as he skis, hikes, and rafts 4,720 miles through eight national parks,
two major mountain ranges, and some of North America's wildest rivers in
Alaska and the Yukon from March to October. Read his blog updates here.
The section between Dawson City, YT, and Fort McPherson, NT, will be memorable for several things. It was the first of my huge pushes: 390 miles long with two weeks of food. This leg was also great training for the upcoming Brooks Range: conditions were cool and damp, my pack was heavy, the route was mountainous, and willow was the best material with which to make fire (no trees). But the most memorable part of this leg will probably be its living up to one of the names that was jokingly suggested for this expedition, “The Great Mosquito Loop.”
How bad were they? It’s all relative, of course, but they were certainly the thickest and most aggressive that I’ve ever experienced. For many consecutive days my ears were filled with a constant high-pitched whine, to the point where I took notice of the rare moments it was absent. I had a string of “worst bugs ever” situations–I thought my campsite had been bad until I dropped into a creek the following day, and I thought the creek was bad until I tried taking a break near a lake, etc. There were nights I stayed moving until 2 a.m., just so I didn’t have to stop and make camp. And I took many impractical routes (i.e. not the path of least resistance) just to minimize them.
I didn’t grow up in a buggy place (southeastern Massachusetts), and I don’t live in one now (Colorado), so I won’t claim to know everything about how to cope with mosquito season. But I’ll offer some tips in this post based on my experience, and perhaps some of the “experts” can chime in with other ideas.
1. Bodily protection. Full-coverage clothing is a must. I’ve been very happy with my GoLite trekking pants and ExOfficio long-sleeve shirt (which has their InsectShield treatment)–it’s rare that I get bit through these garments. My Simblissity gaiters protect my ankles and create a good seal for my lower legs. I’ve been protecting my head with a few different things: I’ve worn the Backpacking Light mosquito headnet extensively, and much prefer it over a no-see-um headnet; I also have a Headsweats visor that I combine with a cheap bandana to protect my neck. The only skin left exposed by this clothing system are my hands, so I carry a .5-oz testtube-like bottle of DEET from Sawyer that I judiciously apply.
2. Route selection and trip planning. The mosquitoes are generally worst where there is water, green leaves, and blood-filled animals. They don’t fare well in the wind or in cold temperatures. So if you are planning a trip, consider avoiding the peak mosquito hatch that happens just after “green up;” bugs are usually at a minimum by the fall, especially after the first frosts. If you are out in bug season, then plan a route that stays away from marshy lowlands; stick to the ridges and wide rivers where there is usually a breeze. Mosquitoes tend to be most active in the morning and evening, so especially avoid bug-prone areas then.
4. Camping. Try to find open, wind-prone areas that are away from water sources. Tarps can be sufficient during bug season, but you may consider an inner nest or bivy sack, or just a headnet if you’re really hardcore. My current system is the Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid with its Innernet. In the past I’ve used A-frame tarps on conjunction with bivy sacks from Mountain Laurel Designs or Backpacking Light. When you first pull into camp, you’ll probably get swarmed. I’ve found that the swarm calms down once they figure out you’re a tough bite. And they really disperse once I start a smoky fire, by using damp wood or not giving the fire enough air.
5. State of mind. This is perhaps my best defense against vicious swarms of mosquitoes. It’s just a reality of the wilderness in some parts of the world, especially the parts that I have really taken to (e.g. Alaska), and it’s not something you can fight or stop. It’s just something you deal with. Even horrible bugs are surprisingly tolerable if you take the measures described above. And, finally, I find comfort in knowing that bad bugs are just a temporary feature out here–cooler temperatures and bug-free days are only a month or two away.