Alaska Excursions

Alaska Excursions

A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.

Iditarod 41

Photos and stories from the last great race.

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Outdoor enthusiasts make the most of Alaska

Brett DeWoody pushes his fat-tire bike through a rugged 8-mile section called Sitkagi Bluffs during a 300-mile Lost Coast journey between Yakutat and Cordova. With a heavy pack and all that gear, partner Cameron Lawson said, it was a brute effort.Photo courtesy of Tim HewittTim Hewitt walked 1,000 miles in the Iditarod Trail Invitational. He did it in 22 days, 4 hours and 15 minutes.

Brett DeWoody pushes his fat-tire bike through a rugged 8-mile section called Sitkagi Bluffs during a 300-mile Lost Coast journey between Yakutat and Cordova. "With a heavy pack and all that gear," partner Cameron Lawson said, "it was a brute effort."Photo courtesy of Tim Hewitt Tim Hewitt walked 1,000 miles in the Iditarod Trail Invitational. He did it in 22 days, 4 hours and 15 minutes.

More from Alaska

Public welcomed on summit of Max's Mountain at last

For the first time ever in the ski area's history, Alyeska Resort opened Max's Mountain to the public on Saturday from the peak's summit.

Chugach backcountry network takes stride forward

A decades-long dream of backcountry hikers to construct a network of destinations in remote sections of the Kenai Peninsula accessible mainly by the Alaska Railroad took a step forward this month.

Outdoor Life names Kodiak 4th best for sportsmen

What's better, bagging a giant king salmon or a kokanee, the landlocked red salmon that rarely exceeds 14 inches? A Kodiak brown bear more than 1,000 pounds or a chukar, a small game bird in the pheasant family? Outdoor Life magazine, apparently, prefers modest species gathered in pleasant weather.

Outdoor accomplishments are difficult to measure.

Nobody keeps score. Climbers and paddlers don't employ publicists or statisticians. Comparing a harrowing climb against a successful hunt or a big fish landed doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Given all that, the 2010 feats featured below don't pretend to be comprehensive. After all, how many outdoorsmen and women meet a daunting challenge, only to return home and tell nobody but their partner?

And one man's climb of Flattop Mountain may be as rewarding a personal accomplishment as another man's ascent of a never-climbed route up Mount Foraker. Context is everything.

What follows are brief descriptions of some exceptional outdoor adventures during 2010 that we've heard about -- adventures that either took place in Alaska or were done by Alaskans. Surely, there are others.

Tell us about your best adventure of 2010 -- or others you think deserve mention -- in the comments area with this story online or with a quick note. We want to know where you went, what adventurous thing you did and why it tops your list as best adventure of the year.

Selected posts will be featured on the Daily News outdoors blog. We will e-mail you directly to get more details and photos.

TREKS

4,700 miles through Alaska, Yukon

Andrew Skurka pioneered a 4,700-mile Alaska-Yukon Expedition route that started and ended in Kotzebue, traversed the Alaska Range and Brooks Range and featured floats on the Yukon, Peel, Copper and Kobuk rivers. Only 10 percent of the route, which Skurka completed on skis, foot and in a packraft, followed man-made roads or trails. Starting March 13 in Kotzebue's sub-zero cold, he compiled 1,850 miles of off-track trekking, 350 miles of wilderness skiing and 1,350 miles paddling on rivers and saltwater bays. By Sept. 5, he was done.

Skurka, a 29-year-old endurance adventurer and guide, has been recognized as Adventurer of the Year by National Geographic Adventure magazine and Person of the Year by Backpacker magazine. Since 2002, he estimates he has trekked 25,000 miles. Loosely based in Boulder, Colo., Skurka enrolled at Duke University in 1999 with plans of a lucrative Wall Street career but made a mid-course correction after working at a high-altitude summer camp and has turned his adventurous lifestyle into an occupation.

"My primary goal in attempting the Alaska-Yukon Expedition is unabashedly personal," Skurka said on his website. "I want an exceptionally unique, rewarding, and challenging experience. I seem to thrive on doing the extraordinary -- it makes me feel alive, like I am capitalizing on the 70- or 80-year-long opportunity I have to experience this world."

Shurka's expedition was documented by National Geographic. Expect a magazine story on it sometime this year.

"It is a pretty amazing feat," noted kayaker Paul Schauer. "I can't think of anything else this year that has come close."

5x1,000 miles across Alaska on foot

When Lance Mackey passed under Nome's burled arch in Nome this March behind seven dogs, a throng of Iditarod fans on Front Street erupted in cheers. When Tyler Huntington and Chris Olds powered their Polaris snowmachines down the Chena River in Fairbanks, hundreds at Pike's Landing welcomed the winner of the world's toughest snowmachine race, the 2,000-mile Iron Dog.

