The following page should help you prepare for a trip. As always,
don't hesitate to contact your guide for further details or any specific questions
you may have.
1 Do I need mountaineering skills?
-- No. We guide trips that involve only trekking, though some may be
strenuous. The majority of these trips in Alaska are off-trail, and
at times involve hiking over moraines (boulder fields), scree slopes,
across rivers, and tundra. None of this is easy.
If you're a beginning
backpacker, worry not. Trips are available for you, such as the Steamboat Hills walk in Wrangell St. Elias National Park
or Alaska's Kenai Peninsula which are better suited, with their
well defined trails, camping sites, and less strenuous traverses.
2. What gear do I need?
-- You'll find tons of information on gear and related stuff on the blog. You'll find some extensive commentary there about gear and backpacking and hiking trips, etc. Rain gear and keeping dry, down versus synthetic sleeping bags , backpacks, and so forth. I update it reasonably often, so do check out the blog posts for information. Here is a link to The Gear Category on the blog.
In the meantime this should help you get started below:
sturdy backpacking tent. Lesser 'car camping' tents can fail miserably
when you need them the most. If you don't have a tent, or aren't certain, please inquire with Expeditions Alaska.
-- Good rain gear is a must. I recommend a lightweight, gore-tex
type shell. A poncho-style rain jacket or shawl is NOT recommended (as in, DO NOT BRING ONE).
A sleeping bag that will keep you warm down to 20deg (F) is what I suggest (or lower). A 32deg (F) bag would be considered bare minimum for
most Alaskan summer adventures, and I wouldn't recommend it. Either synthetic
fill bags, or down bags are great - you just need to keep them dry. Read more about your sleeping bag here.
-- Unless you're booking a fully outfitted trip, you'll need to bring a reliable stove. Bring a reliable stove, preferably one that burns white gas, or
Coleman fuel. MSR 'Whisperlite' or similar stoves are great. Remember
that with current restrictions on air travel, it is illegal to bring
fuel onto commercial planes. I can provide fuel
for you, available when you arrive in Alaska.
-- Another stove that's very popular recently is the Jetboil.
-- My preference is for long sleeve shirts and full length brushed
nylon pants. A mosquito headnet is also recommended for those times
when the bugs get bad.
-- Trekking poles are worth their weight in gold. Don't head for Alaska without them.
-- Definitely bring sturdy, waterproof boots. Your lightweight day hikers may be fine around town, but they are often not durable enough to withstand an alpine adventure.
-- A comfortable backpack is required and a system for carrying gear
on a dayhike is very handy. Many backpacks have removable tops, and
these work great. A rain cover that fits your loaded pack is a must
-- Another choice for is a small summit pack for dayhikes. I use the Marmot Kompressor. Not requisite, but handy to have.
single most important element of gear is your ability to use it.
3. Where will we be?
Alaska is a huge state; more than twice the size of Texas, and approximately
1/3 the size of the lower 48 states. Primarily, our adventures are
to Alaska's interior, along the Canadian border in Wrangell - St.. Elias
NP, northern Alaska in the Brooks Range, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (known as ANWR) in the far north, and the mountain ranges of the Kenai
peninsula. Our Arrigetch Peaks trips visits Gates of the Arctic NP also. Contact Carl for specific information. Click here for a quick look at the various places on a map, or visit the "About Alaska" page for interactive google maps. I've also added a google earth link on most of the trip pages that will give you an idea of which part of the state a trip is in.
For the year 2014, I am continuing to focus on Wrangell St. Elias National Park for a photography book I'm working on, so most trips will be in that park.
4. These trips really don't seem that far?
-- In Alaska, and with most off-trail hiking, route mileages are deceptive and often somewhat useless information. People often have a tough time hiking here, simply because they don't understand different it can be.
A 30 mile route may sound like a nice 4 day walk, but in reality, 30 miles of off-trail Alaska backpacking is probably a 6 day walk for most hikers.
