"Me" becomes "We"
Expeditions Alaska is now “we”
One of the biggest changes of my business over the last few years is moving Expeditions Alaska from a “me” gig to a “we”.
I began this venture in 2002 and worked, for many years, completely solo. In 2009 I did my first trip with a second guide, and over the years ended up with a few more, here and there. This past summer I had 5 other guides all running trips, and also ran a photo tour with a co-guide.
It’s an interesting dynamic. Shifting everything from being under my own hand to having various different guides in the field at one time, managing schedules and handing over the responsibility and the enjoyment of meeting and guiding everyone to meeting and guiding a portion of you all.
The first thing I’ll say about it is how lucky I have been to have such awesome guides to work with. Jule, John, Rhane, Greg, Wyatt, Paul .. every guide I’ve worked with over the years brings so much to the business. I’ve learned so much from each of these folks.
I can bounce ideas and plans off any one of them and gain a broader perspective to move forward with. It’s a treat to work with all these folks. I’m as excited to work with each of them as you are to come visit Alaska. Yes, they’re THAT awesome.
This shift also means changing the copy on much of the website from “me” or “I” to “we” and “us”. It’s a small thing but it’s such a big change, too. It feels totally different. Cool, but different.
I’m still the sole owner of Expeditions Alaska. I just share the workload with some really exceptional guides. Makes life a lot of fun.
In 2015 I was able to manage my schedule in such a way that I got to meet virtually all the clients who came out, before or after their trip, but sadly last year I was busier and trips didn’t quite align as well and I wasn’t able to do that. It’s definitely nice to get to meet the folks I’ve emailed back and forth with about their trip in their trip planning.
This year already we have quite a few folks coming out, but I definitely want to be able to meet as many of you all as I can.
Meet The Crew
John is a great guide and an even better friend. A backcountry skillset a mile long, and a great cook. John’s an all-rounder. He does a bit of everything. For some weird reason he plays ice hockey.
Jule’s worked with me since 2011. As I write this she’s building herself a cabin in Girdwood. She’s also a Yoga instructor. She’s a solid backpacker and paddler. A warm personality and a bundle of energy.
Rhane does it all. Paddles, climbs, skis, hikes and bikes. Cooks up a storm and knows his way around the mountains. A great background in wilderness counseling yields a stable and settling guide. Two thumbs up.
Life Without Ice
I recently was asked by Greg Downing of Naturescapes.net to put an article together that might be of interest to the photographers there regarding polar bears. From our discussion I now have a featured article on that website about polar bears and the threat of climate change. “Life Without Ice”, an edited excerpt from my eBook, Polar Bears of Alaska.
You can download the book here. If you don’t have a copy of the ebook, grab it. It’s free, available on both iBooks and PDF formats and part of an ongoing project on these amazing creatures. I hope you enjoy it.
Your How To ...
One of the things I get asked most often about on backpacking trips is navigation. How do we set out for a 10 day trip and not worry about getting lost?
Well, of course I’ve been there before, many times for a number of the routes, and that makes things a lot easier. Alaska is big wilderness, and the size of the landscape actually works in our favor. I can eyeball most of it, most of the time.
But fog and weather is always a factor, or maybe we haven’t been on a route in several years and the things get trickier. What then?
A topographic map and compass is obviously a must have resource and a must have skillset. But these days, so too is internet savvy and tech-Know how.
My most used resources these days for trip navigation are Google (of course, Apple (of course) and Iridium.
Google Earth (download the free pro version) is an incredible tool, and a powerful asset for planning any backcountry adventure. I won’t go into all the tricks and tips in this outline, but overlaying topo maps over satellite imagery, eyeballing things like vegetation and inclines and ice fields can be critical.
Supplement and integrate that with my iPhone and the greatest GPS app on the market, Gaia GPS. I highly recommend you download the app and learn to use it. The cool thing about your smart phone is that even with cell service and wifi turned off (airplane mode), your GPS still works. So I can literally be in the middle of the wildest terrain in the country and still know exactly where I am.
Clients love that. 🙂
If, of course, I have battery life.
We all love a good battery.
Batteries are the bane of smart phones, for sure, and never more so than in the backcountry. I don’t bring a charger or satellite charger with me on a backpacking trip, but that is one option available if necessary. If I will need to use the phone for navigation, I use the device sparingly. Incredibly sparingly. I don’t use it was my camera, I tone down the screen, set it to low battery mode: for an iPhone, iOS 10.3.1, go to Settings -> Battery -> Low Power Mode (on, or “green”).
With a bit of pre-trip prep work, I can export my Google Earth files to Gaia (do this on the Gaia website, not on your phone via the app; set up an account, login and go from there) and then sync that, along with the topo maps and the pertinent Google Earth imagery, to the phone.
This gives me a detailed set of topo maps, which I can click on or off, as well as bird’s eye satellite imagery of my whereabouts via Google Earth,any track or markers I wanted to set on my Google Earth route as well. I can also embed images I’ve taken of particular locations, mark them and paste them on to the Google Earth File.
