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Tag Archives: Alaska

Steeper, Higher, Farther: A Never-Ending Pursuit

by: Will Babb

There is always a desire to push further. To climb higher, explore the unexplored, see grander views and find your limits. This desire took a strong hold and revealed itself on a cool, foggy morning in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. A remote land of stunning beauty; how could you not explore it? Our camp was in a glacial river valley on the shores of silty Turquoise Lake, the U-shaped valley surrounded by towering, rocky peaks. The peaks loomed above, glaring down at us, intimidating us but luring us toward them. Steep slopes of scree seemed to isolate the peaks and make them unattainable. My eyes were consistently drawn upward, searching for a navigable route up the talus carved out of these mountainsides in the not too distant past by the retreating glacier. .


Low hanging clouds hovered over the glacial valley late into the morning, obscuring the summits of the peaks from our view far, far below. A cool wind blew off the lake as we stood around eating breakfast, shivering and contemplating the day. We had been spoiled by clear, sunny skies in this valley the previous day, and now a gloomy aura fell over the group. One by one, the group disappeared back into the tents to sleep off the dreariness. Olivia and I were determined not to let overcast skies ruin a day of adventure; after all we were on a once in a lifetime trip and the chance to explore this valley was limited to today- it was now or never. So as the last of the sleepy crew retreated behind a thin veil of nylon, the two of us promised Joe we’d return in an hour.


We packed light, expecting a short hike. Water, a rain jacket, trekking poles, bear spray, and a satellite phone made their way into our packs. Snacks did not. With light packs, we started away from camp at a quick pace. Our goal was the top of a green knoll below a steep field of black talus. The talus appeared impassable and dangerous, the mossy bump below it the highest attainable point on the mountain from our view halfway across the valley.


A 4 mile day hike up the valley the day before revealed our sense of scale and distance was way off in this land where everything is BIG- mountains, glaciers, lakes. We looked at our goal, knowing we had to traverse the rocky plain, cross a few braided streams, and then climb up a steep slope to the knoll. We estimated this hike might take us a half-hour, but we reached the stream in 7 minutes, crossed it, changed into our boots, and scrambled up the green moss to our endpoint before we reached the 20 minute mark. Even a delay to pick the luscious blueberries carpeting the steep slope didn’t slow us down much as we reached our goal faster than expected, stopping briefly to admire the view around us and marvel at how quickly we had gained elevation above the valley floor.


It was here that the nagging desire to climb higher took hold. Olivia and I glanced at each other and giggled, both thinking the same thing. Few words were exchanged and we were in agreement- let’s go on. The steep scree we had looked at from camp was less intimidating as we stared up at it from just below, and in a hurry we were off. We decided to push back our turnaround time since the others were contentedly sleeping and climbed higher, shedding layers as we worked up a sweat. With each step the loose rocks beneath our feet shifted precariously. We hiked apart so as not to send rocks tumbling down the slope into the shins of the other. The creaking of loose rocks and grinding of sliding scree kept us tense, but we ignored the warnings of shifting rock and pushed higher, aiming to reach a headwall a few hundred yards above us.


Our thighs screamed as we pushed up an inconceivably steep slope. We relied heavily on our trekking poles for balance on the loose rocks, struggling upward as gravity and the scree pulled our feet back down with each step. Two steps up, one step back. We panted breathlessly, smiling in the struggle of a steep climb. This was exactly the kind of hiking we both loved, tough scrambles, hard climbs, awe-inducing views. The headwall loomed large above us, but with heads down we climbed higher, our feet searching for the most stable rocks with each step forward. Finally we reached the end up the talus at the base of the crumbling headwall, granite cliffs and pinnacles rising above us, our heads tilted back and necks craned up as we stared upwards.


We had planned on turning around at the base of the scree, and then pushed on to the headwall, and now we weighed our options. Looking up, there was a definite path to gain even higher ground. Or we could take the safer option and turn back, heading toward camp and off of steep mountains, loose rocks, and sketchy scrambles. It was an easy decision. We continued on, the mindset that without risk and consequences, we weren’t truly having fun. One has to be slightly messed up in the head to hold this view, and we both are accepting of this truth.

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A faint path appeared to trend straight up behind the headwall, but it didn’t appear to extend very far before it disappeared into sheer rock faces. Trying to get as high as possible, we took a longer route up. We scrambled sideways along the base of the headwall across the top of the scree field, sending rocks careening hundreds of yards down as we stepped delicately across. With relief we came to the edge of the scree and followed a mossy path littered with gravel steeply up, still scraping the base of the granite cliffs.


The droppings on the trail let us know we were trekking a goat path, not at all surprising given how high we were. This was an area fit for few animals but the mountain goats, and apparently two overzealous adventurers. Gravel slid down as we stepped up, our hands resting on the crumbling granite face for security and support as we climbed. Clinging to these rocks for our safety did little to ease our worries and was treacherous going, as every now and then we would pull off huge chunks of granite from the wall. We eased forward, taking each step with caution and moving much slower now than before, knowing that the consequences of a mistake, of one misstep, could be high. Broken ankles or legs, a tumble down the steep slope, a difficult rescue, and having to forego the remainder of the trip was the fate that awaited a single mistake.


We reached a point where the goat path we had been following upward along the cliff ran into nothing and a body-length of cliff stood between us and slightly safer walking. We paused here, not wanting to make the traverse across the cliff face. There was no other way forward, so it was either turn around here or commit to a traverse we might not be able to do in reverse. Once committed, we’d have to find another way down. A six foot traverse of cliff stood between us and the other side of a gully, an eight foot drop below us and a thousand vertical feet of talus awaiting us below that should we fall. For comfort we had crumbling granite to cling to and mossy, slippery footholds.


