Big distances, big questions

Selodvia family sets out for multi-month back pack
Bretwood Higman stuffed his pack raft paddles into the backpack he was using while Erin McKittrick dressed their 2-year-old Lituya Higman for the day, May 1. Nikiski resident Dylan Hooper let the family stay at his home on their way through Nikiski and drove them to the beach to start their day.

About 800 miles. Break that into 8 miles a day. That’s about 100 days on the trail.


But, while carrying a 2-year-old and following the pace of a 4-year-old, a family of four cannot travel Cook Inlet’s perimeter much faster.

“We’ve had multiple times that the child protection services had been called,” said Bretwood Higman, the toddler’s father, “which is kind of interesting, because we’re just taking out kids hiking.”

Higman and his wife, Erin McKittrick, and their two children — Lituya Higman, 2, and Katmai McKittrick, 4 — left their yurt in Selodvia and have been traveling along Cook Inlet’s eastern shore since March 27. Moving by foot and pack raft, they expect to finish sometime in late July at the knob on the east end of the Alaskan Peninsula. Friday they passed through Nikiski.

The purpose of their 800-mile expedition: reconnaissance.

“We’ve been carrying a question with us and asking everyone we meet what they think the big changes will be in Alaska in the next couple of years,” 36-year-old Higman said.

Also, having scientific backgrounds, Higman and McKittrick will look for signs of climate change and other ecological impacts along the coast. That is why they chose Cook Inlet, 33-year-old McKittrick said. It encompasses all Alaskan elements: villages, small cities, fisheries, wilderness and Anchorage.

“I think you get a really close-up picture of things by just going really slow,” McKittrick said.

Higman and McKittrick, of Ground Truth Trekking, have completed large explorations before. Prior to having children, the two traveled from Seattle to the Aleutian Islands by foot, pack raft and ski. With their children, the family spent two months on Malaspina Glacier. And there have been more trips.

“We definitely have wandered many thousands of miles of Alaska wilderness by ourselves and hundreds with the children,” McKittrick said. “At this point, it’s not quite a scheduled habit, but we do big expeditions every couple of years.”

Now about one-fourth of the way through their current expedition, McKittrick said, they have heard many angles to their big question: what will the future of Alaska be?

“At some point, the consequences of (climate change) will have an economic impact,” said Dylan Hooper, a Nikiski resident who let the family stay at his home when they passed through town. “As that becomes more and more obvious, we’ll have to ask, ‘Can we continue cleaning up from this, or do we need to change something?’”

Hooper’s response to their question represents a common theme, McKittrick said: looming disaster.

One Kenai Peninsula resident expects the government — state and federal — to collapse and society to begin from scratch, she said.

Another suspects climate change and diminishing economies will fuel a war, she said.

Some said they were worried commercial and subsistence ways of life in the state would end, she said.

Those living in the Bush worried about declining populations; those on the road system about increasing populations, she said.

Locally, she said, residents asked: “Is my house going to fall into the ocean.”

“It’s kind of interesting to me — so many people see that the future is difficult and the future likely involves crisis,” she said.

But some had hope, she said.

“A lot of the more hopeful bits we heard are that pieces of hopefulness tend to be in community and education,” she said. “People talk about how much information you can get now and how that can change things.”

Higman said the most interesting response they received — one which he does not yet understand — is the concept of “remything.”

In times of crisis, he said a woman told them, communities recreate their ways of life to survive in the world.

In urban areas with weak communities, the woman told them, communities have a harder time coping.

But Alaska is a collection of strong communities, McKittrick said.

“Alaska is a good place to foster remything,” she said.


Dan Schwartz can be reached at


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