles of that). So no cell service, no satellite phone, no roads, very few trails and no structures to use as shelter except for what we take with us. Having any kind of failure could literally be catastrophic with results ranging from a very bad day to death. I could write a book on how wild it is out in Alaska's bush country and how dangerous it is if you’re unprepared or even when you are prepared.
Just because we are using ATV's on this mission doesn't mean we can haul heavy and take unnecessary gear going in. All of our gear and logistics needs are carefully figured for weight and size. If we are both successful hunters we figure on coming back from the bush with 1600-2000 lbs. of meat. Yes you read that right. A Large Alaska-Yukon Moose can weigh in at 800-1000+ per animal after being quartered for transport. Hauling that much weight out on ATV’s is challenging on a good day. When factoring in the potential Alaskan backcountry contingencies; Grizzly's or Black bears, steep and uneven terrain, rivers, streams, boreal forest, tundra, glacial boulder fields and steep and very uneven terrain- you can understand that hauling that much weight out becomes even more daunting.
"When undertaking a mission like this the quality and preparation of your gear is paramount"
I've been doing trips like this for over 30 years and a lot of my knowledge of gear and experience has simply come from both success and failure. Gear failures are going to happen, period. Minimizing the effects of the failure, or being able to make field repairs is an absolute necessity. In other words, always be ready to improvise when necessary. I will not get into the brand name, “Ford-Chevy debate" or the "you should take XYZ whizz-bang gadget". When I mention brand names it's for reference only, not a brand endorsement for your unique situation or mission. The only thing I will say about the gear you choose is to make sure it WORKS WELL prior to taking it to the field. In other words test it thoroughly under various conditions. Understanding the limits of your gear and your individual abilities is critical in many activities, none more so than Alaskan backcountry travel."Planning for this mission started almost a year in advance and encompassed coordinating overall logistics, total time in the field and team and individual equipment needs"
The machinesI will be using my Artic Cat TRV550 towing an ATV trailer. Mike will use a 2011 Artic Cat Mud-Pro 700 with an ATV trailer. We fitted both machines with a 2500# winches on the front and Mike's with a rear #2500 winch. We added 40 watt LED lights to front of both machines. Other than Tires, LED Lights and the winches, the machines are bone stock. We will each carry 15 gallons of extra fuel for each machine. We both have tools assembled to do minor to medium emergency repairs in the field plus we each carry recovery gear. Taking a tool kit beyond the OEM supplied kit is really mandatory, Sockets, wrenches, tire repair, etc. Here is where experience, knowing your machine, and how to do field repairs comes into play. If you don't know how wrench on your machine, LEARN! Recovery gear is also critical because you are definitely going to get stuck. It's not if, it's WHEN you do. So bring a shovel, ax/saw, tow ropes (more than one), block and tackle if possible. Recovery gear makes it possible to get you, the machine, your gear and cargo back home at the end of the mission. We did reliability checks again and again, ensuring each piece of added gear and all of the accessories worked properly.
As with all missions that involve camping, some gear is essential and some is just plain snivel gear. We obviously trend toward the essential, but do allow for a few gear choices to improve comfort in the field. For our shelter on this mission I am bringing my freestanding 6 man tent man (sierra designs Bedouin 6). That will be our base camp accommodations. There are numerous reasons for such a large tent for two people: you can stand inside it, dress or undress out of the weather, hang and dry wet or damp clothes and when necessary, all of your personal gear can come inside. For cooking needs on this mission we have chosen to run propane for the stove and heater in base camp. We are bringing enough propane (in 1lb bottles) for the expected duration plus 3 days. Mike built a great mini alcohol stove and I use a Giga stove that travels in my "go bag". Water Filters- in base camp we have 2 Katadyn gravity filters and two MSR mini-works for out and about. We have 4 Primus Butane lanterns for base camp also. We constructed a table from one the ATV trailer lids and have enough tarps/cordage to construct improvised weather ports. It sounds like a given but where we are hunting there are trees (some places in Alaska don't have trees) so we should have enough natural pole making material and fire abilities should we need.