I hesitated, and Olivia set off across. She reached the middle, ran out of handholds, her hands fumbling for grooves or cracks to cling to, and finally did a trust fall onto a boulder on the opposite side to complete the sketchy, dangerous traverse. Now it was my turn. I took a deep breath and shuffled out into open air, my toes desperately grasping for purchase on the small holds and my hands white-knuckling the granite. I shuffled my hands across the rock, finding each weakness, each ridge, crack, and edge that I could crimp. I found good holds and shuffled further out, the other side of the drop just out of reach. I moved my right hand and searched for a hold to cling to, but found nothing further over. I moved it back to a more comforting hold and took a second to contemplate.


Feeling suddenly the open air beneath me and the consequences of a mistake, my adrenaline rose and my breathing quickened. I tried to calm myself, feeling the heady rush of fear that usually enters my mind 60 feet up an overhung cliff face run-out above the last bolt. For a brief second I weighed my options, unwilling to make the trust fall onto the adjoining boulder. I tried moving again, but couldn’t find a solid hold that I could fully trust. I couldn’t move back, and for the briefest of moments I thought about just giving up and letting go, falling backwards onto the talus. I shoved aside those thoughts and tried to shuffle to my right, but the trekking poles I had carelessly shoved into my pack caught on the crumbling rocks and held me in place. I inched sideways, but couldn’t move. I managed to get unstuck, and in desperation lunged to my right for the boulder, catching myself and scrambling to sure-footed ground once again. I trudged uphill behind Olivia, several minutes passing before my breathing returned to normal and the adrenaline left my blood. We both agreed to find a different route back, feeling equally shaken up by the sketchy traverse.


We turned right and continued following the crumbling headwall, pulling milk-jug sized chunks of loose granite off the wall. Rocks slid beneath our feet as we scrambled the last few vertical feet up to the top of a precipice. Looking up, more loose rock awaited us, but the descent was already in our minds. The danger of going down was unavoidable, but going up would only increase the risk. We stopped here at the peak of this portion of the headwall, peering down at the faint green dots of camp thousands of feet below us and across Turquoise Lake, up the glacial valley behind us and staring forlornly at the untravelled rock above us. We wouldn’t reach the top today, but the potential for first ascents in this land couldn’t be ignored and thoughts of a return trip took hold.


After a brief moment of glory on the precipice, disbelief at our own ability to climb so high in an hour and at the landscape surrounding us, we began the long, treacherous descent. Rocks skidded beneath us and tumbled down the slope, landing where we would come to rest if we took a fall from here. We slowly moved down, hiding behind the headwall at each corner as the other descended to shield ourselves from the cascade of sliding rocks. With screaming knees we picked a route down the nearest gully, longing to reach the soft moss that awaited us beneath the scree. We picked the closest mossy gully and headed toward it, the spongy moss cushioning our footsteps when we finally reached it. Back on more solid ground, we breathed a sigh of relief and commiserated over our trembling, beat-up knees. We made our way through a patch of waving, vibrant fireweed and snacked on blueberries as we descended the last bit to the stream and then returned across the rocky plain to camp. We returned after two hours of scrambling just as people started to emerge groggily from their tents. It had been a hard two hours of hiking and climbing, pushing our own limits and pushing the limits up the mountain. We had pushed further than we should have, kept going past our turnaround point, and crossed some questionable terrain. We had been overzealous and asked a lot of our bodies, but the rewards were grand. It was the scariest, most intense, riskiest day hike I had done, but I felt a sense of pride in pointing out the pinnacle we had sat atop far above us, now shrouded in clouds, to the rest of the group. A sense of accomplishment swept over Olivia and I. We had maybe pushed too far, but we also had fun. That’s the kind of hiking we love, the scariest moments the ones to look back on most fondly. So despite the reckless abandonment of caution, the fear that swept over us, we now felt a grand sense of adventure, and couldn’t help but wonder what could have been, how much higher we could have made it. Steeper, higher, and farther- that’s where we want to go. It’s a never-ending desire that you can’t seem to push out of the back of your mind, but following that desire leads to the grandest adventures. It was following that desire that brought us to Alaska in the first place, and now following it had rewarded us with a scramble to remember.

Volunteering In Beautiful Spaces – Maintaining Perspective

by: Emma Littmann

Though I am often told that I don’t look much older than a high school student, it turns out that I have a few years of post-colligete experience. My first two years after undergrad were spent volunteering through an organization called Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest. From August 2015 through June 2016 I lived and served in Ashland, MT, and then spent August 2016 through July 2017 in Juneau, AK. These years, though potentially cliché sounding, changed my life and have given me a new perspective. There was more to these places then the beautiful scenery, there was also pain and suffering deeply rooted with its people. But before I could see more deeply than what was in plain sight, I had to take it in fully.

Arriving in Montana was surreal. We (myself and several volunteers serving throughout Montana and Washington) traveled for 22 hours on a Greyhound bus from Portland, OR across the arid, open country of Eastern Washington and the rugged sections of Western Montana. Dropping off other volunteers in their respective cities along the way, our group was the last to get off the bus in Billings, MT. From there we drove two more hours eastward out into the plains toward what would quickly become our new home in both a physical and spiritual way. The final stretch into Ashland is along Route 212, known locally as The Flats. I sat in the front seat of our community car, a Chevy Suburban, squished in between the driver and one of my new housemates. The driver, a former volunteer and Ashland resident, was telling us about the area, but all I could take in was the sky. It stretched on for miles in every direction, holding the trees against the distant blue, some of them old and some newly growing from the aftermath of a 2012 fire. Our home, settled into a hill was situated facing almost perfectly south. The hills to the east often blocked the sunrise, but were perfect to climb and to spot passing deer. The open plains to the west gave our porch a front row seat to some of the most stunning sunsets, lightning storms and meteor showers I’ve ever seen.

