Denali to Aconcagua by Human Power: A Treasure Trove of Found Material from an Amazing Adventurer You've Probably Never Heard Of: Sam Skrocke
In Episode 59 of our podcast, we feature a story from Truckee, CA's Sam Skrocke about a jaw dropping 2007 - 08 epic, where he biked from Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina in southern Patagonia, and book ended his trip with ascents of the highest peaks on each continent - Denali and Aconcagua. It was part of an expedition with the nonprofit "Biking for a Better World", and raised $20,000 to fund the construction of a school in Nicaragua, but other than some local press in his native Tahoe area, there doesn't seem to be much about the trip online. We're stoked and honored that he's chosen to share some of his experience here.
Sam sent us 10 pages of previously unshared, densely typed narrative that he wrote up about the trip, and it's adventure nerd gold and the kind of thing that makes us love this process we're engaged in to collect some of the world's best, untold adventure stories. Below you'll find some of the highlights, which I hope will capture the magnitude of this mostly undocumented adventure.
The starting line
On Wednesday May 16th, I stood on top of the highest place in North America. It was -30 degrees when we
left our tent that morning and the 50 mile per hour winds chilled it to a scorching -60. Any bit of exposed skin
stung and felt like it was being torn off in layers. Not knowing for sure I could only talk myself into believing
that my toes and fingers were still there. I had unroped from my climbing partner as soon as we reached the top
of Denali pass. This had allowed me one of the few chances I would have to move at my at my own pace.
When I arrived at the summit it would be two hours until any one else would join me but at that point time meant
nothing to me. Wave after wave of different emotions hit me with more force than any gust of wind and some
almost had me on my knees. At first I couldn't stop myself from screaming. After that I just started laughing I
don't know why and can't recall even for how long but I just kept laughing hysterically until I could no longer
I hunched over and regained control of my breath, composed myself and looked out beyond the
spectacular peaks of the Alaska Range, past the foothills, to the flat Alaskan tundra and became a little
bummed. I thought about the tasks that I have laid out in front of me and how long it might be before I will feel
like this again. I climb because of the emotions it brings, not the specific emotions, because some are good and
other times they may be emotions of anger and frustration, but climbing makes me feel alive because it brings
all of these emotions to me. I have never been able to find any activity that touches me so profoundly. And now
I don't know when I might be able to climb again. What have I done?
After returning to Talkeetna I said goodbye to Al and had three weeks until my cycling gear and the others to
arrive. However our bikes had been shipped to Fairbanks and were there, so with nothing else to do I went on a
bike ride up near this area, to a place called Manly hot springs. It turned out to be about a 600-mile round trip…
When the team finally showed we all drove up to the Dalton Hwy to Deadhorse, Alaska. We got there on June 11th and started riding south the following day. It took us twelve days to pedal the 845 miles through Alaska to Canada.
500 of those miles were on the hauling road from the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks where trucks carrying
oil constantly fly by kicking up rocks and dust. We would cross our first mountain Range the Brooks.
Canada was 1850 miles and took 28 sobering days as it rained on us every one of those days. We climbed
over the Spectrum Range while on the Cassiar Hwy in northern BC. And the Coastal range in the south on the
Pemberton Hwy. We climbed 6 passes on the Pemberton with grades between 11 and 13 percent.
The lower 48 took 35 days but was only 1735 miles. Out of the 31 rest days I would take throughout the entire
trip almost half of them would be on the west coast. We were forced into most of them because of an oversight
while estimating the time it was going to take…
Mexico, our longest country, would take 37 days to cover the 2970 miles of the sketchiest roads we would travel,
including Hwy 1 through Baja California, the seventh deadliest road in the world. Everywhere we turned it seemed
that things were a little more serious, that our lives in a little bit more danger.
The Central American countries flew by. Guatemala was for example 190 miles in two days. It was in Guatemala
that I would separate from the rest of the team and finish solo.
El Salvador was 221 miles in two scary days. More locals told me that I would probably die before reaching the
border than in any other country. This warning wasn’t uncommon; throughout Central America people constantly
told me that their country was the most dangerous...
Honduras was an eventful day; I crossed two borders and covered 117 miles.
I would pedal 305 miles across Nicaragua took me only three days three days. It had started raining on me in El
Salvador but by the time I was in Nicaragua it was intense. Like the dangers of other countries the same thing was
said about the weather, but it always stayed the same or got worse.
