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Who’s ready for backpacking adventures?  I know I’ve been promising them for a long time, and you’ve had a taste here and there, but I’m finally getting into the heart of my epic adventure into the Alaskan wilderness.  I appreciate your patience.  It was truly a remarkable journey, and I’m excited to share it with you.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

After an hour’s bush plane flight out of Anchorage, we found ourselves on the beach in Chinitna Bay, and once our pilot departed, we were on our own.  We had finally arrived, and I was ready.  This was my first time truly backpacking, and I couldn’t wait.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Our first stop took us away from the beach near Bear Mountain Lodge, a popular spot for folks who simply want to fly out for a day, snag some shots, then return in time to sleep in their own cozy beds.  We were in it for the long haul, and we were prepared.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017
There are bears there.. they’re just itty bitty.

We caught our first glimpses of bears in the field off of an established viewing point, and aside from the bears, we were the only ones there.  Unfortunately, they were pretty far away, so it was hard to really see much.  We soon packed up and began our trek.

I still hadn’t internalized the fact that we were alone in the wilderness for 5 days; it still felt like a day trip.  I’d get over that real quick.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Beach hiking is pretty easy, comparatively.  There’s no elevation to speak of, and the ground is level.  It was gravelly in some places, but we mostly walked on packed wet sand.  Aside from the weight on my back, it was a gentle stroll.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

I was energized and powering along like a pro with my 53.6 lbs (bear cans are shockingly large – and heavy!).  The air was cool and refreshing, the scenery was breathtaking, and there wasn’t another soul in sight.  I loved the serene quiet surrounding us.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

We took breaks periodically, giving our shoulders a rest and munching on a dried Tanka bar.  We had to be very mindful of any crumbs, as we didn’t want to attract bears away from where they’d naturally go.  Leave no trace.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

We were all in high spirits, so we had a bit of fun taking pictures and even a bit of drone footage.  I couldn’t get over how beautiful the world around me was.  It was exhilarating just breathing that air.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

We had to pick up the pace to beat the tide around a rocky point of land.  The beach was quite narrow in places, and occasionally, it disappeared altogether.  This was one of those places.  The water lapped at our feet, and if we didn’t hurry, we’d get wet or be trapped waiting for the tide to recede again.

Fortunately, we survived unscathed (and dry).

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

I encountered my very first river crossing on this first day – two, in fact.  I was prepared for them, but I still didn’t expect the water to be so cold.  Our original plan was to camp just after the first one, but it was still a bit early, and we couldn’t really find a suitable spot to make camp, so we pressed on… for four more miles than initially anticipated.

We found traces of wolves, and we saw some bear tracks in the sand.  Those paws were larger than my hand!  Such power lurking so close.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

One final river crossing and a total of 9 miles later, we found ourselves at our first camp.  The trees offered only obviously active game trails, so we were relegated to the beach.  We tucked in up against the rocks and finally crashed around 11pm.  How did we not notice we were hiking for so long?

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

I was a bit sore, and I was very tired.  But that would prove a good thing in the endless Alaskan daylight.  First day down, and lots of adventure still to come!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Be sure to come back next week to see why Day 2 totally rocked!

Image created by Adam Cornwell

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