“I’m Kent John, an Alaskan guide. For about 35 years I’ve been taking folks into the wilds for fishing and wildlife viewing on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula and in Lake Clark National Park. Getting novices ready for a trip is always a challenge, but great fun too – so when I was asked to put together my top tips for surviving an expedition in Alaska, I jumped at the chance! Here goes…”
9 THINGS YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW
1. Pick your travelling companions carefully. I think this is the most important part of planning any expedition. Good ones make rainy days fun, and bad ones can even ruin a perfect sunset. A buddy of mine spent 7 days in the rain on the Upper Graywolf Trail in the Olympic Mountains of Washington State. Great friends (and a tot or two of Jack Daniels round the campfire) turned that into an epic memory.
2. Pick an adventure you can handle! Alaska is full of places to explore – from mellow hiking to lunatic fringe stuff. But it’s the thrill of exploring that’s the most important part of any trip. Actually, I take that back – making it home in one piece should always be your Number One priority. Yes, Alaska has world class wilderness but there are plenty of more accessible spots too. If you’re unsure, hire a guide.
3. Pick great, but safe, overnight stops. Camping in bear country is an acquired taste – but if you’re prepared, vigilant and cautious you can really enjoy the thrill of being in their domain. Avoid spots with game trails or dense brush nearby. Be sure you can make a fire, regardless of conditions. Pick a spot protected from the wind – but with a commanding vista, if there is one. (A great view from the tent is one of the best things about wilderness camping.)
4. Pick great operators. Most proper Alaskan expeditions start in a small plane. If you’re flying into the bush, don’t pick the cheapest air taxi – choose the most experienced operator with the best reviews. Air taxi companies are partners in your expedition, and you’ll rely on them completely. Pick the very best you can find!
5. Be bear aware. Store food (and rubbish) in sealed containers, especially overnight. Don’t get caught between a bear and its young, and don’t take bears by surprise – make lots of noise, particularly when you’re passing through brushy areas. And never, ever run away from a bear – move away slowly and carefully.
6. Leave nothing behind except footprints. This classic UK countryside mantra applies here too, but even more so because there aren’t any dustbins out in the wilderness! So, bear in mind you’ll have to pack up and carry everything with you – including smelly rubbish!
7. Remember: Alaska is serious stuff. It’s the type of place where you might get away with a single mistake (like getting wet just before nightfall), but make a second mistake and you’re asking for trouble (like not getting a fire started immediately to dry off and warm up). Do your research, know the area, plan your route and learn how to survive in tough terrain where you’re not the only large carnivore!
8. Pack smart, and only take what you really need. Less gear means less to carry, but also less time spent looking for gear! Planning your packing takes a bit of time, but it’s always time well spent. Pick up some handy multi-purpose gadgets and tools – they’re not only great fun to use, but they can really save valuable backpack space. Breaking down your gear and ‘working it’ will save a lot of issues later on.