Archive for the ‘Backcountry Travel’ Category

Snippets of information related to travel in the backcountry.

Backpacking season is here again

Saturday, June 13th, 2015
Backpackers traversing a snow-covered alpine pass in Alaska.

Guess where this was taken, the route and the valley, and win yourself a cap. Please click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Hey Folks,

Just a quick one to say “Let the Games begin!”.

Backpacking season is upon us again, so soon. I’m definitely looking forward to time in these mountains again, it’s always a blast.

And just to liven things up; anyone who knows where this photo was taken, post your answer below, or on the Facebook page, and the first 3 people to post correct answers will snare themselves an awesome Expeditions Alaska cap. The caveats are

  • a) You can’t be one of the 3 people in the photo, or their friends/family (no cheating)
  • b) You need to be specific. The answer “Alaska” doesn’t cut it. Nor does the park name itself. We need some details
  • c) If you already HAVE an Expeditions Alaska cap, you can’t win another one. 🙂

I’ll give you a hint; the chances are pretty good you’ve never been there.

Partial credit for creative, clever and well-constructed answers.



Hiking poles and Alaska backpacking

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014
A hiker backpacking up Harry's Gulch in the eastern Chugach mountains of Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

A hiker backpacking up Harry’s Gulch in the eastern Chugach mountains of Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Hiking poles, or trekking poles, can be considered an integral part of the setup for a trek like this one from Bremner Mines to Tebay Lakes.

Hey Folks,


So one question I’m frequently asked about pertains to hiking poles, or trekking poles, and how important or useful they are for backpacking here in Alaska. In short, I’d suggest they’re more than useful, almost mandatory. Of course, few things in the mountains are ever so objective; the mountains are a subjective place, and so we shouldn’t look for objective answers like this. What’s right for me mightn’t be right for you, and what’s right on August 15 mightn’t be right on August 16 (or even 3 hours later on August 15), and so on. But as a general rule, I’d urge anyone coming to Alaska to backpack, and particularly someone on their first ever trip here, to count on using your hiking poles.

Jon, pictured above here, is a great hiker; in super shape, he’s athletic, well-balanced and a very good walker; safe to say he’s a much better hiker than the average backpacker. Much better. He cruised the Bremner Mines to Tebay Lakes route with virtually no trouble at all, and that’s a tough walk, by almost anyone’s metrics. Even Jon mentioned how useful and helpful the hiking poles were for him on this trip. This image, taken as we walked westward up Harry’s Gulch, shows one of the most strenuous parts of hiking in the mountains around here; (more…)

Trip of the year – Malaspina Glacier Traverse

Monday, December 31st, 2012
Traversing the Malaspina Glacier, Wrangell St. Elias National Park.

Jodee steps across a crevasse on the Malaspine Glacier, with 18 008′ tall Mt. St. Elias peaking thru the clouds in the background. Please click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Hey Folks,

What better way to celebrate the new year than a quick tip of the hat to Expeditions Alaska’s trip of the year for 2012? The winner, for me, was the Malaspina Glacier traverse we did in August. 12 awesome days on the southern coastal edge of Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve, I led a group of 5 hardy adventurers over the largest piedmont glacier* in North America, down to the beach, and along the coast to our pickup place.

A sketchy start, as our backcountry bush pilot informed us, right before we departed, that we wouldn’t be able to fly to our intended destination in the Samovar Hills. The huge snowfall we’d had over the previous winter hadn’t yet melted out enough to land safely at the remote backcountry strip. (more…)

Google Earth; the NEW navigation?

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Hey Folks,

One topic I thought I might write about here that readers might enjoy has to do with navigation; every backcountry traveler has  had issues with getting lost, even if only briefly, and being unsure of direction. So we learn how to read a compass and topographic map. And w learn how to pay attention to our terrain and landscape. We learn about geology and landform features to help us navigate. We learn how to pay attention to the sky, and the sun. Some of us even look skyward after dark and learn to read the constellations.

More recently, we’ve acquired and learned GPS technologies, for pinpoint accuracy, and for better navigation in adverse situations (clouds and fog, flat, featureless terrain, etc).  But even this amazing GPS stuff is years old now. So what’s the “new” navigation technology? (more…)

Carrying a load

Saturday, November 12th, 2011
Hig, Katmai, Erin and Lituya, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Hig (carrying Katmai) and Erin (carrying Lituya) walk along the shore of a small lake at the edge of the Malaspina Glacier, looking north toward Mt. St. Elias and the Saint Elias Mountain Range.Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Please click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Hey Folks,

Here’s another shot from the trip recently down along the coastline. This photo was one of my first days on the hike with hig and Erin, and their 2 children Katmai (wearing his “Prince-pants”, and carried here by Hig, on the left) and Lituya (whom Erin is carrying). What a treat it was to be invited to join this great family on their adventure! So, on this particular morning, we wanted to go and explore the edges of the Malaspina Glacier, and enjoyed a gorgeous morning hike up over the moraine and out on to the ice. The farther reaches of the glacier provided spectacular views of nearby Mt. St. Elias (pictured) and the Saint Elias Mountain Range, and the amazingly expansive view over the Malaspina. Incredible place.

It was really cool to hike with Erin and Hig, both accomplished backcountry travelers, but particularly to do so and accompany them with their 2 young children. Katmai is nearly 3, and Lituya is about 8 months old. Toddlers like this are always fascinating, but watching such young kids experience the wilderness was great fun.

