In the morning of March 1st, 2008 we left our home on snowshoes and started our long adventure walking along the coastal range bordering Canada and Alaska. We first walked on the long great frozen lakes of Atlin and Tagish. From Carcross in the Yukon we continued along the abandoned rail track of the White Pass until we reached Whitehorse, the Capital of the Yukon. From there we kept going North using the trail packed by the mushers of the Yukon Quest race all the way to Carmacks, our final destination for this leg.
We were both pulling pulkas loaded with our camping gear and food. Nanook, our dog, was a great help and pulled our pulkas for us from time to time. The weather was very fortunate as the average temperature at night was -20°c, and the days were warm. The minimum temperature we had during this trip was only -35°c. On the yukon quest trail, the snow was compact enough that we could walk without snowshoes which allowed us to improve considerably our daily mileage. On our best day we walked 42 km pulling our pulks.
We made some food drops before leaving. In Carcross, Whitehorse and Breaburn we dropped a box with a week worth of food inside, plus some clean clothes, etc. Thanks to doing this, we were carrying only one week of food at a time on our pulks.
500 km From Atlin-Carmacks in 21 days
MSR Denali Ascent. We enjoyed these snowshoes a lot. We also had the tails that come with it for more flotation (we never ended up using the tails). The downturn of snowshoes in general is that you have to walk with your legs spread a little which can cause tendinites and causes you to sometimes step on your other snowshoe. Also snowshoeing is a little slower than skiing.
Komperdell carbon ultra light c3 compact Trekking poles. These poles have a duo locking system and shock absorbers, and they weigh next to nothing. In general these poles have been dissapointing.They are expensive and the locking device keeps acting up (as in not wanting to lock, or getting loose while you walk). Though they are versatile as you can set the size. We have used them a lot, both pairs broke just recently. We are going for rigid poles next time.
The north face darkstar sleeping bag. This was Leandra's sleeping bag. We chose for a synthetic because when you sleep outside in cold temperatures, there is always frozen condensation on the sleeping bag. down will not warm you anymore when whet, but the synthetic will. Leandra has not been cold, even at a night of -36c! Inside the sleeping bag Leandra used a silk sleeping bag liner from Mountain Equipment coop.
Helsport xtrem series sleeping bag. Philippe has had this sleeping bag for 10 years and it still does it's job! This is also a synthetic sleeping bag. rated for -40c. Inside the sleeping bag, Philippe used a silk sleeping bag liner from Mountain Equipment coop.
Cooking. Before leaving on this journey we made some food drop offs, therefore we were 'only' carrying one week of food at a time.
We cooked on fires and therefore took no cookstove. We used a kettle with a big opening on top for melting snow for drinking. the big hole is very useful because it lets you pack in a lot of snow easily. Also we had 2 big pots. One to cook food for Nanook (the dog) and one to cook our own food.
Tent, Our North Face mountain 25 keeps amazing us. We bought this 4 season tent knowing that we would be doing adventures in all kinds of weather conditions. We've nicknamed it the Mammoth, as it is not an ultralight (3kg) but it withstands everything! still after more than 300 camps! Philippe got to thank the tent once again, this June, when he and 3 friends were crossing the Juneau icefield. they took two tents, our Mountain 25 and a new fashion ultralight one layer tent from Mountain hardwear. The one layer tent was a swimming pool every morning, they could scoop out the water with their cups. so all their gear wet, and then that tent was brand new! Our tent had no water other than a little condensation. For real winter use, for us, it would be ideal to have a tent a little bigger. As while you sleep the condensation freezes on the inside of the tent, thus when you wake up and get dressed you scrape the ice from the inner tent, giving you a chilly wake up (though it helps to have all doors open at night for airflow). Also we have had some zippers quit on us, but North face happily fixed them for us. Otherwise, we love this tent! and we take it everywhere!
For sleeping matresses we used the Thermarest prolight 4 season 3/4length matresses. To fill up the space until the feet (to insulate from the snow) we just put some clothes or our downjackets under our feet.
Pulks. The pulks were 'homemade'. We bought two big pelican sleds that we renovated into pulks. We added a used snowboard underneath, and added some rope to attach our gear. We decided to have rope for pulling, instead of solid tubing. This way on the downhills we would just sit on the sled and slide down!
Clothing: we both had thermal underwear, shell pants, a light fleece sweater and a shell jacket. Even when it's cold, you're being active and you do not need that much clothing. We did have thick fleece sweaters, fleece pants, and a very fluffy down jacket. This we would put on right away when we would stop for camp in the evening, so we would stay warm while not active anymore, and this was also our gear in case of extreme weather (that we did not have).
Shoes, we used the black 'bunny boots'. These alaskan army boots are used all over the north and are truly awesome. Basically it is a double layered rubber boot with the liner in between the two rubber layers. It is your foot that keeps itself warm, even if you walk through the overflow (water on top of ice). Really great for long term travelling as you don't have to dry your liner, you just take the boots off and put them back on the next morning. Also, these boots are very comfortable for log distance walking, the thick fleece liner in the average winterboots use lots of energy, making you tired faster.
The Bunny boots come in 2 colors. We had the black version, but in the mean time Leandra has now switched to the White ones. The difference? The black version is lighter duty, it is rated to -40c. The white boots are rated to -60c. Note that many dogmushers use these boots even without socks so you have nothing at all to dry! We used them with light summer socks, just for comfort.
Electronics, We use a Brunton solaris 12 watt solar panel and a pixo c2 universal charger to charge all our batteries. We used rechargable batteries for our headlights and our Garmin gps and had a spare battery for both our Olympus stylus photo camera and our Canon hv10 HD video camera.Hygiene, winter camping is special when it comes to hygiene. Having at least one week between each village (and not even every village has a public shower), means that you have to be mentally capable of being 'dirty'. While you're on the go, you never take off your thermal underwear as it is too cold (only to go to the toilet). We brought babywipes for cleaning the private parts. The trick is that on the day you decide to wash, you have to put the frozen babywipes on the inside of your layers so your bodyheat warms them up and they are ready for use in the evening. We are both fine with this but it is a serious matter to consider before leaving on a long wintertrip as many people do not have the mental to go for long (sometimes 2 weeks) without a full wash. We had added clean underlayers at our food drops, but would only change into our clean clothes if there was a shower in the village. One nice surprise is that once you take that shower, you take off your underlayers and it is almost weird to see your body after so long, and also you're a bunch of pounds lighter.