In June 2016 my wife Claudia and I took off on a summer-long road trip. Over the next 3 months or so we drove over 12,000 miles (19,000+ km), from Colorado to Nevada, northern California, Oregon, Washington, the Canadian Rockies, Yukon, Alaska, and back. In order to keep costs down – and just for the fun of it – we camped as much as possible along the way; in fact, over the course of the three months on the road we rented hotel rooms only four times, and stayed with relatives twice. So, we ended up camping about 90 days in total, either in the back of our Toyota Tundra or in a tent while backpacking.
I made a point of taking a camping picture [almost] every day, and here are all these photos. Some of them are creative and some are purely documentary, but as a whole I think they give a good impression of how we lived over the summer, and how much outdoor time we enjoyed!
In mid-August after looking at rainy forecasts in Alaska for weeks, there was finally a one-day window of sun in the weather forecast. We high-tailed it towards Denali and went on a quick one-night backpack trip up Kesugi Ridge, in Denali State Park just across the valley from Denali National Park. With clear weather the view of Denali from Kesugi Ridge is supposedly amazing; the question was, would the weather forecast pan out and the clouds clear enough for us to see the big peak?
Four months or so after my week of heli-riding in Haines last winter, in early August I found myself back in Haines! I hadn’t planned to return here on this trip, but with a crappy weather forecast everywhere else in Alaska besides Haines, we figured it’d be a good place to hang out for a few days and wait out the rain. It was pretty cool to see these mountains again, though I must say I prefer them smothered in snow!
So, I have a funny story from our stay at Chilkoot Lake campground. On one morning we were sitting there at our campsite which was on a short but steep hill above Chilkoot Lake — pretty much the same place in the pic above. I hear lots of splashing down in the water and think: Uh, what’s that? I stand up and peek over the edge of the hill, and I see three big brown animals, one of which is heading up the hill right towards me. A bear, of course! I shout to Claudia and gather up my camera and the poundcake we were having for breakfast and stuff it in the back of our truck as quickly as possible. While I’m doing this, the grizzly (probably an adolescent, medium sized) has walked right past our abandoned camp chairs, about 20 or 30 feet from us, looking at me as if to say “What treats have YOU got for me?”. With the cake put away in the truck, I guess I looked like too much of a hassle for the bear, and it moseyed out of our campsite to check out more of the campground.
As the bear wandered further through the campground, a women started screaming at the top of her lungs: “BEAR! BEAR! BEAR! BEAR!”. Meanwhile, the bears are overturning the campground host’s kayaks until he managed to shoo them off. The woman’s still screaming “BEAR! BEAR! BEAR!” and the camp host guy told me later he was thinking, “Ok, lady, we got it. There’s a bear, we know.”
With the campground situated right on the lake between the Chilkoot River and a salmon spawning creek, these bear encounters are fairly common. Our little brush with that bear was a great reminder of just how important it is to keep a clean and tidy campsite! It doesn’t matter if you’re there to watch, if you have a big spread of food laid out, the bear’s just going to scare you off and help himself!
Anyhow, after about four days in Haines it started raining there too so we thought we’d drive over the border back into the Yukon and see if we could catch some decent weather there.
After bailing from Jasper and the Canadian Rockies, three days of driving west and north through British Columbia brought us to the southeast tip of Alaska and the town of Hyder. At this point in the trip we hadn’t really done any planning or research beforehand, so didn’t really know what to expect as we rolled into Stewart and Hyder, two towns straddling the border of BC and Alaska. If driving through the nearly-vertical, glacier-clad gorge to get here wasn’t spectacular enough, we got to see some grizzlies feeding on spawning salmon at Fish Creek right out of town!
Fish Creek was plump full of spawning chum salmon; you could hear their splashing before you could even see the river. There’s an elevated wooden observation path where you can walk above next to the river and watch as grizzlies occasionally come by to snack on salmon. I’m not really a wildlife photographer but it sure was fun watching the bear!
Interestingly, grizzlies usually just eat the skin and eggs of the salmon, leaving the rest of the fish to rot or be eaten by other animals. Sometimes the skinned salmon is still flopping around as the grizzly walks off with its skin!
After watching the bears for a while we continued driving up the road from Hyder. A long winding dirt mining road took us all the way along and above the giant Salmon Glacier, the fifth largest glacier in Canada.
We drove down from the Salmon Glacier and stopped again at Fish Creek for one last look at the grizzlies, then returned to the Canadian side of the border, camped at a nearby little lake, and hoped that the grizzlies wouldn’t feed on us that night!
After a long, cold winter, the moment we’ve been looking so forward to has finally come! We’re all packed up and tomorrow we head off into the great wide open for a 3½ month road trip to Alaska and back!
We don’t have a specific itinerary, but here’s the rough plan so far: First, we’ll take our time driving west through the Basin and Range country of western Utah and Nevada. Next, over to northern California to see the redwoods, then up through Oregon and Washington to visit some relatives and friends in both those states. We’ll spend a few weeks in Washington, hopefully doing some backpacking there in the Olympics and Cascades. By early to mid July we’ll venture up into Canada, over towards and through the Canadian Rockies. Then the long haul up to Alaska, where we’ll be for most of August, perhaps doing some backpacking in the Wrangell-St.Elias and Denali areas. By late August to early September we’ll head over through the Yukon, then back home to Colorado by the end of September.
Of course we intend to do lots of hiking and backpacking treks along the way. Speaking of which, if there’s any experienced backpackers reading this who’d like to join us for a wild trek up in Alaska or Canada, we’d be happy to have your company! Give me a shout and perhaps we can rendezvous at some point.
My buddy Mikel is working on the official video, but in the meantime here’s a quick cut of some of my own GoPro helmet-cam footage from our recent heli snowboarding trip in Haines, Alaska. The title of this video could also be: Steeper Than It Looks. 😉
On many lines in Haines the terrain oftentimes rolls off over knolls and you can’t always see what lies ahead. Sometimes the guide would be below on the walkie-talkie guiding us to the correct spines to drop in on; but mostly you just take it as it comes, making split decisions along the way. So much fun!
The glaciated and snow smothered Takhinsha Mountains near Haines, Alaska are amongst the most impressive mountains on Earth in the eyes of a skiier or snowboarder. In March 2016 I joined three friends for a week-long trip to Haines to go heli snowboarding in this legendary big mountain riding mecca. With perfect powder and stable avalanche conditions, we scored 4 days of good weather and a total of 18 lines — each line between about 3,000 to 4,500 vertical feet. The trip was a lifelong dream for me, and a pinnacle in my 20+ years of snowboarding!
Norio Matsumoto is the most dedicated mountain photographer I know of. Every winter, he camps alone for months on end in a snow cave on Alaskan glaciers, and during the summers he camps on islands on the Alaskan coast, photographing whales. The result of his focussed efforts is one of the most spectacular mountain photo collections I’ve ever seen. Norio’s work has been a big inspiration for me for years, and I finally emailed him recently to ask him a few questions.
It sounds like you return every winter/summer to the same glacier/island. Is this correct? How many years have you been doing this?
There are a couple of glaciers that I go for winter camping, and in summer, there are many different places that I camp. I have been doing this for about ten years.