How to Dominate Alaska in 25 Hours

  • “How to almost kill yourself in Alaska”
  • “The fine line between bravery and stupidity”
  • “Why you should avoid Twitter peer pressure”
  • “How to climb a mountain in sneakers”
  • “How to ruin a perfectly good pair of underwear”

I considered all of these options for today’s blog title about my epic-25 hour adventure in Anchorage, Alaska.  Fortunately, I survived the stupid part, embraced the awesome parts, and flew home yesterday a wiser, more intelligent, and exhausted individual.  Here’s a quick recap of what I did in my one day in Anchorage, Alaska.  After the video is the event-by-event recap.

“How to dominate Alaska in 25 Hours” Video

Who the hell goes to Alaska for 25 Hours?

Okay, so you’re probably wondering why I went to Alaska for 25 hours.

Travel hacking alert – if you don’t care about this stuff, skip to the trip report in the next section.

Because I’m currently homeless (and have been for the past 10 months), spending the night in one place verse another on any given day is a decision completely up to me.  Sure I have some obligations here and there, but generally if I want to go some place I can just hop on a plane and go.  Alaska was always on my list, but I had no intention of going any time soon.

Then I caught a thread on Flyertalk about a super cheap flight from Washington, DC, to Anchorage, AK – $420 for a roundtrip flight.  I already had a $275 credit from US Air due to taking a voluntary bump (maybe the greatest thing ever for travel hacking) back in August, so for $145, I could fly roundtrip and visit a state I’ve never been to, and hopefully get a great adventure out of it.

On top of that, because I’m hopping all over the US these next few months, I decided that I wanted to try and get preferred status with an airline – free upgrades to first class, access to the airline’s lounges (and more importantly, the alliance’s clubs all around the world), and a bunch of other perks.  Because I was going to be flying a lot of US Airways flights, I signed up to do a 90-Day Trial preferred run with US Air.  Depending on how many miles I can fly in these next 90 days, that’s the preferred status I’ll obtain through 2013!

So, I signed up for the trial status run, and thanks to this ONE flight I’ve already locked up Silver status through 2013 (which has already given me two free first class upgrades in the past two weeks), and I’m just a few thousand miles away from Gold status (which I’ll get next week flying to/from San Diego).

When factoring all of those things, I figured what the Hell, let’s go to Alaska for 25 hours!

Arrival in Anchorage

I took my 4.5 hour flight to Phoenix and 6 hour flight to Anchorage, arriving at ANC airport at 2 in the morning on Wednesday, and promptly set up shop on their benches and took a quick nap for a few hours – I figured getting SOME sleep would be wiser than driving around in a rental car on no sleep in a new place.

Definitely a good call.

Upon waking up, I walked fifty yards to the rental car booth and asked to pick up my ride.  I had requested a Technodrome, tank, or hover car, but apparently those are more expensive than the $50 I wanted to spend…so I settled on a Ford Focus.  I walked outsie, immediately saw my breath in the frigid morning air, and it hit me like a ton of bricks – “Oh right, Alaska is cold.”

Ooops.

Although I certainly wasn’t prepared for severe cold weather (I don’t travel with anything beyond fall-weather clothing), it was only in the mid-30’s – so layering my Nerd Fitness hoodie under my Mountain Hardware Jacket kept me both dry and warm.

While it was still dark as night outside, I began my drive down the coast to Alyeska.  This was easily one of the prettiest, most picturesque drives I’ve ever made.  I pulled off to the side of the road and found a gas station to pick up some supplies (snacks) and a pair of cheap gloves to keep my hands warm.

After the sun came up, I decided to pull off on one of the picturesque viewpoints and get a quick workout in.  Nothing crazy, just some pull ups, push ups, and jumping rope to get the blood pumping and wake me up!  Also, so that I could say “yeah I exercised at 7AM in Anchorage, Alaska.”

Once the sun rose high enough, I drove the remaining twenty minutes to Alyeksa Resort.

Alyeska

On the recommendation of my good friend LC, I decided to check out the trails around Alyeska Resort, this gorgeous resort in Girdwood, Alaska. 

I have to imagine this is an absolutely bonkers place to spend a long weekend in the winter snowboarding, as the mountains and scenery were absolutely breathtaking.  I was told that the Gondola to take me up the mountain was closed due to high winds at high altitudes (which I failed to remember later in my trip and it almost killed me), so I instead decided to do the three-hour hike on the Winner’s Creek Trail out to this famous handtram where you have to pull yourself in a cage across a river.  Sounds like fun to me!

Although it was raining and cold, My jacket and gloves kept me warm, and my shoes and socks stayed relatively dry, and the hike was quite enjoyable.  Not too difficult, but enough of a challenge that a brisk walk felt fantastic.

