Ever wonder why there’s been a recent explosion of Alaska-based “reality TV” shows? As you might suspect, Alaska, a.k.a. “The Last Frontier”, is a land of extremes. In a culture apparently lacking in “reality,” this bold land seems to offer up just what people looking for – a portrayal of authentic physical extremes (that are somehow more tangible, quantifiable, and fascinating than day-to-day reality not viewed through a screen?).
For starters it’s huge – more than twice the size of Texas and making up 1/5 of the entire U.S. land area. In it’s northernmost reaches the sun never sets in the heart of summer and never rises in the dead of winter. Temperatures across the state range from winter lows of -60° F, to summer highs in the upper 80s – with the record low being -79.8° F (Prospect Creek, Jan 23, 1971) and the record high being 100° F (Fort Yukon, June 27, 1915). Alaska contains 100,000 glaciers, 22 million acres of National Forest, 3 million lakes, 50 active volcanoes and has up to 24,000 earthquakes a year! Alaska’s abundant natural resources include oil – 25% of all oil produced in the U.S., fish – nearly 6 billion pounds harvested annually, and minerals – half the nation’s coal reserves, its largest silver and zinc mines, and enough glittering gold to continue luring prospectors for over 100 years. The amount of wildlife thriving here is staggering – there are about 200,000 more caribou than people. In contrast, Alaska is the least dense state in the U.S. with approximately 1.26 square miles per resident.
The first non-natives to settle in Alaska were a wild and rugged bunch. Lured by riches many perished in the early, “boom and/or bust” days of mining, fishing and the fur trade (On that note, I highly recommend Jack London’s 1908 short story, “To Build A Fire.”) They contended with unimaginable physical hardship and harsh living conditions, all without the aid of modern conveniences we take for granted today. Still others were drawn to this great land by riches not quantifiable in dollars & cents. To these explorers, of both then and now, basking in the solace & splendor of such an unspoiled wildness is truly priceless.
Austin Adventure’s Alaska Kenai Peninsula & Alaska Family Trip offer hikes through some of Alaska’s most beautiful and timeless terrain – including Alaska’s northern most temperate rainforest and alongside one of Alaska’s most famous glaciers. The terrain can be steep in places and the weather can change quickly. If you are prepared to embrace these challenges, these integral aspects of “Alaska’s wildness” you will not only survive to tell the tale, but thrive! This does not mean you must be a super athlete of iron will. Here are a few simple tips that will help you make the most of your Alaska hiking adventure:
- Know your limits & maintain a positive attitude: It can be helpful to remember that everyone has limits. We will all be hiking at a different level of physical ability. Be sure to drink plenty of water, take breaks as needed, and let your guide know if you have a “hot spot” (friction in your footwear) before it develops into a blister. There’s a fine line between thoroughly challenging yourself and pushing it to far. Remember, you’re on vacation – there are many options for experiencing Alaska’s wilderness, your AA guides are happy to accommodate you! A positive, can-do attitude goes a long way. Do your best to support and encourage family members & trip mates. You’ll likely be surprised by the energy everyone gains from group camaraderie!
- Bring quality gear: In the earliest days of pioneer fur trappers & prospect miners this meant the warmest clothes you could hunt, then sew. Fortunately for us there’s gore-tex, polypropylene and fleece! You’ll want to pack a thin, breathable base layer (synthetics like “poly-pro” work best), warm mid-layer (wool or fleece work well), and quality rain gear (top & bottom). How many layers you pack will also depend on the time of your visit. Temperatures are typically a little cooler early and late in the season. Make sure you’ve broken in the footwear you plan on hiking in. Remember the slogan: “cotton kills” – avoid cotton clothing, such as blue jeans, they don’t offer much insulation and will rob your body of heat when wet. It’s fine to bring along a “bonus” cotton t-shirt to have in case it turns out being a sunny, dry day. Don’t forget a warm hat – they’re a quick & easy way to thermo-regulate!
- Dress in layers: It may be hot and sunny for the first half of your hike and cold and rainy on the second half. Even on a cold day hiking uphill will make you hot and sweaty. You’ll want to wear as little as possible while exerting yourself. Have extra layers easily accessible – so you can quickly throw them on when taking breaks, or when the weather turns it up [down] a notch. Sweating not only leads to dehydration, but to hypothermia, and general grumpiness, when combined with a stiff, cold wind.
Alaska continues to attract those of hardy pioneer spirit, willing to occasionally “brave the elements” while experiencing awe-inspiring beauty on a grand scale. By preparing for your trip, both physically & mentally, you are sharing in this tradition. You are more likely to zip up your jacket and smile when that cold, stiff wind hits the back of your neck. More likely to understand what it means to be awake, alive and invigorated within this “Last Frontier” of extremes – or shall I say, “land of reality TV.”