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Encountering Alaska

Posted by dan
dan
Owner of Alaska Alpine Adventures.
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on Friday, 25 October 2013
in Uncategorized

As my bare feet were swallowed  by the sulfurous mud, it took an almost vocal effort to contain the fear that was welling up my gut.  I was facing one of those moments that none wish to, and the sound of my racing heart was in near perfect synch with the burp of 6 bare feet sucking from the mud as the three of us hurried across the intertidal flats as quickly as we could.  Never has my titanium 44 mag felt so woefully underpowered.

Backpacking in the Aniakchak Caldera, Alaska

Not 10-minutes earlier, we’d come across the 18th coastal brown bear of the expedition, and all appeared to be going the way of the 17 prior encounters – a few moments of our own anxious anticipation, followed by what we assumed the same for the brownies as they bolted in haste to the safety of alder choked headlands above the Pacific.   These bears wanted nothing to do with us and despite their obvious size and strength, Gabe, Chris, and I were almost to that point in the trip when a healthy respect for these creatures was replacing our fear of them.  This was night 8, and the comfort of my Thermarest mattress and new ultralight Navis sleeping bag was occupying more mental real estate than were the thoughts of what might be lurking outside of the tent.

Dan Oberlatz & Chris Solomon in Aniakchak NM

So when I glanced up the muddy creek and saw the huge boar completely still and staring straight ahead, in an apparent standing slumber,  I ushered Gabe and Chris forward to catch the sight of our closest encounter yet.  This golden bear, nearly 10’ tall,  wouldn’t last here long, and at 100 yards away we could see his obsidian glazed eyes and wrinkled gray lips.   Within seconds, as if queue, he caught sight of us and began pacing back and forth in a dance to catch our wind.  We gathered close to one another and raised our hands to appear larger than we felt, - a simple act that got him moving on up the hill beyond the creek.   He paused about 50 feet above the mudflats on an open rock outcropping to again stare us down.   I yelled a familiar “go on, git!” which ushered him further up the hill and into the dense green thicket of seemingly impenetrable alders.


In what was now a routine exercise along our traverse of the Alaska Peninsula , we moved up the creek and out of the tidal zone to look for a suitable place to hop across the tributary without having to take off our boots.  This particular creek , at the head of Kejulik Bay,  presented more mud than anything we’d encountered thus far, and we were anxious to get across, over the next headland, and into Hook Bay.   Our line was obvious – head upstream about 100 yards, hop the creek at the choke, and continue on across Cape Kumliun and into Hook Bay.

A rare sunny day in Hook Bay along the Alaska Peninsula

About 50 yards from the choke and roughly the same from where the bear had been standing, Gabe noticed it first.   He tapped me on the shoulder and pointed his trekking pole “what’s that?”   What struck me first was the size and character of the depression on the dirt mound – it was smooth, dry, and nearly the same amber hue as the bear himself.  But as my eyes were drawn toward the top of the pile, I took note of raw flesh, part of a ribcage, and the bloody shape of a mammal’s skull.  Holy shit – we had stumbled upon the gut pile of a brown bear’s kill and squarely into one of nature’s most dangerous situations – a bear will defend it’s kill to the death and I could only assume that this bruin was weighing his options in the alders above us.   “We have to get out here now!” I uttered in a whisper.  We tracked back quickly toward the mudflats, and Gabe & Chris followed my lead as I removed my boots & socks and began the 20 yard crossing of the knee-deep mud.  My feet bottomed out on razor clams and barnacles and with each wave of excruciating tenderfoot, I imagined my own blood creating a easy trail for the bear to follow along the beach.

Dan Oberlatz & Chris Solomon packrafting the Hidden Creek Rapids - Aniakchak River, Alaska


The three of us sat down on the weathered bedrock beyond the creek, put on Crocs over our blackened feet, and continued hastily but quietly around the corner along a sandy beach at the very head of Kejulik Bay.   With my pistol in one hand, and trekking poles in the other, I would glance reluctantly over my shoulder all while running the “what if” scenario through my racing mind.  At which point would I shoot?  Where would I aim?  Would my old and partially corroded ammunition even fire?  Would the first “non lethal” bird shot scare him enough to send him away for good?  If not, would the other 4 shots I had in the cylinder be enough to drop him?


My conclusion was sobering – there was no way any of us were going to survive if this bear decided to come find us.  I was, in fact ,way underpowered for the situation at hand, and I was really scared.  What was most plausible was that I had just enough lead in my pistol to really piss this bear off, and I threw the odds at 50/50 that this bruin was coming our direction and our grizzly deaths would likely go undetected – another mysterious disappearance at the high latitudes.

Dan Oberlatz post bear encounter in Kejulik Bay, Alaska

The waves of adrenalin-induced nausea began to subside with each passing footstep across the narrowest portion of the arrowhead shaped Cape Kumliun – for each step meant both another step closer to our goal and successive fade of our nightmare in Kejulik.  Within an hour, we are paddling our Alpacka Rafts across the calm seas of Hook Bay.  We spent a stunning evening catching pink salmon from the beach, watching spouts of humpback whales, relaxing in our chair kits, savoring an amazing Adventure Appetites dinner, and reveling in the buzz of another intense day deep in the Alaska wild.

Hook Bay, Alaska


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"Royal Alaska" - Ski to Sea Alaska featured in Backcountry Magazine's November Issue

Posted by aaron
aaron
General Manager and Senior Guide for Alaska Alpine Adventures.
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on Monday, 03 December 2012
in Backcountry Skiing

Ski to Sea Alaska – A Prince William Sound Ski Cruise

It’s not everyday that you get the chance to backcountry ski in a new place – to put in a fresh skin track, stand on top of a peak likely to have never seen another soul, and then carve virgin lines into a blank canvas of snow.  From the bottom, you stare up at your descent with awe– wanting nothing more than to search out that next untouched run.