The isolation of Ashland made it special in my eyes. The volunteers didn’t often travel away from home to explore other areas of the state. We could drive almost 100 miles in any direction and not come across a large town. Rather we found a close connection with the people in the town of 400 in which we lived. Many of us served at the same place, St. Labre Indian School, in some capacity. When we weren’t working, we organized Ultimate Frisbee with students and staff. We stayed late on campus, volunteered with the fire department, played in the school band, chaperoned the prom, and coached soccer, cross-country, track, and basketball. Each of us found a personal niche in the community either at the school or at the Heritage Living Center up the road. In the time away from the local community, we rested by spending time on our porch, our roof, and our yard (if I’m being honest, I mostly napped a lot).

It was easy to find the beauty of nature in Ashland. Outside of the sky and the wide plains, the culture of the Northern Cheyenne people created a sacredness and a sense of mystery around the plants and animals that surrounded our home. Suddenly the smell of sage and the sounds of dripping water were more than just sensations, but were a part of me. The horses outside of our yard every morning were familiar not just as animals, but also as individuals. Standing in the pouring rain felt like a cleansing, like coming home. I’ve never felt closer to the core of my being and to my connection with my surroundings than I have in this place. But I know that this is not a continuous experience for everyone living there.

There is more to say about that after an explanation of my time in Juneau.

After one year of Montana living, I decided that I wasn’t finished with the Northwest. After pushing to be placed in Alaska (because it’s ALASKA), I found myself in a new home in the rainforest of Juneau. When our plane from Seattle touched down, it was a typical August day in Southeast Alaska. The silhouettes of the mountains were quickly visible then swallowed up by ever-thicker clouds. What felt like the last ten minutes of our descent were spent shrouded in 2pm darkness. As we were driven home we were told that on a good day we would be able to clearly see the mountains across the channel through our living room windows. The next morning, on a semi-clear and less cloudy day, we were welcomed to that view of what makes living in Southeast Alaska worth it even with occasional months without sun. Cradled in between multiple summits within walking distance of downtown and the Tongass National Forest, Juneau is a place of magic. Even when I could not see it, to know what was there surrounding me just past my line of sight was mystical in its own way. It truly felt as if I were being held by the earth.

With less than fifty miles of road, Juneau boasts its own version of isolation. Many of the people live within three distinct areas and the next twenty or so miles after that are covered by a single road that runs above the shoreline and then dead ends into a beach. Whale tails rise out from the water and you can’t go a day without seeing at least a dozen eagles. These creatures are so present that they too are part of the community. It is also nearly impossible to go into public without seeing someone you know. Though much larger than Ashland, the community here retains a closeness in its own way. Many days ended with fires on the beach just a few miles down the road, or with a walk downtown (and still more naps). A place of warmth even in its sometimes limited 6 hour winter days, Juneau’s ability to blend nature and the city is unparalleled.

Living in a city of 33,000 (with roughly one million visiting during the cruise season) felt much different than living in a town of 400. We had to walk a little further than our own backyard to find the silence and tranquility of what still feels like the wild even so close to a capital city. But wilderness is there in the massive glacier and its blue-ceiling caves, the blue and salmonberry bushes that wind up the mountain paths, and the deep green trees with mists hovering between branches (that remind me a little too much of Middle Earth). Especially mysterious and elusive was the Aurora Borealis that could be seen swirling above the mountains on rare occasions. I’m not sure I’ll be able to say I can watch the Northern Lights from my living room again anytime soon. It is nearly impossible to sit under the aurora or to whistle to an eagle and have it respond (that happened!) and not feel a connection to the earth. The lessons I learned from the Northern Cheyenne stayed with me and I continued to feel a deep sense of oneness with the rocks scattered on the shore, the fleeting Southeast sunlight, and the lone rush of wings of a raven amidst a silent sky.

The physical and spiritual beauty of Ashland and Juneau isn’t difficult to describe. When I discuss my time living in Southeast Alaska and remote Montana, many people immediately mention my luck in living in such beautiful and culturally rich places. Admittedly, when I applied to JVC NW, one of my reasons for wanting to be in Montana in the first place was to explore. I would be lying if I said I wanted to be placed in Alaska purely for the attached service position. However, the past two years have given me a lot more wisdom regarding being a guest in communities such as these. Many people there don’t see their home as a vacation spot or place of relaxation. Rather, it is a complicated mixture of love of the land, of home, and of memories of pain and stress.

As I mentioned before, both of these communities are isolated in their own way. Many people in Ashland have to drive 2 hours to Billings for groceries that do not cost an excessive amount of money. In Juneau, groceries cost more than in the lower 48 regardless because everything has to be brought into the city by barge. When I lived there, I was living simply, but had other finances to fall back on if I ran out of my volunteer stipend. My main concerns were not about food, shelter, or safety. However, many of my students in Juneau at Yaakoosge Daakahidi High School worried about these things daily. It was easy for me to talk about the natural beauty of Juneau when I was miles deep in the forest, far away from the dark corners of the city where many teenagers that I knew and cared for were couch surfing, never finding long-term housing. Further, I imagine that it’s sometimes harder to see the beauty in the long stretches of road crossing Crow country into the Northern Cheyenne reservation when these roads hold the memories of so many deadly accidents.

