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Alaska – Everybody’s Choice
By Wade Nolan – Bowhunting Biologist
Oct 30, 2009 – 5:31:19 AM
While speaking at a big game dinner in Flint Michigan last weekend I asked 300 men, “Who would like to go to Alaska someday?”. All 300 hands went up… plus two ladies who were working in the kitchen. What is the draw of Alaska? Well, after calling Alaska my home for 17 years, and being an adventure addict, I think I’m qualified to answer that question.
Its Adventure, that’s the draw. All guys want adventure in their life and Alaska delivers. You just have to give about 6-7 Franklin sized bills to the airline of your choice and latter that same day your there. I took a couple of friends up north with me (Tom Gaffney and Tim Lawrence) and we rented a motor home for about $160 a day and split it. Yes it eats gas but it’s a one stop shop. You can sleep in it, eat in it, and travel in it. You can also store a lot of gear in it. Plus… here is a fact, it rains every other day on a good weather trip and more if your unlucky. That means you can dry out in it too.
The two best things you can do when in Alaska is to climb a mountain and catch a fish. You can do a little bowhunting but it takes a lot of planning and if you want to have a good chance at being successful you book a guide. While you’re not landing a fish you can camp on a beach and enjoy a campfire with a volcano behind you. The memories will take care of themselves.. but pictures help.
To get started lets climb a mountain. First you have to do some serious road work at home before showing up. This isn’t going to be a piece of cake. Alaska is where the word “mountain” was invented. So you log in about 150-200 miles of walking and jogging in prep and then choose your poison. We have a ton of trails to choose from and about 50,000 mountains.
I chose a mountain trail in my old home town of Girdwood. It’s called Crow Pass and there is a forest service cabin up there to rent…which we did. The trail is all up… all of the time. It rises about 3000 feet in the first 3 miles. If you didn’t do your exercise it will soundly kick your butt. Good news is that the trail is well defined and it leads past an old goldmine from the early 1900’s.
Author putting boots on the ground.
When you trudge all the way to the top you will commonly be in the clouds. the original Iditarod Trail ran over this pass. the cabin offers a dry spot and no frills…It’s a BYOE set up…”bring your own everything.”
Over looking Pass with glacier.
Just over the pass you will find an incredible glacier. Stay off of the glacier unless your an honest to goodness mountain climber. Those cracks can swallow a 6-plex and some of them are 200 feet deep. Note to the novice: Ice is slippery and falling into a crevasse is a common style of death often utilized in Alaska….brutal but colorful.
Keep your eyes peeled for mountain critters. We saw at least 15 Mountain Goats and an equal number of Dall Sheep. Although we didn’t see a brown bear they also live there and I have often seen them in the valley below. Open the pic below in Photoshop/zoom and find the Mountain Goat.
Like glaciers, bears can offer you a colorful obituary column if you’re not paying attention. Make noise and stay in groups. I suggest carrying bear spray if you’d like to be part of a study group or carry a gun if you like to be a survivor. Yes a shotgun with slugs and 00-buck is best but a .44 mag from up close can also work. (Note: .44 semi auto on hip in photo.) Best advice is don’t ever shoot until the bear is clearly going to eat you as they most often bluff charge…but not always. You can tell a bluff charge from a life threatening charge easily. Once you notice that the bear is trying to get your head in his mouth, it a real charge….shoot.
Playful for sure but dangerous still.
Bear country, wear a .44 Mag.
You will be walking in water and water will often fall from the sky. Water can spoil an Alaskan adventure so plan to be waterproof. I do that by treating my Alaska gear with Silicone Waterguard. You can get it in any Wal-Mart.
I treat my clothes with the most amazing product in the world for waterproofing it’s called Permanent Waterguard. You have to wash your clothes in Sport-Wash to remove all detergent scum that builds up in clothes and then spray your shirts, pants and coats with the stuff…then heat them up in a dryer to activate the catalyst and make it bond to the fibers. Once you do that you’ll laugh at the rain. I have a shirt that has been washed 12-15 times that repels water like the back of a Canada Goose, and I only treated it once!