But when Tim Hewitt of Pennsylvania walked into Nome at 6:15 p.m. March 22 after a trek of 22 days, 4 hours and 15 minutes to complete his fifth 1,000-mile walk across Alaska in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, race winner Phil Hofstetter of Nome and a few others were there to help him celebrate.

A little perspective: Only 33 people have completed the human-powered race to Nome in the nine-year history of the event. Far fewer than climb Mount Everest in any single year.

More perspective: Hewitt's time was faster than more than half the 22 finishers of the first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and those mushers were aided by a team of dogs.

"What Tim has accomplished on the Iditarod Trail is beyond the comprehension of most folks, but it is a phenomenal athletic feat," said Bill Merchant, co-race director of the Iditarod Trail Invitational, which began 11 years ago. "I am sure the feet of most mortals would have fallen off long ago if they asked them to walk to Nome five times."

Why do it, especially repeatedly?

"What keeps bringing me back," Hewitt said, "is the beauty, the people, the serenity and the challenge. The trail really is not that hard to do. People scoff when I say that, but I really do mean it. Obviously it is a massive undertaking of time but the rewards are more than worth the sacrifices."

Even after 1,000 miles, Hewitt estimates he ran 60 percent of the way from Cape Nome to the finish line. Earlier in the race, he lost perhaps two days backtracking so he could accompany his wife Loreen -- who was doing the 350-mile event to McGrath -- to that finish line.

Then he was off into the bitter cold.

"Although it supposedly was minus 50 on the Yukon, the trail was always hard and easy to follow," he said. "I've had years when the blow holes were so bad that I literally could not keep my sled on the ground.

Why? "I'm not capable of describing the feeling of going down Front Street. It is complete and total satisfaction and relief rolled into one feeling."

Pregnant mom, dad and infant trek 300 miles

Five-months-pregnant Erin McKittrick, husband Hig Higman and their 18-month-old son Katmai walked from Cape Lisburne south through Point Hope and Kivalina -- Katmai actually rode -- this fall. Then they caught a ride northeast to the Red Dog Mine and walked and paddled the Noatak River through Noatak village to Kotzebue. All told, it was about 300 miles.

"It actually was fine, pretty much the whole time," McKittrick said from the family cabin in Seldovia. "In our society, because we have more medical care or don't have to be out working all the time, we think of ourselves as being more fragile than we really are.

"People always think, you walked all the way? But you know, they could too. We didn't do anything that hard, and we're not incredibly athletic. We just kept at it."

BIKING

Wheeling across the remote Lost Coast

Photographer Cameron Lawson, a 41-year-old West High graduate now living in Montana, and Brett DeWoody, 30, biked and paddled 300 miles of the Lost Coast between Yakutat and Cordova for about three weeks in August. The route included several bay crossings, countless river and creek crossings and miles of beach terrain that ranged from flat sand to rock piles.

For the most part, the trip -- believed to be just the second such crossing on fat-tire bikes -- was blessed with unusually pleasant weather, unaggressive coastal brown bears and good fortune.

"It was magical, start to finish," Lawson said. "I've done quite a bit of climbing, but this would be a highlight.

Not that there were no problems.

Fog shrouded the nearly 3-mile crossing of Yakutat Bay in heavily loaded pack rafts that took more than two hours on water that can rapidly turn hazardous if the wind kicks up.

"You could hear icebergs calving in the fog,"said Lawson, who works occasionally as a pilot for Talkeetna Air Taxi during the summer. "Packrafts are slow, and we'd be dodging these icebergs that would occasionally rock back in the sea, with spray and air shooting out."

Later, near the Malspina Glacier, was an 8-mile section called Sitkagi Bluffs, forcing the duo into a long day of boulder-hopping and dragging their bikes across rugged, rocky terrain.

"With a heavy pack and all that gear," he said, " it was a brute effort -- a long, long day that wears out your neck muscles and back muscles."

And they were fortunate to be able to bypass the Copper River Delta floodplain, which was impassable with all their gear.

One disappointing surprise -- "tons of plastic on the beach and even up in the trees" courtesy of the Pacific Ocean currents, he said. "There's quite a bit of garbage along some parts of the coast.

"Still, it's something I would do again tomorrow. I'd love to do it in the winter."

FISHING

Halibut and venison smorgasbord to remember

Andy Workman, 40, of Wasilla, and five friends went deer hunting on Kodiak in November and came back with plenty of venison -- and plenty of halibut. Workman landed the biggest fish, a 7-foot, 5 3/4-inch flatfish that charts used to estimate fish weight based on their length estimate at 405 pounds.

