Tales from the Tundra

Adventures in the Last Frontier
THE NOATAK RIVER & KOBUK VALLEY

Words and photographs by Haley Johnston

2015 was my sixth year of guiding for Alaska Alpine Adventures. After almost 50 trips and well over 400 days in the field, there were very few trips on AAA's menu of adventures that I had not yet guided. Our combination Noatak River & Great Kobuk Dunes trip was one of these few and I lobbied pretty hard to get the opportunity to guide it.

On an Alaska Alpine Adventures ski trip, these skiers prepare for a descent from a pass in the Neacola Mountains. Beyond the glacial valley below them, the iconic peak, Citadel, looms large.

For almost two decades we at Alaska Alpine Adventures have been inspired by the Neacola Mountains of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

On winter ski tours, volcanic summit expeditions and summer backpacking traverses, we have enjoyed exploring the incredible peaks, passes, valleys and glaciers of this seldom visited mountain range. See the Neacolas for yourself on our featured Trip of the Month: Turquoise Glacier High Route.

What do you mean "basecamp"? - We get that question a lot. And it is a totally fair question. Many guide companies use that phrase to mean a lot of different things.

But when we say basecamp, we mean real wilderness camping in a spectacularly scenic setting. We set up one camp for the entirety of the trip with solid sleeping tents to keep us warm and dry no matter what the weather throws at us. We bring along a spacious cook tent to facilitate comfortable meals and group camaraderie. Then we strike out in whatever direction we like to explore the surrounding country. We carry light packs, which means we can cover many miles in relative comfort and really immerse ourselves in the overwhelming immensity of our surroundings!

Come along on a basecamp adventure with us! Learn more: Denali Unexplored: Basecamp Hiking in Denali National Park.

     It’s been 16 years since Derek and I launched Alaska Alpine Adventures with a meager life savings (after all we were ski/climb bums) and a notion that we’d stumbled upon something very special - a national park with millions of acres of untouched wilderness, endless rivers, glaciers, lakes, and mountains, a paucity of visitors, abundant wildlife, and a rich cultural history tied to salmon.  Lake Clark felt like a blank canvas that was ours to paint and I remember often thinking to myself, ‘is this for real?’ - how can it be that a place this amazing has seen so little in the way of exploration?  How can it be that most of these mountains remain unclimbed?  How can it be that there aren’t people clambering to experience this wonderful piece of the planet?’  It simply seemed to me that this incredible opportunity was ours for the taking, and we jumped at it.  Nearly two decades later, I’m on a flight returning from the 12th annual Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS) in Puerto Varas, Chile and reflecting on one of the conference's most curious questions - what exactly is adventure travel?  That question, as it turns out, is difficult for some to answer, but for me the answer lies squarely in Alaska!

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