The name “Alaska” was ever since in the back of my head.
Like a nasty splinter, I could never get it out…
I always thought it would be like one of the most adventurous areas in the world. Demanding. Without tolerance of too less experience or the wrong gear. Alaska just don’t care about you little human.
On the other hand, it would show off the full “bling-bling” of nature’s best!
Like “Disneyland” for Adventurers and Photographers.
I wasn’t wrong!
Oh, what a State!
…but let’s start from the beginning:
This roadtrip with Troy (USA) and Christian (GER) for 18 days was a long term project from us.
We started to prepare and train ourselves at least 8 months in advance. We learned Wilderness First Aid, tested Bear Spray on ourselves, did a few short, though exhausting hiking-trips and hauled 28kg (62lbs) backpacks around on sunday walks just for the training.
Troy and Chris never met before, which was for sure risky. However, apparently I connected them pretty well: Both got along right away and never had a issue with themselves. We became a fantastic team in the mountains – considering the extreme circumstances as well, of course:
9 days in the wilderness with over 30kg (60lbs) on the back, climbing up and down the mountains, balancing over serious ridges, always bear-aware, remote in an area not even the Denali Ranger are knowing.
Of course there were some times when we got mad at each other. But I’m convinced about that this is part of every extreme group-trip.
And when it turned out really bad, we just did the famous “Denali Stand Off”… End of discussion!
I will be using my notes from my journal for a brainstorming. The actual stories and non-official details need to get discussed in person with one or two or five beer anyway.
Gear up in Anchorage – fantastic weather with clear view even to Denali (happens just 10%/year) – President Obama is in town as well – “McKinley” is now officially “Denali” again (Because he can!)
Train to Talkeetna (“The Gate to Denali”)
final packing and organization – “Last Supper” for minimum 9 days… – shuttle to “Alaska Floatplane Company” – oh oh, we are slightly exceeding the load limit – pilot is a cool dude and figures something out – Take Off! – Not the first time in such a small airplane, but excitement! – quite, concentrated, focused for the things to come
“Chelatna Lake” in sight after about 20min – While landing, we are checking as much as possible of our route – We knew about it, but that’s going to be a lot of bushwacking, guys! – Got left alone by the pilot. He takes off, we look after the plane … and slowly switch into “Adventure Mode” – Status: a couple of dead salmon on the shore – oh shit! – over there is a half-way eaten salmon on the beach with fresh bear tracks right next to it – high and dense bushes all around us – alright guys! Time to leave! Definitely DANGER ZONE here! – bushwacking – bushwacking – bushwacking up the mountain – bushwacking up the very steep mountain – lots of signs for animal activity – DANGER ZONE all over – still bushwacking – 4hrs later – hm, that looks actually like our first campsite – eat – sleep – wake up – still alive.
hiking up the steep mountain – weather is perfect – BEAR! – first bear sighting at high noon – far away – small size bear – ran away immediately – long sighting because of clear view and no high bushes around – wow! How cool is that!? – hardcore uphill – I’m definitely fitter than Troy and Chris – getting more gear to haul as a prize – I’m not amused but take it as a man – quitly cried behind a big rock
climbing over very steep ridges – I’m fine because of my rock climbing experience, but I’m thinking about Chris (no experience) – Decision: Either descend per tricky but short rocksliding into a pit and go around the upcoming peak or climb over it? – first big group-mistake: I kind of feel that the upcoming peak is too dangerous and rather go around it – Troy and Chris wait for my try to slide down – I slide down (steep but short) – very exhausting – yell up that they should go around it without knowing that Troy is serious about to make it over the peak with Chris. – I wait on the other side and got the full view from all angles to that Killer. – As a rock climber, I thought “no fucking way!” “This is suicide!” “Troy, don’t be a fool and turn around!” – no sight to them – signal whistle – didn’t hear anything – signal whistle – 1hrs since we split up – “Fuck, was that it? Did they fell?” – left backpack behind and geared up with 1st-Aid-Kit, smoke flare, Emergency-GPS-Transmitter, Jackets, food and bivy bag – “shall I go over it without the backpack?” – “No way! Even without that would be way too dangerous without a helmet, climbing partner and a rope.” – climbed around the peak – signal whistle – CONTACT! – both are descending – “Whoa! great news, guys!” – lost 1:40hrs because of that thriller – rain – descended to a mountain lake – like a auditorium – campsite – connected with helicopter pilot per Sat Phone to confirm helicopter extraction
Had a bear on our food cache! – scary scratches and teethmarks all over our stuff – two Nalgene bottles are damaged but cap from one got switched over to the other, so we just lost one bottle – still raining – inside of clouds – cold – sharp ridge though fantastic view! – still raining – all wet – tired
very bad sight – cold – wet – pass over ridge too dangerous and not possible – too much time wasted – backup – descend into valley – approx 5 celsius on top and 15 celsius at campsite – picture perfect area! WOW! what a view…
DAY VI – Rest Day
great very long timelapse of the clouds coming through this colorful valley, yeah! – finally some sun again to dry our gear – oh, rain again – SUN! – Troy and I went up the mountain for some good panoramic HDR-shots – Chris stayed in the camp – Chris gave us a signal with the whistle – “Hm, all ok on his side, so it must have been supposed to be a general status check.” – came back into camp – Chris told us, he saw a big-ass Grizzly coming roughly into our direction! – got scared away as soon as he started yelling – must have been still far enough away – “Whoa! Good to know that they really aren’t used to humans here in this area!” – Troy woke me up and said he sees Auroras! – I looked out of the tent, saw nothing as much as I wanted to, was pissed, crawled back and slept.
