Expeditions Alaska newsletter.

Ramblings; Dec, 2011

Hey Folks,

Welcome to my first official newsletter. "Ramblings" seems an appropriate title for my newsletter. I feel bad about being such a slacker with regard to keeping in touch with everyone who's come out over the years, and those who've contacted me and inquired about trips, but not been able to join us for one reason or another. So apologies for that. If you don't want to receive future newsletters, please click the "unsubscribe' link at the bottom of the page, and just send a quick email back, and I'll remove your address from the list; I'm not interested in being a spammer. I expect I'll try to send maybe 3 newsletters a year.


  1. A wolf
  2. Gear Review
  3. The Beach
  4. Odds and Ends
  5. Connections
  6. Be well

The wolf

wolf at skolai

My first wolf in 'the park'.

Apologies out of the way, let's get on with talking about some outdoors adventure. One of the big moments for my summer came up at Skolai and Chitistone Pass; fittingly, I suppose, because I so love that place. I saw my first wolf in Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve. I've seen wolves elsewhere around the state, and in places like Jasper National Park in Canada, and Yellowstone in Wyoming. But in all the years of trekking and hiking and paddling and climbing and napping and wandering and trudging around Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, I'd never seen one. So this July, on a trip with Justin (California) and Dave (New Jersey) the big day finally came.

We were walking back to camp from a hike out over the Russell Glacier, and this gorgeous black wolf comes wandering along the trail, right toward us. Way too cool. Of course, I had skimped on my camera gear for that day, and only carried a wide angle lens with me. My 300mm lens was back inside my tent, safely ensconced in its lens case, and I'm sitting on the tundra with a 28-70mm lens and a black wolf maybe 60 yards away.

So then, I head out on the following trip, Iceberg Lake to Bremner Mines, and we see not one but TWO wolves walking up the hill towards us. Way too awesome. And once again, my 300mm lens is in the tent, safe and sound, and I'm sitting on a rock with a 70mm lens, and 2 wolves maybe 35 yards away. C'est la my vie, I suppose.

Gear Review:

The Alpine Guides are more pant than most backpacking warrants, though are solid ski/mountaineering pants, for sure. In winter backcountry trips they're great, but the Alpine Guides are little more versatile, I think.

I won't go into all the specs, etc, you can find them on Patagonia's site if you need to. And they're pricey, like all Patagonia gear is. But they're a good investment, for me at least. I just wore them for a 30 day trip down on the Malaspine Glacier and Wrangell - St. Elias coastline, and they were great. Temperatures on that trip dipped way down low, probably into the single digits a couple of mornings (one damn cold morning in particular). I was bundled up with every bit of insulation I could find & the Alpine Guide pants were substantially warmer than regular hiking pants.

I wouldn't recommend them for summer use, unless you're seriously alpining it. They'll be too hot, for most people. But for colder temperature hiking, especially if it's well below freezing and you don't have to worry about rain, they're awesome. They shed snow well, I've used them for snowboarding, and they're not bad at all; though a hardshell is better if it's in that 15-35deg temp.

So thumbs up for those pants. Definitely my favorite shoulder-season item. Go get yerself a pair.

Ok, so here's the scoop on hiking pants. Soft shell pants rock. And for the summer, I wear my Arcteryx Palisades most likely on every trip. They're super light, amazingly comfortable, dry fast, have some windproofing to them, and are surprisingly robust. So they rock pretty well.

But, they're a little light for the 3rd season in '3-Season gear'. So I switch to a heavier pant come September. I switch to the Patagonia Alpine Guide pants for the shoulder season here; which likely equates to winter season in most places of the Lower 48.

What do I like most? The fit is killer. I've worn these all over the place, up, down, round and round, and they just 'feel' so good. They're pretty sound, as far as durability goes; any piece of gear that I can get more than one season out of is robust, in my opinion. But they hold up pretty well.

They're not “waterproof”, but somewhat weather resistant; great winter pants here, where it's not (usually) raining. I wear them xc skiing, and they're fantastic for that.

They're lightly insulated, so I still need layers under them, of course, in winter, but they provide a lot more warmth than a lighter hiking pant, like the Palisade or Grammicci Quik Dry pants, or even the Patagonia Simple guide pants. I actually have all 3, the Simple Guides, Alpine Guides and the BC Guides as well.