"I've never heard of a 400-pound halibut caught here before," Donn Tracy, sport fish area manager for the Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak, said of the fish caught out of Port Lions. "That's a huge halibut."

With the three halibut caught and nine deer shot, each man brought home more than 100 pounds of meat, about half of which was halibut and half of which was deer, Workman said.

"We brought back about 630 pounds all together," he said. "Alaska Airlines loved us."

• Hefty Pinks: Aaron Wilson of Riggins, Idaho, and Lee Holden of Soldotna both caught particularly fat pink salmon on the Kenai River this summer. Wilson's 10-pound, 8-ounce fish and Holden's 10-pound, 3-ounce fish were less than 3 pounds from Steven Lee's state record of 12 pounds, 9 ounces, caught in 1974 on the Moose River.

• Controversial halibut: George Lavasseur's 364-pound halibut was disqualified from winning this summer's Valdez Halibut Derby because of help the hometown angler got reeling in the 7-foot, 7-inch fish. Nevertheless, Lavasseur got a consolation prize -- a check for $10,000 in recognition of his Aug. 6 monster catch and his honesty in detailing how he landed the fish.

• Whopper king: Rick Baker of Kodiak caught a 73-pound king salmon in the Gulf of Alaska on May 15, opening day of the Kodiak King Salmon Derby. The fish, which may be the biggest king landed on the Emerald Island, won the derby. Baker, a charter boat captain for Fish Kodiak Adventures, was fishing for himself that day.

PADDLING

Escaping disaster on upper Willow Creek

Alaska Pacific University professors Tim Johnson and Roman Dial as well as Luc Mehl and Tony Perelli pulled off what is believed to be the first descent of upper Willow Creek Canyon, a class V and above run, with packrafts Oct. 10. Extremely low water levels were the only thing that made the challenging descent possible.

"Everyone swam out of their boat on at least one rapid," Johnson said of the four-hour run.

Dial had an especially precarious brush with peril portaging Triple Drop, the most dangerous rapid of the river.

"This is a rapid words can not describe," Johnson said. "Very dangerous, no good way to paddle the drop at this low water level and nearly impossible to portage with treacherously slick and vertical rock walls lining both shores.

"We portaged halfway down the rapid, clinging to a tiny crack in the vertical rock wall."

Johnson recounts what happened next to Dial:

"Roman put his pack raft out into the water (there was no way to launch from shore since there was no shore), floating chaotically in the backwash of a hydraulic, just a few boat lengths through a deadly underwater cave that the water was violently propelling (him) toward.

"He held on with one hand to a slick rock wall while he was getting in his pack raft. Just as he let go of the wall, his pack raft was sucked backward in the hydraulic, flipping him instantly. Man and boat were washing quickly toward the deadliest rock sieve in the river, certain death if he were to float into it.

"Just as his head resurfaced from the flip, he saw the rock sieve less than 10 feet in front of him. As he was getting sucked toward doom, his survival-inspired reaction was perfect.

"He shoved his pack raft to his right, used the weight of the waterlogged raft to pull himself toward the right and floated 2 feet away from the death sieve -- his feet barely grazing the cave that would have been his end.

"Roman's facial expression was a look of pure shock, mixed with confusion and disbelief.

"He had the perfect reaction at the perfect time to avoid an undesirable certainty. Only experience on the water, careful scouting practices and knowledge of how whitewater functions could produce a reaction like Roman's."

• Triple Crown: Ric Moxon of Great Britain and Maxi Kniewasser of Montreal paddled the Grand Canyon of the Southeast's Stikine River, Devil's Canyon on the Susitna, and Turnback Canyon on the Alsek. The triple crown -- all multi-day trips on class V water -- has been done several times, but it remains a rare accomplishment. The Stikine is considered the hardest of the three, and many consider it to be one of the toughest runs in the North America.

"The Alsek ... flows through the mighty St. Elias Mountains," wrote Kniewasser on his blog. "Even in the middle of summer this trip is COLD."

Fish Creek: Joran Freeman and Doug Kolwaite in August were the first to kayak down a 25-foot waterfall on Fish Creek on Douglas Island. "I was thinking, 'This is higher than I thought it was, so I better nail the entrance,' " Freeman said. "Otherwise, it's going to hurt."

SKIING

Dodging crevasses in Wrangell Mountains

Anchorage adventurer Joe Stock, Dylan Taylor and Danny Uhlmann made an eight-day, 100-mile ski and hike from Skolai Pass to McCarthy in the Wrangell Mountains. The shallow snowpack this spring obscured crevasses, making travel slow and scary.

"The Wrangells were showing us great adventure," Stock wrote on his website, "but we craved real skiing with speed and summits and no nefarious crevasses or insipient avalanche weak layers."