In the spring of 2011 and again in 2012, Alaska Alpine Adventures embarked on exactly that type of journey – one of uncharted backcountry runs, amazing accommodations aboard the Discovery (a luxurious 65’ working yacht), and the spectacular scenery of Alaska’s Prince William Sound and the Chugach Mountains that can only be experienced from the water.  In 2012 we were joined by friends new and old, including 3 longtime guests – Russian expats Nik Koblov and Denis Osipov, and Mark Stevens, joining us for his 12th Alaska Alpine Adventure.  Also on board was photographer and writer Kate Siber, looking to make fresh turns and document the adventure for a feature in Backcountry Magazine.

Day’s on the boat were pretty simple:  Get up, eat an amazing breakfast, ski new lines on untouched snow, return to the boat, eat dinner, and get enough sleep to be ready to repeat it all the next day.  Seems like a pretty simple recipe for success.  Alaska Alpine Adventures owner Dan Oberlatz and guide Bryan Caenepeel were tasked with the job of searching out the goods, a skill that comes naturally to guys that feel more at home in the mountains than anywhere else.   Needless to say, they found exactly that – big lines on enough terrain to never ski the same run twice.

Now fast-forward 8 months.  As any snow enthusiast can tell you, its time to get the winter stoke on.  Winter’s here in Alaska, and there’s nothing that gets the stoke-meter up more than an article describing days filled with fresh backcountry turns and nights aboard a luxurious floating ski chalet.  Kate’s article said it all; “…an all-you-can-eat buffet of powder lay untouched at my ski tips.  In front of such abundance, it’s easy to forget anyone else exists.”  Still not convinced, take a look at some amazing images from the trip – I’ll bet your mind drifts to thoughts of skiing the goods in AK, and to heading north this spring to see for yourself!

Definitely grab a copy of the November issue of Backcountry Magazine– it’ll surely get your powder stoke up, and you just may find yourself signing up for the 2013 Ski to Sea Alaska – perhaps the coolest backcountry skiing adventure on the planet!

 

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Alaska Photo of the Month - May

Posted by dan
dan
Owner of Alaska Alpine Adventures.
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on Sunday, 03 June 2012
in Alaska Backpacking

Alpine Bearberry

 

Over the years, you've grown accustomed to my images of people playing in big Alaska landscapes.  And based on the overwhelming positive feedback I get with each release, the photo of the month offers a momentary escape from the hectic reality of our busy lives and transports us, if only momentarily, to a place that is sublime.  This monthly delivery offers a glimpse of Alaska majesty,  even to those who haven't yet experienced the magic of the Alaska wilderness.

But the shadow cast by big mountain landscapes often obscures the simple beauty of Alaska that can be found directly under foot;  from a damp and moss clad stone perched on the talus slope in the Arctic, to a neon orange lichen clinging to a fragile biotic crust in Denali.  Days when the mountains are cloaked in cloud cover are opportunities to stop, look down, and admire the surroundings more immediate.  I took this shot in August of 2009 on my second traverse of Alaska's Revelation Mountains.  The primary plant in the image is Alpine Bearberry which is a common resident of the alpine tundra - a community of vascular plants, mosses, and lichens that thrive above tree line. While the month of May signals the perennial re-emergence of life in Alaska's low elevation forests, August delivers a hint of winter to the tundra country on a palate of autumn color.

Thanks again for following Alaska Alpine Adventures.  Look for us on Facebook or on Twitter- @AlaskaGurus.  We've been more diligent about posting current happenings and trip videos on these social media platforms, so if you can't wait for the next photo of them month, then check us out there.  You can also visit our Alaska Gurus Blog for past photos of the month and other AK rants.  As always, we promise not to inundate your email boxes with anything other than a monthly Alaska pick-me-up! 


Dan Oberlatz - Owner/Guide
Alaska Alpine Adventures, LLC
1-877-525-2577
www.AlaskaAlpineAdventures.com


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You Are Not a Passenger - Alaska Photo of the Month - April 18, 2012

Posted by dan
dan
Owner of Alaska Alpine Adventures.
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on Thursday, 19 April 2012
in Alaska Backpacking

 

Denali National Park - Tokositna Glacier

Alaska is BIG!  Not only is it the largest state in the union (even if you cut Alaska in half, Texas would remain the 3rd largest!), it's also the most magnificent.  Some of what really sets Alaska apart from any other place North America is the incredible wildlife  diversity, the vast quantity of protected public land, and the shear magnitude of its landscapes.  And nowhere is the emotional and physical significance of the Alaskan landscape better represented than in Denali National Park.

