'Tis the season to patch your tent, clean out that scuzzy hydration bladder and wear your waterproof jacket into the shower to make sure it still is, in fact, waterproof.
(I'm not the only one who does that -- right?)
Anyway, this is also the season to start plotting any big summer adventures you may have in mind. Don't have any big trips planned? I polled local outdoors experts and assembled their recommendations into a tick list to kick-start your inspiration.
Every single adventure on this list is achievable but they all come with the standard Alaska disclaimer: This isn't a controlled environment. That's part of the allure, right? But it also means there's always the potential for things to go seriously wrong with no warning. It's up to you to make sure you have the right equipment and skills to handle whatever curve balls nature sends your way.
Don't let that put you off, but do make sure to scale your adventures according to what you can safely handle. See something that's beyond your skill level right now? Work your way up to it -- the adventure will be well worth the effort.
Of all the opportunities for fishing up here, the most epic -- in a glorious, hard-work sort of way -- is dipnetting. Whether you go up to the Copper River or down to the Kenai, it's a subsistence opportunity that doesn't require any particular skills just stand in the water until a fish swims into your net. Rinse and repeat.
Don't have a net? Make one -- you'd be amazed by some of the contraptions made out of tubing or wood that catch fish out there right alongside $150 nets. Don't have waders? Find a place you can fish from shore (check the Fish and Game dipnetting guidelines to make sure you're still "within bounds"). No cooler? Scour the garage sales. As the fish come in, head them, gut them and get them on ice as soon as possible, and don't forget to snip the tail fins, too, per Fish and Game guidelines. Set aside a day or two for fish processing afterward. If you're lucky, you'll be set for the winter.
(For information on fishing licenses, see the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, adfg.alaska.gov.)
The staff at Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking offered two recommendations for packrafters. The easier option is to take the Alaska Railroad to the Spencer Glacier whistle stop, then float out along the Placer River. The second is a standard classic for packrafters but requires more effort on your part: Hike about 12 miles on the Upper Winner Creek trail in Girdwood, across Berry Pass and down to the Twentymile River. From there, you float down to the takeout boat ramp (Mile 80.7 Seward Highway) where, it is hoped, you remembered to park a car.
Ari Stiassny, owner and operator of Chugach Adventure Guides, recommends the Spencer Glacier float as an easy guided river trip for folks who just want to come in off the cruise ship, have a scenic Alaska day tour without having to fly in, then head out again. Locals are welcome too, of course, and if you haven't done this trip yet, whether on your own or with a guide, you really are missing out.
For adrenaline junkies, there's the dangerous but thrilling Six Mile Creek. This one you should only tackle with an experienced guiding company and, even then, you need a certain level of fitness, swimming ability and comfort with the idea of rescuing yourself if things go wrong. "It's an amazing trip ... it's a blast," Stiassny said. It's also one of the only river trips that has a mandatory in-river swim test before you even get in the raft.
If you have the appropriate skills and watercraft to undertake your own whitewater adventure, Paul Twardock, chair of the Outdoor Studies department at Alaska Pacific University, recommends a classic Alaska adventure north of Anchorage: putting in at Hicks Creek and taking out at King Mountain. "It requires some skill, for sure; you definitely need some knowledge of rivers," he warned. There are some splashy Class I+ to II waves, but the biggest hazards to watch out for are sweepers, logs and log jams.
Sea and lake kayaking
Have sea kayak, will travel? You almost have to.
"The problem with (kayaking in) the Cook Inlet area is the tides," said Mark Cohen, owner of Alaska Raft and Kayak. "You could go out paddling with slack tides, then it could turn on you and you get into trouble real quick. A nice place to go out of is Whittier, because you've got the Sound that's pretty protected, and there are a lot of islands to go camping on."
APU's Twardock recommends Blackstone Bay in Whittier as a nice place to start. He also recommends the trip to Caine's Head near Seward: "It's a great little paddle out there." Resurrection Bay is also fairly well-protected, he says, but even so, you're still going to need some paddling skills and rescue knowledge, and you should finish paddling by midafternoon before the wind picks up.
Looking for calmer, inland water? "The biggest problem on the Kenai in the later part of the year is boat traffic," Cohen said. But if you put in at one of the Skilak campgrounds, then paddle across and get out at Bing's Landing in Sterling, you will for the most part be traveling through the calm, no-motorized-use waters of a swan sanctuary.
Or think lakes -- but just because the word "lake" is in there doesn't necessarily mean that you should head out in a lake kayak. Sea kayaks are more appropriate on large bodies of water like Eklutna Lake and Lake Louise to the north, or Skilak, Tustamena and Kenai lakes to the south.
Summer hiking and mountaineering
If you're ready to kick your summer hiking up a notch, you can always try to bag a few peaks -- but you have to choose your targets carefully to make sure they don't end up bagging you instead. "The thing that people want to do is stay in what we call third-class terrain, where even if you fall, there will not be serious consequences," Twardock said.
With that said, there are still a lot of non-technical peaks your feet can take you to. Twardock suggests heading up Falls Creek to South Suicide and beyond as a great overnighter, or you can make a multi-day trip of peaks in the Chugach front range -- hike in one day, bag a non-technical peak the next, then hike back out on the third day. Do, however, pay close attention to your route; it's pretty common for a technical ascent to be right next to a non-technical ascent, or for the two to overlap.
If you're more interested in backpacking than peak bagging, there's always Crow Pass -- "A classic, beautiful, beautiful hike," Twardock said, although the river crossing can be challenging. Or, for a suitably epic, three- or four-day trip with mind-blowing views, check out Kesugi Ridge in Denali State Park, where the neighborhood scenery might just include a glimpse of North America's tallest peak.
During summer, many of Alyeska Resort's ski trails turn into a mountain bike park, complete with rentals and instruction available for beginners. Intermediate and advanced bikers can launch from the upper tram terminal, while some of the trails lower down are suitable for those starting out. Before you go, do avail yourself of the maps and instructional material available at alyeskaresort.com -- especially the warnings about when to walk your bike and when to watch for hikers.
If you'd like something a little more sedate, you can always tackle the Indian to Girdwood bike trail (still popularly known as "Bird to Gird"), 13.3 miles each way of paved, multi-use trail that more or less parallels the Seward Highway, with lovely views of the water and a couple nice jaunts through the trees. Some of the easiest access points are Alyeska Resort, the Girdwood train depot and a number of pullouts along the highway between mile markers 90 and 103.