- “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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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!