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My Not so Excellent Adventure in Alaska
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Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
My Not so Excellent Adventure in Alaska on 11/04/2011 22:15:30 MDT Print View

Well I was bored so I thought I'd post a trip from way back in 07 in Alaska. This was before I really had gotten into UL backpacking although I actually did try to go reasonably light for this trip considering the gear I had at the time.

Day 1.
We spent the night tossing and turning and trying to get to sleeping under the famous (or infamous) midnight sun. We actually drove into the campground at midnight without headlights which we thought was rather funny. The bugs weren't really out yet but I saw the biggest mosquitoe of my life outside our tent.
Early in the morning we met a shuttle service at the trailhead. They would move our rental vehicle down to the end of the trail 31 miles away at the end of the Kusungi Ridge in Denali State Park. This was our first trip in Alaska and we wanted to be on a trail rather than making our own.

At the trailhead

Our group of shady charactors was from left to right. My nerdy but athletic brother Daniel who does math problems while recovery from live threatening conditions in the ICU (and has since done other questionable things like climbing mountains without food), my coworker Jerry who despite being ex-Army Reserve does not know how to read a map (something we discovered the hard way). Jerry's other fault is that he appears to be somewhat gulible as evidenced by the fact that he was talked into workinf full time with troubled teenage boys. I rounded out the band bring my own specialness to the bunch, mainly a naive trust in the navigational ablities of others (especially ex-Army Reserve Coworkers), a mean streak as evidenced by the fact that I was one of the people who helped talk Jerry into his job with delinquent teenagers (and even worse me). What could go wrong.


The trail began in the forest and quicly headed up toward treeline after passing some beaver ponds.



Tough Trail

As the trail headed up steeply we desided that Alaskans must think switchbacks are for sissies. Someone had come up with a much more efficient route. They just routed the trail straight up the mountain!
Jerry is one of those disgusting individuals who eats fat food never works out and still manages to be as healthy as a horse. He was the only one of the group who hadn't at least tried to be light and his pack must have weighed 60 pounds. Somehow he charged up the mountain leaving us in the dust. Life is totally unfair.



We paused at the top of the ridge to take some pictures and filter water. My cheap camera didn't do justice to the awesome scenery around us.




We'd brought 2 1/2 days of food but were hoping to do the trip in two days so we could have time to explore other areas of Alaska with our limited vacation time. This motiaved us to keep hiking at a rapid rate. Most of the trail was along a ridgeline with great views of the Alaska Range. The trail was easy to follow so we got lazy with our navigation (ominious forshadowing moment - this is a bad thing to do).


We ended up hiking till about midnight. Our bodies were a bit off with the whole midnight sun thing so we weren't feeling tired. About 10:00 PM the clouds cleared and we got a view of Denali. It was a lot better than my camera could capture in the poor light.

.Campsite View

About midnight we were tired and we looked at the map. I'd made the mistake of giving it to Jerry assuming that with his military background he would know more about it than me (assumpe stands for Actions-Seldom-Supported-Under-Meticoulous-Examination - in other words its a bad thing). We were looking for a valley with a lake and a forest. Jerry was convinced the valley below us and medium sized lake with shrubby trees was our destination. We pitched Jerry's pup tent on a less than flat spot and went to sleep.
It was a long miserable night. The wind blew almost contantly and bent the fiberglass poles of the tent so they were banging us in the head. The ground was sloped so I slid down on the slick tent flour and we were a bit chilled.
Daneil woke up the next morning borderline hypothermic. Apparently he'd rolled out of his partly openned sleeping bag while he was asleep. We couldn't build a fire with no real wood so we quickly packed up and got moving thinking that would help. Eventually moving, some food, and huddling in all his layers for a rest solved the problem

Exploring boulders

We started hiking and immediately noticed a problem. According to our nagigation the trail should have gone up onto the ridge. Instaed it dropped down to a valley (strangly enough full of trees with a lake, should have been familiar...). Jerry decided we must have gotten onto a side trail going down toward the railroad and the Sustina valley to the east. He figured the best idea woudl be to bushwack back up the ridge to where we must have lost the trail in the rocks.

