Tag Archives: Alaska

Adventure Enablers

Occasionally, I am lucky enough to have readers say “wow, that was a great post/cool adventure/link/whatever, how can I support your blog?” I’ve never really wanted to raise money from this little writing project, but the adventures don’t happen for free. One thing that has made most of these stories possible are generous friends in far away places. Margaret has hosted me, fed me, and driven me around Alaska countless days and nights. Now, she’s looking for a loan for her business supporting the local food movement in Alaska. Join me in supporting her campaign thru Kiva.org, and consider making a donation to Kiva while you are there.


You can read about some of my time with Margaret here, here, and here. If you haven’t heard of kiva.org, they provide a platform for micro-finance loans all over the world. I’ve been a supporter since 2015 and generally have made a point of supporting small construction entrepreneurs in South America. I’ve also loved supporting a couple more local friends over the years. If voting with your dollars matters, this is the best way I’ve found to do it.

Magical Mystery Tour

So what of the other 5 days of my recent Alaska trip? We left our intrepid adventurers here:

The cushiest hitch-hiking spot ever (no we didn't hitch in the white truck).

The cushiest hitch-hiking spot ever (no we didn’t hitch in the white truck).

baking in the heat just below Hatcher Pass, trying to assemble the next piece of the plan. Martin was the best possible partner, because he kept saying “where can we have the most fun?” Fortunately, I had the answer.

Kudos to Josh who picked us up roadside, and drove us all the way to Anchorage airport. On the way I booked a cheap rental car, and called another friend:

Mackenzie. On-sites hosting like a boss.

Mackenzie. Hosts last minute like a boss.

My last trip to see Mackenzie was one of the first adventures on this blog, and I frankly I couldn’t wait to visit the amazing corner of the world she lives in again. Along the way, we got some Thai food in the middle of nowhere:

Don't miss this.

Don’t miss this.

and caught rare views of the deepest wild around:

Mt Wrangell, from the Richardson Highway.

Mt Wrangell, from the Richardson Highway.

On a clear spring day, Valdez, Alaska might be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Having left Anchorage early on Wednesday morning, there were still time for turns at Thompson Pass that afternoon:

Stoke on.

Stoke on.

Are we really here? Doing this?

Are we really here? Doing this?

Martin, doing THAT.

Martin, doing THAT.

So I had been itching for a hard core wilderness adventure. Conditions as they were though, it just wasn’t right. I’ve never really gone “vacation backcountry skiing” (or know that existed)- but in spring, in Valdez, that’s the ticket.

Apres ski- Valdez style.

Apres ski- Valdez style.

Staying with Mackenzie, Ben, Hope, and Matt (HUGE THANKS), we had a real kitchen, boat rides after skiing, and a chance to connect with some of the local contingent- just 30 minutes drive from the top of the pass.

Trip highpoint: Girls Mountain. Amazing turns, amazing place.

Just so good.

I work with Martin, and while I’ve never traveled with a co-worker on this scale I couldn’t ask for a better partner. Our razor towards fun served us well, and hope we can share more adventures in the future.

Harbor-side views from The Fat Mermaid...

Harbor-side views from The Fat Mermaid…

Wild harvested muscles over an open fire in Prince William Sound.

Wild harvested mussels over an open fire in Prince William Sound.

Sometimes, you can’t accept what’s presented to you- and sometimes it’s wiser to jump straight into what’s available. We didn’t end up doing anything that we planned. We had a ton of fun, and embraced the truly special place that Alaska continues to hold in my heart. I couldn’t ask for any more.

Valdez Multi-sport day: skiing, rock climbing, beer drinking, and swimming...

The perfect way to dive into this place.



The Bomber

talkeetna mountains, bomber traverse

Yup, it’s Alaska! Slogging to the Mint Glacier Hut.

Straining against the endless glacial white, my eyes played tricks on me. How hard was it to miss a whole B-29 crash? Day 2 of the Bomber Traverse in the Talkeetna Mountains outside Anchorage, and we were 4 miles up the glacier looking for the namesake of the route. So far the weather had been tame, but a foggy snow drizzle was making our search more challenging.

