Trip Report: Entering Alaska

A multi-day glacier backpacking trip gets off to a shaky start following the demise of a hotel alarm clock

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Day 1, Scene 1

Setting: Nondescript Anchorage Hotel RoomThe Mood: Sleepy agitation. One party arrives late in the evening. Another party leaves early in the morning. The third party is forced to accommodate both the arrival of one and the departure of two, despite having slept in either a car or a rain-sodden tent over the last several days.

The Action: Party three tries to turn off alarm clock the proper way. Beeping continues. Party three rips annoying alarm clock from wall, knocking over party one’s water bottle (lid, thankfully, screwed on tight). Alarm clock continues to beep. Party three races alarm clock to bathroom, turns on faucet, and submerges alarm clock in sink. Beeping continues. Party three submerges alarm clock again. Beeping subsides. Party three decides it is time to get up anyway. Party one burys head in pillow, thinks of home.

…And thus begins my Alaskan backpacking adventure with our survival blogger and Rocky Mountain editor Steve Howe.

I had imagined many scenarios before the trip including:

  • Survival blogger (party three) allows web producer (party one) to be eaten by bear for learning experience.
  • Survival blogger laughs at web producer’s massive blisters while ordering web producer to HIKE FASTER.
  • Survival blogger refuses to acknowledge Kool-Aid as suitable trail beverage, causing web producer to experience hypoglycemic-like breakdown.

I did not imagine that Day 1 would begin with a sudden drowning of an alarm clock, but seeing as none of my imagined scenarios came to fruition, I can’t really complain.

After the alarm clock incident we headed out of Anchorage, loading up on a grotesque amount of granola bars before heading north through Denali-country and via Fairbanks to the Black Rapids area of Alaska. After a very comfortable night in the mini-van (party three slept outside under a tarp, in the rain: stay tuned for our Dirtbag Camping video) we loaded up and prepared to hike up the Canwell Glacier for a multi-day, hut-to-hut trip. (The only major animals I saw during the entire trip were from the car.)

It didn’t happen.

It was raining when we set out, but not aggressively and we were well dressed for it. The beta on the area was a bit spartan on the web, but hey, that’s what we were here for, and Steve is a whiz with, well, everything. We began along the creek, which was gushing after two weeks of rain. Soon we were bushwhacking through bear country (lots of scat underfoot) and slipping sideways on the snowberry branches. Baby-sized boulders were everywhere and I was soon saying a prayer of thanks for my hefty Asolo boots, which I’d made fun in the office because they are trimmed in ketchup and mustard colors. (A video boot review is also forthcoming.)

With all the bushwhacking and “Hey, Bear” calling at some point we got a bit turned around. It was a frustrating but not detrimental mistake and soon we were back on course, cruising up a gravel road and trying to rewarm our frozen fingers. (Steve’s pinky fingers would not bend properly and could not be crammed into a pair of gloves, but I’ll let him tell you about that.)

And then we hit the river.

I’m sure it wasn’t a river the previous week. But after the constant rain it was now impassable without water shoes, or sandals, or something to put on our feet to prevent completely soaking our boots which we still needed to hike multiple miles, uphill, both ways.

So we folded and headed back down the road to the highway (the way we should have taken in the first place.) We stashed our bags, and hitched a ride back to the mini-van. We didn’t know we were hitching only a half a mile. The van seemed so far away.

That night I spent another comfy evening in the van enjoying excessive gingersnaps; Steve slept outside, without a tarp this time.

The next day we’d try again, on a new route, where we would finally find success. Stay tuned for the full report and check out the photo gallery from our first few days: Entering Alaska: Pipelines, Rations, and One Major Wrong Turn.

–Katie Herrell

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