And all of this is a click of a button away on my phone.
Biggest advantage of a Gaia-loaded iPhone over a GPS unit? The screen. Makes a huge difference. It’s immeasurably nicer than any backcountry friendly GPS unit.
Downsides? The one (and only) downside is battery life. It’s manageable, and maybe I’ll write a piece down the road on tips for saving battery juice on extended backcountry trips. Other than battery life? I can’t think of a single advantage my Garmin GPS has over the Gaia on my iPhone. Not one.
I also bring (and recommend) a Delorme Inreach (now Garmin Inreach). Amazing little device that has totally changed backcountry travel. I can text anyone, from anywhere. Some of the newer versions also have a built in GPS, which I can use to import all my routes, tracks, waypoints and other data. A great tool I can’t recommend enough to anyone heading out on a backcountry adventure.
For Alaska travel, the Inreach is immeasurably better than the Spot Messenger. The satellite service of Iridium (inReach) is far beyond that of Motorola (Spot). Leave Fido, Rover and Spot at home.
Oh .. and do bring a map and compass. Always.
This isn’t your typical gear review. It’s more my commentary on rain gear and the failings of waterproof breathable rain gear.
I’ve bought and worn dozens of rain jackets over the years. Literally, dozens of them. Right now on the rack beside me as I type this I can count 11 rain jackets. Eleven.
It’s a bit ridiculous. I have everything from my old Aussie Dryzabone to my most recent Outdoor Research Goretex jacket I bought last year. Whatever your jacket, chances are good I’ve owned at least one of those.
And none of them, I mean none of them, work like I want them to. In fact, it’s fair to say none of them work like they did when I first bought them.
It’s been my experience that the magic of waterproof breathable technology is in the DWR (durable water repellent) coating. I don’t know what kind of black magic voodoo those manufacturers employ, but that stuff is astonishingly good.
Until it isn’t.
For the rest of this post see the blog post linked below.
On the blog ...
Wrangell Mountains in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park, Alaska. Hey folks, Welcome to March, 2017! A photo of my favorite view. And a view I’ve seen many, many times this winter. The Wrangell Mountains. Left to right, you’re looking at Mt Drum, Mt. Sanford, Mt Zanetti (the little “cone” shaped peak the looks like […]
Northern lights over the White Mountains Hey Folks After a couple of weeks doing little but shooting northern lights and enjoying the company of some wonderful guests I suppose it’s appropriate that I post a northern lights photo for this month’s Image of the Month. So here it is. This one was one of the […]
Large adult male polar bears can weigh over 1400lbs. Seriously? How big? We’ve all heard polar bears are the largest terrestrial carnivore, right? We’ll side-step the rather silly idea of labelling Ursus maritimus (Sea bear), a marine mammal, as a “land-based carnivore ” for the moment. Instead consider the point behind it. Polar bears are […]
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More Odds & Ends
As is so often the case I’ve been occupied with other things than writing newsletters. Over the winter I’ve stayed busy, warm and skied a lot. Fun times, but a lot of office work and time spent being the computer as well. It’s never fun but it’s a big part of making this whole thing keep rolling.
Winter here has been what winter in Alaska should be. Cold, snowy, beautiful and a lot of fun. The last few winters here have been far warmer than usual, with little snow, and that can make for a lot of freezing rain, ice and ugly conditions. Give me -20˚F and 2 feet of snow on the ground an I’m much happier than 25 above, 10 mph winds and a layer of ice across the landscape. Every. Single. Time.
Last year one of the big changes involved moving the booking system over to a new online reservation system. After trying out a couple of different systems, I’ve settled on one that seems to give us most of what you and I need. It’s not perfect, by any means, but none of the systems really seem to fit just right.
It’s a lot of work and an endless headache learning any new software and trying to do so while planning and booking trips for people can be terribly frustrating. Hopefully it’s smooth sailing forward from here.
Recommendations and Tips
Marcus King Band. Great band, and Marcus is a super-talented young man. What a voice, and he plays guitar like nobody’s business. The self-titled MKB album on iTunes is a favorite of mine.
Some great images, as always in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards this last year. The winning image is exceptional
The Wolverine Way, by Doug Chadwick. Fans of great nature writing will love it. What an astonishing creature!
Planet Earth II. Buy the season on iTunes or Amazon Prime and enjoy some phenomenal videography.
• Backpack: The Mystery Ranch Glacier pack.
• Tent: the new Mountain Hardwear Ghost 2 isn’t as solid as the discontinued Skyledge 2 was. A sad day.
• Camera: Super happy this last year with my Nikon D500
• XC skis: Skied on my Rosignol BC70s all winter.
• Winter softshell jacket: Arc’teryx Gamma MX STILL rocks
• Summer sleeping bag: Replacing my 20˚F bag this year with another Western Mountaineering Ultralite
• Hiking poles: Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Pole – totally awesome!