Costa Rica was 325 miles and was done in three days as well. Within one week I rode through five different
Panama being the longest country in the Central Americas, would take me 7 days to bike the 620 miles.
Columbia although smaller than some countries proved to have greatest vertical gain. I climbed my highest pass
while on my bike near 13,000 ft. It took 13 days to cycle the 1255 miles through Columbia.
Ecuador was 620 miles and took 6 days. Most of the time I was above 10,000 ft.
Peru was 1950 miles over 19 days. I rode into a strong head wind for 44 days straight starting the first day I
entered Peru. It became infuriating.
Chili was 2105 miles in 22 days. I would take my first rest day after 46 days straight in Coquimbo, my last one
being in Cali, Columbia…
And Argentina took 16 days to cover the 1650 miles to Ushuia.
Altogether the ride would add up to 15,916 miles. The odometer on my bike would read 16,370 miles the
discrepancy is because all the riding around town running errands and sightseeing wasn’t recorded in my journal.
Only the distance from camp to camp is listed.
As for climates I would go through many extremes but the furthest scope would have to be the rain forests of Central America and the Atacama desert in Chile.
Everybody loved to tell me that this was the rainy season thru El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. As if I couldn’t tell by the buckets of water that were pouring from the sky. I have never seen anything like it and it’s hard to describe what it was like. For weeks it was as if someone was following me around with a garden hose over the top of my head. I was constantly soaked. I would wake up in the morning in a puddle of water and set up a wet tent each night. I would have to sleep in a completely saturated sleeping bag and everything I owned was drenched. It was eating away my nerves and in a moment of weakness I tried to get out of the rain for one night and was turned away because the hotel was flooded. My feet developed trench rot and the open sores on my toes made it very uncomfortable to ride and even worse to walk.
It was incomprehensible to fathom how much rain was falling. I asked someone in Costa Rica and they told me that
October was their wettest month and they usually see about 120 cm, which is about 4ft. But this year was unusually
wet and that in the last 48 hours they had received their entire months worth of rain. And it was causing chaos.
Entire villages were swept away, mudslides were killing people, bridges were washed out, the entire bus system had come to a stand still and it seemed like I was the only person going anywhere.
Exactly two months later I rode into the Atacama desert, the driest place in the world. This desert, which is only
100 miles wide at its broadest point, extends 600 miles south of the border of Peru. It is virtually sterile because it
is blocked from moisture on both sides, by the Andes and by the Chilean Coastal Range. I perspired more moisture than this place has seen in recorded history.
Studies by British scientists have suggested that the riverbeds in this region have been dry for 120,000 years...You won't see a blade of grass or cactus stump, no lizards or reptiles, not a single insect, even bacteria is scarce. But you will see the remains of most everything left behind. The desert may be a heartless killer, but it's a sympathetic conservator. Without moisture, nothing rots. Everything turns into artifacts.
NASA uses this area to perform tests for Mars and Lunar rovers, and because of it’s relatively high elevation and in proximity to the middle of nowhere many observatories can be found in this region. All you have to do is spend one night out beneath the stars and you will understand why.
I carried plenty of extra food and water through this region although it turned out to be not as hot as I thought it would be. Average daytime temperatures would be between 40 and 60 degrees, pretty comfortable.
Population was always a dramatic and sometimes sudden realization. Between Fairbanks and Vancouver the largest city we would pass through was Prince George at 70,000 people about the same size as Carson City. The second largest would be Whitehorse which is the same size as Truckee. Not bad for over a month of traveling. The most desolate being along on the Cassiar Hwy where we would see more bears than people.
Sometimes when you are away from people for that long you start to forget how to act. You forget that it’s rude to fart in public places, or in Duncan’s case we were still in Alaska somewhere between Delta Junction and Tok when I saw a lake near the road. I pulled off to take a break and get a chance to cool off in the water, as well as clean up a little.
It was a warm day and the shore was full of families. I turned around and saw Duncan sitting a stump completely naked with his head between his legs examining the saddle sores we were all starting to develop on our butt cheeks. I immediately asked him “what the hell he thought he was doing” and reminded him that he could go to jail for exposing himself like that with children around. As he was pulling up his shorts John was quick to point out that we weren’t in the bush anymore.