Hiking off-trail often involves moraine and scree slopes, steep sidehill traverse, route finding and bushwhacking, stream and river crossings, etc. Suffice it to say that maintaining an average speed of 3 miles per hour is
pretty tough going here, for any real length of time. A 5 mile day will in most likely be a tough day for most hikers.
Most people think in terms of distance and elevation gain/loss, and that's really not typically the main factor here in Alaska. The type of terrain you're hiking on is typically the biggest factor. And that terrain can change drastically in a short distance. You might get an easy mile of walking over open, rolling tundra, then hit a glacial moraine and that WILL slow you down.
So don't think of these trips in terms of the mileage. At best it's an estimate, and more often than not completely irrelevant information. I put it on the website only because it's what many people want to know. It's gives a rough ballpark about a hike, but it's really NOT a sound gauge of what a trip entails.
5. How many days do we need for each trip?
-- This is the million dollar question! First, start with logistics. Remember Expeditions Alaska handle most of your transport inside Alaska. That means we have 2 days 'travel time' outside of your backcountry days. So a trip on the calendar for 8 days includes a day to travel from Anchorage to McCarthy, for example, and a day at the end of the trip for travel back to Anchorage. So we fly in to the backcountry and have 6 days. There re a few exceptions, so read the logistics section of each trip page carefully.
So how many days does it take to hike the Goat Trail, Skolai to Wolverine? Anywhere from 2 to 10, depending on your experience, interest, fitness, group size, and a host of other factors. Off trail travel means we're not as concerned about a direct route from A to B, but are open to exploring all the side valleys and ridges and options along the way.
The routes are scheduled here based on what my experience shows me work best for the average backpacker. If you would like to hike Iceberg to Bremner in 4 days, talk to me about it. Most folks like that trip over 6-8 days. Some might enjoy 10 days, There's always plenty to see and do along the way, so it really depends on how you would like to travel.
6. How are the difficulty ratings defined?
-- Well, "defined" probably isn't the right word. This is Alaska, after all. But this an important question to consider.
As a general rule, I'd suggest rating everything here one notch up from what you might be used to (assuming you haven't hiked in Alaska before). If you consider yourself up for an intermediate level hike, for example, assume that a trip rated intermediate here will probably be a bit tougher than you're expecting; not impossible, but harder than you think.
As I mentioned above, terrain is the biggest factor here, and it's extremely subjective as to what is difficult terrain and what is not. Some people really struggle walking over a boulder field, and others don't find it difficult at all. Some people find sidehilling more difficult, or bushwhacking, and so on. But the most common element people struggle with is almost always terrain. Your balance, for example, is probably a more important consideration than how miles you run on a treadmill each day in the gym.
One of the best ways to lower a rating is simply give yourself an extra day or 2. Make a 5 day hike a 7 day hike, and it'll much more manageable. Conversely, if you want a challenge, give yourself a little less time, and you'll find just about any trip here as challenging as you could want it to be.
7. What about all the hazards?
-- A great trip is a safe one, and we take every precaution to ensure
that you're fully informed of how best to traverse the terrains,
as well how to deal with any potential wildlife encounters. Seeing
a moose or grizzly bear in the wild is an exhilarating experience. Knowing how to avoid surprising the animals, or attracting
their attention is key to avoiding conflicts. Crossing rivers, scree
slopes and glaciers are all potentially dangerous, and our experience
and knowledge with the terrain is indispensable when traversing these
regions. More off-trail backpacking notes here.
8. How much experience do I need?
-- I work with all levels of backpackers, from the novice to the experienced
trekker. In planning trips, you should be as honest as possible about
your experience and confidence so trips can be organized accordingly.
If you've never carried a backpack before, or camped in the wilderness,
it takes longer to get used to than you think. However, we can accommodate
your experience by scheduling a trip that works best for you. Basecamping
and dayhiking is a great way to really explore an area, and means
less time spent carrying the weight of a full pack. Conversely, those
more experienced may wish to plan a trip that covers more miles, and
crosses more difficult terrains, the exploratory trips are great for experienced hikers. Regardless of your situation, the
more preparation you put into your trip, the more rewarding it will
9. What's the maximum size group we can take?
-- Most trips will allow for a maximum of 5 or 6 hikers, plus your guide. Rarely
will we schedule a group larger than that, for a number of reasons.
