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26-year-old woman took 1,000 mile hike, all alone, in the Alaskan wilderness

MOULTONBOROUGH — One day this past summer, Kristin Gates found herself running toward a treeline in Alaska's Brooks Range, hot on the tails of a pack of wolves that disappeared into the trees moments earlier. What would make Gates, a 26 year-old who grew up in Greenwich, Conn., do such a thing?

Gates had just rounded a bend in a river to find herself about 100 feet away from a caribou carcass that was being devoured by a grizzly bear. The wolves had killed the caribou and eaten most of it, Gates figured by the size of their distended bellies, only to have their kill absconded by the bear. Given the choice between the company of sated wolves or a hungry grizzly, Gates high-tailed it to the woods.

That episode was just one of many adventures Gates experienced during her traverse of the Brooks Range, which stretches from east to west across the northern half of the country's wildest state. Gates's trek took her 1,000 miles and 51 days, from June 13 to August 2. She is believed to be the first woman to hike the range solo.

Gates is spending the winter staying at her parents' home in Moultonborough, giving public talks and working on a book about her experience.

Gates was first introduced to outdoor adventures by her father. While growing up in Connecticut, she and her family would visit grandparents in Meredith. When she was eight, Gates and her father set out on the goal of hiking all 48 of New Hampshire's 4,000-foot peaks. They accomplished that goal by the time she was 15, and along the way covered many miles of the Appalachian Trail. They also crossed paths with many through-hikers — people following the trail all the way from the trail's start in Georgia to its terminus at Mount Katahdin in Maine. She became infected with the idea of following in their footsteps, and used the summer after her freshman year to fall in love with long-distance hiking.

Her first through hike was the Long Trail in Vermont. By the time she had completed the 272-mile trail, she thought she might have had enough. She made the rookie mistake of packing too heavy — her pack weighed 50 pounds — and she wasn't yet comfortable in the woods by herself. "After I finished the Long Trail, I remember telling my mom, 'Maybe this isn't for me'," she said. Oh, how wrong she was.

After her sophomore year at Colby College, where she studied English and Classical Civilization with a minor in Geology — "I wanted to be Indiana Jones" — she tackled the Appalachian Trail and fell head over heels. "Every day was so much fun, I just completely fell in love with the way of life and the community." The next summer, after writing every outdoor company she could think of for sponsorships, she hiked the 2,663 mile long Pacific Coast Trail, and a year later, after graduating from Colby, she added the Continental Divide Trail to her list of accomplishments.

With the Continental Divide Trail done, she had accomplished the "Triple Crown" of American through-hikes. Yet, her appetite for adventure was far from satisfied. She moved to Alaska where she got a job as a river guide at a remote camp, where she also learned to help run sled dogs in training for the Iditarod. She lived in the remote village of Coldfoot, which is at the edge of the Brooks Range. "The time I spend up in Coldfoot, I really fell in love with the area and the Brooks Range. You feel like you're the first person to set foot in there. The fact that it's true wilderness was what really intrigued me."

One of her acquaintances suggested to Gates that she should hike the range, an idea she initially balked at. However, the more she thought about it, the more the challenge intrigued her. After three years of living in Alaska, she was riding a bush plane to the easternmost stretch of the range, about to set off on her greatest adventure yet.

Gates was blessed with unusually warm weather during her expedition. Temperatures ranged from 30 degrees and snowing to 80 degree heat. Last year's weather was also strange for the wildlife. Typically, by early July, the caribou herds that winter in the Brooks Range have moved to their summer grounds, however a late thaw kept them in the range for the first two weeks of Gates's trek. And where the caribou are, the grizzlies follow.

"For the first two weeks, I saw at least one grizzly bear every day." 

Gates was familiar with guns, as it was necessary for her to be prepared to shoot a moose should one attack her sled dogs. However, she elected to cross the Brooks Range unarmed. "It was a decision I made very carefully," she said. Her research prior to the trip showed that grizzly attacks in the Brooks Range were quite rare, with only three known fatal attacks. And, in one of those attacks, the victim had a gun and successfully shot the bear but was still unable to prevent his own death. She carried anti-bear spray instead, which fell more in line with her sense of wilderness ethics. "I'm on their land, there's something that bothers me about killing these animals."