As a guest in these communities, I straddled a strange line of belonging. I shared in sadness in the passing of life and joy in basketball victories, but those emotions were never fully my own. They were stronger because of my connection to the people who felt them with their whole being, but I could also push those feelings away if I needed to. I could escape to the mountains or the hills and meditate without the guttural feeling of losing a loved one, only eating one meal that day, or being kicked out of home. As a social work student, I remember the importance of self-care. I know that I can’t completely immerse myself in someone else’s story or I will cease to exist as myself. But when living (and especially volunteering) in places like Ashland and Juneau I encourage entering into those stories. For some, Juneau is a one-day stop on a cruise ship, a place to take in the sights and leave as quickly as an effortless inhale and exhale, but to others it is suffocating and inescapable. These places aren’t perfect and it is valuable to remember the experience of those who may be suffering even under a dancing aurora or two miles down the road from my peaceful camp-out on the porch. This is not to say that we can’t enjoy the surrounding beauty, but rather that part of the spiritual beauty of these places lies in the people and communities you can encounter.

From the Beginning

At The Core
Written by: Bryan Wolf

While business sense is the only thing that can keep the doors open, there is another reason that the doors were ever opened at all.  Getting those thoughts on paper ended up being extremely difficult.  I wanted to write about myself which is hard enough, but I also wanted to make it a piece that describes RRT. I wanted to share how our fates were intertwined this whole time. What I came up with is this:

In 2000, I had little interest in going outside, and less in extreme adventures. I don’t believe I had a grasp even on what it meant to go out in nature. It took just one instance; however, before I would blossom quickly into an adventure junkie. Looking back I think it was that limited exposure and poor understanding that made me thirst for more.  A direct exposure to something so beautiful, like tasting something so sweet for the first time, and forever craving it thereafter.  It goes to show that if you can just open someones eyes, they may be inspired to take it to all new levels.

A post high school graduation road trip would of never happened without trying to live up to my brother Rick’s wild side, in fact that mentality still gets me in trouble. My brother was in college at the time, and he was good at it.  I don’t just mean the grades,  I mean the experience. I realized I had never experienced anything quite the same way he does; to the fullest. I don’t remember hesitating when he black canyoninvited me to cross the country with him, because at that crossroads, there was no real choice. With Rick and three perfect strangers we crossed the entire American landscape on our way to San Francisco.

Do you remember the first time that you took a deep breathe of fresh air and felt adventure filling your lungs? The people I was with, and those we would meet, allowed me to open up and pierce the shell I was hiding in all those years.  What I found when I came out of that shell was the most nurturing and addictive substance ever to be consumed by man, it was naturecrack (leezie 2011). It wasn’t the sights, the sights can be captured on high-definition television. You can try and witness all the beautiful sights of endless blue skies, deep red canyons, or towering white peaks though a TV. These are not just sights however, they are more a sense or emotion, and therefore can never be expressed or experienced on 72 inch plasma. Sharing the experience; that is the only way to understand or help anyone else understand what it feels like. The power of nature lies in every sense of your being.

I wanted to see the country’s wonders, I wanted my feet dangling from its deepest canyons, so I traveled on with old friends and with new. Each year I crossed parks, states, cities, and landmarks off my list.  It was early 2006 when I first realized for all the experience and check marks I still needed more.  It was my friend Joe that opened my eyes this time. Joe’s introduction to our wonderful world was much different than mine.  Through the scouts, Joe was brought up to always look for the longest lasting trip, the biggest craziest trip! I had been across the country with Joe already, so what was this big crazy trip?

Yellowstone FallsShooting pool and making life lists was a regular occurrence for the two of us, and it was one of those fateful nights that a new idea was born. What if instead of a dozen places in a dozen days we had but just one goal in mind……for six months.  The plan was to be completely consumed in nature and to completely consume it, to have an experience that was not in passing but challenged our commitment and understanding of everything. A feeling came over me much like it did years earlier: I don’t remember hesitating when he invited me to hike the Appalachian Trail with him because once again, I don’t feel life gives us the luxury of hesitation. Hesitation can be associated with disappointment, at least with all decisions regarding stoplights and the Appalachian Trail.

Nature would be defined differently from that moment on and yet undefinable.  Adventure would hold new meaning but with it be as contradicting as the previous statement. Adventure is of course synonymous with high adrenaline activities, but this time I found it to equally stand for the peace and tranquility found in truly knowing the wilderness. Stillness and silence was an adventure like no other.  The store (RRT) was born on one of our very first days on Appalachian Trail in late 2006.  It started with a dream and a passion, the way all good things come to be. In the midst of one adventure we were constantly planning the next.  We thought about having our own place to call home, a hub for adventurous spirits with the goods and advice to create those adventures.  We couldn’t turn and open up shop then, but that idea would never fade.

2178This experience we wanted shared on every platform that we could reach. We created a web site (the same one that hosts the store page now) and with it a blog and link to our photo journals while on the AT.  Beyond sharing with family and friends we wanted to reach a wider audience so we sought out media and were published in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Still, we wanted this trip to be big, and we wanted this thirst for adventure to spread so we decided to hike for a cause. On our 2,175 mile winter-journey we would raise $10,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southwest Ohio. What I saw was an opportunity; this was our opportunity to turn what we were doing into something bigger than ourselves. As each of us make our way in life we fight to be and to do the best we can.  When we find our moment(s) however, we need to ask ourselves if we are making the very best of the situation? Don’t be satisfied with “good for one” if you can use that moment and turn it into something that is “great for all”.  This is a lesson that I hope to carry with me for life.

