Alaska Excursions

Alaska Excursions

A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.

Iditarod 41

Photos and stories from the last great race.

Anchorage: 36°/53°/Mostly clear

Fairbanks: 29°/51°/Partly cloudy

Juneau: 37°/56°/Cloudy

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Preparing for McKinley climbing season

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Live video: Brown bear and salmon

Watch live video from Katmai National Park of brown bear fishing for salmon at Brooks Falls.

Riders in the Sky

Greenery rushes by on all sides. You’re dancing in the sky to the tune of wheels whirring along the cable.

Focal Point: Skiing across Portage Lake by moonlight

It's a rite of spring for many Anchorage skiers: a trip across Portage Lake to the glacier face. It can be a crowded place on a bluebird weekend, so photographer Marc Lester set out to experience it in a different way: He skied out all alone at night.

Bird Treatment and Learning Center hold open house

Petra is a bald eagle that has been with Bird TLC since 1995. Bird Treatment and Learning Center invited the public to visit and learn about bald and golden eagles at its Save the Eagles event on Saturday, January 12, 2013.

Bird Treatment and Learning Center invited the public to visit and learn about bald and golden eagles at its Save the Eagles event on Saturday, January 12, 2013.

A Butte-Palmer tour

Vapor rises and overflow freezes in this view of the Matanuska River on Wednesday. Take a photographic tour along the Glenn and Old Glenn highways in the Valley on a clear, cold day at the Focal Point photo blog.

Aerials from Birchwood to the Alaska Range

Photos: A Day along Turnagain Arm

Two new ziplines open in Southcentral Alaska

SeaLife Center treats orphaned walrus calf

Webcams make Alaska bears more accessible

Painter brings odd Alaska dinosaur to life

Bear attracts audience during marathon swim

Baby Dall sheep finds home at Alaska Zoo

Birds of Southcentral Alaska

Birds of Spring 2012

Spring babies out and about at Palmer farm

A winter's day on Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage

Valdez digs out from world class snowfall

Alaska's attractions lure visitors even in winter

Cold weather equals safe travel for great ice fishing

Christmas 2011

New scanners debut at Anchorage airport

Alyeska Resort opens

Hilltop Ski Area opens

A summer day in Barrow

Autumn awesome for Northern Lights viewing

Fall Colors

Denali Park prepares for lottery winners

Alaska State Fair, 2011

Record salmon surge thrills Kenai netters

Salmon fishing at Bird Creek

Columbia Glacier Kayaking

Welcome to Talkeetna

Spring can be prime time for a visit to Portage

Begin the season fishing hooligan, king salmon

Outdoor Life names Kodiak 4th best for sportsmen

Preparing for McKinley climbing season

Chugach backcountry network takes stride forward

Popular Anchorage salmon derby will take a year off

Sea lions fly from Europe to Seward

Fewer Prince William Sound shrimp means pot reduction

Photos: U.S. Adaptive Alpine Championships

Photos: 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

Skiers hit city trails in 2011 Tour of Anchorage

Day-by-day guide to the 2011 Fur Rendezvous

Reality TV invades Alaska

Recent weather makes for ideal skating

Outdoor enthusiasts make the most of Alaska

Carving out Anchorage's New Year's Eve celebration

Ice climbing along the Turnagain Arm

New hut on Snowbird Glacier has great views, insulation

Birds of prey boost the thrill of the hunt for some

Healing Waters encourages vets to start casting

Potter Marsh's swans

Steelhead in Anchor River a sport fishing boon

There's more to fall than just colorful leaves

Hill on wheels; testing Alyeska's Silvertip Traverse

Anchorage teacher looks to climb 5 treacherous 'teeth'

Surfing the bore tide

Alaska tourism industry sees visitor increase this year

Five helicopters buzzed the air around Mount McKinley on Tuesday, a sign of spring in Talkeetna as sure as blooming daffodils.

All were bound for the big hill. National Park Service staffers were at work putting in camps on North America's tallest peak, the centerpiece of a million-dollar operation that offers support for climbers during the three-month climbing season.

"We had perfect flying weather," said Coley Gentzel, lead mountaineering ranger for the park service, who spent about three hours on the mountain at 7,200 feet, where sunshine made the 15-degree temperature feel warmer than it was.

Already, two teams of mountaineers were working their way up the 20,320-foot peak. Before the season ends in July, hundreds more will join them.

Last year, 55 percent of the 1,223 McKinley climbers reached the summit, and park officials anticipate similar numbers this season. Four perished. Each climber pays a $200 user fee.

Some 7,000 pounds of food and gear were ferried to the camp at 14,200 feet, which was much windier with gusts up to 45 mph. Another 5,000 pounds headed to base camp at 7,200 feet on the east fork of Kahiltna Glacier, the starting point for most McKinley climbs. Plus, 800 gallons of aviation fuel were dropped off.

Three Chinooks and two Black Hawks from the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Wainwright hauled the gear, either inside the choppers or on slings beneath them. Eight park service rangers helped military personnel with unloading.

On Sunday, the first volunteers working base camp will be flown in. Four days later, two mountain rangers and a patrol volunteer will leave for the upper mountain camp.

Lisa Roderick of Talkeetna is set to begin her 12th season managing the base camp at 7,200 feet for the air taxis that shuttle climbers in and out. Her's is the longest stint of anyone in that job.

And all that time on McKinley gives Roderick a perspective on global warming that few share. She's sure the mountain world is warming.

"The glaciers are really starting to deteriorate faster each season," she said. "When you don't get proper snowpack over the glaciers, crevasses start appearing. There are big, giant holes to deal with, and the airplanes don't like that. We actually have to move to a different air strip about a half-mile away.

"Come on up if you don't agree on global warming. Glaciers are melting at an alarming rate each season. Storms aren't packing the same punch, and we don't get those temperatures we used to. Now there are times it's even raining up there, and that totally wrecks everything."

Once set up at 7,200 feet, Roderick immediately gets busy. She prepares the snowy runway for safe landings, offers weather observations to pilots and coordinates pickups when climbers are done.

First, though, she sets up her electronics, including a radio phone powered by solar panels. On it she delivers twice-daily reports to the Fairbanks office of the National Weather Service. The camp at 14,200 feet also provides updates.

The park service operation on Kahiltna Glacier coordinates search and rescue operations, maintains communications with Talkeetna, provides climbers route information and does some clean up.

If 1,200 climbers attempt McKinley, the fees will bring in $240,000 -- about a quarter of the park service's costs for Denali mountaineering operations.

And the growing surge of climbers will bring a shot of spring business to Talkeetna merchants.

"May is definitely defined by bright-colored Euro sportswear, raccoon-eye sun tans and the smell of sweat mixed with sunscreen," noted Marne Gundersickle of The Fairview Inn in Talkeetna. "Climbers are excited to be up here, buzzing with energy -- and they have a different sense of belonging or entitlement than the average tourist.

"Climbers generally want an authentic experience in the community in which they are based out of. It is part of the climb."

And occasionally that yields an interesting mix of far-flung climbers and Talkeetna locals.

"Sometimes," notes Gundersickle, "it's like oil and water when a local is just trying to drink a beer and a climber is drunkenly singing his national anthem at the top of his lungs on the stool next to him. But for the most part there are no problems."

Reach reporter Mike Campbell at or 257-4329.

Caught spring fever?

With clear skies, temperatures hitting 50 degrees and snow mostly gone in the lowlands, it's hard to avoid. But lakes are frozen, trails are muddy or snow-covered and fishing really hasn't begun. What do you do to make April feel more like summer than winter? Email Look for a story with ideas in the next couple days.

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