A month on the beach

So now might be a good time to mention this expedition down to the Malaspina; what a blast that was. I flew down to Yakutat, and into the park from there.

The tricky part of this trip involved my ^#&$ dentist. On the previous trip, I had a crown fall out. No, not THAT crown, the one on my molar I had put in maybe 4 years ago. I got back to Anchorage, and the dentist put in a temp for the interim. It promptly fell out the the night before I was scheduled to fly to Yakutat, so I had to put cancel my flight and wait 2 more days to go see my dentist again. They put it back in, with extra glue, and I flew out the next morning.

Arrived in Yak, w/ 3 hrs to kill before les from Alsek Air flies me in to the backcountry. So I grab a burger (the last burger of the year, so the lodge told me as they closed up for the winter). I finish the burger, and the temporary crown wobbles, wiggles, sits still, then decides it's had enough, and flops out of my mouth once again. So now I'm in Yakutat, about to fly in to the b/c for 30 days, and this damn thing happens. And, if I can't fly in that afternoon, it'll be at least 3 full days before Les can fly me in, and that's assuming I find someone who can put this damn thing back in my mouth.

So I ask Les's wife Debbie if there's a dentist in town. Of course, Yakutat has no dentist. But, she says, there is a guy who comes to town once a month. We call over to the little clinic, and lo and behold, the guy's in town, and working. He's booked up for they day, however.

So I catch a cab over, and figure I'll take my chances of a no show. As I walk in, the assistant looks at me and says “Is your name Carl? Did you just call here?”.


“Well, someone didn't turn up for their appointment, so we can do that temp now if you'd like”.

“Totally, radically awesome!”

The dentist puts the crown in, and I catch a cab back to the airport, in time for my flight over to the beach. And that crown stays in for the entire month I'm wandering around eating gorp and chocolate.

Now that's about as lucky as it gets. Not to mention it's so amazingly awesome that this dentist hooked me up, didn't charge me, and did such a great job. He's full-time in Juneau, or he'd be my new dentist here in the A-N-C. He does, however, have one nice big fat print of one of my Mt. St. Elias photos heading his way.

The trip itself was very cool. We explored and poked around the coastal area of St. Elias, between the Malaspina Glacier and the beach for the most part. It's a rarely traveled area, and we took full advantage of the solitude, for sure.

Rocks on thebeach, Wrangell St. Elias Park.

The beach.

Old growth forest in Wrangell - St. Elias.

Hiking a bear trail, near the beach.

I spent a couple days by myself, before catching up with my friends Hig and Erin; they run a non-profit called Ground Truth Trekking. Good people. They had with them their 2 toddlers, Katmai and Lituya (age 2.5 yrs and 9mos). Pretty adventurous to take off for such a mission with 2 youngsters, and I applauded them roundly for their willingness to do so.

They were out for 2 months, and had been in the backcountry for one month when I joined their little soiree. About 2 weeks later 2 other folks showed up, friends of theirs, and we all spent about a week or so ago together, before the 2 newer folks flew out, and I headed over to Icy Bay by myself. I spent about 8 days there hoping to shoot some images of Mt. St. Elias for the book project.

The coast is really something else. Massive big Sitka Spruce trees and old growth forest, incredible crashing waves on shore, and endless miles of beach; some of it's rocky old moraine, but really interesting hiking. And sleeping on the shoreline of the beach every night was a treat indeed, though sometimes that surf was just so loud.

I'm heading back to the area next summer, with some folks for a hike across the Malaspina to the coast. We'll start out at the Samovar Hills, which is a place I've long wanted to visit. Hig and Erin started their and from the tales they recounted, it's going to be a really, really cool trip.

erin and the kids.
Here's an image of Erin and the kids at lunch along the beach. Fun times.


Odds & Ends

Another thing that might be of some interest to you folks is something I just wrote a blog about, on the site. Using Google Earth satellite imagery for navigation, instead of topo maps.

I wouldn't recommend this method for any and all situations, of course, but for some situations, it's definitely a great tool to have. In the coastal and glacial area down along the Malaspina, the imagery was way more helpful than than the topo maps.