I would spend 170 days out on the Appalachian Trail, my first backpacking trip ever.  This trip showed me a million things about myself, but even more of the generosity and compassion that is in this world.  The trail is much like a fairy tale, many of stories seemingly impossible or at least unlikely this day in age.  It was all real, and like I promised myself, to the fullest.  While I expected answers to very specific questions, I received almost the exact opposite; I would learn answers to questions I hadn’t even thought to ask.  You don’t always need to solve a problem, you just need a better perspective on the situation.

That entire experience was rewarding in a million ways, and as addiction goes, I wanted more. Our next trip we tried a new charity “Hike for Haiti” as I attempted a barefoot hike through Vermont’s Green Mountains. Barefoot through nature teaches humility as well, as that trip ended prematurely. When we came home my feet had no time to soften from the sharp rocky trails before more sour news came; our adventure hub had closed its doors. Nature Outfitters, a base of not just gear but support that had been a Milford staple for 20 years, was gone!  There was only one logical thing to do at this point, open our own shop.  It was a phone call after one of my evening classes at UC from my cousin Emily that set things in motion.  Confidently Emily and Joe asked if I was in for another adventure, and being that we are all very optimistically stubborn the next chapter soon began.  In a haste of 20-hour workdays Joe, Emily, and myself , opened the doors of RRT, not 2 months after deciding to do so.  That dream we had on the AT several years back was going to be real!

Not a moment passes that we don’t feel blessed to be in the environment we are and doing what-it-is we’re doing here at RRT.  There are too few people in life that truly get to do what they are passionate about. It was late 2010 when we opened our doors, but I couldn’t help but to feel like there was 10 years leading-up to this day. My personal growth and never ending love for the outdoors needed a home base.  With like minded friends we had the opportunity to create just that. The original idea for RRT was actually a story telling, trip planning cafe, but Roads Rivers and Trails would become much more.

CEFEveryday I look for new adventures but also new ways to share them.  RRT was never created to be a retail giant, nor was it purchased as a retirement hobby: It was created from scratch and is an adventure unto itself.  For me, adventure exists year-in and year-out through Alaska back country trips and AT visits, but adventure is also in creating running groups, educating today’s youth, organizing presentations, and preparing people young-and-old for adventures of a lifetime. One of the very first lessons I learned, and the backbone of RRT, is that it’s about sharing the experience. Through this adventure I’ve been part of more adventures than one could dream, and although I’ve had my own summits and trails completions I can honestly say my greatest satisfaction is having been there when new friends have experienced their own.  Twice now I have reached the summit of Katahdin (plus two times on my own) and shared in the pure explosion of emotions from thru-hikers, acting as more of a spectator as they finish their crowning achievement. Teaching and then leading inner city kids from classroom to trail, I have seen strangers from different schools cooperate and explore together, often for the first time.  With each day the definition of adventure changes and grows to be more than I ever expected.

Camping and Education FoundationRRT is a tool that we created: A tool that fuels adventure and drives passion. That is our business at it’s core; Our business is us. As the little guy in the market we don’t have command of supply chains, nor do we have extensive capital or corporate support, but what we found is that we don’t need those things to succeed.   In life and in business it seems it is never about the advantages that you have but the disadvantages that you overcome.  These lessons are often taught in nature, where self discovery and personal awareness last a lifetime. I challenge you all to escape to nature, even if right now you find yourself sitting at a desk.  Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and remember the first time that you let that adventurous spirit in. Let it fill your lungs once again.

Dream big, and share often.


Pioneers of the Gates

Pioneers of the Gates
Written by: Emily White


Born unto the lonely wild

Two dates shy a full fortnight

Thirteen pioneers did embark upon

The land of endless summer light


As the sun turns behind the clouds

A chill carpets the barren land

A frozen breath casts from below

And grabs hold my threadbare hand


As nighttime greets this quiet realm

A howl slices through the still

The interim bears only breath and beat

The body’s cadence of the thrill


Through beaten paw and weathered brow

The explorers ventured on for miles

To snowfield masses above arctic divide

Over terrain and beastly trials


Water so sweet it clears the mind

Air pure as cloudless winter night

We will never forget our journey throughout

The land of endless summer light

RRT Adventure: Gates of The Arctic Part 2

Gates To Another World
Living Your Dream
Written by: Bryan Wolf

Time has no place in the real world. I don’t mean the “real world” that includes long hours at work or traffic jams on the way home. I am referring to a different world, one that I have had the pleasure of visiting yet again. You see, the real world is the one that has been here for billions of years, and the whole time it has been living and breathing all on its own. Long before our manufactured world existed, there were cities of stone peaks that were thousands of feet tall, and these cities had more travelers pass through than any of our cities today. Each bit of land was self sustaining, unaltered, and beautiful. When you see Alaska, and especially Gates of the Arctic NP, you will see this world because it is still here, and is all around us. Time disappears, you wake when you are rested, you sleep when you are tired, you eat when you are hungry, and you move at your pace. Blueberries grow at your feet, Caribou herds flow into the deep valleys, Wolves sing to you, and Grizzlies play.  This place is unaltered, it’s life unshaken from our worlds existence, and for that reason it is more real than all else.