checked my pictures from the night before and realized that, by accident, I took a series of 5 pictures of the nightsky – and already had the aurora on camera!! I just didn’t see it with my own eyes. – d’oh! – Well, you can’t have it all… – rain – descending into valley – extreme bushwacking – moose tracks – stream crossing – bushwacking is much too exhausting and didn’t make sense – backup plan: up the mountain! – hardcore uphill plus hardcore bushwacking plus rain – climbing up the mountain like a machine with the brain shut off – realizing that I’m growling – oh, it doesn’t rain anymore – campsite almost on top of the mountain in a 3/4 bowl – crazy accoustic! – quick scouting without the backpack up the next ridge – rains again – clouds slowly disappear and give us some sight – found Middle Earth – seriously! – you might already see an army of orcs coming around the mountain far in the distance! – “OMG! Is that the Yentna Glacier?!” – YEAH!!!! – rain
waited for better weather – didn’t become better – still raining – getting over the ridge inside of the clouds – reached the border of the Denali Preserve – helicopter landing spot needs to be outside of Preserve – damn! some very good spots for sure though still inside of the Preserve – debated a lot – still raining – splitted up and scouted – found a good spot outside of the Preserve up the next mountain – campsite – rain – wind – cold – exhausted – pissed off – built a small wall of stones up right next to the tent because the wind was consistently blowing one side of the outer wet tent to inner one – got worried about chance to get picked up by the helicopter on Day IX – still raining – low clouds
snow on the ground in the morning – still raining – windy – “Fuck! we will stay here for one or two or three more days…” – most clothes were wet – sleeping bag is semi-wet and concerns me – cold – ate, improved the ventilation of the tent in order to get the condensation inside under control – went back into the sleeping back to save energy – tried to sleep – contacted helicopter pilot – “Well, you guys are the weather station. You tell me, when it is safe. We’ll just have to be patient for a weather window.” – still raining – looks bad – back into tent and tried to sleep – 4pm – The rain did stop! – no wind! – got out of tent and ran up the next ridge to look East to the direction where the helicopter will come from – clouds went up higher – clear view to East – Troy and Chris confirmed South – “Call him!” – “OMG, we are getting a beer today! And a Rib Eye Steak! And a hot shower! Awesome!” – helicopter confirmed – T Minus 20 minutes – packing up – climbed up the ridge with Tele-Lens – T Minus 10 minutes – flapp-flapp-flapp-flapp – YEAH!!!! – helicopter comes around mountain – Chris ignites the smoke flare – THIS IS AWESOME! – click-click click click-click – helicopter lands – click-click – Chris gets into helicopter plus backpack from Troy – helicopter takes off – Chris will get dropped of on a near airstrip and flies back per airplane to save time for the helicopter – T Minus 10 minutes – final pack up – flapp-flapp-flapp-flapp – Troy ignites the smoke flare for fun – I could get used to them – looks awesome – helicopter lands – I feel like this is Christmas and my Birthday – taking off – click-click – damn, my lense is fogging up here – “Noooooooo!” – It get’s really bad – Damnit! No picture after the first 2 minutes inside of the warm cockpit – Whatever – Incredible views – I’m flying in a small helicopter – I’m getting a beer within the next 1 hour – feels unreal
landing at small airfield – thanking the pilot – Hero of the Day – Business as usual for him – pay the bill – about to walk out of the building back towards Talkeetna “Downtown” – fishing out the Victory Cigars out of my bear canister which I was carrying around since quite a while as a present – Troy and Chris are freaking out – we walked back into town with all gear on the back, stinky, dirty, bear spray on the sides, beards in the faces, leather hat on the head and smoking cigar in the mouth – felt like three outlaws coming into town for trouble – definitely got some attention – went straight to “Denali Brewing Company” – were allowed to finish our cigars outside on the patio – beer – steak – felt like:
“The mountains are calling, and I must go…”
– John Muir –
Still not enough?! …me neither!
Then watch this! Alaska Part 2: Add-On