Ritt Kellog Feature: Out for a Rip in the Great White North

As a tribute to Colorado College alumnus Ritt Kellogg ’90, a skilled outdoorsman who tragically died in an avalanche, the Kellogg family established the Ritt Kellogg Memorial Fund in 1993. Each year, this fund provides students the means to carry out incredible backcountry trips in the U.S. and Canada for 12 days or more. Through a rigorous application process, students may propose virtually any trip they can dream of — from rock climbing in the Cirque of the Unclimbables in northeastern Canada, to sea kayaking off the coast of Alaska.

In late July, Charlie Good ’21, Nick Penzel ’21, Liam Reynolds ’21, Charlie Robinson ’21, and Skyler Stark-Ragsdale ’21 traveled to the Arrigetch Peaks in the Brooks Range of Alaska. Here, they would climb several technical peaks and float 125 miles down the Kobuk River to the nearest town. The team spent 24 days in the field.

Melanie Mandell: What inspired the trip?

Nick Penzel: There’s a great film of Tommy Caldwell and Hayden Kennedy climbing in the Arrigetch that initially inspired us. As the trip came together, we realized we wanted to incorporate other aspects rather than just climbing. This led to choosing the Kobuk River as a way that we could exit the wilderness under our own power and also approach the mountains from a much less traveled direction.

MM: What was the most challenging aspect? The most rewarding?

NP: The sheer remoteness of the trip was very challenging. We were in the backcountry for 24 days and until the very end, we only saw two other people in a small fishing camp. While also rewarding, this level of self-reliance and our vulnerability to weather and wildlife was mentally pretty taxing. 

Charlie Robinson: The most challenging aspect for me was weather considerations. The physical aspect of the hiking portion was arduous, painful, and mentally taxing, but highly rewarding. Mentally, the threat of rain hitting us at any time was the most pertinent issue on my mind most times. Most of us had down gear for warmth, so when the weather was wet, it was a constant fight to keep our gear dry. What made it worse was the threat of the rain not stopping for weeks on end, so if our gear gets wet and loses its warmth and the rain continues, there is no getting warm at night.

MM: What was your personal highlight from the trip?

Liam Reynolds: Establishing the Schleppers’ Union and writing its founding documents. While the climbers were off gallivanting about the mountains, we were hard at work implementing the principles of democracy to bring an end to the exploitation of the climbers who made the schleppers carry all their stuff. An alternative highlight was getting a 25—30 pound sheefish from a Kobuk local on our last night on the river. 

MM: Did you see any notable wildlife?

CR: On our hike to the Arrigetch, we were following moose and wolf prints all the way up and down, and on several occasions followed grizzly prints along the river. It was not until the floating portion of our trip that we saw any wildlife. We saw moose on several occasions and once saw a mama grizzly and four cubs from across the river. It really was the ideal way to see a grizzly because of the physical separation the river provided.

MM: What was the best camp meal?

CR: Risotto with parmesan and “chicken of the sea” salmon packets consistently filled our bellies and put a smile on our faces. We also had a pretty ridiculous amount of powdered milk and dehydrated hash browns. A nice cup of warm milk on the river and hash browns for first dinner became staples of the trip.

LR: The best camp meal was straight powdered milk.

MM: Do you have any funny stories or camping mishaps?

NP: One morning we woke up to find our tents sitting in about an inch of flowing water as heavy rain had caused the river to rise overnight. It was not a pleasant way to start the day. Another morning Skyler dumped a whole pot of cold rainwater into his oatmeal instead of the freshly boiled water right next to it. 

MM: Do you have any advice for those applying for a Ritt Kellogg Expedition?

NP: Don’t underestimate the importance of having a good team around you. Having people you completely trust and who you know can handle tough and stressful situations can make or break a trip. 

CR: Working together with the Ritt Grant coordinator helped us immensely. They know what will fly and what won’t, and Andrew Allison-Godfrey [last year’s Ritt Grant coordinator] gave us plenty of helpful advice.

MM: If you could do it again, what would you do differently?

CR: We all realized that we could have brought more gear on the river portion for comfort’s sake. The rafts can fit a ton of gear and we all had plenty of space for more clothes and other comfortable stuff.

LR: If I could do it again, I would have brought one Toblerone per person, per night. Unfortunately, we only brought two Toblerones which equates to roughly 0.016 Toblerones per person, per night. 

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