Are you finished?

It has been dark for a few hours when we hear some noises outside. Ten to nine, a skier. “Are you finished?”, he asks. Are you finished? The words hit me like waking up roughly from a deep sleep. Why, are you finished? “Ehm, excuse me?” is the only thing I can utter. “Are you finished?”, he asks again. The words don’t make sense. “Ehm, yes?”. What a strange question. I ask him his nationality. “Finland.” It makes sense now: “Are you FINNISH?”

His pulk is broken. A fellow skier repaired it provisionally. He doesn’t trust the repair and wants to head back to civilization as soon as possible. He arrived late because he travelled two day-routes in one day. He doesn’t think it’s too late to arrive, for he met someone who arrived at half pas eleven at a cabin.

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We’re in Finland in the Urho Kekkonen national park. Our Finnish roommate wants to go to Lankojärvi, just like we do. Today it’s snowing and the route we’re taking has not been preceded by a snowmobile. We move slowly through this thick, white blanket of snow. At 1/3 of the route we stop for lunch. Too slow, we’re going to arrive in the dark. Via another mountain pass we head to Tuiskukuru, a cabin closer by. We run into our Finnish roommate once more, he will continue to Lankojärvi.

The detour to Tuiskukuru is well worth it. An empty landscape until the pass, from there snowy, statue-like shrubs guide the way into the other valley. The shrubs transform into trees that, covered in snow, taken on peculiar forms. It is a surrealistic world and we’re the only people here.

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A state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.
– Kundera

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Earlier in the week we’re heading to Sarvioja in a howling wind. Only summer routes are shown on the map and that path goes to the left here somewhere. No idea where exactly. It is snowing and the wind is blowing forcefully. I should put on an extra coat and my mittens. My thumbs ache from the cold. Still continuing, a bit further we’ll be out of this wind.

Last night we admired the northern lights near Porttikoski: a cabin in the forest next to the river. Idyllic. Much unlike this place, cold and stormy. Where’s that stupid path? The location on the map is way too steep for skis and a pulk.

During this winter hike in Finland we meet one Finn and a lot of Czechs. Czech… They have a word for this plowing. Litost, untranslatable. Kundera describes it as “a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.” Such a dramatic word, I don’t know any equivalent in Dutch.

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“How are you doing?”, I ask. – “Fine, it’s just arduous.” We stop. Thicker coat, mittens and discussion. What options do we have? Option one is going back. That is not an option. Option two, betting to reach the planned hut. Not the best choice: there is quite a chance to not make it to the hut or even to be unable to climb this steep terrain. The third option is to continue into the next valley. There we can reach three places to sleep: an open wilderness hut, a turf hut and Luirojärvi. Luirojärvi is the furthest away and only reachable in the dark. We head for the turf hut and might reach it during dusk.

The coat and mittens are wonderfully warm. Soon my thumbs don’t ache anymore and feeling slowly returns to them. The end of the mountain pass is near. Litost, a dramatic word. It means something like feeling miserable and then becoming aware of it. According to Kundera it will be followed by revenge. Revenge on the thing that caused the misery, that is not caused by yourself of course.

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We continue skiing. At the end of the mountain pass we’re out of the wind and exactly there the sun appears again. We start our decent, the skiing is less tiring. The world looks a lot happier. Kundera can keep his revenge. We take the moment and have a break behind some trees. Hot tea, a biscuit and the sun in Finnish Lapland. Enjoying, a word the Czech will know as well?

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Turf hut Raappana is located in the forest on a peninsula. We arrive during sundown, where we could barely distinguish the stove pipe from the bare trees. The chimney is the only point of recognition of this tiny burrow under the thick layer of snow. We’re happy that someone already dug out the door.

The area inside is two meters by two meters. We’re out of the wind and dinner is simmering on our gas stove. Dinner, tea, then we slip into a comatose sleep. “Are you finished?” – “Yes we are.”

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Photographs

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Bibliography

Karttakeskus ulkoilukartta
Saariselkä Sokosti
1 : 50 000

Practicalities

We finish our tour in Kiilopää. Buses drive from Kiilopää to the airport irregularly! The website of the airport states that buses drive only when an aircraft departs or arrives. This is not 100% correct. Buses drive only when an aircraft from a Scandinavian airline depart or arrive. We flew with a Dutch airline, no bus came and we’ve managed to get a taxi at the latest moment. Quite an experience: flying in a cab over frozen roads with 130 km/h.