We went up and over a mountain top - no trail.
We went down the mountain past a lovely little lake - not trail.
Than Jerry decided he knew where we were based on the lake, the trail had to be farther to the west.
We went west - no trail.
Eventually our nagiation attempts turned into "Head west in a straight line until we find the bleep, bleep, trail."
Why we never questioned our fearless navigator I'm not sure, I guess I was young(er) and dumb(er).

This is not a happy face

We kept going through thick brush and slippery slopes.


Across a patch of willows we saw a small lake with the ridge falling away on the other side. We thought we saw the trail along the lake. We did a heartbreaking bushwack through the willows, no trail.
We'd crossed the entire ridge now so Fearless Leader desided we should angle south east.
Eventually we came out at the top of a cliff. Below us the ridge ended we couldn't go any farther. Below us was a valley that looked familiar. Jerry looked at the map and suddenly he or someone had an idea - we should us the compass and the map together. I know thats deep, so let me repeat that princple. MAPS SHOULD BE COMBINED WITH A COMPASS!!! We now knew where we were. We'd camped in the wrong valley, the one below us was were the trail actually led and where we should have gone earlier, we'd gone way off track looking for the trail where it wasn't.

On the way down

We took a quick look at our options. This was not going to be a two day trip. We could certainly finish but it would take a good two days with the time we'd wasted. My knee was hurting from an injury that I thought was healed and the route ahead looked pretty rough. We decided to bail partly for my knee partly so we'd have time to explore other areas.
We ended up bushwacking back around the mountain to our campsite than taking a trail out to the highway.
There was one more misadventue to our trip. In all the excitement we'd run out of water and there was none on the way back (except for the lake we passed but I was too zoned out to think about it). I managed to get dehydrated. About halfway through my post trip burger I suddenly was blurry eyed and nausous. I ran for the door but I was so nausous and blurry eyed, I missed it and ran head first into the wall knocking myself down onto the floor. Somehow I made it to the door before I heaved. I was sick for the next 24 hours.

We learned a lot from that trip (or at least I did)
1. Never trust someone else to navigate for you. I always read the map, and look at the compass. I've never been that lost since.
2. Stay hydrated. I didn't keep track of my water supply and ran out in a dry area.
3. Go lighter. This trip was a major motivation in me dropping my pack weight.
4. Trekking poles are wonderful things. I picked up treking poles a couple days later and they were a huge help, my knee was sore but I could do the day hikes without much pain.

So after our not-so-excellent adventure we all lived happily ever after. Daniel discovered a love of mountaineering and now spends his vacations climbing in Colorado and other areas.
Once Daniel blew my ultralightness out of the water. He did an overnight winter trip to the top of Mt. Washington without any food (unitentionally I think). He says his pack was very light but he's not sure the ultralightness of his pack was enough to compensate for the fact that he felt weak from hunger and slept colder than normal because of it!
I became a passionate lover of good topo maps and compasses I stop often to check the map and make sure I know exactly were I am. I have never trusted anyone else to be my navigator since than.
We spent the rest of our vacation doing dayhikes to Exit Glacier, Mt. Marathon and a few other places.

Me in snow

Harding Icefield

Mt. Marathon

Edited by Cameron on 11/04/2011 22:27:40 MDT.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: My Not so Excellent Adventure in Alaska on 11/05/2011 11:39:11 MDT Print View

Live and learn (hopefully)! Thanks for sharing.

Jeffs Eleven
(WoodenWizard) - F

Locale: Greater Mt Tabor
Re: My Not so Excellent Adventure in Alaska on 11/05/2011 12:03:04 MDT Print View

Good story, awesome Starter Jacket!

Ryan C
(radio_guy) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Cool on 11/05/2011 18:48:46 MDT Print View

The trips we learn from are some of the best. On some boring day this winter I may post my little adventure story of Lake Clark N.P. from earlier this summer.

Gabe P
(Gabe) - MLife
My Not so Excellent Adventure in Alaska on 01/04/2012 07:41:44 MST Print View

thanks for sharing!

William Johnson
Excellent Trip Report on 01/05/2012 00:30:53 MST Print View

Excellent trip report!

Thanks for telling us about it.