While quickly un-holstering his .45 revolver, Dan quietly yells, “Oh shit! The bear is on a kill! Turn around! Turn around!!!” So, we do, and start moving as fast as possible with our 80 pound backpacks, ripping our boots off and starting to wade completely helplessly, like sitting ducks, through knee deep mud. We’re making our way aways from a large brown bear who was on some sort of kill… possibly another bear,maybe a moose… we couldn’t tell, as the carcass was mostly gone. Over the next day or so, Dan tells us a horrific story, proving bear’s heightened aggression while they are eating.
Let's Tarentino this a bit and go back. Back to how and why I ended up in this bizarre, terrifying situation. A couple of years ago, I get a random email from this writer in Seattle who says his name is Chris Solomon, and he’s planning some hiking trip to Alaska, possibly to feature in Outside Magazine. Hmmmm… hiking. I’m not normally a huge fan unless there’s a much larger climbing or skiing objective involved (I know, I’m a snob). But wait, I think he said something about packrafting, this oddball “sport” I’ve been hearing more and more about. This piques my interest, due to the exploration possibilities it opens up to remote, wild and varied terrain. Alaska… always incredible. Outside Magazine… cool. Okaayyy, I’m listening.
I call. We talk. And Chris goes on to explain we would hike through Aniakchak National Monument, the least-visited of all the U.S.’s park lands. After a couple of bush plane flights from Anchorage, we’d find ourselves half way out the Aleutian Peninsula, hoist our massive packs over our shoulders and walk/packraft from the Bering Sea to the Gulf of Alaska… and, oh yeah, we’d go up and over a wild volcano somewhere in the middle. This area also boasts the most dense brown bear populations in the world, a fact that both heightens my interest in seeing these magnificent beasts and keeps me up at night.
Chris also explains we’ll be in the field with one of Alaska’s best adventure guides, Dan Oberlatz, who has owned and operated Alaska Alpine Adventures the past 15 years. The three of us will make this overland, 200 mile journey through some of the most rugged, wild and out-of-this world terrain our planet has to offer. After learning more, I respond with a smattering of four letter words, solidifying not only my excitement for the adventure, but my commitment.
Working as an adventure sport / outdoor lifestyle, commercial photographer the previous 12 or so years, I’ve found it extremely important to balance the well-paying, sometimes posh advertising work with projects that take me right down to my roots: sweating through wild, raw adventure. After all, having experiences such as the once Chris has sold me on, are the entire reason (along with the creativity involved with photography) I studied this profession and worked my ass off to make it my livelihood.
Again, in Tarentino fashion, lets fast-forward to the location along this journey where I stated, “I will remember this place on my deathbed.” As we stood along the bottom of the vast, 6 mile-wide Aniakchak crater and took in the surrounding landscape; snowy peaks that shoot up to the volcano rim, 500’ high cinder cones along the crater floor, a huge, milky, turquoise lake, fed by a mineral-rich, yellow-orange-red stream, lined with bright green bushes, abundant brown bear tracks and best of all, not another human for a hundred miles. And those humans, are few and far between. We had spent 3 long days hiking up and into the crater and were about to spend 3 days pack rafting down to the Gulf of Alaska, where we would then walk 5 very long days along the coast to the nearest fishing village. We were out there. Way out there, and in a landscape only a human body can describe to itself.
Adventures in Aniakchak, AK See more of Gabe's images here!