Alaskan adventure

By on January 28, 2011

Photo: Elburn resident, Tyler Schmidt, trekked 135 miles in the Alaskan wilderness as part of his Outdoor Studies major at Alaska Pacific University. Courtesy Photo

Elburnite spends 23 days in the wild
by Lynn Meredith
ANCHORAGE—With a goal in life to become an expedition guide and years of backpacking and camping experience under his belt, where else would Tyler Schmidt of Elburn go to college than Alaska Pacific University? Set in Anchorage, Alaska, close to the Chugash Mountain range, the university offers a major in Outdoor Studies that provides students with real-life experience in the wilderness. Schmidt took a class in expedition leadership, whose classroom was a 23-day trek in the wildness.

“’Outdoor Studies’ is not your typical major. Most of my classes focus on active learning in the outdoors,” Schmidt said. “Instead of taking a whole bunch of science classes, I take rock climbing and expedition leadership. We actually go out and do stuff rather than take tests on it.”

As an Eagle Scout in Troop 7 in Elburn, Schmidt had the opportunity to develop his love of the outdoors. Along with camping and backpacking trips, Schmidt was twice chosen as crew leader at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico, where the scouts would backpack 80 to 100 miles.

“He always was an outdoor kid,” Tyler’s father Chuck said. “We encouraged the adventurer spirit and to do your own passion. If you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life.”

The 23-day expedition began with three days of planning and getting gear together. The students learned how to read the maps, how to ration out 24 days’ worth of food and decided what materials they would need for a class they each had to teach in the wild. For four credit hours, 18 students along with instructors would be dropped off in the wilderness with only 45 pounds on their backs to survive the 135-mile trek.

“We got dropped off at the side of the highway and picked up a trail for half a mile, and then just took a left turn off the trail into shoulder-high brush. We didn’t see a trail again for 23 days,” Tyler said. “We knew where we needed to be each night, we knew our trek, we knew which direction we were going, and we became expert map readers.”

With the aid of eight topographical maps, the group hiked through waist-high rushing creeks and through passes. They carried roughly seven days’ worth of food and their tents. A bush plane would twice drop off supplies, taking off and landing within a 50-foot strip.

Cold and hunger were constants on the trek, Tyler said. But with classes on foot care, bear safety and crossing rivers, the students were well-prepared when they had 14 days straight of rain, ice and snow—in August and September. They suffered cold feet from socks that would not dry out after crossing streams. Frosted-over conditions one day made it too dangerous to continue. The group sat huddled under a tarp with no floor and sipped hot liquids.

They ate rice, pasta, and even homemade pizza cooked over small MSR stoves. Since there were no trees to hang the food to keep bears away, they put the food 200 to 300 feet away from the campsite. Tyler lost 23 pounds, over the course of the trip.

“On the way back we stopped at a grocery where we could eat whatever we wanted. For my first meal I ate a gallon of mint brownie ice cream, two family-sized bags of Doritos, a box of cookies, a liter of soda, and I still wasn’t full,” Tyler said.

Through it all, Tyler saw some amazing sights: hundreds of caribou, the Northern Lights shooting above Denali and even some ill-fated planes that crashed in the wilderness.

Next on the agenda for Tyler is a course in “Glaciology,” the study of glaciers to see how fast they move and to record daily temperatures. From this 23-day trek, he now knows what he’d do different next time.

“For my future investments I’m going to get some in-camp shoes. I’m going to buy some seal-skin socks and a pair of crocs,” Tyler said.