Thursday, June 30, 2011

Magical Mystery Tour: Yakutat to Glacier Bay on fat bikes and packrafts

Over at the the captain's blog is a bit on a trip so rich and so good that I can not write adequately.

I shot essentially no photos, only these "accidents": Be sure to click on them and see them in their big glory. MC has posted some beauties.

But lots of video: 70 gigs of video -- and that's just mine. All with the new HD GH1 and Go-Pro.

I can offer up some stats:
  1. 225 miles total.
  2. 135 miles riding every sort of beach sediment you can imagine.
  3. 65 miles paddling lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, sloughs, oceans, bays, fiords -- we used our boats 25 times.
  4. and 25 miles of mostly stumblef*cking.

The powerhouse Lost Coast Pugsly team of Eric Parsons and Dylan Kentch, with Mike Curiak of fatbike Idita-routes and "Doom" Steve Fassbinder got me through with humor, at least two fires a day, and cowboy coffee every morning.

We saw more eagles than sea gulls. Enough bears to make it interesting, but not so many as to be stimulating. We saw sea lions and whales, suspensefully close.

We saw no one else for days, but got a note from Gordy and Thai deep in the wilderness. They walked the coast to Gustavus and then skied the Fairweather Range back, we heard. No word yet on their trip completion.

For me this was among the top ten trips, ever, and would make for a long challenging Wilderness Classic.

Our camps read like a geography of this wild coast: Situk River, Dry Bay, Grand Plateau Glacier, Cape Fairweather, Lituya Bay, La Perouse Glacier, Icy Point, Graves Harbor, Taylor Bay, Icy Straight.

The bike and boat combo was the only way for us to go. We looked forward to the miles and miles of sand and gravel, even cobble beaches, as they were all rideable. Only when the boulders got to be the size of American sports balls (hardballs, softballs, footballs, basketballs) and cliffs of ice or rock met the surf did we set on pushing and portaging our bikes or paddling our boats.

There are highlights:
  1. Watching Dylan eat his 3 lbs of cookie dough straight out of the gallon ziplock while bobbing in 4 foot swells in his packraft.
  2. Hearing Mike share stories about a mutual friend whose initials are RR and who lives a bit north of Anchorage.
  3. Following Eric's lead into the Pacific breakers off La Perouse Glacier, his Surly Pugsly bravely crashing surf on the bow of his old leaky Alpacka.
  4. Riding with Doom on bedrock and cobbles and sea grass bear trails as far as we could go without dabbing.

We were treated to wonderful weather, spectacular scenery, ever-changing terrain on what is quite likely the wildest coast in the USA.

The riding on either side of Icy Point was pretty much among the best wild riding I can recall, improbable and delightful with the aluminum 907 with its one brake and two gears, a rear rack and a backpack, ideal. Thankfully our food loads were light at that point.

Another watershed moment came with tidewater paddling. I now know how Hig and Erin stuck with it from Seattle north: it's so much better than the alternative. Heading into Glacier Bay we moved at 5 mph. Matching travel to tidal flows was super satisfying.

We averaged 3.3 mph on bike (including rest breaks), 0.6 mph stumblef*cking on the boulders or f*cksticked bear trails, and 2.3 mph on the paddling stretches. That's with the fat bikes on board.

Alpacka made a four pound "Super Scout", six inches longer than the normal Scout. It included a spray deck.

Such a great and perfect boat for me on this trip, although a bit spooky with the 60-70 pound load at the start.

Maybe I'll get some video together to give a taste.


  1. Having seen the stunning photos on your friends blogs I would ask if you would make that video please. Incredible sights.

  2. From your's and the others' posts, it looks like a fantastic trip! Those fat Surly's are pretty cool.

    I'm only just getting my toes wet with packrafting. Would you say that an Alpacka Scout is a viable option for a tall (6'1") guy not planning on running too much whitewater? I was surprised to see it carrying a bike and gear reasonable well.

  3. No, Mark, the little extended scout is not really whitewater worthy, but does make a good second boat :)

  4. Opted to read your report first, Roman since you are a bit of a forefather in these multi-sport AK trips. Thanks for the initial report. Now onto reading everyone else's reports, seeing some hopefully stellar photography and taking a look at your video as well.

  5. Thanks Sam, that's very respectful to an elder ;)

  6. Awesome stuff. I am looking to put together a similar trip next year. Do you have other areas that you might suggest as we are in our initial planning stages.



  7. Hi Glenn,

    Well, if you live in AK, the Hope to Homer route seems like a good practice beach ride, or even Kenai to Homer, where you can try out the whole bike and boat and tidal concerns before hitting the real wilderness of the Lost Coast.

    Another variation on our tour is to ride from Yakutat to Dry Bay and then back. That's the best sandy beach riding and has great scenery both out to sea and up to he mountains.


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