Where as Denali was a snow slog Aconcagua was just a slog. It has been nicknamed the worlds largest gravel pit
and it was even painful to climb. What I hadn’t taken into consideration was that my feet had been in my stiff
biking shoes clipped to a peddle for seven months now. That doesn’t require much range of motion from your
ankle. Now I was walking up loose rocks and scree in my running shoes with a backpack that weighed nearly 100
For the first three days I had excruciating pain in my lower leg mussels and joints. Not allowing it to slow me
down and against my better judgment I moved up the mountain faster than I should have. Four days before I was
getting on a bus in Ushuia at sea. Now I was bivouacking below the Polacis Glacier at 20,000 feet with a terrible
headache. I took some aspirin and it helped, which was a good sign so I decided that I would wait until tomorrow and see how I was feeling. Never before had I ever felt the symptoms of mountain sickness I was beginning to feel
When I woke I felt good despite the freezing cold temps, my spirits were high and my headache was
mild and manageable. I had less than 2000 vertical feet left to climb so I wasn’t in any hurry that morning and got
started right at first light. My condition deteriorated rapidly and after about three hours I had only gone a third of
the way up the glacier. I was moving so slow and worse was my headache was growing stronger. I knew that soon as I got over this step I would be irreversibly committed so until then I tried to keep any thoughts of turning around
out of my head. The climbing through that area was exposed and very enjoyable. Above the pitch was a sustained
sixty degrees and was psyched to find the climbing so good. I had been nervous because I heard that a few people had turned around earlier that week because of poor conditions.
It took me all day to climb to the summit I was moving so slowly. Snow flurries had been blowing in all day and
the summit was no different. I was more than a little scared being up there all alone and I didn’t stay too long. I
even started to panic a little when I couldn’t find my decent route. The sun was getting low, I had a long decent that required me to circumnavigate a large part of the mountain; I had a crap map, no compass and no description of the way down.
Just as I started down a rocky gully, the only reasonable way down, I saw someone crossing a snow slope a few hundred feet below me. At first I felt relieved and thought this must be the way. Then I watched in horror as he lost his footing and started tumbling down the gully out of sight. Now I didn’t know what to do. He didn’t make this look like the best choice for a way down but I had to at least go and find out if he was all right.
Before long I was able to see sure signs that this way had been well traveled. When I got to the slope I couldn’t see
anyone only the tracks in the snow where that guy must have taken a pretty bad slide into some rocks at the foot of
the snowfield. I followed the now more obvious trail and his footprints until I got to notch on a ridge named
Indepencia. Right before I got there I had seen that this guy had slipped again in the snow and had another bad
slide. When I got to the notch I found him sitting there staring at the ground…
I got back to camp near dark took some aspirin and crawled into my bivy sack. My headache kept me up most of
the night. It had gotten considerably worse and now aspirin was doing nothing. Then next morning I was freezing
and it took me forever to get out of my sleeping bag. My head hurt so bad I didn’t want to move. I finally sat up and poked my head out of my bag and realized the severity of my situation. I couldn’t see. My vision had become
blurred. I was suffering from cerebral edema and the swelling inside my head was putting pressure on my eyes and warping my vision. Even though I was fully aware of the importance to get down the mountain I couldn’t move. I just sat there staring at the blurred images in front of me. My mind was screaming at my body to move but it
I ended up resorting to talking to myself like I was a two year old:
"Alright Sammy what you need to do is grab your boots, good. Now put that one on, that a boy, now the other one. No, no don’t lie back down what you need to do is get up come on; there you go, good. Good now get that other boot on; there you go. Now we need to pack up your things, good."
It took me forever to get going. I was feeling week and because of my vision I was constantly falling. By the time I got 16,000 ft. I could see fine and by the time I was at 13,000 I felt great, like nothing had happened and was even full of energy. I camped one more night at 11,000 ft and was at the trail head waiting for my bus by 10 am the next morning.
Huge thanks to Sam for sending us this material to share. We're in awe of the experience. Sam's next adventure is a planned attempt to set a record by climbing all of California's 14ers in under 48 hours this July. He is on Instagram if you want to follow his adventures.
And as always, if you like what we're doing and want to make sure we can keep going, consider joining our amazing and growing community of supporters on Patreon.
Tim and Angel
The goat in the picture lives in Silverton, CO, and tried to kill us. We survived to bring you this dirtbag wisdom for the ages.