Primarily, solitude. Most of these trips head into some pristine wilderness
and the impact of larger groups camping and trekking in those regions
can be somewhat destructive to the fragile ecosystems there. The focus
of our trips is to provide a wilderness experience, and keeping group
sizes reasonable enhances that provision.
10. What's the best time of year to visit Alaska
-- There is no one best time. The backpacking season is short this far
north, and the season changes very quickly. Similarly, there is a
very large variance of conditions depending on where you go. A trip
to the Kenai peninsula in September is very different to Gates of
the Arctic NP at the same time. Alaska is wonderful late August/early
September, the tundra colors blaze with orange, golds, reds and every
imaginable variation of these.
there are fewer bugs later in the year, with late May, June and early July
the worst. May/June brings forth cute baby critters, blooming wildflowers,
and the vibrancy of spring. It's largely a matter of deciding what
works best for you, what you want to see, and how best to accommodate
that. Snow can fall at any time in of the year, and weather is completely
unpredictable. The days are longest during the latter weeks of June
and first part of July, but those long glorious evenings last all
the way up to late August.
11. What food do we bring?
-- Expeditions Alaska offer all
guests the option of either providing your own food, OR
having us provide food for you. The prices posted on our site here
do NOT include the additional cost incurred if you would like
us to outfit the food for you.
you would like to bring your own food, here's a suggestion for novice hikers and those who are inexperienced with backcountry meal preparation: typically,
freeze-dried dinners work well for the inexperienced outdoor chef or those looking for an easier route. Some of the organically grown items, from smaller companies, aren't bad at all. Mary Jane's Farm has some great options for starters. They're fast,
easy, lightweight, packable, and require very little cleanup.
time preparing food allows for more time to enjoy the magnificent
surroundings. They don't taste too bad either!
For lunches, I recommend
items that don't need to be cooked. Bagels, pita breads, nuts, dried
fruit, candy bars, crackers, etc are great. Something hot for breakfast
is a good start to the day, particularly if the weather is cold. Hot
drinks such as hot cocoa, tea, or coffee can be very welcome at either
end of the day.
If you want me to take care of your food, just let me know. I'm glad to put together a customized menu, tailored to your tastes. Good food at the end of a hard day hiking definitely makes a difference!
Trip dates are filled on a "first come" basis, so get in early to ensure you get the dates and trip you would like. Book early!!!
Groups of 3 -5 people can generally receive a price discount.
Remember, the earlier you
book, the better the possibility of matching up dates with your schedule. Contact Expeditions Alaska and inquire about schedules and trip availability.
The ANWR and Arrigetch peaks trips includes all travel (return) from Fairbanks to Coldfoot, or from Fairbanks to Kaktovik, where we fly into the Refuge, as well as rafts, dry bags, etc. The Icy Bay and Malaspina Glacier trips start and end in Yakutat, Alaska. Because
of the nature of backcountry adventure, trips vary year to year. Each
of the trips is also available for longer or shorter durations, and
trip prices vary accordingly. Similarly, group bookings (3 or more
participants) can receive substantial discounts. For more information,
contact us using the Contact Form at the link below.
clients complete the backcountry waiver before departing for any of
13. What's Included/Not Included?
* Professional Guide Service: Experience is paramount, as is a friendly, flexible atmosphere for your trip, and Expeditions Alaska go out of our way to bring that to the backcountry. I know the routes, the natural history and the place as well as anyone, and all the best campsites! Backcountry camping in Alaska can be intimidating for a novice, and even for some intermediate and experienced hikers, and a qualified guide service can go a long way to minimizing problems that may come up. Customers returning for
seven eight consecutive hiking trips with Expeditions Alaska speaks volumes for the value of a good guide.