What struck me most, I suppose, was the thought of how great it is that 2 young parents are here spending 24 hours a day with their children. Not too many parents do I know, or know of, ever do something like this, and it was really fun to observe. Almost every waking moment of their day Erin and//or Hig engaged their children, for 2 months. The kids had a blast, especially young Katmai, who soaked up the beach, the mountains, the views, the dirt, my peanut butter, any chocolate within a half mile, and the sunshine whenever he could. (more…)

Backpacking Wrangell – St. Elias’ coastline

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011
Backpacking on the coast, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Setting out for a month long backpack along the coastline of Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Please click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Hey Folks,

Wow; what a cool trip this last one was. A month along the coastline and borders of the Malaspina Glacier in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park’s southeastern reaches.

This photo is my first night on the beach, right after the air taxi departed, I shouldered the heavy pack, posed for an image, and set off down the beach to find a campsite. Dark comes quickly this time of year in Alaska.

I caught up with friends Erin and Hig from Ground Truth Trekking, and their 2 kids Katmai and Lituya, the following afternoon. I spent most of the rest of my trip with them, and then the last 10 days or so in the Icy Bay area, trying to get a nice sunset photo of Mt. St. Elias from that area. Seemed like things were still getting going when before I knew it, the month was over and I had to fly back to the city. Time flies, eh? (more…)

Pack your sleeping bag

Saturday, April 9th, 2011
Backcountry campsite, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska

A snowy campsite on the high alpine tundra of Wrangell - St. Elias National Park. Termination dust covers the ground, or fresh fall snow, and Mt Jarvis (13 421') of the Wrangell Mountains stands dominating behind. Backcountry campsite, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. On a backpacking trip in September. Please click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Hey folks

A lot of people heading to Alaska inquire about the “best” sleeping bag to bring; i.e., what temperature rating to bring. My recommendation has always been for a warmer bag than many people typically expect. My advice for a summer bag in Alaska is 20deg F, (about -6deg C) and no warmer.

That is, 20deg Fahrenheit minimum! don’t bring a 32deg F bag (0deg C).

Surely it’s not going to be below freezing in July, I hear folks respond?

Well, hopefully not. But it certainly can be, especially if we hike up in the high country at all (which we typically do, because that’s where the views are, and where the brush isn’t). And the altitude needn’t be that high; 5000 feet is alpine country in Alaska.

But the reasons for a warm bag go beyond merely snow and cold. Some folks will say they’d rather bring a warmer bag, like a 32deg F bag, as it’s lighter weight, and they can always wear extra clothes to bed if need be. They’ll be bringing warm clothes along anyway, right? Sometimes, this is true. But there can easily be times when it is not true. How about your fleece jacket is wet? Or you lose it (yes, I’ve seen that happen)?  (more…)

Image of the Month, March 2011

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011
Snowshoeing, Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Snowshoeing and backcountry skiing in the Mentasta Mountains, winter, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Please click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Hey Folks,

Another photo from a winter trip; this one to the Mentasta Mountains in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve. My favorite mode of travel; snowshoe up, and ski back down. It’s worth bringing the extra gear!

Heinous wind – Yikes!



Viking Lodge Cabin

Sunday, March 6th, 2011
Viking Lodge Cabin, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Winter in Alaska. The Viking Lodge Cabin, a public use cabin in Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, makes a fantastic getaway for a winter trip. Please click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Hey Folks

Here’s a shot of one of my favorite places in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve; Viking Lodge Cabin. The cabin is not far off the Nabesna Road, which is nice; accessible. Unlike most public use cabins in the park, this cabin requires reservations, though that also means when you arrive, you know ahead of time you don’t have to share the cabin with anyone else who might show up. There is no fee to use the cabin, which is nice. It’s quite a treat, being able to head out in the winter and have a cozy, comfortable cabin to relax in.

An old barrel stove sits in the middle of the cabin, and warms the cabin pretty quickly, even in the depths of winter. It makes the world of difference after a day out in the mountains, skiing or snowshoeing, to come back to a warm cabin, rather than a cold tent. Perhaps in the morning it makes even more difference, waking up and having a nice warm pair of boots sitting by the cabin, rather than crusty frozen boots outside the door.  (more…)

Many Rivers to Cross

Thursday, February 18th, 2010
Backpackers crossing a creek in Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Backpackers crossing a creek in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

One of the more challenging aspects of an Alaskan backcountry trek is river crossings. With the exception of the occasional Kenai Peninsula hike, all of these treks are off-trail, wilderness backpacking trips, and so there’s no easy way to get across the streams, creeks and rivers that meander through the mountains. A few tips that can be useful to heed:

1) For smaller streams, I prefer to cross one person at a time. If by chance someone in the group does stumble, it means we have one wet person to deal with. Everyone else in the group is safe and secure on shore. Things unravel quickly in the backcountry, and that happens most often when something small goes wrong. One person stumbles, takes a dip, someone else reaches to grab them, they go down, knock their partner off balance, and all of a sudden bedlam results. That’s how people get hurt. It can also mean everyone gets wet gear. A much simpler problem to deal with is getting one person out of a creek, drying them off, and loaning them some warm, dry gear that another person in the group has in their pack. One person falling is a hassle – a group falling can be a disaster.

2) For anything over knee-high, unbuckle your hip belt and sternum strap on the backpack. (more…)


Owner and guide Carl Donohue.


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