Archive for the ‘Gear’ Category

Backpacking, hiking and photography gear. And kayaking gear, and showshoeing, skiing, mountain biking, and all things gear related. Maybe even computer gear.

Backpacking and Trekking Poles

Sunday, January 10th, 2016
trekking poles for use hiking on on steep terrain Arrigetch Peaks, gates of the arctic National park Alaska

You can see why hiking poles are so handy on this terrain in Alaska. Often no to very little trail, and it can be steep, slippery, rocky, wet, or all of the above.

Hey Folks,

I’ve written on the topic of trekking poles a few times in the past. Here also. Every year I receive a lot of questions about the use of trekking poles in Alaska. Nothing’s changed. Use them.

The image above illustrates how useful they can be. Backpacking up or down steep terrain like this, often on very little or no trail, with a heavy pack on your back is challenging. Surprisingly, harder still, for most folks, is hiking across the side of a hill like this. Having that pole on your side to lean in to the hill is a big help.

A lot of folks hiking in the lower 48 don’t use them, and I understand that, for sure. The trail systems there are (generally) so good that I don’t think trekking poles hold quite the same benefit there, even though still useful. Up here, however, it’s a different matter (so I now provide trekking poles for all backcountry trips if you don’t have them or don’t want to deal with packing yours up here). (more…)

Coastal Wildlife Tour

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015
Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina), Alaska

An adult gray Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina), Katmai Coast,Katmai National Park, Alaska. Click the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Hey Folks,

In case you’re thinking otherwise, the Coastal Wildlife and Brown Bear photo tour is NOT all about the bears. Well, it’s definitely mostly about the bears. But we’ll also dedicate a good chunk of time to looking around for, and photographing, some other creatures as well. One of the primary ones we’ll see will be Harbor Seals. And, short of donning your scuba gear and swimming with the pinnipeds, there’s not many better opportunities than this one for some really, really cool Harbor seal images.

If you’re a subscriber to the newsletter, check out the trip special in the latest newsletter I just sent out. A pretty sweet deal for this trip, with limited space available.

If you’re not a subscriber to the newsletter, you probably should be. It’s legendary! Fill in the details in the form on the sidebar of the blog post, and you’re good to go.

And if you’re thinking about what photo tour you might want to take this summer, look no further. This Alaska Coastal Wildlife and Brown Bear Photo Tour is the ticket.



Alaska Sea Kayaking Photos

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Hey Folks

Here are few images from our sea kayaking trip to Icy Bay last summer. Awesome conditions, we had a blast. Icy Bay is one of the coolest areas for sea kayaking in Alaska; great camping, great beach hiking, spectacular scenery and absolutely unparalleled sea kayaking and paddling. Icebergs, glaciers, seals, dolphins, brown bears, bald eagles, falcon, murres and murrelets, and Mt. St. Elias towering above everything. It’s pretty tough to beat.

Hope you enjoy the photos below. I’ll try to get some video of the kayaking online soon; nothing quite like paddling through all those icebergs across that glassy water!!

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…)

Sleeping warm winter camping in Alaska

Monday, January 27th, 2014
Sleeping in a winter sleeping bag on snow in Alaska in January, a camper is tucked up and bundled up tight in his down sleeping bag. Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Sleeping in a winter sleeping bag on snow in Alaska in January, a camper is tucked up and bundled up tight in his down sleeping bag. Mountain Hardwear Ghost sleeping bag, Exped Sim Comfort 10 LW. Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Please click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Hey Folks,

It’s January, and Alaska can be a rough place to sleep outside during this time of year. Temperatures can easily be down below zero F, even into the minus 30’s and 40’s, or colder. So sleeping outside is not to be taken lightly.

Bring a good sleeping bag. A REALLY good sleeping bag. If you predict temperatures of zero (F), I’d go with a sleeping bag rated to minus 20 degrees F. I prefer a down sleeping bag over synthetic bags, but the key is a high quality, and well rated bag. If you have a good synthetic fill sleeping bag, use that. It’ll be heavier, and less compatible, but you can deal with that. You don’t want to have to deal with being cold.

Your bag is your last refuge against the cold. Don’t skimp on it. Bring “more” sleeping bag than you think you need.  I do like the goretex or similar shells for winter bags, and highly recommend them.

Bring a good sleeping pad. A REALLY good sleeping pad. Jake, above, is using (well, half using) an Exped Sim Comfort 10 LW, which I highly recommend if you’re not packing it into the backcountry. If you need to haul it (snowshoeing, skiing, backpacking, go with an Exped Downmat 7 or even the Downmat 9). An insulated pad insulates you against the cold snow underneath, where even the best sleeping bag won’t offer much protection – once you lie down in the bag and compress the insulation underneath you (be it down or synthetic), it offers little insulating value. So a high quality insulated pad makes a huge difference. You want it to be about an inch or more thick.

Although it’s not generally needed with a high quality sleeping pad like this, I often like to throw a hard cell foam pad under the inflatable. It adds a little extra insulation, but mostly a little protection against a leak or anything. It’ll definitely ad to the life of your sleeping pad. Unlike Jake, above, don’t slide off the sleeping pad. You’ll get cold. 🙂


Tent Review – Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 2 DP Review

Saturday, January 4th, 2014
Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 2 DP backpacking tent in Alaska.

My backpacking tent, the Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 2 DP ultralight tent, sitting thigh on a ridge in the Chugach Mountains on our Bremner Mines to Tebay Lakes trek, in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park, last summer. This tent LOVES this place! Click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Hey Folks

Some of you might have seen a few years back I raved about the Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 2 backpacking tent. So why now, am I writing about it again? Why, other than to show you our killer campsite we call “The Mezzanine”, from the classic Bremner Mines to Tebay Lakes trekking trip? Everybody loves The Mezzanine!

