Heather Batin enjoying a camping trip on a wilderness glacier. // © 2017 Christopher Batin
Feature image (above): Flying above western Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park and Preserve // © 2017 Creative Commons user catalinamarr
Modern-day trekkers have much in common with famed explorers such as Sir Ernest Shackleton or Sir Richard Burton. And although the Earth has run out of remote continents to explore, experienced adventurers delight in duplicating the thrill of discovery by forging paths through the Alaskan wilderness. This might include experiencing whitewater rivers, coping with stormy weather or strategizing (and then building) a flawless bear-proof camp, all while equipped with only common sense, experience and the items that fit into a backpack.
However, travelers must hire air taxis or charter boats to transport them to that special place not found in big cities — a destination that allows total wilderness immersion — so they can embrace spiritual, physical and mental renewal with no noise and, of course, no phone service.
Such a trip is best for adventurers with backcountry travel experience who are comfortable with wilderness camping, hiking and being self-sufficient, as there are no trails or public facilities in the Alaska outback.
Besides transportation, hired guides only provide local knowledge. Part of the fun of a do-it-yourself expedition, after all, includes packing your own camping and hiking gear, along with bear protection, food and desired sporting gear. For instance, I take a plastic sheet for sliding down melting snowfields on alpine hikes in mid-July; a foldable fishing rod to catch fresh fish for dinner; and even a packable raft to snooze the afternoon away on a sapphire-blue lake carved out by Ice Age glaciers.
Here are a few of my favorite wilderness escape destinations, and how to enjoy them.
Alaska Wilderness Outfitting Company offers a remote, two-story cabin in one of the most ruggedly beautiful sections of the Wrangell Mountains. Well-suited for camping novices, it offers log furniture, a gas range, a refrigerator, lights and cooking equipment, as well as a luxury that’s usually unheard-of: running water in kitchen and bathroom plus, yes, an indoor shower.
But leave the lunch meat at home: Easy-to-catch lake trout or tasty Arctic grayling are fantastic wilderness foods, and clients will even be able to see the fish bite the fly or lure in the lake’s clear waters. Also, the area grows some of the state’s tastiest wild blueberries, which are perfect for granola, pancakes or simply a snack while hiking.
However, there are no hiking trails here; guests forge their own. Or, they can borrow one by following game trails (paths frequented by fauna), which lead to scoured, 5,000-foot-high ridgelines that are bordered by snowcapped mountains and glacial amphitheaters reaching up to 8,000 feet. Explore snow cave; roll in alpine meadows teeming with wildflowers; or use a telephoto lens and capture a close-up image of huge bull moose, bear, Dall sheep, bald eagles or a rare wolf and wolverine.
Farther down the coast at its Tsiu River Lodge, Alaska Wilderness Outfitting Company also offers the opportunity to explore miles of unexplored beaches along the desolately beautiful Gulf of Alaska coast.
Here, it’s possible to hike among huge driftwood logs; listen to the seals talk in the rolling surf; hear long-tailed ducks cackle as they feed; and be lulled to sleep from waves crashing onto sandy beaches or rocky outcrops. Guests may enjoy digging for a variety of clams along shorelines — that they’ll have all to themselves — or fly fishing for silver salmon weighing at least 12 pounds.
Glacier Camping and Eco-Trekking
Alaska’s many tidewater glaciers offer safe and exciting opportunities for exploration. A favorite of mine is tent camping on one of the many alpine glaciers in the Alaska or Chugach ranges; campers might feel and hear the ice crack and groan beneath their sleeping pads throughout the night.
Another fantastic experience is arranging a bed of flat stones on the glacier ice, where guests can build a fire from nearby driftwood. Recommend clients to place a few round stones near the fire, which will warm them up, before placing them in or near sleeping bags.
Try one of Ascending Path’s glacier indoctrination trips before scheduling a solo drop-off trek to one of Prince William Sound’s tidewater glaciers. Another option is an extended day and overnight hike onto the Worthington Glacier just north of Valdez.
For a taste of the Alaska Interior, a guided hike and camping pre-trip with Rust’s Flying Service explores Denali’s fringe alpine glacier country and is a great option. Or, try an independent float trip using the operator’s expedition rafts on the remote Koktuli River.
Regal Air offers a do-it-yourself eco-trek through the wild biodiversity of western Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. The trip starts at scenic Telaquana Lake before clients hike their way to Twin Lakes. They can expect to navigate their way through mountain passes and fast-running creeks fed by fjords and scale scree slopes, all with moose, caribou, sheep and bears as their only potential witnesses. There is no set time limit on this hike, which allows clients to camp out near ice-water ground springs or sleep in fern grottos near timberline as they please.