Realizing The Impossible Dream Of Traversing The Alaska Range On Foot And By Paragliding – The Story Of A “Crazy” Paraglider

When it comes to venturing out for an adventure activity, most participants are aware that there is a certain level of risk involved. At the same time, for most participants, taking part in such activities is not just about pursuing their dreams but also about exploring their limits and enhancing their confidence. Such people are often not born to live their life bound by the rules and rather love the thrill of living on the edge. Despite being aware of the fact that their one wrong move can lead to serious consequences, such people prefer to explore the compulsive curiosity that every human being is born with rather than simply follow convention.

Gavin McClurg – A True Adventure Enthusiast

All of the above stated facts hold true for Gavin McClurg, an adventure lover, who has been leading a life full of adventure and thrill for more than a decade. While some people might consider him to be crazy or even someone, who does not value life, Gavin is definitely neither. In fact, his love for adventure is not born from his urge to get the satisfaction of enjoying the adrenaline rushing through his veins. He is also not an individual out on a mission to prove his ability to overcome even the most difficult challenges of nature. Rather, he is someone, who having become aware of his inability to fit in with the conventions laid down by the society for a normal life, has dared to follow his heart.

Gavin McClurg


Gavin is not just any careless adventure enthusiast but a true nature lover, who enjoys spending time outdoors rather than remaining confined to an office cubicle for a major part of his life. Like most other adventure seekers, Gavin has been through numerous situations where he has had some really close calls. But rather than dampening or deterring the spirit or enthusiasm of   McClurg, these events have only helped in enhancing his confidence and the desire to seek more. Over the past 13 years, Gavin has taken part in a wide range of adventure activities including kayaking, sailing and kite surfing. He has even gone around the globe twice, and enjoyed the experience of living in as many as 99 countries.

Paragliding – Gavin’s One True Love

Of all the adventure activities that Gavin has enjoyed, paragliding is the one he likes and prefers the most. His journey as a started in New Zealand, when he was introduced to this aerial sport by a girl he had met during one of his numerous adventure trips. That first flight from a small hill introduced, McClurg to the magical world of flying, which made him forget every other adventure that he had enjoyed. Soaring the skies with the help of nothing more than a delicate glider made from plastic and string and his own gliding skills, was an adventure that is more fantastic than even the most dramatic dream. Since then Gavin has experienced the joy of flying above the Alps, the Himalayan mountains, the Canadian Rockies and even the California Sierras.

The Alaska Range – A Seemingly Crazy Idea Is Born

In 2010, Gavin was flying over the Alaska Range with his brother-in-law Kenny, in a Super Cubs canvas bush plane.  The one thing that struck him about this majestic mountain range was its unique terrain. Unlike the other mountain ranges that he had soared over, the Alaska Range featured absolutely no signs of human existence. The entire stretch of 480 miles comprised of nothing except massive, jagged ice and snow-covered peaks separated by deep meandering glaciers and thundering silty rivers. Everywhere Gavin looked, he was met only by the sight of raw, deafening, stunning and intimidating wilderness. Then at one point during the flight, as the due flew through a pass from the south side of the range to the north, they experienced great turbulence in the air.

Bir Billing Paragliding Your Best Adventure Destination

Gavin McClurg Paraglider


From his previous experiences, Gavin knew that turbulence indicated the presence of thermals. It was then that this seemingly crazy idea was born in his head that it could be possible to cross the entire range by foot and by paragliding. Gradually, the idea turned into an obsession and Gavin could think of nothing else but what a fascinating experience that flying over the range would be like. The very fact that no-one had flown across this one of the most iconic and remote mountain ranges across the globe, made it seem crazy. And, when Gavin shared his thoughts with his friends, they told him exactly the same, while also making him count the numerous hindrances that he would have to overcome for turning this dream into a reality.

Preparing For A Likely Impossible Task

Despite the apparent insurmountable challenges that lay in his path, Gavin was determined to accomplish a feat that had never even been attempted before. He was driven by the single though that if he succeeded in his attempt, then nothing would be more magnificent and grand. As a part of the preparations for the task, Gavin conducted an in-depth study about weather patterns in the regions along with the maps of the area. He also gained comprehensive details about all possible routes and the best ways to overcome major hindrances including those of food availability. He soon became aware that there were countless more questions than the ones he could find answer to. However, he did not give up and continued his research and planning for six years straight before finally embarking on the adventure in the spring of 2016.

An Adventure Of A Lifetime

Even though Gavin had known that the adventure would be gruelling and back-breaking from the word go, nothing had prepared him for the harsh realities of traversing the Alaska Range. Gavin had chosen the spring time as his study of the weather patterns had made him realize that the expedition could be completed successfully only during the longest days of the years. Any time before and after this period would mean encountering the additional challenge of facing too much snow or rain respectively. To overcome the challenge of food shortage, he decided to put in food caches in advance. Therefore, having prepared himself as best as he could for the greatest adventure of his life, Gavin commenced his journey across North America’s most forbidding mountain range on 13th May 2016.

