Preparing for a Hike in the Alaskan Wilderness

Whether you are a seasoned backpacker or a novice day-hiker, trekking in the Alaska wilderness will present new and unique challenges. By preparing your body correctly and building endurance through exercise, your hiking experience will be greatly enhanced. It is not always easy or convenient, however, discipline in the exercise program that you commit to, will help steer you to success. 

I have found that the best motivator is having a realistic goal. For me, preparing for a wilderness hike is exhilarating and thoroughly enjoyable. I am going to share my thoughts on the best way possible to prepare. This article is not an instructional “how-to” method, but rather a guideline to help you build your own program and fulfill your personal goal of having the time of your life while hiking in the Alaskan wilderness. 

There are three parts to my preparation. They are exercise, diet and attitude. Interwoven and complementary, these components are essential for achieving your goal. They also have the additional positive side results of building strength, confidence, self-esteem and happiness.

EXERCISE

My love for self-propelled movement is expressed through walking, hiking, biking, PackRafting, skating, cross-country skiing and climbing trees when I find a good one. I take time out every day of the week to engage in one or more of these activities. I am extremely grateful for where I live and what I do to earn a living that enables me to indulge in these multi-beneficial pursuits. However, even if you live in a congested, urban environment, you can still walk, bike, climb stairs, jump rope, do planks and engage in other stationary core exercises. You will have to match your personal training program with your specific situation.

When preparing for trekking in the Alaskan wilderness, your primary exercise should be walking or hiking. The difference between the two is walking is done without a pack; hiking is done with a pack. If you are an urbanite, you will have access to more walking opportunities but, hopefully, you’ll be able to escape on the week-ends for some great hiking.  Part of my personal training program is to go for a walk every day, without exception. I have built that into my daily routine. It is invigorating and relaxing, at the same time. My body is stimulated, my mind is at ease and reflective. I highly recommend this activity for its multiple benefits. If time is an issue, try walking to work in the morning or maybe part of the way to work. Take a walk during your lunch break or walk home after work. Include a side trip through a park, take a different route, make it interesting and challenging. I think once you begin to walk on a dailAlaska Hiking Toury basis, you will thoroughly enjoy making it a part of your everyday activities.

My second “go-to” exercise is the use of a resistance band. I take one everywhere I go and I use it almost everyday. Resistance bands are simple and easy to use. They have helped me tremendously. Using them burns calories, improves balance and builds strength. I can target a muscle group or stretch my hamstrings without risk of injury. They are perfect for toning leg muscles, working hip flexors and providing isometric type stretches for your lower back. These inexpensive elastic bands are ideal for performing routines in confined spaces like small apartments or even office cubicles. If you have never used a resistance band, now is the best time to start. The quick, positive results will inspire you to use these bands on a regular basis.

The third most important area of exercise concentration should be your core. You do not need a monthly subscription to a gym to perform excellent core exercises. Gyms have great benefits such as professional instructors eager to help and very knowledgable about proper techniques for targeting specific body areas for increased performance. However, you don’t need access to a gym. You can perform core strengthening exercises in the comfort of your home. Some of the best core exercises are planks, crunches, push-ups and pull ups. All of these exercises target the core of the body and most have additional benefits to other muscle groups. These exercises burn calories, build endurance and generate overall strength. Proper techniques to get the most out of your workout are easily found through internet searches. You Tube has a vast library of excellent instructional videos available.

DIET

Diet is just as important to wilderness hiking preparation as is exercise. High quality food, prepared correctly, furnishes your body with essential elements for maintenance, growth and repairs. Food is fuel, providing you with power for locomotion and promoting muscular/skeletal integrity. It’s very important to nourish your body to match your expense of energy. Be smart about what you eat. Read labeled ingredients carefully. Everything you ingest, that is not raw or in a pure form, has potential to include substances that could have negative impacts on your health. Cooking for yourself allows you to get to know and become familiar with the foods that you eat. Experimenting with meals, using high quality food products is absolute great fun. You will discover how well-spent the time is in creating a delicious and nutritious meal. Good quality food also reduces, and will eliminate, “cravings” for junk food and sweets. Creating a balanced diet of self made meals is a wonderful, spirit-lifting feeling of accomplishment and knowing you are doing the right thing for your body.