Our trip began in Fairbanks Alaska. The remoteness of the park requires from here a bush plane flight to Bettles, a town with just over 50 residence.  The hour plane ride drastically changes your mindset from one of civilization to one of adventurous spirit. The town is more bare bones than most people care to go, but we are just half-way there.  We check in with the Rangers at the National Park Service station and get briefed on what the current season has been like.  You should always check with your local resources for that first hand information that never makes it online.  With our group size she didn’t expect us to see much in the way of bears but maybe some Caribou migrating from the north.  From her past 10+ years working at that station in Bettles however she couldn’t recall anyone else heading out for the route we had planned, which is exciting for us!

Jumping in an old pick up truck we throw our backpacks in the bed of the truck and dive into the plush double bench seats of the extended cab.  The truck hasn’t even been registered in 10 years and I’m sure it dates back further.  Just a short drive and we get to the second Bettles landing strip, the lake.  From here we’ll take off by float plane and head another hour north into the park.  Finally to our destination at Lake Agiak in a Northeastern area of Gates of the Arctic NP.

The planes leave but the buzzing continues, our friends the mosquitoes have been waiting for us.  The mosquitoes only purpose is of course to fly into your ears, eyes, and mouth, and to bite you if you dare reveal an inch of skin.  No worry, we anticipated this, we freshen up with repellent and some of us dawn our ever fashionable bug head nets. I think bug nets are the new in-thing, all the Hollywood stars are doing it.  We sit, glance over our plans and the map to set route, and pump our first collection of fresh Alaska water. I gotta tell you, my Alaska glacier water tastes way better than that plastic bottle of “fresh glacier water” that you’ll find at the store so I’m not sure what they’re doing to it.

Our trek started by trying to escape the boggy low ground near the lake.  Alaska doesn’t have the usual terrain, there is very little soil to pack and harden the ground. The water washes the ground away from around the vegetation and we are left to hike through the tussocks. Think of tussocks like ankle twisting basketballs glued to the ground spaced just inches apart.  With the rocky and permafrost under-layer the ground between the tussocks is often a mucky puddle.  The first day and a half were long, we covered nearly 10 miles as the crow flies but struggled to find the path of least resistance.  We would come up and down off ridges as they spilled into river valleys, and had a few tricky river crossing en-route.  So I know I’m not painting a glorious picture of Alaska so far, mosquitoes and slow miles that make your knees scream, but I’ll get there, I promise.

RRT Owners Bryan, Emily, and Joe

RRT Owners Bryan, Emily, and Joe

The first few days it seems you are just happy to be there.  To stop and look around at the most open and vast landscape, to have giants around you in all directions, and even to breathe the fresh air is silencing.  These are the days that the setting for your next 10 days is still becoming real, the realization of escape.  So although the first few days can be the toughest physically I consider them very important transition days.  They were also days that would teach us a lot we came to find out.  There is not a topographical map that shows bogs or tussocks, you have to spend some time with the land to learn how it really moves.  What took us four backpacking days to get to took us but two days to come back on.

The sights and the experience was absolutely amazing! If you have not already you have to check out some pictures we’ve posted.  Our route took us west from Agiak and then north through a valley up to the north slope.  We would cover nearly 50 miles backpacking and another 20 miles through our day hikes. Despite our group size there was no shortage of wild life encounters either.  The trip summary would include well over 100 Caribou, the first sighting of which was a herd of nearly 70 at best count making their way right toward us!  The herd was broken up for reasons that were not immediately clear.  At first we thought it was the scattered showers that made some of them move on but we found it to be much more interesting than that.  The Caribou herd was split by the sight of two adolescent Grizzly Bears.

The Twins as we would then call them were seen several times on our trip and always close together in their adventures.  Adolescent bears can actually be the most dangerous due to their unpredictable nature.  What started as two blond hair balls across the river bed very quickly became two large (adolescent or not) bears on our side of the ridge.  A Grizzly moves at up to 35mph covering 100 yards in 3.5 seconds.  At the time we were a group of 9 with 4 other adults out in front of the group and around the ridge.  Keeping everyone calm, together and prepared was crucial for these next moments. Holding our

"The Twins"

“The Twins”

trekking poles in the air and shouting we readied our bear spray.  The bears slowly but surely continued on a path towards the group.We shifted from a large cluster formation to a very tight and long line to show more numbers, louder than ever we gave up no ground.  Forward progress became more of a lateral movement as the bears, still curious, moved along the ridge and away from the group.  Then we all exhaled for the first time in 10 minutes.

We would see 9 different Grizzlies and have 13 different bear sightings over our 10 day trek.  The third time we would see the twins became the most interesting, all this from a group that didn’t expect to see any bears (but were very prepared).  It turns out that because nobody had explored this region for so long that nobody could predict the exact conditions.  The height of blueberry season and the early migration of the caribou set the stage however for heavy Grizzly activity.  Our eighth day had us venturing back that same river.  We hit the river bed this time for easy walking.  After a glimpse of the twins up in front of us we veered out of the thicker brush and up on the higher bank.  With in a few minutes of shouting at the twins, who didn’t pay much attention this time, the unthinkable happened.  Across the river on the opposite ridge was a third Grizzly, a large adult Grizzly!

The group reformed to be all 13 of us strong together. We had look outs for all directions and our now 6 bear sprays ready to go. Oh but wait, that’s not all, we hit the jackpot on this one.  Right when it seems the adult bear is in retreat we notice a head pop up from the very river bed we walked out of.  That is when we looked over and just 3.5 seconds away was “Peek-a-Boo”.  Peek-a-Boo was the closest a Grizzly had yet been and standing tall with his head peaking above the brush he seemed the most content to stand and just watch us.  We wouldn’t win this stand off, we were cornered now by 4 Grizzlies and one of them was not going anywhere.  In groups of 6 and 7 we moved very slowly backwards away from the river.  Always keeping sight of Peek-a-Boo we moved one group back about 20-30 feet.  Next the other group would come back to meet us and we would regroup.  Repeating steps one and two eventually got us in the clear and for the first time in 15 minutes, we exhaled.

