Kristin Gates, USA-Alaska
Kristin Gates is a photographer, long distance hiker, dog musher, packrafter, kayaker and writer, born in White Plains, New York, but now living in Alaska.
Kristin is best known for having become the first woman to hike across Alaska’s Arctic Brooks Range solo on a 1,000 mile route that she mapped herself. She was also the first person to hike the completed 800 mile Arizona Trail, as well as one of the youngest people ever to have hiked the Triple Crown: 7,000 miles of trail including the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail.
Kristin has been living in Alaska for the past four years. Last summer she re-traced the route of the Klondike Rush gold miners through the Yukon Territory and Alaska and kayaked the length of the 2,000 mile Yukon River solo. She has many more adventures planned for the future, both in Alaska and around the world.
All Kristins amazing photos are self-portraits.
When and why did you get in to photography?
“I became interested in photography in high school where we had a darkroom and a wonderful photography teacher, Ms. Filmore, who was very encouraging.
I loved working in the darkroom. It was very peaceful and I would spend hours there until I got an image just right. As I grew older and began long distance hiking and getting into other sports that took me to amazing places, I continued taking pictures so that I could show my friends and family what it looked like. I now share images from Northern Alaska in hopes that people will see how wonderful and wild it is, and be inspired to protect it from development in the future.”
What made you get in to action, extreme or adventure sports?
“On my first day at college, I met a girl named Bayley who had just thru-hiked the entire 2,000+ mile Appalachian Trail solo. She was only a couple of years older than me and she had done it alone! Meeting her knocked down a brick wall that I had built up in my mind, telling myself that I couldn’t go on an adventure like that alone. She made me realize that I did not have to wait to follow my dreams. I started long distance hiking the following spring and loved it so much that I never wanted to stop. I love being able to wake up every day in the mountains and travel through and explore new places. I now have 11,000 miles of long distance trail under my feet and have also started packrafting, kayaking and dog mushing along the way. ”
What adventure is next on your bucketlist?
“Traveling the Colville River in Alaska’s Arctic!”
What’s your worst/best/most intense moment related to action sports?
“My worst moment while on an expedition was getting caught out on the Yukon River in Alaska overnight in my kayak. It had been raining for weeks, so the river was flooded and the banks were either too steep or impassably covered with debris that would have ripped my kayak had I tried to paddle through. I looked for a place to pull over to camp for hours and hours but couldn’t even find a place to land my kayak. Then it started to get dark. Once night came I ended up having to paddle all the way to the next village because I couldn’t see well enough to find a place to land. I was alone andncold and tired and afraid of getting sucked into whirlpools that form behind land that juts out into the river. It was a very long night.
The best moment that I’ve had during an expedition was at a village called Anaktuvuk Pass in the Brooks Range. I was bushwhacking 1,000 miles across Alaska that summer and stopped at Anaktuvuk to pick up a package of supplies. The day I hiked in, the Post Office was closed and I quickly found out that it had not been opened for days and no one knew when it would open again. After not five minutes of being in town, I was invited in to stay at the Fire Station by a crew re-building the building’s floor. They set up a cot for me, let me take a shower, do laundry and they even fed me! Over the coming days I got to explore the village and meet people who live there. Anaktuvuk Pass is the place where the last nomadic people of North America chose to settle down and the older generations there still remember traveling across the mountains with their parents, following the caribou migration. Everyone there was so friendly and welcoming, I was almost sorry when the Post Office finally opened three days later. I have been to some beautiful places, but the people I have been lucky enough to meet are always the best part of these trips.
When I was hiking across Alaska’s Arctic in 2013, the fuel for my stove spilled onto the food in a cache that a bush pilot had flown out for me, rendering most of my food inedible. I had over 100 miles of bushwhacking to reach my next re-supply and the only civilization in the area. I was able to salvage a little of the food from the cache and had a little left over from the previous leg, not enough to be comfortable, but enough to survive. I hiked long days on not enough to eat to get to the road as fast as I could and made it half starved. It was an intense week because I was not entirely sure I’d be able to cover the distance I needed to on so little food. ”
“This is Mount Lafayette in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The picture was taken with a GoPro on a tripod during a break on the way down from the summit.”
What/Who is you favorite initiative, project, professional, leader, athlete or brand in the action sports sphere?
“Liz Clark, a solo sailor and surf ambassador for Patagonia, has been an enormous inspiration to me. Her story of embracing and enjoying solo travel gave me the courage to kayak the Yukon alone and her positive attitude continues to inspire me to live a happy, healthy, adventurous life. ”
Who is your biggest inspiration in life? Why?
“The story of Arlene Blum has been a huge inspiration in my life. Arlene worked hard to defy gender stereotypes in the mountaineering world and never allowed them to alter her dreams. She fought and paved the way for future generations and is a big part of why women are more accepted in the outdoor community today. ”
What do you think of the lack of role models for girls and women in male dominated areas?
“I was lucky enough to meet a long distance hiker in college, a girl only a few years older than me, who became my role model. If I had not met her, I do not know if I would have had the courage to get into long distance hiking or believed myself capable of it. Having a role model makes a huge difference. There are many strong, determined women out there with incredible stories- and their stories need to be heard. Spreading the word about these real, hardworking people in projects like BodiesOfAction will be a great way to encourage other women to get outside and live their lives to the fullest, reaching their best potential. ”
How do you see women evolving in the action sports scene?
“I hope that the stories of the amazing women already involved in action sports are widely reported by the media so girls won’t think twice about not participating in any sport. As this happens we will see more women getting into action sports. ”
What are your hopes for the future of the industry?
“I hope that strong and healthy women are celebrated and more attention is given to their accomplishments over their appearance. “
What is the number one preconception or prejudice people have about you?
“On occasion people have assumed that I am incompetent because I’m quiet and a woman who, for better or for worse, still looks like a 16 year old kid.
People jump to this conclusion without knowing anything about me; Without knowing that I have hiked 11,000+ miles of long distance trails solo, got my WEMT certification, bushwhacked across the state of Alaska alone and dealt with many grizzly bears and other wildlife encounters. I don’t argue with them when they tell me I can’t do something. I just go do it. ”
Do you have a feature or body part that you have been self-conscious about? Do you think low self-esteem in girls and stereotypes in media are
“Growing up, I was very self-conscious about how I looked, but after some close calls in the wild, a few moments of clarity when I realized how short life is, I let go of those worries and focused on being healthy and happy. Stereotypes in media do influence the world – and if Health and Happiness were celebrated and always put first, we would see a change. ”
Is there a difference in how women and men are portrayed in the action sports industry?
“Men are shown more frequently in the sports industry, which conveys the impression that women in sports are not as interesting or worthy, or even existent. It is hard to get up and follow a dream in the first place; but even more difficult when role models aren’t as present. ”