Bomber Traverse, Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska

With great respect for the 6 casualties. 1957 B-29 Bomber crash site.

We found the crash, pulled up our carpets, and slid for the hut. The snow was thankfully forgiving in the flat light, and we were excited for the first real turns of the trip.

It wasn’t actually supposed to work this way. Not really at all. Looking at the forecast and Snotel data in the Seattle airport our original plans just didn’t make sense. The Eklutna Traverse had almost zero snow for the first 2000′ vertical on the route. With some awesome support from AMH, Joe Stock, and my friends Drew and Lindzey, we re-packed with 5 days of food and a loose plan for the Bomber Traverse in the Talkeetna mountains. If the snow was as good as we heard tell, we’d stay in the range as long as we could. If it wasn’t, we’d get a good workout carrying heavy packs.

The Mint Glacier Hut.

The Mint Glacier Hut.

The trip starts and ends at the Gold Mint Trailhead on Hatcher Pass just north of Anchorage. It cuts a circle through the Talkeetna mountains, stopping at 2 huts maintained by the Mountaineering Club of Alaska and 1 hut that belongs to the AAC. Total distance is about 20 miles, and total elevation gain is approximately 5,000 ft total.  There is boundless good skiing terrain around each of the 3 huts, and the scenery is stunning.

Bomber Traverse, ski mountaineering, alaska, talkeetna mountains

Sunset at the Bomber Hut.

We had amazing weather and navigating the route was straightforward. Warm conditions and ample food meant there was little “suffering” in the way that most Alaskan adventure warrant.

gear drying, ski mountaineering, bomber traverse, talkeetna mountains

Hut life.

Bomber Traverse, Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska, ski mountaineering

Its not mountaineering until you put your skis on your back…

Unfortunately, the snow was boot hard in the morning with a fast midafternoon transition to full-on slush. Warm temps meant sweaty feet and blisters. Sunscreen consumption was far higher than rationed. While the glaciers are clearly melting, there are few cravasses meaning that the ropes and harnesses we brought amounted to training weight as well. While I certainly cannot complain about any of it, our “ski trip” amounted to mostly touring, sweating and eating.

Endless daylight works up an appetite.

Hut life.

Did I mention blue skies?

Did I mention blue skies?

We started on Sunday, but by Monday night we were already scheming other plans. The soft afternoon snow meant that exiting the range needed to happen earlier in the day than later. Despite the finest amenities of the trip at the Snowbird hut (really, you gotta stay there) we pushed past with just a few photos and a shaky plan for the next move.

Nicest latrine in the world?

Nicest latrine in the world?

archangel creek, talkeetna mountains, bomber traverse

Looking back down Archangel Creek.

There’s gotta be more snow somewhere in Alaska and thankfully I’ve got more than a few great friends in the great “not so white” north…

Credit where due: again huge thanks to Joe Stock, and his excellent website for plenty of information and inspiration. Truly the patriarch of modern Alaska skiing. Check out the site, buy the book, hire the man if you need to. He is the source.



Stoke might be the most over-used word in the adventure community. Usually used in conjunction with phrases like “shred the gnar”, there’s a connotation with it that often carries both excitement and hubris. I’m as guilty as the next guy of being overly excited about my upcoming adventures.

Sitting in the Seattle airport though, my version of stoke is a little different. It inspires me to smile a little wider, breathe a little more freely, and be grateful for the truly varied opportunity that Alaska presents. Our original plans really don’t seem viable. It’s amazing to realize how many friends I have in the great North land that seem to pop out of the woodwork to make things go.

Were well on our way. To the Chugach- I’ll see you soon.

From my last trip to Valdez.

From my last trip to Valdez.