POSITIVE ATTITUDE

This brings me to the third critical element of a successful preparation: your spirit. Your spirit determines the persistence of your drive and opens the door for positive results. Again, having a goal like envisioning yourself on the top of a mountain, relishing a magnificent view of the Alaska Range is just what it takes to amplify anyone’s zest for success. There are terrific benefits to fostering an upbeat attitude for your goal achievement. People you touch through your words and by your actions will observe and remark on your buoyant optimism. Having an upbeat, positive attitude will inspire others to contemplate developing their own goals of fitness and happiness. The pursuit of these objectives present opportunities for the admirable rewards of accomplishment and positive self esteem. Setting reasonable goals as targets is very important. Success breeds success; being able to say, “I did it!”, is a powerful message to your being. Confidence enables you to overcome setbacks and failures. It gets you back on track with alacrity. The number one gift in life to give to yourself is a positive attitude. It is only you who can do this.

Preparing for an Alaskan wilderness adventure is a wonderful way to jump start a lifestyle change. Restructuring your diet and creating a “doable” exercise program while maintaining a positive attitude will have significant and wonderful impacts on your daily life. 

Now, go for a walk and make a plan to start building the best you possible. 

I am always available for assistance and positive reinforcement at info@alaskahiking.com 

Alaska Hiking and Trekking with Denali Trekking Company

Best Hikes in Alaska

Denali Trekking Company offers a variety of hiking experiences in pure Alaskan wilderness where the only access is by airplane. Our hikes span all skill levels and experience levels. We have beginner hikes that are easy, moderate hikes for folks that have some limited experience and challenging hikes that may be considered hard or difficult for anyone other than experienced wilderness travellers.

The easy hikes we offer take place in magnificent wilderness settings, a thousand feet above the boreal forest. They are staged out of one of our base camps. The camps are very comfortable. We use the highest quality tents, have cots for each guest and foldable chairs for wildlife viewing, mornings and evenings. The surrounding terrain in our base camps are nothing short of spectacular. These base camp hikes have included families with small children, grandparents with grandchildren, novices eager to learn basic wilderness hiking skills and hikers just wanting a taste of walking in the wilds of Alaska.

Moderate hikes can combine a base camp with a cross-country overnight hike into country that would not be available without shouldering a backpack, hiking into a distant valley and setting up a spike camp. Again, the finest mountaineering equipment is issued and available to every hiker.

Denali Trekking Company’s signature wilderness adventure is the seven day Odyssey Trek. This small group excursion is for experienced hikers and campers. You will fly deep into mountainous terrain with hanging glaciers and jagged peaks. It is some of the most photogenic topography you will encounter in your entire life. After setting up camp, we take a half day romp with a very light pack to get accustomed to hiking without established trails. The following morning, we break camp, buckle up our backpacks and begin the long traverse of mountain passes and tundra carpeted alpine valleys on our way back towards civilization. There isn’t another hike available anywhere in North America with the same quality, wildlife viewing opportunities and exploration potential. Everyday is an exciting adventure for the men and women hiking our Odyssey Trek. Our most experienced guides thoroughly enjoy these trips. They are simply awesome.

Day Hikes in Alaska, Easy and Magnificent

Starting in 2019, Denali Trekking Company will be offering day hikes. These hikes start with an orientation at our home and base of operation. Afterward, we’ll drive to our departure point, Christiansen Lake in Talkeetna and fly out to one of our many superb destinations.

Day hikes require each person to have high quality boots, a backpack for rain gear, camera’s, water bottle, hiking poles (if preferred), extra warm gear like a “puffy” jacket, and a warm hat. Lunch and snacks will be provided by Denali Trekking Company. Mosquito repellent, first-aid kits and air horns are also provided.

