Science of Survival

What does it take to survive in the Alaskan backcountry?  In the Science of Survival module we will look at some of the science and math involved in traveling long distances through the wilderness. Students will be using heart rate monitors to investigate the physiological factors that limit how far and fast one can go.   We will also analyze the relationships between food calories, weight of food, sustainable physical exertion and speed of movement.  Students will practice GPS navigation and explore the concepts of thermo-dynamics where they will devise and carry out experiments to test the effectiveness of sleeping bags and sleeping pads. Thermodynamic principles will also be used to study the efficiency of stoves for cooking and melting snow.

The fun won’t end there.  Students will also practice roped glacier travel and crevasse rescue techniques in a safe environment, building pulley systems to pull victims out of a “crevasse.”  We will also be building anchors and belay systems and then analyzing their strength and safety.  Later students will learn about snow science and avalanche awareness, and learn to use avalanche beacons and receivers to rescue avalanche “victims” on the sunny UAF campus.

Please note: In this module there will be one long day.  Students will not return to Fairbanks until approximately 9:00 PM (on this long day students will travel to the Delta Mountains to study glaciology on and around the Castner Glacier).


Ron Koczaja

Ron has a Biology degree from The State University of New York at Buffalo and a minor in Education.   During the six years it took him to graduate, he spent his summers living in a tent in the mountains of Wyoming.  He moved to Alaska and taught for eight years in the Yukon/Kuskokwim Delta villages of Kasigluk and Kwethluk.  He quickly found himself with a kennel of a few dozen sled dogs and raced in several Kusko 300’s and the Iditarod.  His students cared for his dogs during the summer months while he was off in South America, stomping through the jungle and climbing in the Andes.

Eventually he moved himself and his dog team to the Fairbanks area and has taught math at Ryan Middle School for the last 10 years.  He continued running sled dogs in remote and far away places until he only had enough dogs left to pull him on skis.  Over the last decade he’s spent his summers in Peru, climbing high mountains in the Andes, earning a Masters Degree in Science and Science Education through correspondence courses at Montana State University, and training for the Fairbanks Equinox Ultramarathon by running over mountain ranges on ancient Incan trails.  He climbed Denali twice last summer; the normal “easy” way and then the not-so-easy way on the Cassin Ridge of the South Face.

He’s excited to teach this module and share his enthusiasm for non-motorized, long distance, unsupported travel over vast and rugged wilderness areas.  Whatever your goals are, math and science can help make them happen!

Andrew Cyr

I am currently a second year graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks studying environmental toxicology.  I am interested in a wide suite of contaminants found in the fish of freshwater environments.  Specifically, I am researching the differences in contaminant concentrations in freshwater fish from river systems that are glacially influenced and non-glacially influenced, and then comparing that with the effects of contaminant inputs from anadromous salmon.  I spend as much of my spare as possible in the backcountry.

I have been active in outdoor-based recreation, almost exclusively non-motorized recreation, my entire life.  I grew up in Maine where I got an early start with training and experience in the Boy Scouts and random boyhood adventures from elementary school onward.  From there, I have transitioned into a wide variety of outdoor-based recreation and adventure activities.  My backcountry activities today include mountaineering, rock and ice climbing, anything that involves skis, hunting, canoeing, packrafting, biking, basically anything that involves being outdoors in the backcountry.  I have fallen in love with long distance endurance travel across the state of Alaska, involving anything non-motorized.  I have participated in several of the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic races - a long distance, unsupported ski race over one of the major mountain ranges in Alaska.  The route changes every three years and I have done the Brooks Range, the Alaska Range, and the Wrangle Mountains!

I served in the Peace Corps in North Africa for over two years doing sustainable, environmental and income generation based activities.  While serving, I was able to incorporate my love of the environment, the backcountry, adventure, into parts of my job and cultural experiences.  

During my time with ASRA, I hope to be able to share my love for the backcountry and adventures in Alaska, along with some of the knowledge, skills, tricks and experiences that I have learned over the years.

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