With an old bike wheel and some alder branches, Hig tests out a possible way to cart kids and stuff for two months of Life on Ice

Last week’s sunny days had me hurrying to get the garden in. This week, we spent our mornings poking under kelp fronds and turning over rocks in the super-low tides, using our toddler as a good excuse to explore like kids ourselves. In between, I’ve been hurrying to finish bits and pieces of paid computer work. But something is looming…

Our next big expedition – Life On Ice – is 4 months away. Which seems like a long ways off. Until it doesn’t.

Until I realize that to feed the family for two months, I’m going to need to prepare and pack somewhere close to 350 pounds of food. Until I realize that all our gear from the Chukchi coast is worn out and leaking – and all four of us need clothing that will stand up to the fall rainstorms on Alaska’s Lost Coast. Until I realize that somehow we’re going to have to pick up two kids, some food, and a basecamp’s worth of stuff and physically carry it all across the gravel-strewn ice. Until I realize that this is a different kind of trip than any we’ve done before, with an even larger family.

Mostly, we’re cooking healthier options. But chocolate brownies will be a special treat in the middle of nowhere.

We’re going to the edge of the Malaspina Glacier, the largest lowland glacier in North America. We’re going because climate change makes this coast one of the most dramatic and quickly-changing places we’ve ever seen. We’re going because it’s an amazing place, with twisted forests growing on the ice and supercooled springs in the alder, between a storm-tossed coast and towering peaks. We’re going because we hope to paint a visceral picture of the rapid climate change we often overlook – in a place so dramatic we can’t possibly overlook it. And we’re going, at least in part, because it’s difficult. Because it’s an adventure.

We’ve spent years working on winnowing our gear down to be minimal and light. But this time we need more. Not just more food, more clothing, and more diapers, but totally new pieces of gear we’ve never tried, and some we haven’t yet invented.

On this expedition we’re embracing the oxymoron of a portable base camp. Titanium Goat is sponsoring us an awesome-looking tent that we’ll be able to heat up and dry out in (around 6 pounds including the woodstove). Given the weather we expect, I suspect this will make the difference between a great adventure and some very whiny children. Alpacka Raft has given us an extra long packraft that we can cram all four of us into. Because we’ll be camping in one place for an extended chunk of time, we’ll bring a small electric fence for bears. Because we’ll want to do lots of photography and make updates from the field, we’ll have a bunch of electronics with us. Because we won’t be anywhere near a town the entire time, we’ll need to recharge batteries and wash diaper covers in the field. We’ll need to set up a series of food caches before we start, and we have to calculate right from the beginning – no gorging ourselves in town, buying more, or giving away extra mashed potatoes to our hosts.

Will this really work to cart a family basecamp’s worth of gear?

We plan to be human-powered for the whole two months. So those 3 basecamps? Only home for 3/4 of the time. The other two weeks will be spent as nomads, somehow figuring out how to move the camp and our family 25 or 45 miles between them.

Could we use a unicycle wheel, some alder branches and a packraft to make a cart that we could pull over rock-strewn glacier ice?

I don’t know. But we’re working on it.

If it didn’t seem a little bit impossible, it wouldn’t be a good adventure.