Packrafting & Hiking 2,500 miles of Alaskan Wilderness

 packrafting alaska

Packrafting down the Nanana River

Dan Binde, from Lake Park, Minnesota, recently completed his third long traverse in Alaska, totaling 2,500 miles of hiking and packrafting over the past three years.

We asked him to tell about his trips in this interview:

AB: Tell us about your past experience that prepared you to take on Alaska at this magnitude?

DAN: I’ve spent the last six years backpacking long distances and picking up more and more skills. I’ve double-Triple Crowned—the Triple Crown being hikers who’ve walked the entire Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide trails. I’ve also hiked in the Himalayas.

From the Continental Divide Trail, I’ve hiked on the Great Divide Trail into Canada. That one means more off-trail and finding trails.

AB: What’s it like "traversing through Alaska"?

DAN: There are no trails—it’s full-blown straight bush travel. My routes included rivers, lakes, passes, valleys, beaches and bays…human-powered for 2,500 miles.

My friend and I hiked together for about 60% of the time. That usually meant hiking separately during the day and then finding each other at night. When packrafting down rivers, though, we stuck together more.

packrafting Alaska's Bear Lake

Paddling across Bear Lake

The 2018 and 2019 treks took me about 2 months. The 2020 trek was double that—four months in the bush.

I carried food for 10-14 days then would resupply through food drops in the villages, via the Post Office. I couldn’t count on there being a grocery store, and even if there was the food was really expensive.

AB: What’s your motive for doing these trips?

DAN: Mainly for pure raw adventure. It’s hard to get more remote than Alaska. The mountain valleys are so wide you can't compare them to much. It’s rugged beauty brings out the challenge, which is sometimes just to stay alive. There’s so much amazing wildlife: wolves, moose, grizzlies, caribou, sea lions, walrus, sea otters.

AB: What were your goals for these trips?

DAN: Goals can change here and there. Reality and expectations can hit like a rock for the first two weeks, even with traversing the state twice previously. There are a lot of unknowns and I enjoy that part. 

My pre-trip planning evolved and kept getting the route longer and longer. I didn't know how far I would get before winter set in. One of my goals was to through-hike and finish the entire route.

packrafting Alaska

AB: How much paddling did you do?

DAN: Having a packraft in Alaska is crucial to get across the massive bodies of water. Alaska has so much water. For a boat, a packraft packs with ease through the rugged, bushy terrain and overpasses.

The Alaska Traverse 2020 involved paddling for 10-15% of the route. On my first two treks through Alaska I was on the water around 25% of the time.

AB: Of the three treks you've done, do you have a favorite?

DAN: Great question. They were all unique and challenging in different ways: 

  • 2018 Alaska Trail involved learning the ropes and getting destroyed multiple times.  I ended the trip with a popped-out collarbone from carrying too much weight. 
  • 2019 Brooks Range Traverse added a couple of higher routes: the Noatak River and Arrigetch Peaks.
  • 2020 Alaska Traverse was the most challenging and included different dynamics.  More brush, more beaches and massive bays made water crossing tricky. Topped with a nice dosing of black oil mud, this one was certainly the toughest.

AB: What are the biggest takeaways from three treks through Alaska for you?

DAN: Alaska offers the raw and real adventure I crave. Through all the beauty there’s danger, but it offers the adventure of the unknown.

AB: What will you do differently next time?

DAN: I’m unsure if there will be a next time. That’s why I always try to capitalize when I get a chance and opportunity. If I head to Alaska again the route will be the biggest difference. Also, foraging and hunting may be on the list to add to the adventure.

packrafting across alaska

AB: Is there anything people new to Alaska should know when planning a trip like this?

DAN: Expect it to be one of the hardest things you'll ever do. Work your way up on smaller trips before trying to accomplish a goal in Alaska. When reality changes your expectations, you will either sink or swim.

You can connect with Dan on Instagram and his website:

(All photos courtesy of Dan Binde)

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