Alaska’s Lost Coast by Bike and Packraft: Blind Date, Alaska Style

Photograph by Cameron Lawson

The end of a dreamy day of beach riding. Miles of firm sand, beautiful light, and occasionally the upper flanks of Mt. Fairweather (15,300 feet) would appear from the coastal marine layer.Photograph by Cameron Lawson

Read Cameron’s previous posts on Alaska’s Lost Coast >>

Before departing for Alaska’s Lost Coast, my partner and I had never met, and we certainly didn’t know if we’d make good traveling companions. We had a 200-mile journey through remote Alaskan wilderness ahead of us, and we both had a lot of questions brewing in our minds before meeting up for the first time in Yakutat.

Like most journeys of this distance and difficulty, I wanted my partner to be a known variable. Through observation and experience, I’ve learned that a positive, capable partner who shares the same enthusiasm and commitment for the trip is paramount. A strong mental attitude can overcome most obstacles.

With that in mind, I got in touch with a great friend. Back in 2010, we teamed up for a similar ride and packraft trip that took us from Yakutat to Cordova, Alaska. He was built like a linebacker, easy going, tenacious, and our personalities clicked. Wanting to replicate the same blithe experience, I pitched the upcoming adventure to him. Unfortunately, he was committed to changes at his business and was unable to pencil it in.

I desperately needed to shed my daily routine in Bozeman, Montana and submerge myself into an expansive wilderness full of unknowns. Some how, I knew I could find a partner that would be excited about the Lost Coast trip. Soon, I got in touch with a crew of fellow outdoorsy pilots that I used to work with at Talkeetna Air Taxi in Alaska, but they were busy zooming around Denali giving flight tours. However, they did have a lead and gave me some contact info.

Photograph by Cameron Lawson
Day 1. A few hours after meeting Iris, I took a snapshot. This image was taken on a dirt road that lead us from Yakutat to the coast. Photograph by Cameron Lawson

Via email, I was introduced to Iris (pronounced “E-res”). Originally from the Netherlands, she now called Talkeetna home. After a couple emails that showed promise, we switched to Skype, because we both felt it would be more personal. After some light, introductory conversation, we started talking about the possibility of doing the trip together.

A formidable obstacle looms ahead. La Perouse Glacier is the only glacier that fronts on and discharges into the Gulf of Alaska. This required securing our bikes to our packrafts, launching through a beach break and paddling around the glacier. Photograph by Cameron Lawson
A formidable obstacle looms ahead. La Perouse Glacier is the only glacier that fronts on and discharges into the Gulf of Alaska. This required securing our bikes to our packrafts, launching through a beach break and paddling around the glacier. Photograph by Cameron Lawson

Over the next couple weeks and using Skype as our main source of communication, I could tell that Iris was psyched about going to the Lost Coast. But I was still reserved. I knew the trip was going to have some potentially sketchy rivers that needed to be crossed, a day or two of big boulder hopping while carrying an awkward bike, hours bushwhacking and a lengthy, open ocean crossing.

Photograph by Cameron Lawson
A solid day of battling thick brush and mosquitos came to an end as we found this small creek that lead to the tidal flats of Taylor Bay. This is the closest I’ve come to feeling like a bug stuck in a spiderweb. Photograph by Cameron Lawson

Iris had done some stout bike touring in both Europe and South America, and this helped alleviate some of my concerns. But, as the trip neared, I got more anxious and my questions to her became more challenging. I’d reiterate obstacles we’d potentially encounter and test her commitment level. I really wanted to have the adventure, but I didn’t want to get into a situation where we’d be turning around within two days of a 14-day trip. I also wasn’t into a trip full of compromise or disagreements. I found myself asking a million questions – What if we moved so slowly we ran out food? What’s her level of risk? At one point does she melt down? Is she physically fit enough to carry a heavy pack and an awkward bike through miles of boulders? Will she pull a u-turn if we need to cross a fast moving river?

Photograph by Cameron Lawson
Iris hauls her packraft onto a gravel bar during our crossing of the Alsek River and Dry Bay. Around this time of year, the mighty Alsek flows about 82,000 cubic feet per second. Photograph by Cameron Lawson

I imagine that Iris was thinking the same thing – Do I feel secure going on a big trip with some guy I’ve never met? What’s his personality like in adverse conditions? Is he going to be a ruthless jerk? Can I handle a remote trip of this magnitude? What if I don’t like him, what will I do? How hard are the river crossings going to be? Can I do it?