Well, one more reason its because it’s been upgraded, modified and changed, twice now in fact, so I thought I’d touch on a couple of things about the newer version of this tent, the Skyledge 2 DP.

Firstly, it has a new name. The DP is short for ‘Dry Pitch’. Meaning it’s possible to set the rainfly section of the tent up first, and then add the inner part of the tent afterward; a handy feature in the rain, for sure. The Mountain Hardwear bio reads “DryPitch™ fly-first pitching lets you set up the tent in the rain and stay dry”, which I think is a little misleading. You will still get wet. The inner part of your tent will stay somewhat drier .. but rarely will it remain completely dry. Still, it’s a handy feature that I’m glad to see Mountain Hardwear working on. (more…)

Get Your Boots On

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013
Assorted footwear for backpacking and hiking

Assorted footwear for backpacking and hiking. Please click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Hiking and backpacking boots in Alaska

A backpacking blog with no post about hiking boots? What gives?

Hiking boots are one of those subjects that are SO subjective that it’s invariably a much lengthier conversation than a blog post might, or should, be. Different boots fit different people well, and different boots fit different situations differently. I can suggest what works well for me, in situation x-y-z, and that pair of boots might be completely inappropriate for you in the same situation. or, they might be completely inappropriate for me in situation a-b-c.

So it’s extremely difficult to try to write a ‘general’ idea about boots. I’ll give it a shot.


Leather vs synthetic. The biggest question most start with is “leather boots versus synthetic”. Full leather boots will typically tend to be more durable, provide a little better ankle support (though I have doubts about how much), be heavier and more expensive. If you backpack off-trail a lot, carrying a heavy load, and want a pair of boots that will last a long time, my suggestion is a leather pair of boots. But, if you hike mostly on trail, don’t carry a big heavy pack very often, and don’t mind replacing your boots more frequently, synthetic boots are often a good choice. (more…)

Alaska Winter Driving and Travel Information for Photographers

Sunday, January 6th, 2013
Winter travel, a snow-laden pickup truck on the McCarthy Road, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.Winter travel, a snow-laden pickup truck on the McCarthy Road, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Please click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Winter travel, a snow-laden pickup truck on the McCarthy Road, Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Please click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Hey Folks

This year (2013) seems to definitely be the year that photographers want to head north to photograph the northern lights here in Alaska; the number of websites that have suddenly added an “Alaska Northern Lights Photo Tour” to their schedule seems to have tripled in about 6 months.

That, and considering the number of photographers heading up here on their own, or with friends, to photograph the Aurora borealis this winter/spring means we’ll very likely see dozens, if not hundreds, of really, really amazing northern lights photographs from this coming season. I know I’m sure looking forward to seeing all the great images.

Given this influx of folks from “down south”, I thought a good subject to write about, one that I hope many people will find useful, might be winter driving and winter travel in Alaska. Coming, as I did when I moved here, from a background of very little real “winter conditions”, I had a lot to learn when I arrived, and some of that might be helpful for others headed this way. Not just about the physical driving on snow and ice. What to bring with me. What hazards I’m likely to encounter. And on and on. (more…)

Camping on the Malaspina Glacier

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012
Camping on the Malaspina Glacier

Our kitchen setup on the Malaspina Glacier, one gorgeous evening. Last night on the ice before we crossed the moraine and left the ice. The night after this we were camped on the beach. For a larger version of this photo, click the image above.

Hey Folks

This past August, we just did an EPIC traverse across the Malaspina Glacier. Our original plan had been to fly from Yakutat to the Samovar Hills, and hike south. Due to the insane amount of snow in the area last winter (Yakutat got 350-360 inches), we weren’t able to land at the strip we’d hoped to fly into. A last minute change of plan meant flying to Kageet Point, Icy Bay, and hiking east from there, before picking up the original route, and following it south to the coastline, then east again to our intended pickup spot. This added about 35-40 miles to our route, but with an adventurous and experienced group of folks, it was worth it.

We spent 5 of the 9 nights on the ice of the Malaspina Glacier; the Malaspina is the size of Rhode Island, over 40 miles and nearly 30 miles long. Contrary to what wikipedia might tell you about the glacier, it DOES reach the coast, and so should rightfully be called a tidewater glacier, not a piedmont glacier. We packrafted around the lagoon the ice calves into on the beach, and it’s most definitely coastal.

Camping on ice has its challenges. Finding a nice flat spot can be tough, but especially finding a nice flat spot with enough rocks around to use for holding the tent/tarp in place. Sometimes we’d find wonderful, long flat stretches of ice, perfect for tentsites, but not a rock in sight. You can’t drive tent stakes into ice (unless you carry ice screws, of course -major overkill for a tent). But usually it didn’t take too long to find a good spot.

Secondly, insulation. A regular sleeping pad just doesn’t cut it. I used an Exped Downmat 7 UL, and it was great. Warm, comfortable, and not too heavy. Other choices include using 2 pads, one hard-cell foam pad like a z-rest or similar underneath an inflatable Neo Air or thermarest pad. Sergei used the Exped Downmat 9, which was easily the best (most comfortable and warm) choice. A deflated packraft under the tent all offered some protection from the ice underneath.

Overall, it was a grand trip. The weather wasn’t too bad at all, which made a great difference. Camping on an expanse of ice like that for a week, with no real wind or rain to deal with, made the trip a lot of fun. A great group of folks, 4 of which have now done 4 or more different backpacking trips with me, and some world class adventure. Good, good times.



Winter Trip Wrap-up

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Hey Folks,

A few shots from this past winter. Good times.

2011/2012 Winter Photos

2011/2012 Winter Photos.


For a look at some of the aurora borealis photos from this winter, have a look at this page.




Owner and guide Carl Donohue.


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