I'll be using this setup for certain next summer on the Samovar - Malaspina traverse; we'll include topos for the mountainous terrain, but once we head out across the ice and moraine, and then approach the coastal region, I suspect the images will be the primary tool.

One more article you may enjoy is something I wrote for Alaska Dispatch. This was a response to the recent Congressional hearing on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That link is here.

Let's see, what else might you folks want to hear about. Well, one thing is the book I'm working on. My project on Wrangell - St. Elias National Park is still underway, but I can see some light at the end of this tunnel. My schedule for now is to have the content finished by next fall, October 2012, then have the printing and publishing done over the winter and the book out in spring 2013. I know it seems be taking forever, but 13 million acres is a LOT of walking. And then some more.

This year I got a number of images I'd been wanting to shoot; some images of Mt. St. Elias, the Malaspina Glacier, stretches of the coastline, as well as a couple of images of the Aurora borealis over the Wrangell Mountains. So it's been a pretty good year for me and my photography project. I have a few specific images I really want to get next year, but for the most part, I'm reasonably happy with what I've got done so far.

Oh, here's something I'm excited to mention. This month, right after xmas, I'm heading up to Denali National Park with Erik DeLuca, a composer. He's part of their “Artist in Residence” program. I met Erik 2 years ago over in Wrangell - St. Elias, where he was doing some recording for a project on that park. He emailed last month and said he would like someone to accompany him on this trip to Denali, so we're going up together.

We'll drive to the park entrance, and then ski in to the Savage River cabin. The NPS dog sled team will haul our gear and food, so we'll be well dressed and well fed! We'll stay in the park at the cabin for a week or so before coming back out. I've never been to Denali in the winter, so this will be a real treat, for sure.

Erik records soundscapes of places, then maps those recordings to music notation, and pieces together compositions. Here's a video of a recording of one of his compositions. http://vimeo.com/28906225


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Speaking of facebook and social media and whatnot, I recently set up a Google Plus page for the site; so far the response has been great. Google Plus looks like it might well be the place to go for photo sharing and so forth. Google Plus has some exceptional photographers signed up already, many of whom I know or was already pretty familiar with, but wow, it's inspiring to see how many outstanding shooter there are around, all doing their own gig. I'm pretty much a straight up nature photography guy, but it's actually been exciting to see this wealth of work all in one place, and such an array of styles; portraits, architectural, travel photography and so on, that has really snagged my attention.

One photographer I've known of for some time is a Canadian fellow, Eric Fredine, but I haven't seen his work for several years now; our internet paths have wandered elsewhere, I suppose. It's been great to catch up with his work again, and see what he's been doing; some very cool and very different photography. It's not at all how I shoot, or what I see, and maybe that's the beauty of it. His Google Plus profile is here.

Another I might recommend is Mike Shaw. He has some very cool photography. Dan Ballard is a landscape photographer I hadn't heard of before who has some excellent stuff. Lovely images.

There are some really great photographers on there.

While I'm giving recommendations, here's my music tip for you. Check out Seeed .. that's right, 3 “e”s. Cool German band. Kinda reggae-ish, kinda funky, a mix of some cool grooves.

So if you're not on Google Plus, you might want to sign up; I think it's a much better platform than facebook, and, at least so far, hasn't slid into that monolithic corporeal devil that the Face has become. How long that might last is anybody's guess, but so far, at least, there's still no ads. That's worth something, right?

And if you DO check out G+, here's the Expeditions Alaska page: take a look.

So I'll wrap up this newsletter with an invite to all of you to visit the website and have a look at some of the trips, including a couple of new ones, and the calendar for 2012.

If you haven't already, you're invited to“like” Expeditions Alaska on facebook, and add AAT to your circles on Google +. You're welcome to follow me on twitter of course; I'm not a huge user of the Tweet. My tweets, though, have been referred to as 140 characters of pure gold. So it's worth checking out. My personal account on twitter is CarlDonohue.

Expeditions Alaska social media links are below:

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Happiest holidays

I'll close with my best and sincere wishes to all of you and your loved ones for the happiest of a holidays and a GREAT New Year.

Travel safe


Carl Donohue
Expeditions Alaska
(ph) 770. 952 4549

The beach at sunset.

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