The sun-drenched season is once again upon us. Nature is calling us to come frolic in her fragrant embrace, to feel the kiss of wind and gaze upon soaring panoramas. When the days are long and the breeze is warm, nothing could be more appealing than to head for the hills and leave every trace of organized humanity behind.
However, in its vastness and variety, the outdoors contains vacuums of sustenance, vicious weather and creatures that sometimes see humans as walking snacks. Like so many other things in life, the natural world is a blend of blessings and hostility.
Before embarking on serious outdoor excursions, then, it is prudent to review the collective wisdom of the sourdoughs and other seasoned outdoors-folk who have gone before us.
Alaska, as it turns out, is a great repository of Grizzly Adams types. After all, it is one of the largest remaining tracts of pristine earth on the globe, and unquestionably the largest in the United States. As one of the states, its rugged beauty is tempered by infrastructure, technology and people with the prosperity and free time to explore it. From those who have done so, we can learn much that will help the adventurer stay alive and whole.
To build a fire
Forget about natural methods of starting fires, particularly if your sojourn is in winter. All outdoor veterans carry waterproof matches, and most supplement them with windproof lighters or fire sticks—waterproof chemical fire starters that can be obtained at military surplus stores. The latter are ideal for colder weather, when hands can lose their nimbleness, rendering matches and lighters less useful.
Water is your friend and foe
When drinking water outdoors, you should always question its purity. Some outdoor gurus have never had problems with Alaska water. Most, however, take precautions as a matter of course.
One way to ensure the safety of water is to carry a water filter. These units, which work by means of a manual pump, are widely available in retail outlets. However, they also add weight to your pack. For trips requiring a light load, water purification tablets are a good alternative.
Getting doused with water can be deadly when traveling in the winter or on chilly days. An extra change of clothes is a must. While drying your clothes is a solution, it is time-consuming and can quickly exhaust a fuel supply. Waterproof bags are indispensable for keeping clothes and supplies dry in your pack.
A generous food supply is recommended. You should count on taking in 3,000-4,000 calories per day. The food should consist primarily of carbohydrates. The traditional “trail mix” of nuts, oats, raisins, etc. has become a classic since it is an ideal blend of grains, fruit and nuts. The latter are excellent for quick energy and also contain protein and high levels of fat, hence providing sustained energy.
For the gourmet, there are dry packaged meals containing rice or pasta, to which water may be added for hot, invigorating meals.
Surviving in the wild without a food supply is surely possible, but, not surprisingly, most outdoorsmen don’t recommend nature’s provisions as practical or enjoyable fare. If you are shooting your meals, there’s a real possibility they may be tough and gamy.
Worse still is to subsist on plants. Gleaning a meal from the earth is long, laborious and yields what most would consider boring fare. Moreover, such an approach requires a fair knowledge of plant life. You can find many plants that are harmless but offer no nutritional value. Other plants, of course, look palatable but are harmful to ingest. While there isn’t an abundance of poisonous plants in Alaska, it only takes ingesting a toxic vegetable once to discover the importance of having a basic knowledge of the plant life here. Bookstores carry numerous pictorial guides to Alaska plant life.
Don’t get lost
With a modicum of precautions, you can easily keep your course in the wilderness. Some recommendations: notify friends or relatives when proceeding into an outlying area; bring a map, a compass and some kind of communications device. The wonder of the age is a GPS (global positioning system), which permits the adventurer to use satellites to pinpoint his or her current location.
If you are without any of these things, there are some simple tricks for finding the way out of the wild. By walking downhill, you will usually find civilization eventually, particularly if there is a stream of water to follow. Remember that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Snowdrifts form natural lines with which to keep on a straight course.
Keep your head. Panic is a great foe.
You can easily fill a pack with first aid equipment, but most outdoor buffs carry only the basics: Band-Aids, antiseptic cream, gauze and athletic tape. Most serious injuries will require advanced treatment that is beyond the provision of the most complete trail kit. The most important consideration is infection, which a rudimentary kit will help avoid.
A recurring theme: you get what you pay for. Discount shoppers are encouraged to curb their frugality when shopping for something as important as a tent. Low-priced tents may be deficient in life-preserving functionality.
Experts recommend a three-season waterproof tent. For winter excursions, tents are available that withstand colder temperatures and high winds. It is important to choose a tent that can be easily raised in case you are faced with the task in the cold or dark.
Wild animals produce more alarm than is warranted. Nonetheless, once the encounter becomes a close one, the results can be catastrophic. The rule of thumb is to be respectful and wary of wildlife, particularly bears and moose.
Among experienced outdoorsfolk, the consensus seems to be that people are overly dependent on firearms in dealing with animals. Yelling, throwing rocks swinging a stick and using pepper spray are all commonly used as effective means of turning away even large animals. Remember that most animals have an instinctive fear of humans.
As a last resort, more powerful means may become necessary to divert threatening animals, particularly when encountering bears or moose in heavy brush or close to streams, and especially when young are present.
These are the basics from the mouths of experts. So pack light, respect nature and keep your wits about you. You’ll have a great time in Alaska’s back yard.