Our home built pulk uses ropes instead of rods. Rods may break, ropes are durable and easy to repair. The disadvantage of ropes is that the pulk tries to overtake you while descending. To counter that we used the idea of an automatic brake from Ivo. The brake worked remarkably well. Even on the most steep parts where we couldn’t ski, the pulk braked long before hitting me.

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Spotting seals at the Westerschelde

Autumn, start of the packrafting season. Little rain has fallen this autumn causing low water levels in the Ardennes rivers. Plan B is flat water in the Netherlands: the Westerschelde.

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Saturday we’ve explored a part of the Verdronken Land van Saeftinge (“the Lost Land of Saeftinge”), on Sunday the Plaat van Ossenisse. Small packrafts floating among big ocean-going vessels.

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Eastern winds cause low temperatures. People we meet on the beach ask if it’s not too cold for sailing and if we’re taking the currents into account. They seem to think packrafting in these conditions is extreme?

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Back on the beach we find a more extreme activity. A man undresses and goes into the water in his swimming shorts. On the beach he leaves behind a pile of clothes and his shoes. After a minute of adjusting to the cold he dives into the water. No dry-suit, no wet-suit, no beer-belly with insulating fat. Fifteen minutes later he’s back on the beach, still healthy. Amazing.

And the seals… they choose swimming over sunning on a breezy sandbank. We’ve counted around ten seal heads appearing out of the water. Are we curious to see seals or are the seals curious to see these inflatable intruders?

Photographs

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Packraft course of The Low Countries*

The packrafting scene in Europe is growing! The Swedish Packrafting Roundup (Jacob) (Konstantin) was organized in May, now is the time for the packraft course of The Low Countries* followed by a tour on the Allier.

Surviving white water

We meet Servaes Timmerman at the camp site in Réotier. He’ll teach us about white water. It will be his first impression of packrafts, for a number of us it will be a first encounter with white water.

The course is best described in pictures and a small anecdote:
On the third day of the course we’re on the Ubaye. Servaes goes to an eddy and tells us to disembark and scout the next stretch of the river: we need to determine our own line in a river filled with a number of big boulders. Servaes will take pictures at the end of the boulders. I leave the boat and climb onto a big boulder. Jan-Ivo just finished scouting and passes by in his yellow packraft.

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The rest looks easy, I don’t look any further and walk back to re-enter the water. The part I’ve just scouted is not that difficult. At the end of the stretch the noise of the river rises. A rapid…
I round the last boulder and see the rapid. I see Servaes sitting on top of big a boulder. At that moment thoughts come to mind: “Of course Servaes is waiting at the most exciting part of the river.” The most exciting part, the part I didn’t scout…

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Two things I’ve learned this course that I won’t forget:
1. Kayakers are lazy.
2. How to eat French bread without hurting your palate.
… and maybe a thing or two about paddling technique. 😉

Cowboycamping along the Allier

Splendid days, hot, 30C. It’s a pleasure to be engulfed by cold water once in a while. The Allier is a varied river, quiet stretches alternated by wilder water, sometimes wide, sometimes so small that one packraft barely fits. We’re rafting all day and bivvy along the river. Cooking on the bonfire and sleeping under the stars, what more does a man want.

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Maybe it’s not only the kayakkers that are lazy…

*) The Low Countries is the name of Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and a small part of France during the Middle Ages. The people that participated consisted of Belgians and Dutchmen.

Packraft upgrade

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Kayak backrest

The reasons for this change:
1. Better steering response because of higher pressure at the bow. The higher pressure is created by sitting more to the front which is not possible with the inflatable backrest from Alpacka.
2. Higher comfort because you don’t touch the hard edge on the back of the cockpit anymore.

The new backrest weights 260 grams, the original inflatable backrest from Alpacka weights 54 grams.

