A Seldovia family that has made a habit of taking on long journeys around some of the wildest parts of Alaska is at it again. Later this month, they’ll be taking off from their yurt on the south side of Kachemak bay for an 800-mile walk along the entire coast of Cook Inlet.
Bretwood Higman and Erin McKittrick began their first big adventure together with “Journey On the Wild Coast," a year-long walk along the coast from Seattle to the Aleutian Islands. That journey was completed in 2007, before the couple had two children and settled on the south side of Kachemak Bay near Higman’s hometown of Seldovia.
But if you think having children might slow down McKittrick and Higman, you’d be wrong.
They took their oldest child, Katmai, on an expedition around northwest Alaska’s Chukchi Sea in 2010, when he was still a baby and the next year, the family set off for Malaspina Glacier for a two-month trek with Katmai and their one-year-old daughter, Lituya.
This week, McKittrick and Higman are preparing for their latest adventure, an 800-mile coastal walk along the entirety of Cook Inlet.
"We're going to start out at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula," said Higman. "(Then) we're going to work our way around Kachemak Bay, through Homer, up toward Turnagain Arm, through Anchorage, across Knik Arm ... and then all the way down the west side of Cook Inlet toward Cape Douglas.
The family will mostly be walking that 800 miles, says Higman, and they’ll be moving at what McKittrick refers to as “Katmai pace.”
"He's our four-year-old son and he's very excited that he's going to walk all the way around Cook Inlet by himself," she said.
Little Lituya will be riding along with mom and dad but Katmai is going to walk all 800 hundred miles. So how does that affect planning for a trip like this?
"It makes it much more uncertain because we're guessing what (his) pace is going to be," said McKittrick. "We think we know what the pacing is going to be but in the first month, we'll know a lot more."
McKittrick and Higman are planning on four months for the entire trek. Higman says they are tentatively titling their trip “Tracing the Heart of Alaska” and chose Cook Inlet because of its unique diversity.
"(There are) little towns like Seldovia, where we live, and Anchorage, of course," he said. "There are Native villages and ... Russian villages ... there is a lot of variation of people along this coast and I think it's a really good expression of some of the diversity that's across much of Alaska."
The couple hopes to meet with as many local people as they can along the way and maybe even be joined by some for parts of the trip.
For those of us who won’t be able to join them, McKittrick says she plans on writing about the journey and taking many photos, even though she may not be able to consistently get them up on the couple’s website.
In many places, especially on the eastern side of Cook Inlet, the family will be connected to civilization – including an internet connection – but once the leave Anchorage later this summer and cross Knik Arm for the western side of the inlet, they will be surrounded by wilderness.
They have planned food drops in a handful of places to resupply along the way and will be carrying two small packrafts to cross rivers and other wetlands.
Higman says that depending on weather, the couple plans to leave sometime in the next week or so.
You can learn more about the family’s plans – and see some remarkable photos, video and writings from their past adventures – at their website, www.groundtruthtrekking.org.