- Associated Press - Monday, January 20, 2014

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - An Australian surfer who has a love affair with Alaska is trying to do something no Alaskan has ever done - ski across the length of the Brooks Range in the winter.

John Cantor and Evan Howard, both from Australia, are attempting to ski a little more than 1,000 miles - or 1,700 kilometers in Australia speak - across the north side of the Brooks Range. They are traveling west to east, starting in Kotzebue on Jan. 7. Their destination is Kaktovik, a tiny, Inupiaq village on the north coast near the Canadian border.

Cantor and Howard are towing sleds behind them with their food and gear. They expect the trip to take two months. They will pass through only two villages - Noatak and Anaktuvuk Pass - and their only resupply points will be in Anaktuvuk Pass, at the Dalton Highway crossing and a few other locations where they have arranged to have snowmachines drop supplies.

Cantor is no stranger to Alaska or the Brooks Range. He successfully hiked across the Brooks Range in summer 2012, his fourth attempt at doing so. His first attempt in 2008 ended after just four days because of a bout of constipation, but he kept coming back until he was successful.

“Realizing I was banging my head against a wall, I took 2011 off and adopted a completely different approach to the expedition,” Cantor said. “I broke the expedition down into little battles and worked on perfecting each element.”

He completed the 1,600-mile trip - 600 miles hiking and 1,000 floating in a packraft - in 311/2 days, crossing the Brooks Range in the winter was “a natural progression” after his successful summer trip, Cantor said.

“During my summer traverse I was thinking to myself, ‘This is probably it for a long time; I’m not going to come back here,’” Cantor said in a video on his website talking about the trip. “Within 16 days of being back home, I was craving to be back out in the Brooks Range, so it seemed like a natural progression to try and cross it in the winter.”

This is the first known attempt of a full traverse of the Brooks Range during the winter, according to Cantor’s research.

Cantor bills himself as an adventurer, writer, filmmaker and corporate speaker who doesn’t take himself too seriously. He grew up surfing on the Sunshine Coast near Noosa Heads, Queensland, and somewhere along the line became “enamoured” with Alaska, he said on his Facebook page. His biggest claim to fame besides his successful Brooks Range traverse two years ago is a bit in a Nissan X-Terra commercial playing famous adventurer Bear Grylls’ stunt double.

Compared to the winter expedition, his summer traverse “seems like a fun weekend hiking trip,” Cantor said.

To get ready for it, Cantor and Howard spent two weeks skiing and camping in the Brooks Range last March. The video of their training trip last March on Cantor’s website shows he and Howard towing sleds through deep snow and climbing a mountain somewhere in the Brooks Range. When they reach the top, they strip off their shirts and high-five each other.

Back in Australia, Cantor said he has been taking half-hour ice baths to prepare his body for the cold, which he says could bottom out at 60 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The two Aussie adventurers have high-tech, cold-weather clothing and camping gear from sponsors like Berghaus, Trek & Travel, Hilleberg, Garmin and Baffin that they say will keep them comfortable and help them navigate.

Though he doesn’t have much winter experience in Alaska other than a little bit of snowboarding and last year’s two-week training trip, Cantor is well aware that this trip will be very different than his summer traverse.

“It’s so much more difficult (in the winter),” said Cantor. “The only similarities are the place and the length. Other than that the two expeditions have very little in common.”

The trip started out on a tough note. After flying to Kotzebue from Fairbanks, the two Aussies spent their first three days battling strong headwinds from Kotzebue to Noatak, where they spent two days resting.

“We expected the leg to Noatak to be an easy 2 days but it has been a brutal 3,” Cantor wrote on his Facebook page.

While in Noatak, Cantor and Howard spoke with children at the village school about their expedition and what it’s like living in Australia. They plan to do the same when they reach Anaktuvuk Pass and Kaktovik.

While in Noatak, the two Australians enjoyed the hospitality of local residents Rob and Tanya Kirk, who gave them a place to stay and went over maps of the area with them. Cantor and Howard were a little battered when they got there after fighting the wind for three days but they were in good spirits, Tanya Kirk said.

“Involving the Native people in our trip is giving it so much more importance,” Cantor said before the trip. “We feel like we’re not just going there and using their land and not giving anything back.”

The temperature was 29 degrees below zero when they left the village early Sunday morning and headed up the Noatak River.

“We left Noatak Village under clear skies and minus 34 degrees Celsius,” Cantor reported on his Facebook page earlier this week. “It was a perfect day and we skied 20 kilometers up the Noatak River to a hunting cabin that Tanya and Robbie Kirk have kindly let us use tonight.”

On Tuesday, the two adventurers were still making their way up the Noatak and the realization of what they had gotten themselves into seemed to be hitting them.

Evan and I are working well together and we made good distance today,” Cantor wrote. “The weather is cold but clear and windless, which is a blessing. I am realizing that this winter traverse idea was really stupid, but I am stoked I had that moment of idiocy, and that Evan was dumb enough to agree to come along.”

Howard said he has “full confidence” the two Australians will complete the traverse.

“I believe it’s an achievable goal,” he said on the video on Cantor’s website. “It’s going to take an extreme amount of hard work and suffering, but I deem it not as impossible.”

___

Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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