Our day hikes took us to two unnamed peaks, which we took the liberty of naming since we may have been the first to climb them.  On day three a group of us went up “Dragons Peak”.  The mountain was the closest to our camp but towered above the valley around us.  This was a good opportunity for both spectacular views and to scout the valley ahead of us.  The hike was moderate in difficulty but felt great with a light load.  On the fifth day a group of us crossed the north valley that we had yet to go up and set our sites for “Dragons Perch”.  We are obviously convinced that dragons do or did rule this land at some point.  Dragons Perch was unique because it was more isolated and gave us 360 views leading up into 5 different valleys and over top of neighboring mountains.  The Perch was not as kind either, a steep cliff side of broken slippery shale made for a complicated and sometimes nerve racking ascent. This extremely difficult summit was well worth it though.  The peak had a sitting perch for us to view far in any direction and to no doubt feel like the only people to see the world from that perspective!

Bryan trekking up Dragons Peak
Our third day hike brought the entire group along.  Traveling all the way up the valley we headed for the North Slope. The North Slope is the point where the Brooks Range Mountains begin to tapper and elevation slowly drops to the sea.  At the end of the slope, at the very last peak, we would climb the ridge of rocky boulders and broken shale to get a sight of the ice field that lies within its grasp.  An exhausting ascent led us to a spectacular view of the valley back to camp and that which then drops back down the other side.  We could see the ice pack but our adventurous side wanted more.  Splitting up half of us moved forward for a closer look.  The ridge walking became a glacial rock field working down and then back up to the basin holding the ice in.  Stowing the trekking poles away we had to scramble large boulders of often moving and unstable rock until close was close enough.  The field was tricky to maneuver and since it has been untouched it presented too many dangers for us to continue on.  Being close enough to see the blue shine on some of the ice was awesome though.  The way down was

From the top of "Dragon's Perch"

From the top of “Dragon’s Perch”

just as precarious with the wind and rain making the temperature bitter at that elevation.

The group, together again made the long hike back to camp and fired up the camp stoves.  The group meshed incredibly well and I am lucky to have shared this experience with those that came along.  Dinner time was a family event for us.  We all huddled around the bear cans sharing the days stories and telling jokes.  Be it gear junkies we couldn’t help but to pick everyone’s mind about there gear as well.  Bartering was the most popular post dinner entertainment.  Chili Mac for Rice and Chicken and two Starburst first required two Starburst for two Jolly Ranchers but the trade was almost soured by the infamous Twix bet of 2013.  Like most trips into the wild there is a large emphasis on food at camp.  A yawn and a stretch and it was time for bed, because we were tired. At one point I had to throw my sunglasses on to sleep.

I love camp sleep, especially with a new luxury pad.  There was but one night that I slept poorly and it isn’t what you’d think.  Sound asleep, I hear a light whisper, “Beej”.  I hear it again, “Beej”. Vince who I shared a tent with was waking me up.  I turn over in my sleeping bag and look up to him staring right at me.  “There is a bear outside of the tent” he says with a frozen look on his face.  I slowly and quietly unzip myself and grab the bear spray sitting between us.  My heart goes from 0 to 60, the adrenaline pumping though my veins.  I assume at this point he is frozen with fear so I jump into action and pull the safety right off the spray.

As I start to get out of the bag and ready for my next move he finally speaks again having been silent this whole time. “What are you doing?” “Whoa, what are you doing?” he says with a blank look. “You said there was a bear outside of the tent!” I said at this point more than confused.  Still staring me down he says “No, I said Caribou”.  Immediately following this he turns and falls fast asleep.  I’m in a daze at this point, my heart still racing but this time a little angry.  Looking outside the tent I can’t see a thing, caribou, or bear.  I shake him awake “What were you talking about”, he responds with a “huh”.  “You said there was a bear!” to which Vince replied, “No I didn’t”.  It took me about an hour to calm down and get back to sleep and the next morning he didn’t remember a bit of it.

I took a swim in Agaik Lake on our last day

I took a swim in Agaik Lake on our last day

Looking over the trip there is very little I would ever do differently.  Our gear performed exceptionally and I look forward to doing individual reviews after this post.  Our food plan was stellar, our bear protocol and Leave No Trace ethics impeccable (we actually carried out trash and set GPS coordinates for larger debris left by early explorers), and our route (much improved on the way back) was beautiful! We stopped by and exchanged some information with the rangers upon return.  The park ranger said she considers us the “foremost experts on the area”.  Of  all the gear I brought the least used were my mosquito net (we ended up real lucky) and my headlamp. The headlamp seemed silly to bring in the first place due to the 24 hours of sunlight but dark cloud cover would make you regret not bringing it even more.  I hope that this post brings you closer to this wonderful world, or that one day you can visit it for yourself.  We will give a free presentation on our experience on 8/27/13 at 7pm at Roads Rivers and Trails.

RRT Adventure: Gates of The Arctic Part 1

Inside the Arctic Circle
Projecting Your Dream
Written by: Bryan Wolf

The easiest part of a trip for me is when I commit to the trip.  Over a year ago I had no reason to say no, in fact if you ask early enough I’m not sure I ever could say no.  Alaska? Sure!  I figure anything that needs done be it planning, saving, packing, or training I have plenty of time to do it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to belittle any of those steps for anyone else.  Individually they are all huge endeavors. At some point however you have to become a Yes Man (or woman). Say “Yes” to adventure and allow yourself the confidence to make your dreams come to.  I like to set a goal and then put all of my energy to making it happen.  So, Saturday morning I’ll drive to Indy, jump on a plane and 4 more flights later step off in the wonderful wild that is Gates of the Arctic National Park.

