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Two months in Alaska - What would you do?
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Andrew Skurka
(askurka) - F
Two months in Alaska - What would you do? on 05/09/2009 13:58:27 MDT Print View

Hey all -

I'm going to Alaska this summer for about 8 weeks, and I'm looking for ideas about what to do while I get there. Not sure how many people on BPL are versed in long-distance AK trips, but I'm throwing it out there anyway.

Here are some general criteria:
- Trip length of 1-5 weeks
- Mixed hiking and packrafting, with a 80/20 to 60/40 ratio -- I love hiking, and for me packrafting is just a tool to covering miles and opening up otherwise inaccessible areas and route options. I'm comfortable on PR1 and PR2 rivers, maybe PR3 if I get in some time in my boat before I go.
- Glacier travel is probably not an option unless I find an experienced partner. I don't have the skills to do it on my own.
- High mileage and long days -- 20-50 MPD and 15-18 hour days.
- As few bugs as possible, though I realize the limitations of that criteria given that I'm arriving just in time for the spring hatch
- Positive bear encounters, i.e. when they see me they run away
- Lots of off-trail travel, though certainly not opposed to integrating recreation trails if they help me get somewhere.
- Potential resupply points about every 7-10 days, i.e. any town with a post office to which I can send a General Delivery package.

A few of the ideas that I've been toying around with:

- Stitch together former Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic routes, i.e. start at Homer, hike to Hope; get to Eureka Roadhouse, hike to Talkeetna; get to McKinley Village, hike to the Gerstle; get to Chicken, hike to Central, etc. To get between ending/starting points, I could either hike there or hitch there, or a combo of both. For example, from Hope I could cross Turnagain Arm, take the dicey route from Girdwood to the Knik Arm, and then hitch on the highway to Eureka.

- Get up to the Arctic Refuge immediately when I arrive, since the hatch there is probably a little later and I could enjoy some mosquito-free travel until the entire state is taken over by bugs (or so I hear that's what happens). I was specifically considering hitching up the highway, heading east into the Refuge, then south over the Divide, resupply at Arctic Village, and float out the Yukon back to the highway.

- Juneau to Anchorage along the coast, along Erin & Hig's route. Not sure if I'm skilled enough to do this -- even looking at pictures of the Hubbard Glacier makes me shudder.

Any ideas?

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Some thoughts on an Alaska trip on 05/09/2009 15:40:23 MDT Print View

I think you'll be dealing with mosquitoes even if you get going early. There are usually a few skeets around even before all the snow is gone. They are out in Fairbanks already. By the time the mountain passes have melted off there will be plenty mosquitoes. Personally I rely on DEET, mosquito-proof clothing, rarely a head net, and above all on tuning out the skeets as much as possible by concentrating on the good stuff. It would probably be better to hike late in the season rather than early in the season to minimize mosquitoes.

I think it's really hard to beat the Brooks Range, including ANWR, for hiking in Alaska. As you know Alaska doesn't have much for established trails and there are no hiking trails as such in the Brooks, either. Nevertheless there is no Devil's Club and it's possible to escape much of the alder bashing so common in many other areas of the state.

One thing to consider is having one or more air taxis drop off food caches for you. Some of them have metal containers they will loan you. For a reasonable fee there should be options of having them drop off caches at places they had planned to land anyway, say the Kongakut, Wind, Canning, or Sheenjek headwaters in the eastern Brooks or Circle Lake in the western Brooks. You might contact Coyote Air or Yukon Air Service for the eastern Brooks, or Brooks Range Aviation or Bettles Air for the western Brooks.

http://www.bucktrack.com/Alaska_Air_Taxis.html

Your hiking/rafting combo sounds good. Another option might be hiking the north side of the range one way and the south the other way. You could camp in the trees at times on the south side and experience treeless tundra and mountains on the north side so it would be different experience.

Hitching should be doable. You might also take a look at the Dalton Express: http://www.daltonhighwayexpress.com/

Bears are bears, and you don't know that they'll do for sure, but the Brooks Range bears are less likely to associate humans with food than in some areas of the state because they encounter people more rarely.