Step-by-step:
We bought the base of this kayak backrest at Decathlon. We removed the bottom seat and used a soldering iron on the backrest. The result:

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The included attachments don’t fit the packraft. We’ve sawed off the buckles and replaced them with short straps. The straps will be connected to the thigh-straps in the packraft:

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The backrest tends to slip down during rafting. To counter this, we’ve added a ring to the bottom of the backrest. A short rope pulls this up in the packraft. Two photographs say more than explaining by words:

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Abruzzo, terra dell’orso marsicano

Flying. It’s not the first time, but we’re still not getting used to it. “Ready for take-off”, the sound of the engines swell from a high pitched tone to a blasting avalanche of noises. When we’re pulled into our seats by the acceleration I look to my left. Next to the window sits an old Italian man. He hasn’t spoken a word since we got into the plane and he looked depressed since. Just before the wheels lift off he quickly says his prayers. We’re not the only ones disliking flying. One and a half hours later when we land in Italy he finally relaxes.

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Italy, the Apennines. We don’t have a day to day agenda but we’ve chosen two areas that we’ll be trying to connect over the mountain ridges. We don’t know exactly how the terrain looks like, whether or not there will be a trail and how fast we’ll go. We’ll monitor progress one day at a time and live in the moment.

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Majella

The first day in Majella we climb up from the valley over a trail that disappears again the next day while hiking the ridge. Sometimes we see a fainted red dot or red-white marks, but it’s clear that hardly anyone walks this trail. The weather is great, not too hot. Because of bushwacking, progress is not as fast as hoped. There are no water sources en route, but we hope to end the day near a shepherd’s hut with a source. When we get near to the hut, we find a small creek. Dry, not a good sign. Next to the shepherd’s hut we find a water source, but that one is dry as well. Water will be rationed now.
We’ve read a number of -rather old- trip reports, so we didn’t expect the water to be so scarce. How to continue? Will we go on over the ridge and hope to find water on the way, risking not to find it? Next morning we choose to descend. We use our GPS as a 21st century’s dowsing rod. A few kilometres from the hut there should be a water source: Fonte Orsana.

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The first kilometre is steep but on-trail. Rather soon it becomes steep and off-trail. Very steep and really off-trail. Straight through the forest we arrive at the water source. Dry. We find a lot of animal tracks and we see that water used to flow here, but not at this moment. The next source is located a few kilometres from here. Again we use the GPS to walk straight through the forest. Wrong choice, we waste a few hours and wander off more and more. We have only half a litre of water left and decide to save as much as possible.
When we spot a tree with a puddle of rainwater in it we cannot refrain from trying it. We drink it through our water filter. Not exactly Bear Grylls who would cut off a hollow branch from the tree and use that as a straw. Or he would filter the water through his old sock. We use our high-tech water filter and the water tastes good.

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Eventually we arrive near the other source. The sandy trail slowly becomes soggy. A bit further a foot-wide creek flows. Then the creek becomes wider and we find a concrete trough. Water! While filling our water bottles we’re interrupted twice by wild horses which apparently are thirsty as well.
That night wolves walk around our tent. No lack of animals here.

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A number of times we meet people in Majella that are picking hops. One morning we find people and two big white dogs. When we pass the dogs start to walk along with us. Nice. The longer the dogs run along with us, the less amusing it becomes. Why don’t the people call back their dogs? It starts to become more and more annoying until we’re half an hour away from the hops-picking people. The dogs are still not preparing to walk back.
We’re not really looking forward to walk back half an hour (and then again half an hour back to here!) to return someone else’s dogs. But we do, who knows how long they will be walking along with us?
Back to the hops pickers we need to explain the situation using two Italian words and a lot of sign language. Communication is arduous but finally we understand each other. They tell us that the dogs are stray dogs. They have been walking with them from the valley.

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Gran Sasso

The next few days the silhouette of Corno Grande will accompany us. It’s still too early in the season to climb to the top, you’ll need pickle and crampons. We’re going to walk around it, which is certainly not less beautiful.P6210527

Though the whole area is no more than one day walking from civilized world we hardly meet anyone. One morning before we leave we hear soft thudding in the valley. The thudding gets louder while we’re packing our tent. A car… No, it’s a farmer on his tractor with a cow in a trailer. As soon as he sees us, he opens the door of his tractor and shouts something in Italian. “Sono Hollandese, non parlo Italiano.” He stops his tractor, gets down and walks towards us. We understand that he’s looking for his herd of cows. Which we’ve seen yesterday evening through the valley towards a source. We point him where we’ve seen them, nod and say “Eight, otto, six, sei big ones and eh due eh” – “Si, due bambini!“, two small ones indeed. We want to ask if that’s a cow or a bull in his trailer and say that we saw his herd yesterday evening, not this morning. Our translation guide is short of words so after browsing through it and staring at each other he shakes our hands and leaves. In the right direction. The only person we would see that day.