I took this shot of our longtime guests Mark & Joan Strobel as we were backpacking across the massive Tokositna Glacier on the south side of Denali in 2010.  It took us 6+ hours to make our way through the labyrinth of moraine piles and melt-water creeks that define Alaska's low elevation valley glaciers.  Honestly though, we could have probably completed the crossing in less time had we not often found ourselves occupied in silent stillness digesting stunning views of McKinley, Hunter, Huntington, and the "lesser" peaks of the Alaska Range.  This was one of those days where emotional power of the landscape completely transcends the physical challenge of moving through it.
Thanks again for following Alaska Alpine Adventures.  Look for us on Facebook or on Twitter- @AlaskaGurus.  We've been more diligent about posting current happenings and trip videos on these social media platforms, so if you can't wait for the next photo of them month, then check us out there.  You can also visit our Alaska Gurus Blog for past photos of the month and other AK rants.  As always, we promise not to inundate your email boxes with anything other than a monthly Alaska pick-me-up!
Dan Oberlatz - Owner/Guide

Alaska Alpine Adventures, LLC
1-877-525-2577
www.AlaskaAlpineAdventures.com


 

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You Are Not A Passenger - Alaska Photo of the Month: March 19, 2012

Posted by aaron
aaron
General Manager and Senior Guide for Alaska Alpine Adventures.
User is currently offline
on Monday, 19 March 2012
in Alaska Hiking

Lone wolf, Katmai National Park

©Dan Oberlatz

As I was sifting through images to feature for the March photo of the month, I discovered an unedited folder of pictures taken during an amazing Alaska backpacking trip into Katmai National Park in 2009.  While I hadn't forgotten about the trip (it was incredible), I had misplaced the folder of images - something any of us with a digital camera and a computer definitely understands.

I got this shot in the Brooks River of Katmai and close to the world famous Brooks Camp.  If you've ever seen a photograph of a brown bear standing near a waterfall and feeding on salmon, there's a 90% chance that it was taken at Brooks Falls.  Brooks is a place where salmon, bears, and people meet each year for one of earth's greatest wildlife spectacles. On peak days in July, there will be 30 plus bears feeding at the falls as over 200 people shift shoulder to huge camera lens, safely perched on elevated platforms above the show.  While one would never call it a wilderness experience, it's certainly one of a handful of places on the planet where a visitor can, at very close range, participate in an intimate gathering of brown bears and wild salmon.

On this particular day in July of 2009, a lone wolf fed right along side a dozen brown bears, each 10 times her weight. Interestingly enough, they paid her no mind, even though she appeared more adept at snatching the agile sockeye salmon than some of the local congregation. She fished as if she'd be tutored by the bruins themselves.

At one point, the wolf began to strut downstream along the south bank of the Brooks River.  I took notice, pushed my way through the crowd, and hustled down the elevated boardwalk toward the lower platform about 100 yards downstream. To my amazement, the lower viewpoint was completely vacant, and as the wolf came off the grassy bank and into the river just upstream of the deck, I had just enough time to snap this photograph. So goes the magic of Katmai.

Thanks again for following Alaska Alpine Adventures.  Look for us on Facebook or on Twitter- @AlaskaGurus. We've been more diligent about posting current happenings and trip videos on these social media platforms, so if you can't wait for the next photo of them month, then check us out there.  You can also visit our Alaska Gurus Blog for past photos of the month and other AK rants.  As always, we promise not to inundate your email boxes with anything other than a monthly Alaska pick-me-up!

Dan Oberlatz - Owner/Guide
Alaska Alpine Adventures, LLC
1-877-525-2577
www.AlaskaAlpineAdventures.com

 

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Alaska Ski Season 2012

Posted by dan
dan
Owner of Alaska Alpine Adventures.
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on Sunday, 11 March 2012
in Backcountry Skiing

It's been an amazing winter in Alaska!  Some are calling it the best ski season in 20 years or more.  It's hard to argue the other side of that assertion.  We only hope that an equally spectacular summer of Alaska hiking, kayaking, backpacking, and rafting is in store.  In the meantime, we'll just have to suffer through through more backcountry skiing fun.

As I continue pouring over images from this winter, here are a few of my favorites thus far!  I'm not much of a fast action sports photographer, but promise to work on more downhill skiing shots over the next few weeks.  But these will give you a good idea of the landscapes around Turnagain Pass, AK!

 

Alaska skiing - Turnagain Pass

 

Alaska skiing - Turnagain Pass

Alaska skiing - Turnagain Pass

Alaska skiing - Turnagain Pass

Alaska skiing - Turnagain Pass

Alaska skiing - Turnagain Pass

Alaska skiing - Turnagain Pass

Alaska skiing - Turnagain Pass

 

Alaska skiing - Turnagain Pass

 

Alaska skiing - Turnagain Pass

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Welcome to the 2012 Season - Alaska Ski Mountaineering!

Posted by aaron
aaron
General Manager and Senior Guide for Alaska Alpine Adventures.
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 07 March 2012
in Backcountry Skiing

 

The 2012 season is certainly here, and starting with one of the coolest alaska adventure trip out there. IFMGA certified Alaska guide Joe Stock and 3 guests from France have just begun their 12 day Alaska adventure - backcountry skiing in the Neacola Mountains of Lake Clark National Park on our Alaska Ski Mountaineering adventure.  For the next 10 days, they'll be learning the skills necessary to travel safely in glacier country, manage avalanche terrain, and how to survive and thrive in a winter environment deep in the heart of the mountains.

The plan for the trip is to spend the first 5-6 days at a base camp, focusing on skills including glacier travel, avalanche awareness, efficient ski touring, and winter camping.  They'll spend their days ascending into the high country in search of stable snow, moderate slopes, and untracked powder - I don't think they're going to have a problem getting first turns where they're going.  We're confident they'll get their fair share of turns each day.

The second half of the trip will be dedicated to a backcountry ski traverse.  Each day they'll move camp in search of endless powder, hopefully completing a new circuit through the remote Neacola mountains.

Here's a link to Dan's spot messenger, showing their drop off location just north of Lake Clark Pass.  It looks like a great place to dig in, establish a comfortable base camp, and get out for some turns.  As the northern lights display was amazing last night, we can only imagine the 4 of them, wide eyed, staring at the sky as nature provided them with the most amazing evening entertainment - it's even possible that they skied while blanketed in the green hues of this electric sky.