As you know you've got endless options and making up a plan without a guidebook can add to the adventure. Good luck!

Ashley Brown
(ashleyb) - F
Re: Two months in Alaska - What would you do? on 05/09/2009 22:47:18 MDT Print View

Hey Andrew, don't have much advice to give you but I highly recommend hitching in Alaska. I spent 3-4 weeks there about 8 years ago and hitched between trails. It's a fantastic way to meet people, and the people you meet are often *really* interesting. I met native Alaskans on their way to berry picking, a grizzled old guy who reckoned he had discovered a gold mine, a youngish guy who camped out with me (after giving me a lift) because he had had an argument with his GF, and a few hippies on their way to a bluegrass festival.

I spent most of my time on established trails except for Denali, so not quite what you are after. But I can confirm the bugs are really annoying (don't wear black!) and it rained almost every day while I was there. I'm curious why you are planning 15-18 hour days for such a long trip, but I guess that's just what you like to do!

Have fun and be prepared for plenty of bugs and plenty of wet weather.

Cheers, A

Joseph Reeves
(Umnak)

Locale: Southeast Alaska
Alaska Walk on 05/10/2009 00:20:38 MDT Print View

The 1-5 week time frame for your walk would probably not get you to Anchorage from Juneau, but I bet it could get you to Cordova and maybe Valdez.
Another option could be from Juneau to Admiralty Island's (lots and lots of bears)Young Lakes to King Salmon Bay then south along Seymour Canal to Mole Harbor ( or, if the trail can be found from Windfall Harbor ) then on to Angoon along the Cross Admiralty Island portage. From there you could walk the west side of Admiralty to Funter Bay and over the hump and back into Juneau. Probably best to do on alpine. Not sure if anyone has done this route, but I think it is doable for someone like you. I could help with route information.

Andrew Skurka
(askurka) - F
ANWR on 05/10/2009 10:20:19 MDT Print View

I just read in Nat Geo Adventure that the caribou end their migration around the Kongakut River in June. I thought it was later in the year, guess not -- and I've always wanted to see the caribou herd...looks spectacular.

So I looked at a possible route from the highway to the Kongakut. Might be doable by walking along the base of the foothills on the north side, floating across the rivers. From Kongakut there's an easy pass to get over the Divide that would get me to the Coleen River, to the Porquipine, to the Yukon at Fort Yukon, where I could either fly out or float the Yukon back to the highway. Round trip of about 400 miles -- I bet I could do it in about 2.5-3 weeks.

I need to check out some of the other routes that were suggested.

Definitely intend to hitch now. I figured that it would be an interesting and usually harmless experience. Kind of like what it was like in Iceland.

Andrew Skurka
(askurka) - F
Junea to Angoon Loop on 05/10/2009 11:18:08 MDT Print View

Looks to be about 150 miles, which is pretty reasonable. Certainly an option here. I would like to see some of the Inside Passage area -- I have some future plans that involve them.

What other great ideas do you have?

Ashley Brown
(ashleyb) - F
Re: ANWR on 05/10/2009 18:38:11 MDT Print View

The hardest place to hitch out of was actually Anchorage. Had to get right out on the outskirts of town before I could catch a ride. But other than that it was easy. Try and have a bit of a wash in the streams every day or two though... I didn't do much washing and thought I smelled fine... but when I got back from my trip my friends said I stank badly (and that was after *several* showers. I pity the poor guy who gave me a 4 hour ride back to Anchorage ;-). Now I know why he took an extended stop for some fresh air!

It would awesome to see some caribou herds... do it! And take some pics and post them here.

How did you find Iceland? Was it very wet? Would you recommend it? At the moment I have Patagonia, the Via Alpina (italy), Ladakh or Karakoram, and possibly Iceland on my list of places I'd like to hike. Seems like a good time to go. Would you recommend it and do you have pics somewhere you can point me to?

Thanks, A

Andrew Skurka
(askurka) - F
Iceland on 05/10/2009 19:11:46 MDT Print View

I posted a lot of information about hiking in Iceland on my website. See here: http://www.andrewskurka.com/IS08/index.php.