MOUNTAIN RUNNING

Getting high on the Chugach front range

Harlow Robinson traversed all 12 peaks with an elevation exceeding 5,000 feet in the front range of the Chugach Mountains in 22 hours, 42 minutes.

The feat, often called the Front Range Link-Up, has been done by others, including J.T. Lindholm, who was all of two minutes faster.

Robinson left the Rabbit Creek Trailhead alone at 4 a.m. on May 27. Some 36 miles and 25,000 vertical feet of climbing later -- fueled by 10,000 calories and about 12 liters of fluids -- Robinson reached the Stuckagain Heights Trailhead at 2:40 a.m. Wife Gina and brother Vin met him at the trailhead, packing a six-pack of Mirror Pond IPA and some Pringles.

"The crazy thing is I felt pretty damn good," said Robinson, who lost 10 pounds during the trip. "Those were the best potato chips and beer ever.''

Robinson has won the tortuous Matanuska Peak Challenge six times and the backcountry Cross Pass Crossing marathon twice.

"I definitely like a good challenge," he said, "and I love the Front Range."

CLIMBING

Knocking off dicey Devil's Thumb massif

Seattle climbers Mikey Schaefer and Colin Haley made the first ascent of the complete Devil's Thumb massif near Petersburg from west to east during a rare clear spell Aug. 13-14.

Over three days, the duo climbed over the summits of the harrowing Witches Tits, Cat's Ears Spires and Devil's Thumb itself, portions of which are completely vertical.

The duo's approach was what Haley described on his website as "smash and grab style.

"Rather than sit on a glacier in the rain for weeks, we would watch the weather forecast from Seattle. When it looked good, we'd buy a last-minute ticket to Petersburg, "smash" into the range (with the assistance of a helicopter), and "grab" a summit (or five) before the weather gods even realized they let us slip by..."

It worked.

"It was a fantastic climb, in a beautiful area," Haley wrote. "It was higher in quality than difficulty" though the photos on the team's blog leave the opposite impression.

Sprinting up the seven tallest summits

Alaska climbing legend Vern Tejas established a high-altitude, record-setting sprint that took him to every corner of the planet and to the top of the highest peak on every continent. Tejas, who became a household name in Alaska in 1988 when he became the first climber to complete a solo winter ascent of Mount McKinley, returned to his beloved McKinley in May to break the world speed record for climbing the Seven Summits. He did it with two days to spare.

Tejas, 57, climbed the highest peaks on each of the seven continents -- plus a peak in Papua New Guinea that many consider a mandatory eighth climb to complete the package -- in 134 days.

This is the second time Tejas has owned the Seven Summits speed record; in 2005, he accomplished the feat in 187 days. A guide for Alpine Ascents International whose job takes him to Everest and McKinley almost every year, Tejas also boasts the record for the most Seven Summits completions with nine.

"It's my chosen career," Tejas said, "And because of that, I want to do it well, and I want people to know me for it. It's also something I'm very proud of. I've put a lot of energy into it."

New Foraker Route: Colin Haley and partner Bjorn-Eivind Artun ascended a previously unclimbed route up the southeast side of 17,400-foot Mount Foraker, which was one of the biggest unclimbed faces remaining in the central Alaska Range. The duo was one of six winners of the 2010 Mugs Stump Award that goes to climbers attempting some of the world's most striking climbing objectives in a fast, light and clean style.

The difficult route included 10,400 feet of elevation gain up Foraker's southeast face June 13-15 after a wet week in base camp.

Altogether, the duo spent 37 days in the Alaska Range, reaching the summit of McKinley three times. On one of those ascents, up the Cassin Ridge, they nearly broke the 15-hour speed record set in 1991 by the late Mugs Stump.

Atop Mount Drum: Climbing legend Dave Johnston (of "Minus 151" fame) and Willi Prittie, senior climbing guide for Alpine Ascents, made what is believed to be just the third winter ascent of 12,010-foot Mount Drum on March 17.

It took some grueling trailbreaking following by traversing 30-degree blue ice and some 40-degree hard snow slopes to reach the summit in 12 days. The payoff: Views of mounts McKinley, Marcus Baker, Blackburn, Wrangell, Sanford, Kimball, Hayes and Deborah.

"For 16 days," Johnston wrote of the trip, "our music was the wind in the spruce, great horned owls courting, ravens chatting, wolves howling. Silence and easy hospitality."


Reach reporter Mike Campbell at mcampbell@adn.com or 257-4329.


Tell us about your best adventure of 2010 - or others you think deserve mention - in the comments area below or with a quick note. We want to know where you went, what adventurous thing you did and why it tops your list as your best adventure of the year.

Selected posts will be featured on the Daily News outdoors blog. We will e-mail you directly to get more details and photos.

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