Have you ever hiked on Kodiak for no other reason than the love of walking?
Few places in the world are more beautiful, that’s for sure.
But the first time you set out, you might also be convinced there are few places as hard to get around as well.
With the rough terrain, brush, mud and bears, that’s an easy conclusion to reach.
But as a matter of fact, once you figure out a few tricks of the terrain, Kodiak is surprisingly easy to navigate. And of course, the longer the walk, the more tricks you need to know.
Does hiking in April seem a little premature?
Certainly for the high country, but walks today at lower elevations will be enjoyable appetizers and preparation for what awaits this summer. And they’ll certainly teach you valuable lessons you’ll need this summer.
Keep your eyes peeled for open passes in the high country, because that will be your first opportunity to stretch your horizons into the backcountry. And as the snowline retreats up the mountains, it should provide great access into the tundra regions above the alders later in May.
There are a surprising number of good hiking trails around the Kodiak road system. The Island Trails Network at http://www.islandtrails.org is a good place to start your search for them. In addition the Audubon Hiking and Birding Guide, available from numerous vendors around town, identifies many more trails and gives really useful information about them.
But don’t limit your sights to the Kodiak road system. There are many other memorable hikes around Kodiak.
Each year I seem to run into European visitors who know more about our backcountry trails than most locals. In fact, they use a strategy that more of us should try.
In consultation with the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge and air charter operators, they pick a relatively high lake with good overland access to yet another lake some distance away.
Then they get dropped off at one lake with arrangements to be picked up at the next lake. What a great way to enjoy Kodiak’s high country without the long climbs and slogs through alders to reach it from sea level!
Last week I talked about rain gear, and that will certainly be an integral part of any hike on Kodiak, whether in April or August. You’ll need it for protection from wind and rain, so don’t scrimp.
But the list grows from there.
I strongly urge you to buy the best hiking boots you can afford and break them in well before making overnight hikes.
Waterproof boots are more or less mandatory, but you’ll be lots happier if you opt for those that breathe rather than completely waterproof cannery boots or hip boots. Those will certainly have their place on shorter hikes, but for long walks they’ll be miserable.
You need to recognize one thing about any waterproof footgear. No matter what type you choose, they’ll always have a great big hole in the top.
And the water or mud you traverse will always have spots at least two inches deeper than the tops of your boots.
Pack plenty of socks and keep a dry set handy. You can almost account for all my water crossings by the number of pairs of wet socks hanging from the outside of my pack. That’s because I never seem to pack enough of them, and I’m always in the process of drying socks as best I can on hikes.
Next on the list for overnight hikes is a good tent. I’m not much of a snow camper, so a “three season” tent suits me just fine. It has to be roomy enough for long indoor waits for the weather to improve, yet light enough to carry for several days.
My rule of thumb is to double the capacity of the tent. A two-person tent is just right for one, and it takes a four-person tent to provide enough room for two people if you’re confined to the tent for a day or two when the weather changes.
I also heartily recommend a waterproof vestibule on a tent for your gear, especially if you believe a two-person tent is really suitable for two people. I’ve “made do” by putting my pack in a large plastic garbage bag overnight, but inevitably the contents will get wet when you need something stowed in the bottom of the pack.
Nights may be short on Kodiak in the spring and summer, but you’ll still need a light source. I’m really hooked on headlamps because they are so small and light yet work as well as a full-fledged flashlight. They free up my hands for all tasks, whether cooking a meal or simply laying in bed with a book.
I started my hiking career in the early 1960s before there was such a thing as freeze dried food. The best we could manage were dehydrated egg powder and lots of pancake mix.
Today there are incredible options for backpacking meals. I’ve tried lots of them and been generally impressed, though I find their portion sizes to be too small. As in the case of tents, I double what the label says. If it says it’s right for two people, it’s actually more suitable for one. And two people will have no trouble consuming a meal labeled for four.
You’ll quickly discover that there is little to no wood for fires in the high country, and what you find is likely to be too wet to use anyway.
For many years I used liquid fuel stoves, but all that I tried had basically two settings: blast furnace and off. It is virtually impossible to adjust them for any mid-range or low setting with any consistency.
I’m now a fan of stoves that use pressurized gas canisters rather than liquid fuels. If you’re only boiling water to reconstitute backpacking foods or make coffee and tea, a single canister lasts an amazingly long time.\
But if you prefer to mix up your diet with dishes that require cooking rather than simply boiling water, the gas models rise to the top for their ability to provide a wide range of cooking temperatures.
And speaking of food, it goes without saying that you’ll be hiking in bear country.
It’s more than a good idea to control food odors and keep your food outside your tent overnight. There are some nifty bear-proof containers around, but so far I haven’t had any trouble simply keeping all my food in zippered plastic bags, then putting those into a small duffle for storage overnight away from the tent. If bears can’t smell food or see it, they just might not know it’s there. The same goes for your garbage, by the way.
If back country hiking appeals to you as a summer activity, now is the time to start getting ready. Choosing the gear is an enjoyable task, but testing it is a good idea before you set out.
You can do that right now with some overnight sea level hikes, and meanwhile break in those fancy new waterproof hiking boots a little closer to home.
And, yeah. If the weather turns really bad, it’s kinda nice to make the short walk back to your vehicle for a ride home to a hot shower and comfortable bed.