So besides commitment what else goes into planning a trip like this?  How do you get to one of the most remote National Parks in the world? It takes a dream and a plan. In my case it also took a team.  Start by assembling your team and by projecting your dreaming.  This isn’t happening on two weeks notice for anyone.  Team leaders included our friend Scott and RRT owner Joe.  Scott is great at planning and organizing, when he got a break from work and wasn’t hanging from a wall at the Red, Scott was able to book permits for the park, bush plane and float plane flights, and hotel stays for the whole group.  We had our days picked and some ducks started filing into a row.  This is where Joe came in; Joe has been a guide in Alaska for years and to Gates of the Arctic three times already. With some topographical maps and some beers Joe, Scott, and I sat down to find potential routes.

The Gates don’t have blazed and maintained hiking trails, this is remote and untouched (hopefully forever) landscape.  Our entry point was restricted only by that of the size of the lake we wanted to fly to.  A lake has to be big enough for the float plane to land and take off again. Coordinating a pick-up and drop-off point with your pilot is an important step.  Once we arrive we are free to roam.  If we so chose we could frolic through the wild grass and lake side pebble beach for 10 days.  Honestly though, who goes to Alaska to be on the beach all week?  Looking at the maps we decided that the first two days would cover 8-10 miles per day through a valley on relatively low elevation.  The brush can be thick in places and the terrain is untamed so this is no place for light weight or vulnerable gear.  The game plan then shifts to much shorter days backpacking and setting up base camps earlier in the day.  Doing this will afford us some more flexibility in our travels.

There are 13 people in total on our trip this year.  If you have ever been with such a group you’ll understand that people often want to go at different speeds or even take different routes.  Our gear and trip planning will allow us to do that.  Staying in groups of 4+ we’ll be taking all the safety precautions.  A group of four or more will be much more safe when it comes to wildlife encounters.  We have also brought groupings of gear for just this reason.  We have several stoves, water filters, bear spray, first aids, and other essential items to divide amongst us.  This will come in handy mostly for our day hikes.  After setting up base camp we’ll venture out to higher elevations and bigger WOW moments.  We have already mapped out several snow fields that we’d like to hike up to in the 7,000 ft range.  I’ve only been to Alaska once so far but I can tell you that there is a sense of discovery and natural beauty that is unmatched when you discover your own path, when there is no trail.  Taking the time to stop and pay attention or to look around another corner may just mean that you are seeing something that no one else has ever seen!

By the end we’ll do a full circle right back to our original lake; Lake Agiak.  The loop mileage can range considering our open day to day plan but is expected to be in the 50-60 mile range for backpacking miles.  In doing so we can burn 2-3,000 calories a day leaving us pretty hungry.  That is where having a team member like RRT owner Emily helps out as she broke down our day to day meal plan for the group, which can apply to any back country experience. With food, weight and pack space are just as much of an issue as with any other gear, but unlike your Crazy Creek chair, this is one thing you can’t leave at home.  Here are some tips for your meal plan: try to pack things that you like at home, bring yourself some sort of comfort food or treat, pack some variety, always bring one extra day of food, but don’t over pack.  For ten days in the park we’ll have 1 and 1/4 bear cans each with our individual food weight at 14-15 pounds.  Same rules apply out there as when you are home, being hungry can turn you into quite the drama king or queen so eat often and keep fueled up.

For a gear or food checklist feel free to come buy the store and grab one.  We’ll also be happy to review specifics to your trip.  Always use and double check your checklist no matter how experienced you are.  Upon returning I’ll post Part 2 of this blog.  We will also have a presentation on 8/27/13 over our experience including a beer tasting by Mt. Carmel Brewing Co. I hope you can join us then.  A well planned trip and a well organized group will put you in line for unforgettable moments.

Here is what is in my pack, keep in mind that there are some group items not shown (like first aid, bear spray, and camp fuel):

gear layout

A. Sleeping Bag and Sleeping Bag Liner (Sea to Summit Coolmax and Trek III)

B. Trekking Poles (Komperdell)
C. Sleeping Pad (Big Agnes Q-Core SL)
D. Pillow (Thermorest)
E. Stove (MSR Reactor)
F. Pack Towel (MSR)
G. Rain Gear (Rab Latok Jacket)
H. Rain Gear (Sherpa Pertemba)
I. Hiking Top (Rab MeCo L/S)
J. Hiking Pants (Rab Alpine Trek)
K. Pack Cover (Osprey)
L. Sun/Rain Hat (Outdoor Research)
M. Backpack (Osprey Aether 85)
N. Bottles (Nalgene)
O. Bowl/Spork (Sea to Summit)
P. Bear Can
Q. Personal Hygiene
R. Bug Repellent
S. Knife (Helle Egan)
T. Bug Net
U. Beanie (Rab Fleece)
V. Matches
W. Gloves (Rab Phantom Gloves)
X. Vibram (Maiori)
Y. Tent Poles (MSR Hoop)
Z. Tent Body
AA. Tent Fly in own drysack
BB. Water Filter (MSR Miniworks)
CC. Insulating Jacket (Rab Generator)
DD. Extra Clothes/Layers
EE. RRT Buff
FF. Headlamp (Princeton Tec Vizz)
GG. All Purpose Tarp/Mylar Blanket