Red Bull X-Alps

Going wild in Alaska

When Gavin McClurg crossed the Rockies with Will Gadd he described it as the “scariest, riskiest thing I’ve ever done”. But now he’s raising the stakes once again with an even more bold, even more remote and wild adventure – crossing the indomitable Alaska Range.

© Jody MacDonald Photography

Gavin McClurg doesn’t do things in half measures. He took up sailing, then spent 13 years sailing around the world. He got into paragliding and started breaking distance records, he entered the Red Bull X-Alps and finished eighth, the first American to reach Monaco in the race’s history. Now he’s going back to his adventure roots with a super bold hike and fly expedition – with fellow American Dave Turner.  

“The goal is to make a fully flying traverse of the Alaska Range, from west to east,” he says. “It’s just over 800 km, about 25% longer than the Rockies Traverse.”

They’ll start deep in Lake Clark National Park, pass Denali (Mt McKinley) and plan to finish up right at the east end of the range.

The project ticks all of his boxes, he says. “It’s just massive terrain, the most remote mountain range on the planet. There’s just nothing out there, not a single village the whole way, not one! There are more bears and mosquitoes and rivers than there are people. I’m pretty sure no one’s flown out there at all and it’s only had one traverse by foot. To get in there and cross that range by paraglider, it’s very novel, it’s never been done. It’s one of those last great projects.”

Logistically, it’s also a pretty complicated one. Originally Gavin looked at being totally self-sufficient, living off the land by hunting and fishing – an area where Dave also has a lot of experience – but ruled it out as completely impractical. For one thing it’s too early in the year for salmon. It would also mean coming down into valleys, which they’d rather avoid as that would mean dealing with the very real threat of grizzlies and black bears. 

“Alaska’s obviously got tons of stuff to hunt but on this kind of expedition it’s not like we can shoot an elk and deal with it,” he says. “There’s no way to do all the skinning, quartering, cooking in an environmentally sound way – we’d have to leave a ton of the meat behind.” 

Short answer: he plans five food caches approximately 120 km apart. That has its own pros and cons. “Say we’re having a great day. Do we dial down and go to the cache and potentially not make the next one? Or if the weather’s bad, can we make the distance on the ground before running out of food?”

In contrast to the Rockies Traverse, Gavin plans to hike on foot (and not just make forward progress in the air), but says it’s gnarly terrain. “There are no roads, there are no trails. At the outside, if we’re really busting ass we can maybe cover 20k a day on the ground.”

The trip could take anything from two to six weeks. “It’s Alaska and good weather doesn’t come round that often,” adds Gavin. There’s also a big question mark about what kind of flying to expect. “There are long sections that we really have to fly but because no one’s flown there we just don’t know distances we can cover. It’s proper flying. There’s 2000 miles of desert north of the Alaska range so I’m sure we’re going to be dealing with strong winds.”

To succeed, they need to stay high. “On the ground it’s just gruesome. It’s going to be extremely slow and physical.”

Due to the remoteness and lack of cell phone coverage, Gavin and Dave will be off the grid during the trip but their position will occasionally be updated through Delorme’s map-tracking page and Dave and Gavin’s Facebook.