Here's a link to Dan's spot messenger - follow along for the next few weeks as we watch they're progress.

http://fms.ws/7EvRg/60.86875N/152.77214W

 

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Alaska Ice Climbing Adventures at Hunter Creek

Posted by aaron
aaron
General Manager and Senior Guide for Alaska Alpine Adventures.
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 06 March 2012
in Alaska Ice Climbing

 

Folks ask us all the time what we do in the winter.  While we dream of skiing 100 days a year, climbing when the ice is good, and going on plenty of adventure trips; the reality is that we spend most of the winter working on the next season’s Alaska tours.  From updating our website, working on marketing and chatting with potential guests, there are a whole slew of things that seem to eat up more than 40 hours a week.  I guess you could say it’s a full time job in the winter as much as it is in the summer.

That being said, we do get out in the mountains a respectable amount every winter.  Not as much as our guides may, but certainly a respectable amount!  While we offer a few Alaska adventure tours in the winter, including our (Ski to Sea backcountry ski trip) and there are plenty of people recreating, it seems like most travelers search out Alaska guides in the summer for a variety of adventure trips.

We’ve been really fortunate this winter with plenty of cold temperatures, record setting snowfall, and unbelievable stability in the winter snowpack.  This is a recipe for Alaska adventure.  In late February, Dan and I closed up shop on a Friday and headed north to Hunter Creek.  East of Palmer, Alaska – Hunter Creek is a tributary to the mighty Knik River, and offers some of the best and most accessible Alaska excursions and ice climbing near Anchorage.  After stopping to fuel up on coffee, we made the roughly 1 hour drive to the river.  We found perfect conditions for climbing: the river (and our route to the climbs) was frozen, there was a great trail already through the deep snow, and not a car in the parking lot.  We knew we’d have our choice of any of the climbs further up the canyon.

When we arrived at the climbs, we found fat ice conditions that were solid and safe.  We spent the better part of the day climbing and reveling in the quality of the Alaska adventure that you can find so close to Anchorage, Alaska’s biggest city.

We took a fair amount of video during the day, and condensed it into this two and a half minute show.  We wanted to thank GoPro and their Hero2 HD cameras for helping us capture the footage.  Also, we’d like to credit the Budos Band for the background music played during the film.

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Alask Gear Recommendations - Clothing for Adventures

Posted by aaron
aaron
General Manager and Senior Guide for Alaska Alpine Adventures.
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 29 February 2012
in Alaska Clothing & Gear

 

One of the largest investments you’ll make when preparing for an Alaska Alpine Adventure (besides the price of the adventure) is on the gear you’ll need.  We’ve spent over a decade paring down our list to the absolute essentials, not only to help save money, but to keep weight and bulk to a minimum.  As you know, wilderness travel in Alaska often requires a small airplane, and space and weight is always a crucial factor.

Over the years, we’ve received and answered many questions specific to the clothing listed in our equipment lists.  Here are some of the most common, and the answers we’ve provided for them.  Of course, we’re always available to answer your questions if you don’t see them here!

Choosing the right clothing for your adventure can be daunting given the number of outdoor clothing manufacturers and the variety of names for the items out there.  Here are a few common questions I’ve seen over the years:

 

Do I need gaiters?

Gaiters are nice.   If you have gaiters, I would bring them, but I wouldn’t necessarily run out and purchase them. If you do, don’t go overboard on them, unless you plan on using them a lot in the future.  I would recommend the OR Crocodile Gaiters or an equivalent.  The one exception to this rule is for our Valley Experience backpacking trip in Katmai National Park.  For this trip, Gaiters do a great job at keeping the pumice out of your boots during hikes.  This is one of the few trips we offer where I bring my gaiters.

 

What do you recommend for raingear?

Good rain gear is essential on any wilderness outing, and is probably the most important gear that you’ll have on your trip.  When shopping for gear for your trip, this is one of those items that I would spend a little bit extra.  Personally I like Gore-Tex and Event fabrics, as they tend to breath better than the coated nylon jackets.  While more expensive than the coated nylon, you’ll find them more comfortable to wear, and they seem to have a longer lifespan as well.

The nice part about a quality piece of rain gear is the versatility.  A solid Gore-Tex shell will work great for hiking, paddling and even around town in foul weather.  If you ski or do winter activities, you can layer under it, and it will be a bomber winter piece for you.

As for what raingear I would recommend – I’ve been a longtime fan of Gore-Tex fabrics, and have found that Arc’Teryx make some pretty nice shells. While rather expensive, they are well designed, lightweight and durable.  Of course, plenty of companies are using Gore-Tex and similar fabrics including Event, so really it comes down to fit, function, and how much you are willing to spend.

 

Could you explain your layering systems?

One of the most crucial decisions during outdoor activities is your choice of layers.  Basically, too few layers, and you’re cold and unhappy; too many layers and you’re sweating and unhappy.  So, the trick is to have the right layers, and to use them correctly.

The following is what I bring and how I use each layer.  This works pretty well for me, but you may need to tweak it a bit to get the right combination for you.

Here's what I bring for the top:

1.  Base layer (Patagonia Capilene 1) that I wear all of the time.  Short sleeved vs. long sleeved?  I almost never wear short sleeve layers in the wilderness.  I find that a long sleeved shirt is far more versatile, protecting my arms from the sun, the bugs and the morning chill.  If I get to warm, I simply roll up my sleeves.  Very few times have I wished for a short-sleeved shirt on a trip – but that’s just me.  If you opt to bring on, make sure you bring a long-sleeved shirt as well.