These hikes take place in pure Alaskan wilderness where the only access is float-equipped aircraft. We can accommodate up to four people for this special offering. Email, text or call for details.

Day hikes need to be confirmed with a minimum of seven days advanced notice. Email: info@alaskahiking.com Cell phone: 907-350-4455

What to Wear Hiking in Alaska

Wilderness hiking in Alaska requires being prepared for extreme weather conditions. The temperatures in the mountains can fluctuate from a low of 40 degrees to a high of 80 degrees and those extremes can occur inside a 24 hour period.

Most of our hiking trips take place between May and October with the summer months of June, July and August hosting the lions share of outings. Clothing selection is critical to comfort. It includes everything from your outermost layer of down, to the boots you lace up each morning.

Let’s start with your hiking boots. There is not another piece of equipment that you will bring to Alaska that’s as important as your footwear. Over the years, options have improved considerably. Leather boots with thick, lug soles are almost obsolete. Boot manufacturers have dialed in on the need for light-weight, durable, somewhat breathable, somewhat water-resistant footwear. Every company out there makes a wide assortment in their attempts to accommodate the multi-variety of users.

Even in the hiking world alone, there is quite a variety and a good reason for it. Hikers that walk on groomed trails need different equipment than the pure wilderness trekker who often encounters rocky, uneven terrain. Your boots are for protection but they also need to be comfortable and sturdy when carrying a backpack. This is true whether you are day hiking with a light load or carrying a heavy backpack on a cross country trip.

Like most tools and equipment, you get what you pay for. Do yourself a huge favor and purchase high quality boots. Denali Trekking Company suggests that you have a minimum of 50 miles of hiking in the boots you are going to wear during your trip with us.

Socks, the cushion between foot and boot, is also essential for comfort, protection and avoidance of blisters, the bane of all hikers. We recommend having a fresh pair of socks for each day you will be in the mountains. Years of experience have taught us that a combination of wool and synthetic fabrics make the very best socks for hiking.

Top quality rain gear is right up there with boots for being essential equipment on a backpacking trip to Alaska. We highly recommend a two piece system; hooded jacket and pants. These garments also serves as wind protection, bug protection and that perfect added layer for retaining body heat in tough conditions.

Every multi day hiker in Alaska should have long underwear, tops and bottoms, in their backpack. A “layering clothing system” has become the norm for outdoor enthusiast, regardless of pursuit. When you wake up to the sound of rain drumming on your tent, nothing quite offsets discomfort like a pair of thin, dry undergarments. Warmth will hug you like your best friend.

Outer layers should include lightweight, durable pants, a sweat-wicking breathable shirt, a warm jacket and some type of “puffy”, the outermost layer in every system. We prefer to have our guests bring a synthetically filled jacket as opposed to a down jacket. Down, when wet, looses most of it’s heat retaining properties. Synthetic-filled jackets are not near as sensitive.

Other essential items for your wilderness backpacking trip include a very warm hat, light-weight gloves and a pair of fly-weight camp shoes; even flip-flops work just fine. I always bring a pair of shorts and a tee shirt or tank top depending on forecasted weather conditions.

Is it Safe to Hike in Alaska? Bears, Wolves, Moose and Behavior Around Wildlife

I have been living, working and guiding hikers in Alaska for over 40 years. Although there have been several close encounters with wildlife, including grizzly bears, black bears, wolves and wolverine, all potentially dangerous Big Game animals, I have never been attacked or harmed in any manner. The same is true for each and every one of my hiking guests since we founded our business many, many years ago.

This fact is not attributed to luck. It is due to our behavior and diligence around the animals that live in the habitat we are visiting. Every hiker has a strong desire to observe wildlife during their traverse of the Alaska wilderness. It is absolutely essential that you understand that the animals you see are wild. This is not a walk in an animal park. This is not Denali National Park, where animals are so habituated to humans that they pay little attention to buses passing within 20 yards. No, our hiking trips are conducted in pure wilderness and respect for the welfare of every animal we encounter is our highest priority.