Although bears might have been the most intimidating of her perils, the leading causes of human death in the Brooks Range are drowning and hypothermia. To let her family know she was safe, she carried a "spot beacon" that would transmit a signal every night to tell her parents that she was okay, and where she was located. If needed, it could be used to send a distress signal, and she also had a satellite phone for emergencies.

Although the Brooks Range is among the wildest places in the country, she did come across some traces of civilization. Those stops included three native villages, where she said she was treated with "amazing hospitality." At two of those villages, strangers took her out for a day of fishing, offers she happily accepted.

For most of her trip, her spirits were high. She experienced a low period, though. Her path took her past the home of some of her friends, and she stopped there for a few days of rest. When she left her familiar company and returned to the wilderness, she realized just how lonely she could feel. She listened to podcasts, funny ones, especially, and kept herself busy until she felt better.

She's had the winter to talk about, write about and reflect upon her adventure. And she's getting ready to begin her next one. Gates will be joining a hiking buddy this time to float down the Yukon River and follow the 2,000 mile path that prospecting miners took in the 1890s during the Klondike Gold Rush. Gates is hoping to model her life after English adventurer Alaistair Humphreys, who uses book sales and speaking fees to fund his expeditions, and his expeditions to inspire his books and talks. If she's successful, it will mean a lifetime of adventure.

"It's just become my passion," said Gates. "There's nothing more exciting for me than to travel through the world on foot, with everything I need on my back. It makes me happy, it's what I love."

 

CAPTION for GATES HIKING in AA:

Kristin Gates, who is spending this winter in Moultonborough, was the first woman to hike solo through the Brooks Range in Alaska. (Courtesy photo)

 

CAPTION for GATES HEADSHOT in AA:

Kristin Gates, shown here in her tent during her traverse of the Brooks Range in Alaska, had daily grizzly bear sightings for the first two weeks of her 51-day adventure. (Courtesy photo)

Last Updated on Friday, 14 March 2014 03:52

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Group still hopes public can own land around Kimball Castle

GILFORD — The Kimball Wildlife Forest Committee yesterday reaffirmed its recommendation that the town acquire the land where what remains of the Kimball Castle stands and incorporate it into the Kimball Wildlife Forest. The group agreed to pursue a proposal to present to the public forum on the future of the property to be held on Wednesday, April 9.

Earlier this month, the committee suggested that the town have the property appraised, negotiate reasonable price with the owner — David and Mary Jodoin of Nashua, doing business as Kimball Castle Properties, LLC — and draw on grants, donations and trust funds to purchase the castle and 24 acres surrounding it. The castle would be secured then left to go to ruin.

Meanwhile, the Board of Selectmen found that "this investment is not in the town's best interest, especially when we consider the cumulative costs of town ownership (to include having to manage the care of several other structures, dealing with inevitable trespassers, potential liabilities, and the loss of tax revenue) for the sake of a dilapidated castle that would cost a fortune to rebuild."

By letter, the selectmen informed Sandy McGonagle, who chairs the Kimball Wildlife Forest Committee, that they concluded "there is very little support for the town to re-acquire this structure or the land on which it resides." Instead, the board agreed the property should remain on the tax rolls as a single family house lot and suggested the committee turn its attention to planning a memorial to the castle somewhere in the forest.

When the committee met yesterday, McGonagle acknowledged that in its deteriorating condition the castle represented a liability to the town and that its restoration is neither feasible nor practical. Moreover, Code Enforcement Officer Dave Andrade has ordered that the castle be "made safe" be April 30 and the Selectboard has authorized the owner to demolish it. The cost of encircling the castle with an eight-foot high chain-link fence is estimated at $25,000 while demolition is projected to cost $35,000.

Town Administrator Scott Dunn stressed that if the town acquired the property, the selectmen would not want the castle to remain standing. Furthermore, he reminded the committee that apart from the castle there are four other buildings on the property — a caretaker's cottage, carriage house, chauffer's cottage and stable — that would have to be maintained at a cost he estimated at $1,000 a year.

McGonagle said that there is no assurance that the Jodoins will accept an offer below their current asking price of $700,000 for the property. An accurate appraisal, she explained, would be required to seek funding to purchase the property. She said that the committee could approach the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) for a grant. Other possible sources of funds include the Kimball Wildlife Forest trust fund, which has a balance of about $270,000, the Land Conservation Fund, with a balance of some $300,000, and private donations. The Conservation Commission is scheduled to discuss drawing from the Land Conservation Fund for the project when it meets on Tuesday, March 4.