Ashley Brown
(ashleyb) - F
Re: Iceland on 05/10/2009 19:28:38 MDT Print View

Great, thanks Andrew. I'll check it out. When you have the opportunity I highly recommend hiking in Nepal. The mountains are mindblowing.

Joseph Reeves
(Umnak)

Locale: Southeast Alaska
Alaska on 05/10/2009 21:21:58 MDT Print View

I'd think again about hitch-hiking out of Anchorage. The city and its people have changed considerably since Ashley was roaming around the interior. Take the train north to Denali and jump off there if that's the direction you want to go. Ending in Fairbanks will set you up for better rides, or scheduled air service to just about anywhere in the north.

Regarding other options in Southeast. How about from Juneau to Petersburg? The great thing about Southeast along the water, is the lack of biting insects. We can paddle for 15 days with little or no bugs in camp. Might be different walking.

Andrew Skurka
(askurka) - F
SE AK on 05/10/2009 23:24:46 MDT Print View

Can you explain more about the bug thing on the coast? It would seem with all the water that there would be plenty of bugs, maybe even more since the coast is a temperate rainforest. If the bugs aren't as bad down there, that'd certainly be appealing -- it's not that I can't deal with bugs (I certainly have in the past) but obviously it's more enjoyable if they're mostly tolerable.

If I went to SE AK, it'd be an Erin & Hig-style approach, with a combo of hiking and packrafting, along the shores and inland where it's more efficient or just aesthetically worthwhile.

Why Petersburg? I've heard of the Juneau to Cordova route and the Juneau-Angnoon Loop makes sense to me, but I've never heard of anyone talk about Petersburg.

Joseph Reeves
(Umnak)

Locale: Southeast Alaska
Re:SE AK bugs and Petersburg on 05/11/2009 00:00:18 MDT Print View

There are bugs here, but they are not as awful as in the interior. If you stay away from camping along the rivers and always avoid a camp in the grass, the bugs are not so bad. There is usually a breeze on the beach and that, along with a healthy fire, keeps them low. Talk with Hig and Erin about their experience along the coast in the summer.

Why Petersburg? The coast from Juneau to Petersburg is a wonderful collection of fjords, bays and glaciers. It takes us 5-6 days to kayak from Juneau Petersburg, and I would imagine walking and packrafting would take twice that time if you explored the bays. Look at the charts and note the creek out of Gilbert Bay in Port Snettisham that connects to Holkum Bay/Tracy Fjord. Then move toward Endicott Arm to Fords Terror before hooking into Windham Bay. From there over to Hobart Bay then Port Houghton and across to Frederick Sound.

Thomas Bay is dramatic and the home of a legendary Yeti like creature spoken of by the Tlingit and the topic of a nice little book called the Strangest Story Ever Told. You can continue past Petersburg toward Devils Thumb and the LeConte Glacier and into the Stikine Delta, finishing in Wrangell.

From what I've heard, you might take this route at a later time, so the Admiralty Route may be more interesting to you for this summer.

If you do decide on Southeast, let us know and if we are around we can help with logistics.

Rene de bos
(piemel) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
Petersburg and Thomas Bay on 05/12/2009 02:59:07 MDT Print View

Ditto on Petersburg and Thomas Bay

More whales then you thought possible

Great forest service cabins all over the place as well

Cascade Creek Cabin on Thomas Bay a favorite.... boat or fly in and do the hike to Swan Lake... bring fishing gear

Skip the light weight stuff for a few days and rent a boat from Doyles or from a local hotel.

cat morris
(catt) - F

Locale: Alaska
Winner Creek on 05/16/2009 16:35:46 MDT Print View

Have you checked out the Winner Creek trail extension up to the headwaters & then packraft down to 20 Mile as a possibility?

Check out Roman Dial's packraft ideas:

http://www.adn.com/outdoors/story/518406.html

Or better yet, make contact with him. He would be a great resource for you.

Other than our local Chugach backpack spots, my favorite hikes are in Denali National Park & Kesugi Trail in Denali State Park, especially when the mountain is out.

Edited by catt on 05/16/2009 16:36:37 MDT.