I got out to the handtram, and the damn thing was broken!  The tram was stuck on the opposite side of the river!  I tweeted a picture of the tram and said “damn thing is broken” and got (jokingly I hope) verbally abused via Twitter for not climbing across on the rope:

Fortunately, I was smart enough to realize what a bad idea it would have been for me to try that: I was 90 minutes away from civilization, I was the only person on the trail, and there was no easy way to get to me had there been an emergency, which they wouldn’t even have known about because I was the only one there!

Slightly defeated, I made a vow to return when the tram was fixed, and begin my trek back to my car.

Steve almost dies

And this is when things got dumb.

I hopped back in my car, and headed out to the heavily-recommended Flattop Mountain.  Online it was described as a “fun hike, but certainly challenging towards the top when climbing up the rocks.”  I’ve hiked all over the world, so I didn’t see any problem with this.  I put on a second pair of socks, tightened up my gloves, grabbed my camera, and begin my hike up the trail towards the mountain.

The first third was quite easy, just a leisurely stroll for thirty minutes until the trail split – the left trail went back to the parking lot, the right trail led around a snow covered hill (pictured below) to the real mountain.  I thought to myself – “Who cares about the snow?  I can’t come all the way to Alaska and only go up a third of the mountain,” and “what will all of the people on twitter say who made fun of me for not traversing that river on a rope???!?”

Whenever you justify your behavior due to peer pressure on Twitter, you know you’re an idiot.

So I began to climb the next part of the mountain…and things started to turn.

The stairs that led up the side of this hill were half covered in snow and slick ice.  I continued up, carefully placing each foot on the dry part of each step, occasionally avoiding the steps completely to trudge through fresh snow to get a better grip.  Remember, I was wearing jeans and low profile sneakers, so my socks and pants were already starting to get wet.

Onward.

I then got to the last third of the  trail, where the trail split yet again: “NO CHILDREN. CLIMB AT YOUR OWN RISK” read the sign in front of me.  And I looked up the mountain for the “path” to continue.  All I saw was a mountain buried in snow.  Ruh roh.

“Come on Steve, you made it this far, just keep going!”

So, I began my climb again.  because there was so much snow and wind, there was no more path to be seen – just foot prints left from previous climbers.  Any sort of path had been iced over, so I had to sort of bear crawl up the mountain on my hands and feet, using former footprints as toe and hand holds.

With the top of the mountain in sight, I continued to climb, slowly but surely, hand over hand, foot over foot, until I reached the top! Wow that sucked but I made it all the way.

Or so I thought.

Do you remember the Simpsons episode where Homer climbs the Murderhorn…gets to the top, and then realizes he still has a longer way to go?

That was me.  I got to what I thought was the top of the mountain, only to crest the peak and see an even BIGGER peak over it, covered in even more snow (up to two feet in most places), that was even steeper and more treacherous, and it was also getting battered by even stronger winds.

SON OF A BUSINESSMAN!

I stood up, and almost got blown over backwards by the wind.  I distinctly remember saying in my mind right now – “Steve, there’s no shame in turning around.”  I started walking back down the mountain, and for some idiotic reason I turned back and continued on.  For the next forty minutes, I crawled, slowly but surely, up this freaking mountain, afraid that at any moment one of my hands or feet would slip and that would be the end of Steve Kamb.  There was absolutely nobody else up there, my cell phone was dead, I was in sneakers and 9-dollar gas station gloves, and jeans.

One hand at a time.

One foot at a time.

I crawled.

The path was so gnarly, I had to double back three or four times because there was simply no way for me to progress any further.

“If I die here, my mom is gonna be so pissed” is the thought that kept running through my head.

Inch by inch, onward and upward.

Finally, with the wind howling and snow falling, after multiple close calls, I made it.  I stood up in triumphant joy, and immediately got blown back down on my hands and knees.  If you watch the video, you can see what the wind was like up there – I crawled to the middle of the top of the mountain, sat down, put the wind at my back, filmed a quick video, and then crawled back to the edge…this is what I had to climb back down:

If going up scared me, going down terrified me.  I couldn’t see very well, or tell which path I took to get up.

So I sat in the pistol squat position (down in a squat, on one foot, with the other extended out in front of me), and slid myself back down the mountain, freaking out any time I slid further than five feet at a time, hoping that one of my feet or hands would get caught by a rock or foot hold that I could grab onto.

Think of it like the snow slide level from Super Mario 64…except there’s no Giant Penguin and instead of being fun it made me scream like a little girl. 

