As Iditarod mushers were finishing their 1,000-mile journey, a family of four was just beginning their own trek from under the ceremonial burled arch. Bretwood “Hig” Higman, Erin McKittrick, and their two young kids Katmai and Lituya started their 500-mile trek from Nome to Kotzebue on Friday. Over the next few months, they plan to walk, ski and paddle up the Bering Strait.
“We’re planning to head out around the coast and visit all the villages along the way and then end up in Kotzebue,” Erin explains.
As for gear, they’ve packed a lot of insulation, food, and creative ways to move across the land and water.
“We have pack rafts that we’re putting skids on and are going to be using as sleds, but we expect we’ll be paddling in them at some point,” Hig said. “The kids have skis that we can make into kick sleds. They can also ride in the raft sled or they can walk so we have all these different possibilities. Hopefully some combination of those will make for a fun, successful trip.”
Trekking is nothing new for this family. Erin and Hig met in college in Minnesota and soon got hooked on long-distance trekking. In 2007, they trekked 4,000 miles from Seattle to the Aleutian Islands, spending over a year in the wilderness. After having kids, they thought they’d have to put those long treks aside for a while, but instead their 6-year-old and 4-year-old come along for the journeys.
“We did a few little trips though with the kids and started saying, you know, this is quite possible and historically people traveled and did all sorts of incredible things with kids,” Hig said.
And it’s a learning experience for all of them. Hig and Erin have backgrounds in geology and molecular biology respectively, and their expeditions allow them to see climate change right before their eyes.
“Going around Alaska right now and looking at the effects of climate change, you can go out and be in places and see changes that are happening on human time scales, in just a few years landscapes are changing, rivers are moving, new plants coming in, glaciers are retreating, all this stuff is happening really, really fast,” Hig said.
Through blogs, books and films, they hope to share their observations to help educate people about the effects of climate change. This time, they’re really interested in learning about sea ice changes, and they are always looking to learn from the people they meet along the way.
“We kind of almost look at it as a piece of gear now, something we carry with us is we carry a question,” Hig explains. “We’ve been asking everyone we can about what they think is coming up for the future of Alaska, what are we going to see in the next couple generations?”