2.  Expedition weight pullover - This is my security shirt, for when it is cold or I need to layer up (I prefer the Patagonia R1 Hoody).  A lightweight fleece sweater or jacket would also work.  Seldom do I hike in this shirt, but its great around camp, on crummy cold days, or when I really need some warmth.

3.  Down jacket - This is my official evening-wear.  When I am hanging out in camp, cooking dinner, sitting by the fire etc.  Doubles as my pillow. There are many versions of this piece of gear - a heavy windstopper fleece jacket, a synthetic "puffy" jacket, etc.  This is a crucial piece of clothing, and can make all the difference on a cold day.

** If you are a super cold person, I would add a mid-weight shirt to wear over the base layer (Patagonia Capilene 2 would be perfect).

4.  Windshirt – This is perhaps my favorite piece of gear on trips.  A windshirt is a lightweight jacket that lives up to its name.  Put it on when the wind picks up, the chill is still in the air, or to keep the bugs off – it’s a great bonus piece that lives either in the top of my pack, or on my person.  I’ve been wearing the Marmot Driclime Windshirt for years, and haven’t found anything that even comes close.

 

For the bottom, I bring a similar set-up.

1. Synthetic hiking pants for daily use.  You can’t go wrong with a pair of lightweight nylon hiking pants for travel in the wilderness.  There are many versions on the market most of which are pretty reasonably priced.  Be sure to wear them a few times before heading to Alaska – you’ll want them to fit comfortably.  Be sure to try your pack on with them as well – little items such as pocket zippers and belt loops can be annoying after a long day under a pack waist belt.  I often choose a pant made of Scholler fabric, which tends to be a bit more durable, and has a bit more stretch to it.

**  If you’re considering bringing shorts to hike in, consider a pair of nylon pants with the zip off legs.  It’ll save you from bringing another piece of clothing.  I don’t often recommend hiking in shorts, as the low brush and potential bugs usually keeps me in my long pants.

2. Baselayer pants (Patagonia Capilene 1 or 2) to put under your hiking pants on cold days.

3. Expedition weight or fleece pants (I prefer the Patagonia R1 pants) for lounging in camp after a long day as well as for additional warm in my bag during the night.  I bring these all summer long.

 

What type of socks do you recommend?

This really comes down to personal preference, as well as what you find works best for you.  First and foremost, I can’t help but stress purchasing quality synthetic socks.  You’ll find they can run $15-$20 per pair, but it’s money well spent.  You’ll be spending the majority of your trip in them, and it’s not a place to save money.  There are many great brands out there, and I suggest trying a few on to find a pair that fits right for you.

We recommend bringing 4 pair of mid-weight hiking socks for any of our trips.  It’s a good idea to change out of your socks at night, and to have a few extra pairs, as they get wet from perspiration, rainy days, or the occasional puddle that’s a little deeper than it looked.  Also, liner socks are a great idea, and we recommend them to folks as a great way avoid blisters.  Not everyone prefers to hike with liner socks, so try the combination out with your boots before you start your adventure.

We also recommend Gore-Tex socks or Neoprene socks for our trips.  They offer a variety of functions, from keeping your feet dry during a shallow river crossing, keeping your socks dry while you are using your water shoes, and for keeping your feet and socks dry while you’re hanging around in camp. In fact, I think this is the best use for them – it keeps the early morning dew off of my socks when I’m still lounging around in my Crocs!

 

What’s the story on hat’s?

A comfortable brimmed hat is an essential piece of gear in the wilderness.  Not only does it keep the sun out of your eyes on a bright day, it protects your face from serious sunburn, keeps the bugs off your head and out of your hair, and keeps a steady drizzle from dripping down your face.

You’ll definitely want a fleece or wool hat/beanie.  As we loose the majority of heat from the top of our heads, an easy way to stay warm is to cover it up. Both fleece and wool work well – something that will cover your ears, and will stay warm when wet.

 

What type of gloves do you bring?

We get a lot of questions about gloves. No matter what time of year you travel in Alaska, having a couple of pairs of gloves handy can make a huge difference in comfort on a cold wet day.  First off, lightweight synthetic glove liners are great for hiking when its cool, hanging in camp, and keeping away bugs. These shouldn’t cost more than $20.  You’ll also want to have a pair of warmer gloves, either fleece or wool.  You want something that’s warmer than the liners, but not necessarily as thick as a pair of winter gloves.  Something that will keep your hands warm on a chilly day, especially if the temps dip down and the sun goes away.


Paddling Gloves?

If you’re doing a rafting or kayaking trip, I would highly recommend paddling gloves.  Paddling gloves are nice for chilly days, but often if the weather is nice, I paddle with no gloves at all.  Like the socks, they will keep your hands warm even when wet, so the closure on the wrist is not super crucial. They are not necessarily intended to keep the water out.  Any light to mid-weight glove should be fine, and I have even used neoprene fishing gloves with no issues.

 

The clothing items on our equipment lists have been refined over the years as we’ve watched gear change and improve.  We’ve worked diligently with our clients and guides to pare down the lists to the true essentials, in an effort to lighten packs and increase the enjoyment of our Alaska adventures!

 

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Precautions When Traveling in Bear Country

Posted by aaron
aaron
General Manager and Senior Guide for Alaska Alpine Adventures.
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 15 February 2012
in Uncategorized

We get quite a few questions about backcountry travel in bear country, which, safe to say, is really a good question for anyone traveling anywhere in Alaska.  While there are many schools of thought, and inevitably every Alaskan has their opinion on the best methodology - we've developed a practice that has allowed us to travel safely and comfortably in Alaska's wild places for over a decade without incident.  Here are some ways in which we safely visit the wild places that bears call home.