Andrew Skurka
(askurka) - F
Route Proposal on 05/20/2009 13:01:02 MDT Print View

I've been deliberating over this for weeks now, and finally I think I have something that I like. Here it is:

- Fly into Anchorage and hitch to Hope
- Hope to Homer along the western edge of the Kenai Mountains. Resupply.
- Homer to Seward through the Kenai Fjords. Resupply.

(Note: The first leg is an Alaskan Mountain Wilderness Classic route. The second leg was done by Erin & Hig in 2004, in the reverse direction, which shouldn't effect things much -- it's "doable" either way.)

- Get to the eastern edge of Turnagain Arm, either by walking the highway from Seward (with some occasional departures, like at Kenai Lake) or by continuing through the fjords to Whittier.

- Twenty Mile Creek to Girdwood (resupply) to Eagle River (resupply) via Winner Crk, Crow Pass, and Eagle River Trails. Walk up the Highway 1 corridor to its junction with Highway 3.

- North through the Talkeetna Mountains to Highway 8.

Ideally I'll arrive just in time to talk down the highway to the Gerstle River for the start of this year's AMWC. If not, I'll find something local to help kill some time, e.g. go scout portions of the route.

- Gerstle to McKinley Village (July 26-Aug 1)

- Hitch to Fairbanks, fly into Arctic Village -or- hitch north on the Dalton to the Brooks. Spend ~10 days in the Brooks and the Refuge before returning to Anchorage in order to fly back to Bozeman Aug ~13 to instruct some BPL courses.

I have a more detailed description of my route proposal. If anyone is familiar with these areas and would be willing to read it over and offer some suggestions/advice, I'd be happy to send it over via email as a PDF. My email is askurka@comcast.net.

Tom Smith
(timmy123) - F
May be of use on 06/27/2009 04:55:27 MDT Print View

Hey, This article may really appeal to you, it's about lightweight rucksacks

Edited by timmy123 on 06/27/2009 04:56:00 MDT.

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
Since you mentioned packrafting- Stikine River? on 06/27/2009 05:11:15 MDT Print View

A few of years ago I nearly killed myself on the Stikine. I went during an unusually late and sudden thaw and the river was unrunnable (at least in my expedition kayak). I tried anyway and suffered, then bailed and just spent a week sea kayaking around Wrangell.

But anytime other than the thaw in June it is a pretty basic river below the Grand Canyon. And it's fast! Averages 9 knots, IIRC. Generally flat, class I. You can charter a jet-boat or bush-plane to Telegraph Creek in Canada and float down. There are a lot of nearby glaciers for hikes, including a couple that almost calve into the river. And it is very remote. There's a hot springs near the mouth, too, and a Forest Service cabin just south of the mouth. Very cozy.

John Muir called it "a Yosemite 100 miles long."

I forget exactly how far it is from Telegraph Creek to Wrangell but it's something lie 140 miles- but it is easy to make time when you have a 9 knot current to push you. Other than in June people run it in rafts, kayaks, or even sea kayaks. It has been done in 24 hours by some stud on a fast sea kayak. If you don't want to float so far you could start at Scud Portage instead of Telegraph Creek. This also avoids the few tricky sections downriver of Telegraph Creek. (There is one place where the current tends to push you into a wall.)

Another Alaskan river on my wish-list is the Noatak. And the Colville on the north slope would be easy to integrate into a Brooks Range or ANWR hike. Both also supposedly flat, class I-II.

Now that I'm getting more audacious I've been fantasizing about a Brooks Range traverse ending with a float down the Colville. That would be a near-orgasmic experience. Or you could start on a Colville tributary like the Killick, but that gets up to class III plus some portages. The Ivishak is a shorter version of the Colville, and another one I'm thinking about.

This is all book-learning, mind you, not ground truth. I've never been to the north slope.

Yet.

I'm not a whitewater guy. Unfortunately it is hard to find wild and remote rivers that are flat... :o)


EDIT---

Wups! Looks like this thread got resurrected by a spambot. Andrew is probably already in Alaska. Sorry if I troubled anyone.

Edited by acrosome on 06/27/2009 05:25:43 MDT.