The rain gear to bring is anything that has breathable fabric…all of the “tex’s” work the same. Be sure to wash it in Sport-Wash before the trip as that will allow it to be squeaky clean and breath. If you’re serious like me you can “top coat” it with Permanent Waterguard and be the driest guy in camp.
For foot wear bring ankle fit hip boots for fishing and leather hiking boots that you treated with Sno-Seal before you left home. Dry feet are a must. I carry mole-skin and a pair of extra socks when I’m on an overnight and change daily. Coming down the mountain will beat up your legs and feet more than climbing…go figure.
Now that you have climbed a mountain let’s take a break and look at some of Alaska’s most stunning country… and for that you will need to drive 240 miles north of Anchorage and visit my old stomping ground in Denali National Park. When I worked there we had free shuttle buses that took you into the park but now the ride is $45-$55….but nice. The gravel roads are spooky and not having to watch for drop-offs allows you to spot game. We saw moose, Grizzlies, wolves, caribou, Dall Sheep plus foxes and some little critters plus the best treat of all we had a blue-bird day and Mt. McKinley was out in all of its majesty. This mountain is special.
Fourteen of the continents 20 highest peaks are in Alaska including McKinley, which is not only the most massive single mountain in the world but it also boasts the most vertical rise from base to summit of any mountain on earth. That means it is the biggest mountain to look at in the world. It has two summit peaks and the south peak is the tallest.
Denali from a distance.
Although we could plainly see it from over 200 miles away you need to drive to Denali Park and take the bus tour to Wonder Lake…where you’ll be only 18 miles from the mountain. It is visible only 10-15% of the time. It is so tall that the jet stream curls around it and jets detour around its dual summits which reach 20320 feet into the ice blue sky.
Denali from the park.
After you get incredible mountains out of your system it’s time to catch a fish or two. If you know someone with a boat you can go down on the Kenai Peninsula and fish for halibut. I’ve had an addiction to halibut fishing now since 1975 and it looks like I’ll never seek a cure. The meat is sooo tasty and the boneless filets are full size. The best thing about halibut fishing is that your next bite could be a 10-pounder or a 300-pounder. That tends to hold my attention.
When we halibut fish we have to put up with volcano’s that clutter the horizon and sometimes belch smoke as Mt. Redoubt did this trip. My favorite way to fish halibut is self styled in an inflatable Zodiac boat. The tides are the second biggest in the world sometimes fluxing 25 feet in 6 hours. The tide runs like a white water river when its flooding and ebbing. It can eat your lunch if you a newbie. Not understanding the power of Cook Inlet tides can also get you a free write-up in the Anchorage obituary column.
Fishing from the Zodiac.
Tom and Tim caught some great fish with My friend Joe Romano out in Prince William Sound. Joe is a very seasoned and effective guide. His playground is the vast fjord carved coast of the Northern Gulf of Alaska. He not only catches salmon but the big ocean fish like giant halibut and ling cod. Sometimes he targets a beautiful and tasty gold bass called Golden eye.
Romano also guides black bear out in the sound and these bears grow big because of their diet of salmon. Bears are everywhere. Tim took one during a rain day.
If you are tired of “flat fish” you can go to Seward and catch their famous Silver Salmon in August. They also call these fish Coho salmon. By any name they are 12-15 pound bottle rockets when you set the hook. They will take spinners and flies and will hold your attention all day long. We nailed the silvers. My brother-in -law, Steven Myers took a real whale of a silver on a fly rod…we called it The Beluga. They also taste good floured and fried up in some butter back in the Winnie after a long day of slugging it out on the streams.
If you are a bit edgy, you can do a little ocean kayaking in Prince William Sound. Better know what you’re doing or go with a guide. The water is “too deep to touch” (about 2000 feet deep in places) and a bit cold, (in the 40’s…just like ice water). There are about 2500 miles of wilderness coastline in the Sound and it’s full of Killer Whales, ice bergs, screeching eagles, sea lions, hooting seals and bears…a perfect place to paddle. And…If you have an adventurous blond wife…take her with you…worked for me.
Alaska…the perfect answer to, “What did you do on your summer vacation”. The way to get your own collection of cool pics is to write ALASKA on your 2010 calendar…just do it.
For info on waterproofing products that work go to: ATSKO
For more on the author go to: Wade Nolan www.wadenolan.com