Awareness of Ones Surroundings - Alaska is big, and the wilderness is seemingly around every corner.  One thing we can't stress enough is being aware of our surroundings.  When we're in the field, we're constantly evaluating the terrain around us from a bear safety perspective. It’s critical to question such things as: what’s around the next corner, what’s that dark spot on the hillside, is the brush ahead thick enough for a bear to go unnoticed? Awareness of our surroundings goes a long way when it comes to safety, and is an integral part of staying safe in bear country.

Route Selection – Bears are everywhere in the wilderness! - That including rivers, drainages, ridge-tops, thick brush, glaciers etc. Choosing a good route goes a long way when it comes to bear safety. We try to choose routes offer better visibility, and opportunities to see bears at a distance, and that help avoid encountering or surprising a bear at close range. As we travel in the wilderness, we’re searching for wide-open country and routes with good visibility, which not only is more enjoyable to travel on, but also provides greater visibility when it comes to wildlife. Being able to spot a bear at a distance, and thus alter course accordingly, will go a long way in terms of avoiding a negative encounter. We try to avoid traveling through dense brush if at all possible.

Making Noise - Another key travel practice is regularly making noise when hiking in windy conditions, entering and traveling in brush, hiking in drainages or depressions, and anywhere where visibility is limited and a potential for surprising a bear is high. I tend to call out regularly and loudly, often a hoot and holler, and have been know to attempt to carry a tune at times – all of which are an effective way to alert wildlife that you are nearby, and giving them time to change their course if necessary. It definitely helps avoid surprises. We get asked about bear bells quite often, and it’s been my experience that they don’t make enough noise to make a difference, and tend to annoy fellow travelers more than alert bears.

Proper Food Storage & Keeping a Clean Camp – This cannot be stressed enough in a wilderness setting. Bears have an amazing sense of smell, and we do everything to eliminate the potential association of human food equaling a food source for wildlife. The first step we take happens before we set foot in the wilderness, as we prepare our food for our adventures. We vacuum seal most of our fresh ingredients and sauces, minimizing odors. The second step is to store all food in bear resistant containers, and along with our food, we place all odorous items in these bear resistant containers on a nightly basis. These bear resistant containers are placed well away from camp. The third step is diligence in keeping a clean camp, including picking up all trash and food scraps, and placing them in the bear resistant containers. Special consideration should be taken in regards to odorous items often forgotten in pockets, including wrappers, candy bars, sunscreen and chapstick. Don’t forget these items in your pack either, as bears (and many smaller critters) are more than happy to chew through nylon to get to the goods.

Traveling with Bear Deterrents – There have been quite a few studies done on the effectiveness of firearms and bearspray as bear deterrents. While there are advantages to both, at Alaska Alpine Adventures we chose primarily to travel armed. Our guides travel with and are trained to use high caliber handguns or shotguns. Of course, we chose firearms as a last resort in the event of a negative bear encounter. We’ve never had to use one, but feel a piece of mind in having one available.

Bears are an integral part of the wilderness experience, and are a pleasure to observe in their natural surroundings. While the precautions above are simply recommendations for traveling safely in bear country, it’s a methodology that has proven itself for over a decade of wilderness travel in some of the most amazing places in Alaska.

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Twin Lakes - The Heart & Soul of Lake Clark National Park

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dan
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on Monday, 06 February 2012
in Alaska Hiking

 

I first visited Twin Lakes in September of 1992 on what would eventually be a very pivotal trip for me - a backpacking adventure that would help set the Alaska hook firmly in my upper lip!

Nearly 20 years later, I've spent dozens of amazing days at Twin Lakes and have explored more Lake Clark National Park than most.  The  photo above was taken in September of 2010 during a stretch of unparalleled early Autumn weather.  Looking past the connecting stream, beyond the upper lake, and east toward the Neacola Mountains it's easy to see why this part of Alaska captivated me enough to draw me permanently to the Great Land!

Twin Lakes really is Alaska at its finest!

 

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    This post very much effective and informative for travelling so many kind of it's place "Soul of Lake Clark National Park" that so...
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Climbing in the Arrigetch Peaks

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on Sunday, 22 January 2012
in Alaska News

 

Following on the thread of my recent photo of the month, I figured you'd get a kick out seeing the Arrigetch Peaks in the winter.  Last spring, a team of world class climbers went into the area to attempt a first ascent on one of the area's stunning peaks.  Corey Rich, accomplished adventure photographer & film maker, along with Tommy Caldwell and Hayden Kennedy not only nabbed a first ascent but also made this great short film. Even if you're not a climber, you'll be blown away by the footage and the winter landscape of Gates of the Arctic!

 

 

 

 

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    Great video Dan. Certainly gives great insight and a glimpse at the remoteness and beauty of the region.
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Alaska Photo of the Month: January 12, 2012

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on Thursday, 12 January 2012
in Alaska Backpacking

Is 3 in-a-row a record?  Anyone?

So let's begin the new year with a shot from summer in Gates of the Arctic National Park. Even though our Alaska days are now growing longer by the hour and we're having a spectacular winter, we all long for the warmth of midnight arctic sunlight and yearn to shed a layer or two of winter garb.

I took this photo last August as our team rounded the corner of upper Arrigetch Creek and caught our first glimpse of the famed Arrigetch Peaks.  We spent the next 6-days hiking
on a carpet of autumn-drenched tundra past the peaks and through the valleys pictured.  The fact that we enjoyed 11-straight days of perfect weather did nothing less than gild the entire experience.  Our adventure into the Arrigetch and down the Alatna River was, as one of our guests so aptly described it, purely "transformative!"  