Eat Our Words 2012: Inspiration

Saturday night I had the privilege of giving a story-telling performance at the PEAS farm in the Rattlesnake neighborhood north of Missoula.  About 60 people sat on strawbales underneath a perfect orange sunset and golden hills to hear 6 people tell true personal stories in 7 minutes or less on the theme of inspiration.  I had helped organize the event, and amongst everything else I had going on in my life, the event had started to feel like a burden.  I didn’t really have a story to tell until mid-Saturday afternoon, but things came together, and when I arrived at the farm, I knew it was exactly the sort of event that I want to support- I can’t wait for 2013.  The text of my story is below (as I envisioned telling it, not exactly how it came tumbling out of my mouth…)- when it is available, I’ll include a link to the audio recording:

“I looked up to say hello to the stranger skiing towards me, but just as I lifted my head, I felt the sensation of falling, and saw nothing but white.  It took me a minute to realize what was going on- I was working as a volunteer climbing ranger with the Denali National Park staff, and we were ski touring up the Kahiltna Glacier to check on conditions.  Glaciers are large block of ice that slowly slide down mountain valleys, and as they slide over obstacles and changes in terrain, the ice breaks and forms channels that can be hundreds of feet deep called cravasses.  My Park Service team and I had been practicing rescuing people out of these sorts of situations and the first thought through my head was- ‘this is perfect, I’m falling into a cravasse and I’m roped up to the best team of people in the world, this is just great!’  That lasted about 1/10th of a second until I hit the water.  Most cravasses aren’t full of water, but this one was, and I was in up to my neck, with my skis, backpack, and iPod still beating.  The next thought through my head was ‘oh shit, I’m probably going to die right here- this is really what it looks like.’

I couldn’t help but think about how a nerdy kid from the Chicago suburbs ended up swimming in the bottom of a cravasse in the middle of the Alaska range.  When I was 17, I grabbed two high school friends and stole my mom’s minivan.  I don’t really remember what inspired us then, but we drove west in search of adventure.  We ended up spending two weeks exploring the Wind River mountains in Wyoming, and when I drove back to Chicago my heart was ready to burst out of my chest- all I wanted to do was learn how to be in the mountains.  In thinking about telling this story tonight, I looked up the definition of inspiration- it is ‘that which compels us to take action.’  I was inspired, that is to say compelled, to be in the mountains.

So I went home to Chicago, and every chance I got, I traveled west to be in the mountains. Eventually, I had the chance to move to Oregon, and I explored the mountains there.  A few years later, I left my salaried job with benefits and moved into the back of my car so I could be in the mountains.  From Scotland to Alaska to Ecuador, and all over the American west, I made friends and mentors and learned how to push my body in all kinds of mountain adventures.  I gained skills and experience, and eventually, I was invited to work as a volunteer ranger in Alaska.

I didn’t really know until a few years ago exactly why I loved being in the mountains so much, why I enjoy challenging myself, scaring myself, pushing myself to the very limit.  I’ve been so fortunate to share my mountain adventures with a wide range of incredible adventure partners.  Usually in climbing, and in the adventures I like to pursue, you need a partner.  The mountain environments demand our complete attention- they make us face our securities, and then strip away the opportunity to entertain them any further.  And I’ve noticed, when my partners and I stop entertaining our insecurities, it makes room for us to do incredible things.  To transcend the limits that we’ve placed on ourselves.  Getting to be a part of a partnership dedicated to transcending our limits- watching and supporting one of my partners stare up at something that they think they cannot do, but that they try anyway, and then succeed at- is the most inspiring thing I’ve ever been fortunate to witness.

And so me and all my “skills” and “experience” were swimming in the bottom of this cravasse.  I knew I had to step up to do what I could to help the situation, and I knew my partners above were doing their very best- one guy was making sure no one else fell in, one guy was getting warm clothes ready for me, and another guy was getting another rope to me.  Eventually- humble, sopping wet, cold, and scared, I belly flopped back onto the surface of the glacier.  I was not dead.  My partners were so warm, so supportive, so caring- so ready to do whatever it was that needed doing to take care of me.  I got back to camp quickly, got warm, and took stock of the lessons learned.

So I keep going out, breaking my body, failing at all kinds of things, getting scared- because it strips away the insecurities, the baggage.  That’s what I’m looking for, something to strip it all away, and I kinda hope that I never find it- that last thing to really take it all away, because the search is what keeps me inspired.

Thank you.

Mt Brooks and the Pyramid Peaks from 12,500′ on Karsten’s Ridge, Denali.