Quite a few times I had to double back or trudge sideways across the mountain through two feet of snow, hoping it wouldn’t give out and send me hurtling downhill.

After what seemed like hours (though it was probably only thirty minutes due to the speed of my sledding), I made it back down to the safer part of the trail, found a rock, and just sat there for a good ten minutes.  My pants were completely soaked through.  My gloves were almost destroyed.  My shoes were sopping wet and full of snow, my socks were waterlogged, my face was windburnt, and my heart was jack-hammering.

I’m honestly in shock that I got off that mountain alive and unharmed.

I couldn’t help but laugh at my stupidity and luck.

Moose huntin’

I went back to my car, changed into another t-shirt and basketball shorts, stuck my jeans and socks on the floor of the passenger seat of the car, and turned the heat on full blast, hoping they’d dry out before dinner…because those are the only pair of pants and socks that I have.

It was then time to check out Kincaid National Park to track down a moose.  I pulled into the park and went hiking in the wood while putting my hands on my head like antlers; you know…to bring the moose out of hiding.  An hour and a half later, having seen no moose, I trudged back to my car disappointed.

Sure enough, there was a freaking mouse standing by my car, just munching on the grass in the parking lot.  Win!

After a few paparazzi photos, I left the park to go to Moose’s Tooth, THE restaurant to eat at in Anchorage from what I’ve been told, for a Nerd Fitness meetup!

The Meetup

Big thanks to Amber (pictured), Brandon (who’s lost 90 pounds and runs The Ice Runner), and Jay (who runs Frozen Jelly), who came out. I think I said “I can’t believe I’m in Alaska” at least twenty times at dinner, so thanks for putting up with me guys!

I enjoyed one of their beers, a Hefeweizen, scarfed a few pieces of chicken parmesan pizza (I figured I’d earned it with the 9 hours of hiking and almost dying), and then headed back to the airport.  I remember going down the escalator to return my rental car, having felt like I had been in Alaska for at least a week (I’m sure I smelled like I had gone without a shower for a week) – it made me laugh when the lady at the rental counter asked “wait, you took this out this morning?”

After two hours of waiting, I was back on board a plane to Phoenix at 2AM…and fell asleep before the wheels left the ground.

Here are the rest of my photos if you’d like to see them!

Lessons Learned

So, after 22 hours of flying, 25 hours in Alaska, 9 hours of hiking, one Nerd Fitness meet up, and one near death experience…what did I learn?

I learned two things:

  • There’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity.
  • “Just going for it” when your life is at risk is only a good decision if you’ve taken precautionary measures and are adequately prepared.

Deciding not to climb across the river was a smart decision.  Deciding to climb up the mountain by myself with nobody around, improper gear, zero notification to anybody that I was there, and zero knowledge of the hike was an incredibly dumb decision.  In my mind, I justified it by saying “suck it up and be brave” when in reality I should have been saying to myself “Steve, you’re not prepared for this and this is incredibly dumb” and turned around.

I honestly feel VERY fortunate to have come away unharmed.

In the future, before I go do anything this risky, I’m going to do my research, or make sure there’s somebody there with me – had I been wearing crampons and had ice picks and was climbing with a friend, it would have been a far safer (and ultimately more enjoyable) adventure.  Instead, it was a lesson learned in stupidity and a cautionary tale.  Yeah it’s fun to push the boundaries and take risks, but I want to make sure they’re risks that can be mitigated with proper preparation and intelligent planning.

I have a lot of work left to do on this planet before my life is done.  As the late Steve Jobs once said, “I want to put a ding in the universe.”  Me too.

Have you ever been in a similar place – completely outmatched and under-prepared for a situation and yet continued to press on?

What lessons did you learn?

-Steve

###

PS- Announcing the NF Pumpkin Carving Contest! It’s almost Halloween, and we’re creative folks here in the NF Community – if you’re gonna carve a pumpkin, might as well get recognized by nerds for being awesome at it, right?  You can read all about it over here on the Message Boards.

PPS – My favorite Steve Jobs quote: “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”  RIP Steve Jobs, the world has lost somebody special.

PPPS – NERDS OF ATLANTA – I’m only in town til Wednesday, so let’s do an NF meet up Tuesday night somewhere in the city – head on over to the event page and let’s get this figured out!

 

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  • Charlotte

    Holy sh*t, just reading your description of being on Flattop Mountain has me ridiculously stressed out! (And I’m sitting in a cubicle in toasty Savannah, GA…AKA the opposite of Flattop Mountain in Anchorage, AK.) Glad you made it down safely to ding the universe another day.

  • Dude, thanks for making it back to us alive. And thanks for sharing the pics. Just one question, how many bonus points was that mountain?