As you begin to think about your summer vacation plans, I'll let this particular guest sum up his experience traveling with Alaska Alpine Adventures.


"The word I keep coming back to is "pivotal."  There was something about the physical exertion, the mental challenge, the mind-blowing Alaska landscape, the natural serenity - it all just combined to have a very positive and transformative effect on me.  I now find myself wanting to seek out similar trips and embrace similar challenges.  And this trip is staying with me far more than most trips I've ever done, almost like some tangible asset that is now mine and mine alone, having been conveyed to me by the experience itself."

With praise like that, why not try and repeat the magic?  So, we're going back to the Arrigetch Peaks region this coming August on two different trips.  The first is a is our amazing 12-day combination backpacking & kayaking (suitable for novice paddlers) adventure going from August 8-19, 2012. The second is a 10-day pure backpacking trip going from August 18-27, 2012. Space is now very limted on both of these guaranteed trips.
Thanks again for following Alaska Alpine Adventures.  Look for us on Facebook or on Twitter -@AlaskaGurus. We've been more diligent about posting current happenings and trip videos
on these social media platforms, so if you can't wait for the next photo of them month, then check us out there.  You can also visit our Alaska Gurus Blog for past photos of the month and other AK rants.  As always, we promise not to inundate your email boxes with anything
other than a monthly Alaska pick-me-up!  
Dan Oberlatz
Alaska Alpine Adventures, LLC
1-877-525-2577
www.AlaskaAlpineAdventures.com

 

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Alaska Photo of the Month: December 2011

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on Thursday, 15 December 2011
in Alaska Backpacking
You Are Not A Passenger - Alaska Photo of the Month: December 14, 2011


I won't say "I'm on a roll here" because in addition to excuses and procrastination, I'm also prone to exaggeration. So I'll simply preface this photo of the month with a simple Happy Holidays!

I'm way past overdue introducing you all to Mark Stevens. This past August Mark, pictured here at Dick Proenneke's cabin on Upper Twin Lake in Lake Clark National Park in 2010, completed his 11th expedition over 10 consecutive years with Alaska Alpine Adventures. And it's my honor to say I've been with him for 10 of 11 of those trips.

In August Mark and I completed what we believe to be the first summer-time traverse of the Neacola Mountains in Lake Clark National Park. Our route was 87 miles long, involved 55 miles of roped-up glacier travel, 7 glaciated passes, river crossings, some steep & scary terrain, and two rappels to get over our final pass. But in classic Oberlatz/Stevens fashion we completed the route in style - light (64 lbs going out), fast (11-days of travel), and with ample Kentucky Bourbon and fine cigars to make every finished day complete.

Mark owns a highly acclaimed deli & catering business in Louisville, KY called Stevens & Stevens. Guests of his catered events have included Queen Elizabeth and Laura Bush among others and his deli on Bardstown Road is on everyone's Louisville hit list. When it comes to food, Mark's game is always on. But he's more than an amazing chef and accomplished explorer, he's also an incredible family man and a person who has been an important mentor to me over the last decade.

Over the next few months, I'll be sharing a few photos from my trips with Mark through the years. And as the images periodically end up in your in-box, you'll be able to put in context the amount of commitment, dedication, training, and passion for Alaska that it takes to pull these adventures off year-in and year-out; not to mention the cumulative experience it takes in this type of terrain to execute these trips safely.

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Alaska Photo of the Month - March 2011

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dan
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on Friday, 04 March 2011
in Alaska Backpacking

You Are Not A Passenger - Alaska Photo of the Month: March 4, 2011

 

Happy 2011 Everyone!

Here's the 4th (and for those of you counting, I did miss a month or two!) from our exploratory trip into Denali National Park this past summer.

First things first - what comes to mind when you look at this photo? If you're thinking words like ominous, dark, wet, slippery, steep, loose, or just plain scary, then you certainly have good wilderness instinct! In fact, in reality, this slope was even more difficult and dangerous than the picture conveys.

After hiking up the extraordinarily rocky Kanikula glacier in a driving rain storm, we had to find a suitable place to exit the glacier on its west flank in order to continue our route to Bear Creek. Our only option turned out to be this 500' talus field that teetered uncomfortably close to the angle of repose - the steepest slope a pile of rocks will take before it collapses. Not only were the rocks dangerously loose, they were also incredibly slick with rain saturated lichen.

After we got to the top of the field, Aaron and I decided that we would never attempt this particular route in the Denali National Park again. What we were calling Denali "unexplored" had, in brief period of a couple of hours, become Denali "unrepeated!" All future backpacking trips into Denali would avoid the miserable Kanikula Glacier valley.

If you are thinking about joining us on a guided backpacking or hiking trip in Denali this summer, you might want to act quickly. Trips are filling fast - visit our confirmed trips pagefor details. And, as always, if you have any Alaska related questions whatsoever, feel free to drop me an email or give me a call. All the best to you and yours in 2011!
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What Men Want 2007 - America's Best

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on Sunday, 19 December 2010
in In the News

Men's Journal (December 2006)
"What Men Want 2007 - America's Best"
By Bobby Model

"If you're going to do something, or go someplace, it might as well be the best."

AMERICA'S BEST - Whatever is worth doing at all, someone once said, is worth doing well. We believe in the corollary: If you're going to do something, or go someplace, it might as well be the best. Which is why we polled dozens of experts and thousands of readers to help us rank America's top golf courses, river trips, fly-fishing spots, ballparks, steakhouses, and more.

What Men Want - Best Hikes

# 6 - Matanuska Peak Trail - Northeast of Anchorage, AK. From the small town of Palmer you ascend 5,670 feet in only four miles to the summit of Matanuska, with views of the towering Chugach and, if you crane your neck, Denali (matsugov.us).