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P6210550 We stay at Rifugio Duca degli Abruzzi twice, a big contrast to spending a night in our tent. While we don’t meet anyone while hiking, the hut is overrun with people. At night people that go to the summit the next day stay in the hut. We were lucky to meet some people from Rome who spokes English. It’s a nice way to get to know a bit more about your fellow travellers and about eating and drinking habits of Italians. It was very sociable. An old, small and cosy hut, with very kind wardens who like to explain about the area.
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Photographs

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Video

Bibliography

Carta Escursionistica, Edizioni il Lupo
Gran Sasso d’Italia
1 : 25 000

With additions from OpenStreetMap.

Practicalities

Water. It’s hardly possible to hike autonomously in these areas in summer. In the beginning of July a number of water sources were already depleted. Some villages near Gran Sasso have a water quota midsummer, water is that scarce here.
Ticks. Especially in Majella there was an abundance of ticks. Pack a tick remover and check yourself each evening!
Cabins. A great amount of cabins is located in both parks. In Gran Sasso almost all of them are locked. Don’t trust what’s indicated on the map. An extreme example is rifugio San Nicola that is indicated as guarded, but in reality it is a ruin.
Trails. Some trails are not signed, some are overgrown. Know how to use a map and compass. Off-trail your speed will be lower, take that into account while planning.
Dogs. There are a lot of stray dogs. Three times we’ve had dogs walk along with us for up to an hour.

Eating like a caveman

The grass is wet with dew. We’re walking in the Flevopolder, where numerous snails cross our path. Slugs, snails, that’s a far as our knowledge of biology reaches. Later we find a snail on some kind of plant. A familiar plant, but we’re not able to name it.

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We’re going to meet Bill Jonker for a workshop edible, wild plants. We’re five students each with his own reasons to join. We’re welcomed with tea made from yarrow and a snack, a piece of young growth of a den. Locally sourced of course, at less then ten steps from the camp fire on which the tea is being brewed. The tea is surprisingly tasteful, as well as the snack.

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The fire pit is our class room. The theory consists of example plants and a card with explanation of those plants. How to recognise them, what to use them for, what to watch out for.
Soon we’re moving as it time for practice. Bill shows what edible plants can be found in the nearby area. And maybe even more important: we can taste the plants. The forest we’ve just entered  slowly morphs into a well stocked super market. Various flavours, shapes and textures are widely available.

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Time flies and before we know it it’s time to prepare lunch. Bill explains how to recognise burdock and what to pay attention to not to confuse it with the poisonous foxglove. Then we’re on our way to dig up a few as the roots will be our lunch. While we are busy digging, Bill finds a parsnip. It’s well rooted in the solid clay, but we’re not able to resist taking this tasteful root with us.

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Lunch consists of a stew of burdock, parsnip, cep, nettles and lichen. It tastes very well and the small meal fills our stomachs surprisingly well.

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As extra we practice twining rope made of nettles and we build a seat made of reed. Slowly the thunderclouds roll in. When the first drops of rain fall, we say our goodbyes. In retrospect we’ve learnt a lot today. It is a pity that it took only about a century for this kind of knowledge to disappear.

We walk back the same way we came here this morning. This time we recognise a lot of trees and bushes and we can tell their names. If only our biology lessons in high school had been like today …

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Photographs

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Norge pȧ Tvers

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Norge pȧ Tvers, traversing Norway. A route developed by Trondheims Tourist Association that roughly follows 63 degrees latitude, from the sea in the west to the Swedish border. We follow our own interpretation of the route.

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During the first days we meet only a few persons enroute and none in the cabins. It’s not yet Easter (Pȧske), the time of year in which a lot of Norwegians wipe the dust of their skis and go skiing. Because of this bustle the routes between the DNT cabins will be marked with willow branches to ease navigation. At this moment it take a few more weeks till Easter, no willow branches in the snow yet. It’s a good exercise in navigation in the snow. At the Ramsjøhytta we meet a volunteer from the DNT, one of the men that stick the willow branches in the snow each year. In this part of Norway they are slowly migrating to the system in use by their neighbours: fixed wooden poles. It will save a lot of work each year.