* Travel and Accommodations: Expeditions Alaska offer a complete Door-to-Door service. For example, for our Wrangell St. Elias National Park trips, we'll pick you up from your hotel in Anchorage, drive to McCarthy in our comfortable conversion van, stay the night at the Kennecott River Lodge, enjoy a hot breakfast the following morning in McCarthy, then fly into the backcountry. Backpack and hike for your trip, fly back to McCarthy, have the afternoon in and around McCarthy, exploring the Kennecott Glacier, or the old mines up at Kennecott, spend another night at the Kennecott River Lodge, and drive back to Anchorage the final day, right to your hotel in Anchorage. For the ANWR trip, we'll usually travel from Fairbanks to either Coldfoot or Kaktovik, and fly in to the backcountry from there. For all other trips, check first.
* Gear: I can provide all stoves, cookware, fuel, etc for the trip. If you want to bring your own, let me know; I'll get the fuel you need, as it's not possible for you to fly with any fuel in your luggage. though you'll need to bring your personal gear, such as sleeping bag and backpack. We'll also provide bear resistant food cannisters and bear spray for the trip. Expeditions Alaska trips will also provide a cook tent or tarp for the trip.
* Safety: Any professional guide service puts safety first; this means caution, it means responsibility and it means an excellent knowledge of the area: the terrain, wildlife and travel, backcountry camping and safety, fully qualified Wilderness First Aid certification, and a satellite available for emergency backcountry service if necessary and two way radios for communication within the group if we split up at all.
* Storage: Extra travels items that won't be needed while we're
in the backcountry.
Expeditions Alaska do not provide the following, unless
a) food and camping gear -- Expeditions Alaska will outfit your trip
if you would like us to. For a minimal addition in cost, I'm glad
to supply food and camping gear (you will need your own personal gear,
such as sleeping bag, pad, clothes, pack, etc). Any specific items you may need help with, just send me an email or call me and I'll work it out for you.
travel arrangements to Anchorage from outside Alaska.
Reserving your place on a trip requires a 50% deposit. Deposits are generally non-refundable, unless there are some truly extenuating circumstances. All trips MUST be paid in full 45 days prior to the scheduled departure date.
If the client cancels on a trip paid in full, 90% of the price can be deferred to another trip within the next 12 months, provided that
i) Expeditions Alaska is able to fill the spot,
ii) the trip is full and
iii) 30 days notice is given.
If cancellation is within 30 days of the trip, only 75% of the fee can be carried over to a future trip. No refunds are given for cancellations within 14 days of the trip departure.
Expeditions Alaska reserves the right to cancel and/or modify the itinerary of a trip. You will be refunded your payment in full if Expeditions Alaska cancels your trip.
If weather or other factors delay or impede your trip, there will be no refund of fees. Expeditions Alaska is not responsible for any other costs incurred by the client as a result of the cancellation. Additional costs incurred through weather delays and itinerary changes are the responsibility of the client.
Expeditions Alaska strongly recommends you purchase Trip Insurance, and will provide you with a list of trip insurance agents/companies.
Take a look at our Links Page for helpful websites with information about parks, hiking, the outdoors, accommodations, etc, as well as some fantastic nature photography sites.
Just kidding - it's really not meant to intimidate anyone. It's a difficult thing to choose a trip like this, often with relatively little real understanding of how different backpacking here in Alaska is, different even from the more rugged and "wild" parks in the Lower 48 states. Most folks that come up here are not used to backpacking off trail (or, rather, "no trail"), and that really makes a big difference. Your gear choices, your choice of trip, the time you allow for it, and so on, become more critical choices when you're in a place like this. This page is intended to try help you sort through this and help figure out what kind of trip will work best for you.
At the same time, the rewards and the thrill of a place like this are also unique. I've no question at all that if you've read this far, you'll love your Alaska backpacking trip, whether it's with me, or another guiding service, or a trip you take on your own. Just be careful out there.