#10 - TURQUOISE TO TWIN TRAVERSE - Lake Clark National Park, AK. With two active volcanoes and a healthy wildlife population, Lake Clark National Park is quintessential frontier Alaska. You'll need a bush plane drop-off and at least a week to trek from Turquoise Lake to Twin Lakes or hire Alaska Alpine Adventures to guide you (www.alaskaalpineadventures.com)

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Arctic Polar Bears

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aaron
General Manager and Senior Guide for Alaska Alpine Adventures.
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on Thursday, 14 October 2010
in Basecamp Hiking

 

After 10 years in the adventure travel business, I can honestly say I've seen some amazing places, had some extraordinary adventures and certainly spent some time way off the map. Last week, I had the opportunity for one last trip in 2010, and couldn't help but jump at the opportunity.

Visiting the northern coast of the continent has always been a goal of mine, and seeing polar bear has certainly been elevated on my list due to the increasing loss of habitat and uncertain future of these amazing creatures. The trip had been planned for some time, but it wasn't until the morning of that I realized the extent of the adventure that I was about to embark on. We were headed for Kaktovik, Alaska - one of the northernmost villages on the continent, accessible only by boat on the Arctic ocean, snow machine across hundreds of miles of wilderness or airplane (we opted for the airplane).

Our goal? To view polar bears in their natural habitat. Simple enough right? We hoped so.

As we landed in Kaktovik, the first thing I noticed was snow. When I left Anchorage earlier, it was still fall. Crisp mornings, the colors were amazing, and I could still get away with a hoody as my outer layer. It appeared that the arctic was well into winter. With a 20 knot wind buffeting the side of the truck, we made our way from the runway to the hotel, where we settled into bush living. We were pleasantly surprise with the amenities this small village had - running water, flush toilets, and plenty of heat. Like home - just without pavement, stop lights or droves of people. We were remote, and life certainly revolved around a different set of standards.

We didn't stay still for long, as polar bears had been filling our thoughts for days, and we hoped to spend as much time with them as possible. With a short drive out to the whale bone pile on the edge of town, we were rewarded with our first views of these magnificent creatures. The bone pile is a sort of offering to the polar bears, in an effort to keep them out of town, where they are a danger to residents, and certainly destined to be in the sights of at least a few rifles. As the bears feasted on the remains of this seasons whale hunt, I could not help but feel awed by the spectacle in front of me. This is one of the most well adapted creatures on the earth, humble in their existence. My perception of wildlife was forever altered. These are creatures that live and thrive in one of the most inhospitable places on the planet.

The daylight that first day, as well as the remaining days of our trip quickly passed, and our plane bound for Anchorage arrived before we were ready. We were left with many thoughts as well as questions. Questions like what will happen to this creature? Will it adapt to the changes in the world, or will we adapt in an attempt to stop the changes? Now that we had shared this experience with them, I don't think any of us could imagine life without them.

The current listing for polar bears is Threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act. As with any listing that potentially effects resource development, not everyone agrees with the listing. However, having seen this amazing species, I couldn't agree more. This is something worth protecting, saving in fact.

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Another Season

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dan
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on Wednesday, 29 September 2010
in Uncategorized

 

It's hard to believe that we are wrapping up another season here at Alaska Alpine Adventures. It seems like just yesterday we were prepping gear, looking over maps and getting ready for the the hectic schedule that comes every summer. Now, the house is mothballed for the winter, the van's are in storage, and Dan and I are settled back into our winter office routine. There is termination dust on the mountaintops, and it's only a matter of time until Anchorage sees its first substantial snowfall.

As I look back on our season, I can't help but smile. We took our guests to the most remote and spectacular places in the state, and explored corners of our National Parks that truly took our breath away. It is always amazing to share these wild places with new guests as well rekindling friendships with guests that are returning for their 4th or 5th trip.

We had a great crew this year, with the best batch of new guides I've seen in a long time, as well as a solid group of returning guides. They have all headed back to the lower 48, on to winter jobs, school or further adventure.

So, if you're in the neighborhood, and are looking to chat about past or future adventures in Alaska, swing by our Spenard office and pull up a chair.

Thanks for a great season!

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Alaska Photo of the Month - May

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on Monday, 03 May 2010
in Alaska Kayaking

You Are Not A Passenger - Exciting Alaska News - May 1, 2010

We're excited to announce that our Twin Lakes Paddle combination kayaking and hiking trip in Lake Clark National Park has been awarded one of National Geographic "50 Tours of a Lifetime" in the May/June issue of Traveler Magazine!

In addition to being the only outfitter listed in Alaska, we are also one of only 6 companies listed in all of North America. Furthermore, the photo above (one that I took in 2003) is featured both online and in the magazine. Here's what National Geographic has to say:

"Travelers now seek more perspective, meaning, and challenge. They want to see the unvarnished reality of a place, not just the fantasy. Outfitters have responded by dialing down the luxury and refocusing on core offerings. Their itineraries are more innovative and experiential?aimed at developing lasting connections between people. These guided tours are part of National Geographic Traveler's 50 Tours of a Lifetime for 2010 for the outfitters' commitment to authenticity, immersion, sustainability, and connection."

We are again truly honored and humbled to be recognized by National Geographic. And if you haven't been to Twin Lakes yet, now's the time!

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World's Best Trekking and Hiking Destinations

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on Monday, 22 March 2010
in Uncategorized
World's Best Trekking and Hiking Destinations

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"This was a great trip, it truly exceeded my expectations."
Augie Spagnola

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