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At Storeriksvollen it’s the first time this trip we’re not alone in a cabin. The beautiful weather goes on day after day and we are doubting whether or not to spend an extra day in the mountains. It’s nice to be able to ask advice from the other guests. We decide to visit not one Swedish cabin, but two. The Norwegians we meet affirm it’s better to spend the night in the Swedish mountains instead of a village. But they are smiling as well as the Swedish cabins are quite different from the Norwegian ones…

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The next day we arrive in our first Swedish cabin in the afternoon. Maybe hotel is a better word for it. It’s not possible to order a three-course dinner, but there is running water from a tap, hot and cold, there is electricity and even internet. In the-middle-of-nowhere. It’s luxurious but also a bit strange as the atmosphere has changed as well. In all cabins up to now, you’ll lit a candle at night for lighting and drink a cup of coffee with the other guests. You’ll talk about the day, about ‘friluftsliv’ and the differences between the Netherlands and Norway for example. Here in the big rooms lit by neon lights the cosiness and personal attention has disappeared. I open the door and watch people bend over their mobile phones. It’s good progress to make these beautiful places accessible for everyone, but the typical outdoor cabin atmosphere is gone.

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The next day in the morning we meet a Swedish diplomat. He recognised our nationality by our accents. We may precede on the steep descent in front of us. While I’m still talking, Charissa is flying down. “It’s not so steep, it’s fine”, he says when I leave. I arrive at the end of the descend with trembling knees. Fast and so many icy grooves for the skis to change direction…

A bit further we’re climbing again. A dog strolls from behind a boulder. Usually it doesn’t take long for his boss to arrive as well. Not this time. I take the binoculars from my backpack. A dog, I thought, maybe it is a fox. The animal looks back at me, doubts for a moment and runs off in the other direction. Yes it’s fox, it’s clear to see now. It’s not the first time we meet a fox, but it surely is one of the longer moments.

The day before yesterday at Storeriksvollen we met a small animal we’d never seen before: an ermine. He happily ate all the leftovers… and the mice. Happy ermine, happy humans.

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The last evening we share the dorm with some Scotsmen with whom we talk a bit. We meet them again a few times when we descend into the valley the next day. Though they are a few years older than us, we notice they move at a high pace.

Fast forward a few days when we are bored waiting at the airport. I browse through some websites to find an update of climber Dave MacLeod. He made a new film, let’s take a look. We see someone running through the Scottish hills, almost falling in the soggy ground. Some running on jeep tracks, then bogs again. An old Landrover climbs. Then a close-up of the driver. By the time I processed the thought that I’ve seen this person before, the screen shows an interview. I immediately recognise the name! I was right, this is the guy we’ve been talking with in the last cabin in Sweden. We never knew we were talking to a well-known Scotsman.

Photographs

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Video

Bibliography

DNT, Nordeca
2742 Merȧker Sør
1 : 50 000

With additions from Turkart UT.no and Sveriges Länskarta.

Packrafting Schweiz

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Ingredients of a weekend full of fun in the water:
– Beautiful surroundings, preferably with autumn colors.
– Good people joining.
– Sun!
– Enough water in the rivier and a sufficient number of rapids.
– Wood fire to warm oneself in the evening.

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All ingredients were perfectly mixed in our trip to the Vorderrhein and Hinterrhein in Switzerland.

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Photographs

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Video

Alaska rocks

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Two Cheechakos* travelling to the last Frontier

Most of our travelling we’ve done in Europe. This time we’re leaving for the other side of the world, to the last Frontier, the last wilderness: Alaska.

A frontier is never a place; it is a time and a way of life. Frontiers pass but they endure in their people.
– Hal Borland

We came here to experience this wilderness, the vastness that we don’t know in the small and crowded Europe. No map does justice to this vastness. We’re used to bring maps with a scale of 1:25 000, now we used maps with a scale of 1:225 000, the scale of a road map. We start to grasp the feeling of this scale when we leave Anchorage. At the end of the Knik Arm the landscape suddenly opens up: we enter a plain and see the mountains in the north. It takes over an hour by car before arriving at the foot of the mountain range. In the same amount of time we’ll pass through half of the Netherlands back home.

