In May 2015, the young Frenchman adventurer Vincent Colliard and veteran Norwegian explorer, Borge Ousland, crossed the Stikine ice field in their quest to cross the 20 largest ice fields of the World. The integral crossing of the Stikine ice field has never been done before. Although satellite images helped, route finding was challenging, complicated and sometimes dangerous. The complicated route lasted till the last day on the ice when they carried 40 kg back packs uphill through dense bushes to avoid the glacier terminus, but eventually had to retreat and tackle the chaotic ice. This expedition was rewarded with a “good feeling” when they paddled with their inflatable rafts between the ice front of Great Glacier and Stikine River. Borge and Vincent skied approx. 180 kilometers in 16 days and were back to civilisation on day 17.
Borge and Vincent established themselves in Juneau in order to get their equipment ready. Then, there were dropped off by a boat in Sawyer, located in the Northern part of the ice field. The starting point on the ice was 57°55’N and 133°09’W. There, they began their ascension up to the plateau, and crossed the glacier from North to South. Weather has been very clear during most of the journey. According to Borge and Vincent, if the weather would have been bad for several days, their chances of success would have been quite limited. They had exit by a glacier called Great Glacier at around 56°49’N and 132°20’W, then paddle on the Stikine river for half a day before being picked up the next day by a boat which took them back to the town Wrangell in Alaska.
Alaska’s southernmost ice field, Stikine – coordinates 57°04’N 132°13’W, is one of the three biggest icecaps in Alaska. Its southern location and relatively low elevation make it vulnerable to changing climate. It is demanding and dangerous, located on the Alaska-British Columbia boundary in the Alaska Panhandle region. The Stikine is North America’s version of Patagonia; spectacular with many impressive spires, most famously the Devil’s Thumb.
The Stikine river
A haven for wildlife
Stikine River, or Stik-Heen, which means ‘Great River’ in Tlingit. The Stikine River certainly lives up to its name. Traveling 400 miles from headwaters in British Columbia to its mouth near Wrangell, it continues to carve its channel through glacial valleys and delta flats.
The delta is a haven for over 120 species of migrating birds in the spring and fall, including tundra swans, Canadian geese, sandhill cranes, mergansers, waterfowl and over 150,000 shorebirds. In April, the second largest concentration of eagles in the world occurs with 1,600 eagles gathering. In late April, 10,000 snow geese stop on their migration northward. There are other wildlife such as sealions, otter, bear and moose.
From kayak to sled
Starting May 9th Borge and Vincent will walk and ski across challenging Stikine ice field. The Distance on the ice will be around 170 km and total duration of the journey will be 4 weeks. They will need to use kayaks to reach the ice and will turn them into sleds for skiing.
“Also today we saw some more ivory gulls and quite a lot of fox tracks zig zagging across the glacier. We are now on a large snowfield called Lomonosov fonna” adds Børge.