I've learned over the years that the difference between a great Alaska trip and crappy one is good coffee, an occasional shower, a warm, dry place to sleep and good food. Next to fire, Chow is the most important component of backcountry morale. I find plain, freeze dried camping meals to be lacking in what I like to call “flavor”. I go to the grocery store and purchase shelf stable food for extended missions such as this one. They are still simple meals; most only require boiling water but are loads better tasting than backpacking meals (see picture). I’ll bring some canned goods also. When planning for this I planned for two people to eat three meals a day plus some snacks. Snacks are essential as they allow you to not over eat your rations. Again I planned for 15 days plus 3.
My under layers are Smart wool top and bottom base layer (two sets). Three sets of wool blend socks. Pants are two pair of USMC issue MARPAT (personal choice). One pair of light weight chest waders. Jacket is a pullover type that is both wind resistant and lined with Gore-Tex type material. One light weight rain jacket. One pair of wind block Fleece style gloves and one pair of polypro liner gloves. North Face Dark star -40 sleeping bag w/ fleece blanket. A note on Bags. I DO NOT endorse any type of down bag for trips like this. I don't care who made it or what the down is encased in. The climate we will be in is wet, period. Instead, bring a well-constructed, high quality synthetic bag to the lowest temperature rating you expect to encounter along with a self-inflating 2" ground pad. We will each carry a small trauma bag and some basic first aid items along with head lamps and high output tactical style flashlights with spare batteries.
Everyone has an opinion. Again KNOW your gear and its limits. This is where my personal choices are informed from my past experiences, both good and bad. My rifle is a Ruger Hawkeye stainless in 375 Ruger with shooting sticks. Mike will be using a Remington 700 stainless in 35 Whelen. Both are great choices for Alaskan sized animals. We carry approximately 1.5 boxes of rifle ammo and one reload for the side arms. Mike will carry his Glock 20 in 10mm and I will carry my S&W performance center R8 357 mag. as my sidearm. We both have two to three knives of varying size configuration for field dressing animals/camp/general use with sharping kit. My trusted Leica 10x42 binos and Leupold 15x30 compact spotting scope w/ small tripod. Leupold rage finder. We both carry a Camel back style small back pack with a stove, pot, cup and small snacks and rations to use as a bug out bag.
So some of you are probably wondering, "Why are you not taking a SAT phone, EPERB, or SPOT tracker"? Well, there are a couple of reasons. First, they don't always work in Alaska due to satellite coverage and terrain. Second is the expense. All of the above are expensive pieces of kit that can be easily damaged. I'm not totally discounting the value of them in many situations, but remember that they don't work at the bottom of a river/lake or after being run over by the machine that's rolling down a hill, or after they have caught on fire, are chewed on by wild animals, frozen, lost out of batteries, etc. Always have capabilities that don’t rely on satellite coverage and batteries. It really goes back to experience and knowing your limits and, wait for it - personal responsibility. I know my personal limits, I will also let people know my depart dates, travel areas (with highlighted maps),
To many people of all walks of life head into the wilds under prepared but have this notion that if I just hit that "easy" button on my said rescue beacon a Helicopter with highly trained individuals will come rushing to my aid within minutes and greet me with hot coco and a blanket. I choose to travel with knowledge and better planning. Tentative return dates in Alaska are just that. Be prepared for added delays due to weather or any of the aforementioned situations or conditions. Don’t panic, plan for delays and contingencies.
Finally, there are plenty of "experts" on survival, back country exploration, etc. out there. I do not lay claim to being an "expert". I have rescued a few "experts" but I will never suggest that I am all knowledgeable on Alaskan backcountry travel. I continually learn and train and stay ever prepared for “Beyond Normal Limits” situations. The best piece of gear anyone can have can't be bought or rented. It sits squarely (for most people) between your ears and just north of your shoulders. Unfortunately the ability of some people, especially in modern times, to use this piece of kit under stress let alone under normal conditions is always up for debate. Alaska judges these types harshly. If you come here, make sure you are prepared and have planned to make it back alive.
Look for more SITREPs on this mission on the AOG blog. Interested in planning your own Alaskan mission? Contact us for more information.