Later we walk the Kesugi Ridge east of the highest mountain of North America, Denali. A huge forest and the wide Chulitna river is located between the ridge and the Denali massif. Denali has its own micro climate like so many high mountains and wraps itself in fog and rain clouds for two-thirds of the time. We have been walking here for two days and could have had some beautiful views on the mountain, if only the mountain feels like taking off its thick grey coat. We only saw the foothills and some big glaciers. When Mount Hunter pierces through the fog, our jaws drop: We had no idea that such a mighty mountain was hidden in the clouds!
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The next morning we walk back up to the ridge. We talk about last night: the loud wind made the tent fabric flap all night. That same wind luckily also brought us clear skies, the sun shines. Upon arrival at the ridge we receive the view we’ve hoped for the last days: Denali, almost one-and-a-half times higher than yesterday’s impressive Mount Hunter. We’re flabbergasted, how could this unbelievably high mountain have been hiding behind a few lousy clouds the previous days?

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This exceeds our feeling of scale. We spontaneous decide to stay one day longer at Byers Lake, such an impression the landscape makes. When we’re in Talkeetna, 60 miles from here, Denali still towers above the landscape. Impressive.

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It’s not only nature that impresses us at this side of the world. We’ve been touched most by the people here, but more on that later.

The Alaskan people are a population generally set apart by their unrestrained spirit and ability to make life happen in a most delightful manner under the some of the most un-delightful circumstances.
– Bob Huck

*) Cheechako, greenhorn, newcomer to the North (term developed during the Klondike years).

Bears

In Europa, we humans are always at the top of the food chain: all animals are afraid of us. The few bears that are left there are so shy that they are scared of their own shadows. Things are different in Alaska, that’s why we’ve been preparing well for bear country. Preparing is one thing, being there, experiencing and feeling it is something else.

We drive to our starting point near Kings River by shuttle bus. Don is our driver, baseball cap, big beard, checkered shirt and a little belly. He likes to talk a lot and tells a lot of jokes. “Hey guys, you know the difference between scat from a black bear and that of a grizzly? No? Black bear’s scat is filled with seeds, berries, etc. Grizzly’s is filled with bear bells, bear spray, hiking boots, …” He’s the one who laughs the loudest.

It’s still morning when we start walking to the woods. A thick forest. The wind blows and the leaves rustle. I can smell the pines. Though everything looks normal, our brains work overtime. Where are the binoculars? Is that a tree trunk over there or is it an animal? Do we have to use the bear bell here? In our heads the forest turns into an alley with big hairy monsters behind every bush, ready to scare the wits out of us. We see footprints and scat. Then we arrive at the fording place of the Kings River.

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The idea is walk higher than the tree line the first day. That we won’t reach today. Charissa hasn’t had a relaxed moment the last hours. Let alone she’s able to enjoy this rough scenery. We take the tough decision to abandon the tour we’ve prepared so well and return to the tarmac.

While returning I immediately see a change in Charissa. She’s already more relaxed now, almost relieved, while we walk the same trail as just before. The feeling of this impenetrable forest is hard to image and impossible to approach rationally. Tom Waes once said: “Bear country, land of light sleep.”

We return and are being helped with making new plans. We’ll be walking more open terrain and we will meet some more people there. “More” in a relative sense. We’ll meet four people per day at most.

We walk the Resurrection Trail and are out of water. Fresh water is never far away, the trail runs along the Resurrection Creek. Charissa goes to get some water. “I see a bear, a black one!” The bear didn’t see us yet, we’re downwind so he didn’t smell us. He’s only about fifty yards away on the other side of the creek, he’s also thirsty. We shout but he still doesn’t notice us. He did hear something, but doesn’t know what, because he stands up tall to get a better view. The moment he sees us, he rushes off. We see the bushes shake a dozen yards from the riverbank when he runs through them. We’ve seen a bear, and he reacts exactly according to the book.

