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DIY Alaska – Climb, Ski, Packraft & Burn Your Skis Along the Way

Adventurer-Artist Craig Muderlak Shares Photos & Stories of his DIY Alaska Adventure

May 2016, the trio of David Fay, Drew Thayer and Craig Muderlak spent more than three weeks skiing on homemade skis into a remote Alaskan Glacier to climb first ascents of rock, ice and snow routes on unclimbed spires and peaks before packrafting and bushwhacking out. They carried 100-lb. loads over high mountain passes and across unknown terminal moraines to a river of unknown difficulty. Alpacka Raft loaned them the packrafts they needed for their final exit. Over a week in April, @craigmuderlaks shared his story through photos and extended captions on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. We’ve added additional photos to this blog. Thanks to Craig for this Insta-takeover.

What do you need for a month-long, multi-sport adventure to wild Alaska? Thanks to @davidbfay @drewthayer & @craigmuderlak for sharing their amazing adventures with us and this cool photo of Craig's full gear kit. The trio ended up making and then burning these DIY skis to lighten their loads on the way out.
“What do you need for a month-long, multi-sport adventure to wild Alaska? DIY Skis. We made and burned these DIY skis to lighten our loads on the way out.”

“The second week of May we flew into the North Fork of the Pitchfork Glacier in the Neacola subrange of the Aleutian Range in southwestern Alaska.”

"We established a base camp and explored climbing routes on neighboring peaks, including two attempts on the NW Ridge of Citadel Peak, two new rock routes and an additional attempted route on Dogtooth Spire on Peak 7235."
“We established a base camp and explored climbing routes on neighboring peaks, including two attempts on the NW Ridge of Citadel Peak, two new rock routes and an additional attempted route on Dogtooth Spire on Peak 7235. We also did a new route up an unclimbed mountain adjacent to Peak 8909 that we call ‘Spearhead’ at the head of the North Fork of the Pitchfork, and a new route to the summit of a rock spire we call ‘The Wing’ on the W side of the Neacola Glacier across from Triangle Peak.”
"After finishing three weeks of climbing, we needed to get back to Cook Inlet to catch our ride out. However, we had to make a major decision between two possible return routes.
“After finishing three weeks of climbing, we needed to get back to Cook Inlet to catch our ride out. However, we had to make a major decision between two possible return routes.”
After David, Drew and Craig finished 3 weeks of climbing and needed to get back to Cook Inlet to catch their ride out. However, they had to make a major decision between two possible return routes. “We could cross Lake Clark Pass overland, and traverse the headwaters that feed the Big River,” Muderlak explained in an interview. "This route presented a unique navigation challenge: during the 1950’s when the USGS topo maps were drawn, the entire East side of the pass was submerged beneath a large glacial lake. Today that glacier has receded over a mile, completely changing the landscape and the hydrology. Summit Lake, now much smaller, flows East toward the Big River instead of West toward the Tlikakila, and the terrain that used to be buried beneath hundreds of feet of ice is now a swift river that descends to a second, new lake. This river drops steeply through complex rapids, and the forest on either side is young and thick with slide alder. This geographical transformation rendered the topo maps obsolete, so we had almost no information other than what we saw from the plane and that locals guessed there would be large rapids and heinous bushwhacking.” But their success depended on the team making the right decision.
“We could cross Lake Clark Pass overland, and traverse the headwaters that feed the Big River. This route presented a unique navigation challenge: during the 1950’s when the USGS topo maps were drawn, the entire east side of the pass was submerged beneath a large glacial lake. Today that glacier has receded over a mile, completely changing the landscape and the hydrology. Summit Lake, now much smaller, flows east toward the Big River instead of west toward the Tlikakila, and the terrain that used to be buried beneath hundreds of feet of ice is now a swift river that descends to a second, new lake.”
This river drops steeply through complex rapids, and the forest on either side is young and thick with slide alder. This geographical transformation rendered the topo maps obsolete, so we had almost no information other than what we saw from the plane and that locals guessed there would be large rapids and heinous bushwhacking.”
“This river drops steeply through complex rapids, and the forest on either side is young and thick with slide alder. This geographical transformation rendered the topo maps obsolete, so we had almost no information other than what we saw from the plane and that locals guessed there would be large rapids and heinous bushwhacking.”
The decision was tough, says Muderlak, but they decided to pioneer a passage to the Big River. As this route would not require snow travel, they burned their hand-made wooden skis on the gravel bar to reduce their loads. At that moment, they were committed to finding a way to the Big River.
“The decision was tough. But we decided to pioneer a passage to the Big River. As this route would not require snow travel, we burned our hand-made wooden skis on the gravel bar to reduce our loads. At that moment, we were committed to finding a way to the Big River.”
David, Drew and Craig wondered if they would be able to meet their plane on time. Food supplies were low, and they were moving at a snails pace.
“We dragged our packrafts upstream, shuttled loads over Lake Clark Pass to Summit Lake, and were soon confronted by committing whitewater up to Class V that we couldn’t run in our heavy (100lbs per person) packrafts. Though we were able to tow the boats along the banks of the river at times, we spent an extremely slow two days portaging just two miles through thick alder forests with half of our gear.”
"On the fourth night, after over an hour of tortuously slow bushwhacking, we encountered a small clearing at the edge of the river that was probably the only flat spot for a mile and we made a cramped camp there amongst thick mosquitos. Demoralized by the bugs and the presence of dangerous moose and grizzly bears, we had low morale and wondered if we would make it to the coast on time to catch our plane back. Food supplies were low, and we were moving at a snails pace."
“On the fourth night, after over an hour of tortuously slow bushwhacking, we encountered a small clearing at the edge of the river that was probably the only flat spot for a mile and we made a cramped camp there amongst thick mosquitos. Demoralized by the bugs and the presence of dangerous moose and grizzly bears, we had low morale and wondered if we would make it to the coast on time to catch our plane back. Food supplies were low, and we were moving at a snails pace.”
"We didn’t know if we could take many more days of this brutal travel–physically or emotionally,” Muderlak said. But on the evening of the 5th day, they emerged from the forest to discover a more mellow section of whitewater. They scouted the mostly Class III rapids and decided to go for it. "To our great relief the river soon calmed down and we ran it all the way to the East Summit Lake, which does not appear on older maps,” Muderlak explained. "This was a major milestone, as we had now crossed the unknown terrain between the lakes, and we celebrated with a driftwood fire on the shore of a lake studded with floating icebergs.”
“We didn’t know if we could take many more days of this brutal travel–physically or emotionally. But on the evening of the 5th day, we emerged from the forest to discover a more mellow section of whitewater. We scouted the mostly Class III rapids and decided to go for it. To our great relief the river soon calmed down and we ran it all the way to the East Summit Lake, which does not appear on older maps. This was a major milestone, as we had now crossed the unknown terrain between the lakes, and we celebrated with a driftwood fire on the shore of a lake studded with floating icebergs.”