  • john

    Ah yes, the brupid line; often immediately preceeded by the phrase “I wonder what happens if…” or “This should be easy…”

    Glad you made it back safely

  • Steve,

    killer story! love me some Alaska.  fyi, the sliding down the mountain thing is called “glissading” -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glissade_(climbing)

  • JBP

    Your video on top of the mountain makes me think of 127 hours.  Good thing you made it and didn’t have to cut off your arm.  That would suck.  See you soon!

  • Amber Bosch

    Steve, those lessons are things ingrained into our subconscious as Alaskans from a very early age. When I’d take my dad’s kayak out in SE Ak to paddle around the island, I’d always leave a note telling him where I was going. He’d do the same if he decided to wander around the back country or take his skiff out. Sorry, I guess as a resident, I should have gave you a few pointers. :/ That sounds like a separate blog post in itself.

  • Soulwind

    Great story Steve, and thanks for not advocating sillyness. Although what an adventure! My one beef with your fantastic tale is to hear  you were driving on 2 hours sleep. Less of this please, I enjoy the NF updates far too much.

    Back home we have a tall smooth rocky incline that kids slide down, we call it – the ass slide.

  • Jacqueline Hastings

    Steve- getting to the “top” and seeing another peak is such a pain in the @$$!!! My buddy and I climbed Welch and Dickey in New Hampshire, in February, after a snowfall, and despite thinking we were prepared, definitely ended up sledding down half the damn thing on our rears. Lesson that was learned? There is NOTHING like a bacon cheeseburger after a hike.

    As an aside, US Air flies to the Cayman Islands, feel free to pop down for a visit. We wouldn’t make you sleep on a bench, drive a focus (hell no), or climb in the snow and risk life and limb. No offense to focus owners…

  • Paurullan

    I would be pissed too if you get killed by being dump, so please don’t 😉

  • Patrice

    All I can say is “Oh MY GOD Stephen Michael Kamb!!!” Nana and Grampy must have been watching over you form Heaven…Love, Mom

  • Dude.  I’m glad you’re ok.  No more of that no-one-knows-where-I-am-but-think-I’ll-do-this-death-defying-deed-anyway nonsense, ok?  I think your mom would agree. 🙂

    Pretty awesome that you went for 25 hours, though!  Looks beautiful!

  • Natasha Smith

    Steve, sounds like quite the adventure! I’ve read a few mountain-climbing horror stories and I think what makes yours particularly challenging was being utterly alone. The instinct to come back down was a good one – any idea why you turned around again and went back up to the top?

    I’m hoping to make it to the NF meetup on Tuesday. I’ve been reading the blog for quite a while and I’m excited to meet you (and hear more about your harrowing adventures in person!).

  • Patrice

    Thanks Amy 🙂

  • This is one of your most inspiring and shocking posts, Steve. Glad you’re alive and learned some lessons from this wonderful experience!

  • Anonymous

    Your crazy dude. Glad to here you are alive! I would never do something like that. At least not now. I’ve made a difference in the world but it needs to be much larger. Maybe if I was 80 something and with someone. Not at age 23 in that situation!

    Either way you rock and are incredibly inspirational.

    I climbed Koko had today in Hawaii. That was epic. When you go to Hawaii you absolutely must climb Koko Head.

    That has me thinking dude… you are flying all over the US and just went to Alaska. Dude, come to Hawaii. I leave October 26. I know you can make it here for 1-3 days! I’ll email you.

  • That was definitely stupid, but definitely a good story since you survived and all =)

    My tale of stupidity comes from an epic trip on the Trans-Siberian a few years ago. I thought I could do everything myself, including taking care of the Russian visa, and then when I got to Russia I found out I had to take a later train than I had planned, meaning my visa would expire before I left the country (ruh roh indeed). Luckily, my basic knowledge of Russian and making friends with a Chinese student in a similar situation saved my ass, and I learned a very valuable lesson about getting the maximum visa time whenever you’re planning a trip.

  • Steve, that looked awesome. Wow. You’re totally right about being prepared and so on, but we both know that the buzz you got when you made it up there was much greater than any buzz you would have got from being ‘prepared’. Balls of steel mate, balls of steel. 😉

  • Paul Mostowyj

    Wow a truly amazing story. I’d love to have an adventute like that and then say how stupid was I?

  • Mamaredhead

    You are crazy — big smile for all of that though …

  • You’ve discovered summit fever! You’re never at the peak when you think you will be and you just can’t turn around.

    By the way, that’s the biggest “mouse” I’ve ever seen. 🙂

  • Hahaha that’s awesome – you certainly now how to pack in a heap of activity in 25 hours! 

