SCARPA athlete, Kellie Okonek, discovered her calling in life when she moved to Alaska and began exploring the mountains there. She has since climbed and skied in remote places all over the world. She recently took advantage of the last moments of warm weather up north to backpack and raft in Alaska’s Talkeetna Mountains.
When I started looking closer at the maps and seeing the big storms in the weather forecast for Southcentral Alaska, the doubts over our trip started creeping in. Sherrie and I planned to hike from the Eureka Roadhouse on the Glenn Highway, 60 miles overland to the headwaters of the Talkeetna River. From the small roadside town, we’d take 2.5 days to hike 60 miles mostly off-trail, over two passes (4800′ and 6000’), then raft 40 miles of the Talkeetna River. At the confluence with Prairie Creek, we would meet friends who planned to fly in with a cataraft and run the famous class IV Talkeetna River canyon (“the longest stretch of continuous whitewater in Alaska” and one of the state’s most classic river trips) to the town of Talkeenta.
I really started thinking about the logistics and thoughts of all that could go wrong rushed in with a vengeance. I haven’t been nervous for a trip in a while; I have to admit in many ways it felt good to try something I wasn’t sure I could do. We made contingency bailout plans for the inability to cross high passes due to weather, packed a little extra food in case we had to hike out without the cataraft to travel the high-volume canyon, and left a good communication plan in case we didn’t make it out.
Fortunately, our first full day of hiking up Caribou Creek was graced with sunshine. Given the multiple thigh-deep river crossings of this glacial stream, and blessed with peak fall colors, the bright skies made our day super enjoyable as we covered ground.