Each group of hikers is equipped with two, fully-charged air horns to signal our presence should the wind be unfavorable for detection. We have rarely used our air horns and only when the guide has determined that it was absolutely necessary for the safety of our hikers and the animals we are observing.

Our objective is comfortable observation. We tread softly, we talk softly and we do everything we can to minimize the impact of our presence. No group of nature guides has ever done more on behalf of reducing wildlife encounters than the well-trained men and women working for Denali Trekking Company. Our flawless record is undeniable proof.

Alaska Hiking Tips

In order to maximize the wilderness experience for our guests there are a few tips that we would like to share. The very first consideration should be your physical condition. You do not need to be an elite athlete to enjoy the Alaskan wilderness. However, we do encourage all our guests to be comfortable walking 4 to 5 miles a day.

Hiking in pure wilderness means there are no trails. There will be a few times when we can walk on game trails. Smaller passes and ridge saddles is where they are often found and sometimes we get lucky as caribou hug one side of a valley and the repetition of their hooves on the tundra create narrow paths. However, for the most part, we are picking the line of least resistance while hiking in the alpine tundra.

There are tussocks, grass and moss covered rocky areas and plenty of damp bogs lined with beautiful wildflowers. We are often picking our way through the tundra to avoid heavy brush along streams or really wet areas. You can’t prepare for this type of terrain, but if you arrive in good condition, you will have a much easier time negotiating the obstacles that are part of hiking in Alaska mountains. This is another reason why high quality boots are key to a good hiking experience.

There are a few equipment additions to consider. A mosquito head net, does not weigh much but provides excellent protection from flying insects. I always brining along good reading material. I enjoy relaxing and reading at night and sometimes early in the morning. A book is terrific company if you are weathered in. Every where I go I bring binoculars. I thoroughly enjoy glassing for wildlife and finding them! I am also an avid birder and need my binoculars to make positive identification of many of the tundra nesting migratory birds. Over the years we have identified about 40 species that nest in the alpine taiga above the highest reaches of the boreal forest.

Additional Things To Do in Alaska

Besides wilderness hiking in remote areas where we conduct our hiking trips, there are some wonderful hiking opportunities that can be accessed by driving to trailheads. The Chugach Mountains around Anchorage have many walking and hiking trails carved into them directly adjacent to ample parking lots. Denali State Park, Hatcher Pass State Park, the Resurrection Trail off the highway to the Kenai Peninsula are just a few of the many hiking opportunities available as well.

Besides hiking, there are other adventurous activities that offer fun and excitement. River rafting is very popular. South central Alaska has some incredible white water options for the thrill seeker but there are also many other rafting trips that are mellow and relaxing. Glacial rivers outside mountain terrain are often slow and meandering. They have fairly good possibilities to see wildlife, especially beaver, eagles and the occasional black bear or grizzly fishing for salmon.

Sportfishing for rainbow trout or salmon is also very popular with guests visiting Alaska. We also recommend a visit to the Alaskan coast. With few exceptions, the coastline of Alaska is where mountains meet the sea. The viewable wildlife here is often spectacular. Whales, seals, sea otters, brown bears, mountain goats and thousands of birds are often seen during small boat or kayak excursions anywhere in Prince William Sound.

There are several seaside towns of interest. Homer, Seward and Whittier come to mind immediately. For the avid sportsman, no trip to Alaska is complete without booking a halibut fishing charter. Every seaport in Alaska offers opportunities to harvest one of these delicious bottom dwellers.

Alaska is a wonderful land with a tremendous variety of options to consider for exploring our natural world. The friendly folks at Denali Trekking Company are happy to share their stories and their ideas of the best options to consider in addition to your fantastic wilderness hiking adventure. We look very much forward to meeting you this summer!