  • Erin

    Holy sh*t. Glad you are okay. That is all.

  • TimmyM

    thought to myself… ‘if i was in steve’s position on that mountain what would i do?’ damn straight i’d do exactly the same, probably wearing less as well 😀 respect to you my friend and a big fat high five for your blatant idiocy 😛

  • I’m sorry I recommended Flattop Mountain to you, hopefully I wasn’t the only one. Hahaha spread the blame a little. j/k I’ve hiked it several times, once in the wind/rain and once in the snow. Luckily, you survived. And after all, it’s Alaska, if Mother Nature hasn’t tried to kill you at least once you didn’t really experience Alaska. 🙂  For anyone visiting Anchorage, Kincaid is almost a sure bet when it comes to spotting moose. Looks like you had a great time! Thanks for sharing your adventure with us. 

  • Toni Stark

    That is one amazing trip!  So glad you survived to tell it.  I can’t say I have been in a similar situation where I almost died like that.  I was, however, completely misled when I went to Hawaii and wanted to climb Diamond Head.  I am sure plenty of people have done it, and it was my first time there, so I am thinking how awesome the view is going to be and everything!  I swear I talked to like different people in Hawaii, not all locals either, that informed it was an “easy” hike.  Everyone single person I talked to about it said that.  Bull freakin crap because when I am told there are a few stairs, and there end up being almost 300 at a very steep angle, I’m climbing them saying to myself, “A bunch of people just lied to me.”  So, on my way back down I bought the dang t-shirt saying I had climbed it because I felt very accomplished!

    Love hearin the stories…keep em comin! 😀

  •  To the question: Yes. I had just gotten a pretty nasty chest wound (fell on a knife, don’t laugh) and had to walk 12 miles through a blizzard (Canadian winter) in sneakers and sweat pants while carrying two bags of somewhat heavy stuff. Oh and guess what? I hadn’t eaten in a good 30-35 hours.
     Do you know what I learned? Stitches can get ripped.

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  • Cldessert

    Steve. I live in Anchorage, Alaska. You should have hiked Skyland mountain in eagle river, way better. Flattop is nothing during winter times unless you body slid down it lol… But that’s painful and dangerous, yet fun. But it’s good you saw Girdwood, beautiful place to go snowboarding and skiing. And I have to say that’s a cheap ticket before your discounts… It’s usually in the 1,000. But yeah so anyone that visits Alaska should do Baldy hike on skyland mountain and bird ridge towards girdwood and if you are gonna do flattop, do the back of the mountain where there’s not a nice trail for you and just a small dirt one through out all the rocks. Glad you liked Alaska.

  • Cldessert

    Oh ignore half of my comment. I skipped that paragraph about you body sledding. Even though you almost died it was still something not a lot people do. My friend and I did it and she lost her shoe and camera during the process… We up hiked in crawling in the snow to finally find her camera but no shoe… Luckily we found another shoe- someone else’s lol. But yah next time like you said do your research and be prepared. It is scary to go down a mountain like that and it’s unbelievable the speed your body goes but still that rush feels worth it.

  • Rich

    Alaska sounds like quite the adventure. What I find most inspiring about this (and this might sound like a little thing) is the fact that you went on this adventure by yourself and didn’t let that deter you. I have issues with going out and enjoying the world by myself; I normally beg my friends to death to go on an adventure with me and if they turn me down, I end up not going. Looks like I have something to overcome in the near future.

    So here is my story of stupidity. When I was fourteen, I went on a hike/camping trip with my Scout troop to Gaudulupe Peak, the highest mountain in Texas. The hike itself wasn’t too bad, but we turned the hike back down into a race (stupid decision number one). I was wearing shoes slightly too big for me so with each step downward, my big toes were smashing against the front of my boots. Add that to the fact that every 25 feet or so, the trail turned about 90 degrees, maybe slightly less. Running full speed down this mountain was turning into a life or death race. On multiple occasions, I had to grab hold of trees, flinging myself over the edge of the trail in order to turn at each switchback. When we got back down to base camp and I took my boots off, I discovered my socks covered in blood and my two big toe nails barely hanging on. Then came morning and myself and two other guys in my group decided to free climb a 300 foot cliff that was covered in fog (stupid decision number two). After a two hour climb, we had encountered the largest fire ants I have ever seen in my life and countless close calls. On the way down, I actually fell off the cliff. Luckily, one of my friends caught me. So I lost two toe nails; gained countless ant bites on my hands, arms, and face; and experienced more death defying situations than I care to mention. Most likely the stupidest decisions of my life was free climbing that cliff. On the bright side, however, that trip solidified my love for rock climbing.

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