Alaska paragliding traverse

Alaska Paragliding Traverse @ PHOTOGRAPH BY JODY MACDONALD

Day 2 Of The Adventure

By the second day of the expedition itself, Gavin had realized that everything he had done before this, had, by comparison, been a walk in the park. By this time he and his partner, Dave Turner, had covered no more than 10 miles of the total 480 miles they had to cover. The fierce, merciless and absolute mountains that surround them on all sides are both beautiful and daunting. During this initial phase itself Gavin started having second thoughts about whether venturing out on this adventure was the right thing to do. In order to make the journey somewhat easier, Gavin and Dave choose to follow the meandering trails that have been used by the bears, even if these rarely take them in the direction they desire. After all they were traversing over a terrain that does not lend itself to walking and boasts of very few roads. On top of that they have to carry the weight of 60 pound packs which contain everything they need to survive in this wilderness. This includes their paragliding equipment, tent, safety gear, cooking kit and other essentials.

Day 27 Of The Adventure

After nearly a month into the adventure, Gavin and Dave have been able to cover only 25% of the total distance. Their diminishing and inadequate food supplies barely make up for the thousands of calories they burn each day in long pushes on the ground. In addition, much of their gear is broken and their clothes have been trashed by their walk through the dense alder forests. Despite that they make their way across beaver dammed ponds, crawl through more alder forests, slosh through swampy meadows, and navigate over crevasse-strewn glaciers, all the while discussing what they can eat.  During this nearly month long period, the two have also taken some glorious albeit short paragliding flights to cover the ground faster and with minimal efforts. These flights not only helped in lifting the spirits of the adventure seekers but also gave them hope, which is the only thing in addition to their belligerent stubbornness to keep going on. Irrespective of the disagreements that exist between Gavin and Dave, they held it together as a team and continued to believe that they could achieve the impossible.

Susitna glacier


For the next several days, the team gets pinned down in their tents due to bad weather. It is a time when they realize that there is actually so less to worry about other than staying alive. It helps them reflect upon their own inconsequential existence in the whole scheme of things. Finally when they emerge from a thousand feet vertical of fresh snow, Gavin and Dave lay out their wings as the Denali National Park and Foraker beckons to them from the east. So, the swelling of the rain clouds in the north, notwithstanding the two commence their flight above one of the coldest and cruellest alpine climbing objectives. They spent 20 agonizing minutes in the air during which time they shook with cold and struggled to maintain their sense of direction and sense of up and down.

Day 33 Of The Adventure

By the 33rd day of the expedition, Gavin was left alone as his partner Dave had left to fulfil other commitments. Even the film crew that had been recording the adventure, had run out of money and returned home. But even with around 40% of the traverse still left to be covered, Gavin was not ready to give up yet, even though some people were already questioning his sanity at this stage. But during the past more than a month, Gavin had rediscovered himself and underneath the filthy clothes, rotten feet and broken gear lay a man who had been living a life of simplicity that was impossible to even think about in the modern-day fast paced world. It is perhaps the underlying desire for this simple and peaceful life that Gavin had experienced during his Bir Billing paragliding expedition that had led him on this specific adventure trip.

Paragliding at Bir

Over the next four days, Gavin made significant progress as he flew through some of the most challenging conditions and strongest winds he had experienced as a glider. These flights took him over a twisted glacier above the Susitna drainage and over a bear trail up a thrashing river which further leads to an ice bridge. The final flight takes Gavin nearly 15,000 feet up towards the sky, where he once again experiences the mesmerizing beauty and rawness of the range and also becomes sure of the fact that he will complete the adventure successfully.

Day 37 Of The Adventure

Finally, Gavin reached the last leg of his more than a month long adventure and even as he tried to find his way across yet another glacier, he is overcome by an overwhelming sense of gratitude. His happiness knows no bounds as he is about to realize the dream that had begun six years back on a flight across one of the most intimidating mountain ranges across the globe. So, when he finally landed at the Mentasta Lake, the official culminating point of the range, Gavin naturally cried with joy. Having accomplished a seemingly impossible feat, he feels a sense of gratitude and accomplishment, which sadly start fading away too soon.

After some time, as the “crazy” adventurer is already planning his next mission, the realization of the great risk he took by venturing out on the outrageous and hard and absurdly fun filled Alaska traverse hits Gavin with a strong force. He understands that even though this living a life of adventure is completely self-serving and meaningless especially the ones like he has just completed, it helps adventure enthusiasts realize what is really important and what they should actually be grateful for.
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