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Bear country, land of light sleep.
– Tom Waes

I’ve had two moments of being ready to use my bear spray: the first time when I was getting some things from the tent and I was being sneaked upon by a dog. He suddenly emerged from the bushes with a lot of noise. Before I realized I was outside of the tent, bear spray ready in my hand. Later his owner said: “Maybe we should give him a bear bell, he has the tendency to sneak upon people.” Maybe a good idea indeed, for his own sake.

The second time I was squatting behind a bush to provide it with the necessary manure, when I heard a drumming noise. It sounded just like some heavy animal running towards me at full speed. I look up the mountain (pants still to my ankles) and I have the bear spray ready in my hand again. Nothing. When I look the other way I see Charissa cleaning her packraft from sand and small stones before packing. To remove the stones she drums on the bottom of the packraft with her hands…

At the beginning of the Resurrection Trail we meet an old Alaskan guy on a bicycle. “You guys have some bear protection with you? Just saw some blackies down the road, big ones.” He must have scared them away, because we didn’t see them. Or it was some fine Alaskan humour.

Sourdoughs*

Before visiting Alaska we only knew the country from the Discovery Channel: prospectors, tuna fishermen, loggers, rough people in a rough country. How wrong could we be.

[…] it is the people of the place and the joy filled insanity that gave me years of adventure and laughter and who are the source of the memories that truly make my heart of hearts smile with abundance and an awesome gratitude.
– Bob Huck

There is no public transport by bus and only one rail road. When we wanted to go back to Anchorage from our first tour there was no other possibility than to hitch-hike. When making plans for later tours we get the advice: “You should hitch-hike your way across Alaska. It is easy, a lot of fun and you’ll meet a bunch of interesting people.” It couldn’t be more true.

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The first day of our first trail was long, hard and filled with bear stress. We hitch-hiked our way to Palmer, one city before arriving in Anchorage. In theory we could have been in Anchorage within one hour. In practise we’ve tried to get a ride for over an hour without luck. We were exhausted and ready to look for a place to pitch our tent and try our luck tomorrow. Exactly at that moment a car pulls over and we met a guy who drives 90 miles to Anchorage and back, while living only fifteen minutes down the road. We were unbelievably grateful meeting him.

In total we’ve hitch-hiked nine times, almost 250 miles. All rides were with locals, the tourists in RVs all passed. We notice that the locals genuinely like giving you a ride and are interested to hear what you have been doing, where you’re from and how life is there. They, in turn, tell about their country, what they do and are proud of that. Maybe it’s the large distances between the villages, the ever changing weather, the strong hand of nature in this country that makes that people are more dependent upon each other and more willing to help each other (and two backpackers). For us this was a great experience and wonderful to meet so many people that are so open and proud of their country.

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*) Sourdough, an old-timer in Alaska, a name that came from the fermented dough used by prospectors who didn’t have yeast.

A Word of Thanks

Alastair Humphreys once wrote: “Most of my memories of people are from the briefest of connections.” This journey our path has crossed the paths of numerous other people we would like to thank and although they were the briefest of connections these encounters will always be engraved in our memories.

Casey, thank you very much for the incredible ride at a moment that we were so exhausted.
Base Camp Anchorage: Eric, Nate, Ole, thanks for the great care, ideas for new trails and lending some walking poles when ours were gone.
Patrick & Harlow, thank you for the lighter when the one we brought broke, for the good ideas and the hospitable invite.
Terri, thanks for pulling over in the pouring rain to give two paddlers, wet to the skin, a ride.
Joel, thank you for the numerous inspiring talks over coffee.

Photographs

Click here to see all photographs.

Video

(English subtitles available via the CC button.)

Bibliography

Several maps of the surroundings of the Talkeetna Mountains
1 : 63000
Available from http://store.usgs.gov/

Maps of Alaska
DeLorme Alaska Atlas & Gazetteer
1 : 300000 tot 1 : 1200000
ISBN 0-89933-289-7

222: Denali National Park
National Geographic Trails Illustrated
1 : 225000

Backcountry Bear Basics, second editions
The mountaineers books
Dave Smith
ISBN 978-1-59485-028-8

Trails we walked

Trail along King River
Coastal Trail (by bicycle) in Anchorage
Around Spencer Lake, then packrafting Placer River
Resurrection Trail from Hope to Cooper Landing
Mount Marathon
Lost Lake Trail and Primrose Trail from Seward to Primrose
Kesugi Ridge Trail