The committee agreed that whether or not the town ultimately acquired the property an appropriate memorial to Kimball Castle would be erected, either on the castle grounds or in the Kimball Forest. 

McGonagle pointed out that the Kimball Wildlife Forest Committee is convened and appointed by the Board of Selectmen and has only advisory powers. In particular, she noted that the Selectboard must approve any expenditures recommended by the committee regardless of the source of funds.

Last Updated on Friday, 28 February 2014 01:35

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Some Belmont Mill bricks crumble when door frame is removed

BELMONT — Selectmen authorized the town administrator to contact a structural engineer Monday night to get an estimate on fixing the interior brick work in the front hallway on the historical Belmont Mill after it partially collapsed Saturday.

According to Building Inspector Steve Paquin, the brick work around the front door crumbled Saturday morning after town employees removed it to replace the framing.

"The steel frame was rotted at the bottom," Paquin said yesterday.

He said once the door came out, the brickwork crumbled, causing some damage to the front stairwell, which provides access to the bell tower that is not used. He said they were able to use wood to shore up the frame and the building is structurally safe and sound.

The primary entrance to the Belmont Mill is on the other side of the building where there is an elevator. Paquin said this entrance was only used by the day care center and, in an emergency, there are still two ways to get out of the center .

Paquin explained that interior brick was not built to withstand any outside elements such as water and that because the building was open for a number of years after it burned, some of the brick has been compromised.

He said engineers from Bonnett, Page and Stone in Laconia were there for about 90 minutes Tuesday and will be coming up with a repair solution.

"I have asked them to fast-track it because I really want that entrance open," Paquin said.

When told of the interior wall collapse, selectmen agreed that this could be a recurring problem throughout the interior of the building and that a great deal of the interior brick may have to be removed.

Ultimately, said Selectman Ruth Mooney, the town may have to build a "building within a building."

Paquin said he couldn't comment on the size and scope of the issue until the town gets the engineering report, but noted that the historical element of the building is its exterior.
He said many of the interior walls have already been replaced but there are some places, and the front stairwell is one of them, where that had not happened.

In related news, Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin informed the board that the fourth floor and the portion of the second floor former occupied by the Lakes Region Community College Culinary Arts Program is no longer required to meet low-to-middle income usage, saving the town $21,000 this year.

The mill was partially restored using a $1 million USDA Community Development Block Grant that restricts its use to low-to-middle income uses.

This means the town won't have to reimburse the Community Development Finance Authority $21,000 to use the second floor space for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

 

Last Updated on Friday, 28 February 2014 01:07

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Davis Place apartment building owner looking for new homes for tenants

LACONIA — Fire Chief Ken Erickson said yesterday that the N.H. State Fire Marshal is still working to determine the cause of a 4-alarm building fire on Davis Place that took the life of a local man Tuesday night.

He said the name of the victim is not being released at this time, pending autopsy.

The six apartment building at 64 Davis Place is owned by Lloyd "Red" Wylie, Jr., who lived in one of the apartments. When reached yesterday, Wylie said he was not home that night and has no idea what caused the fire.

He said his primary goal right now is to find alternative housing for his remaining tenants. He said he is working with other area landlords and others in the community to seek temporary and/or permanent housing for his displaced tenants.

Wylie said he has a place to stay and has a lot of family in the area who have been very supportive of him.

He was not prepared to speak about his tenant who died only to say that it was a "terrible thing" and that he was a "really nice guy."

Erickson said the bulk of the fire burned the center section of the building and, while it is possible to rebuild the center, he said there is considerable fire, smoke and water damage to the rest of the building.

Wylie said that's it's just too soon to tell what will happen in the future.

The Salvation Army in Laconia will be accepting donations at their store, located at 177, Union Avenue, for the families affected by the Davis Place Multi-Unit apartment fire that occurred yesterday. Donations to the affected families must be marked as "DAVIS PLACE FIRE" and may be dropped off at the Salvation Army's Laconia location. The Salvation Army will also be providing the families with vouchers to receive items from their store.

For more information on American Red Cross New Hampshire's Community Partnerships, please contact Karen Dudley by calling (603) 438-2426.

Last Updated on Friday, 28 February 2014 01:00

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