Photograph by Cameron Lawson
We had to circumnavigate an impassable river on the coast, so we hiked up to the headwaters and crossed a lake below Grand Plateau Glacier. It was magical. Water droplets falling from the melting icebergs was the only sound that broke the silence. Photograph by Cameron Lawson

It’s like the adventure began before we even started. I think we were both a little nervous and anxious about meeting up and diving into the raw Alaskan wilderness together. But, as the Horizon turbine prop was pushed back from the Bozeman terminal, many of my inhibitions or concerns vaporized. I was eager to meet Iris and roll with whatever unfolded.

Comments

  1. Geoffrey
    pasadena
    August 21, 2013, 7:49 pm

    wicked

  2. Beat Darwin
    August 22, 2013, 12:07 pm

    Great article and photos! The pic in the creek really shows just how wild parts of this trip got. It’s hard to tell in the low rez image on the web, but my initial reaction on looking at that was “if looks could kill!” 😉

    I’m beyond the edge of my seat for Part 2!

  3. Ian Faulds
    Bellingham, Washington, USA
    August 26, 2013, 10:05 pm

    Great narrative and so much suspense! I can’t wait for the rest of the story. Keep the story coming (and the pictures too)!!!

    Ian Faulds
    http://ianfaulds.com

  4. Michael
    NY
    August 29, 2013, 8:10 am

    Awesome photos! Especially the last one. I lvoe Alaska – it’s in my top 5 states! 🙂
    http://10mosttoday.com/

  5. Julie
    PA
    August 29, 2013, 6:31 pm

    What an amazing trip. Wonderful to see people get together to conquer great things. Love the fantastic photos.
    Julie
    http://www.lobaoutdoors.com

  6. wfinley
    Anchorage
    September 3, 2013, 9:12 pm

    Little bummed that National Geographic / Cameron Lawson didn’t publish any info on the current lease offerings for gold mining at Icy Bay. Read up:
    http://www.mhtrustland.org/documents/Icy%20Cape%20Prospectus.pdf

  7. Faizal
    Malaysia
    September 3, 2013, 10:39 pm

    Wanna go there!

  8. junko smith
    new berlin wi
    September 17, 2013, 10:53 am

    Hi Cameron,
    We enjoyed a wonderful photos, interesting blog.
    Our good friends from Hawaii happened to be in Alaska at the same time you were there, to see the Auroras. They stayed at Aurora lodge near Fairbanks. They took very good photos in a clear night. And also magnificent snow covered Mt. Mc Kinley in full view as weather was exceptionally good.
    Alaska is really paradise for the nature lovers and who love adventures and charanges. You are one of them. love junko and felix.

  9. Byron
    Chicago
    April 18, 2014, 2:04 pm

    What kind of bike is that? Long Haul Trucker with super fat tires? Looks like a fun trip. Very jealous

  10. Patrick
    Finland
    August 22, 2014, 9:22 am

    Whow, nice trip! Reminds me on my trip to Sarek in Sweden:
    http://hikeventures.com/hiking-and-packrafting-in-sarek-day-1/

  11. Sereyboth Yorn
    October 14, 2014, 4:35 am

    Awesome post! Will include this in a new article of my website http://top10thebest.com/

  12. Wendy
    November 16, 2014, 12:49 am

    A so great post! Will include this in a new article of my website http://wisemommy.net

  13. Antonio Piro
    Italy
    June 25, 2015, 4:36 am
  14. Vincent
    NY
    October 10, 2015, 7:35 am

    It is really Awesome post! Will add this in a new article of my website http://top5best.org

  15. Mike Cecil
    October 10, 2015, 7:39 am

    It is really a great trip and these photos are also great.

    Mike
    http://stationarybikestand.org

  16. Ni Tola
    Cambodia
    March 22, 2016, 12:01 pm

    She is a stronger girl that I know.
    Ahjoo
    http://ahjoo.com/top-10-best-travel-duffel-bags-reviews/

  17. Ni Tola
    Cambodia
    March 22, 2016, 12:03 pm

    She should get the Championship. Thank you.

    Mai

    http://decorbedroom.com/top-6-best-wireless-wifi-weather-stations-reviews/