Pre-trip Jitters for Wrangell St. Elias National Park Expedition

Nervous and excited energy has surrounded me for quite some time. I’m leaving for a three week journey through Wrangell St. Elias National Park in the Alaska wilderness. My group includes 14 of us who are all a part of the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Expedition class. We will be backpacking and pack rafting from the end of Nebesna Road to McCarthy through the park in just roughly under two weeks with only one resupply in Chisana along the way. Once in McCarthy we will be resupplying and picking up our large multi person paddle and oar rafts to float the Copper River south to Cordova. We will have traveled nearly 300 miles over land and water to get there from Nebesna.

Route being taken by the 2018 UAA Expedition Class through Wrangell St. Elias National Park. Please note this map is a rough estimate of the route. For a PDF file of the map visit here: Wrangell St. Elias Route

I signed up for the trip back in January. My prior experience is only a number of overnight backpacking trips. The longest distance being 34 miles. I have now only pack rafted a river twice. I wonder nearly every day now if I am capable of completing this trip. Am I fit enough? Will my bad knees cooperate? What if I can’t continue on? These questions play through my mind frequently. As the trip nears I find myself trying to quiet these doubts more and often.

Oddly at the same time I feel confident and prepared to go. I have checked and rechecked my bag more times than I can count. I visit REI, the grocery store, or a hardware store every other day to get things to improve my systems, reduce weight, or make life more convenient for when I’m on the trail. I have prepared breakfast and dinner for my tent group, learning to dehydrate meals, count calories and consider weight. My DIY pack raft has been tested repeatedly for leaks and has been patched with glue. Everything gear wise and food wise is prepared.

Floating down the Kenai River. Photo by Jesse Munday.
Running the Schooner Bend Rapid on the Kenai River to test out my DIY pack raft. Photo by Jesse Munday.

I have also been keeping very active spending almost the entirety of all my weekends outdoors on the trails and frequently going for long evening strolls and hikes. My pack feels heavy on my back for the first mile, but then I settle into a pace and don’t notice it anymore. Maybe I can do this trip after all?

My mind also wanders to the people I won’t be able to talk to for three weeks. My mom, who I call on the phone three times a day, sometimes more, even though we live together at the moment. She is my advisor and problem solver for all things, my rock. My significant other, who makes me laugh like a fool and who brings light to my day with his caring attitude for all. His children who bring a smile to my face with their curiosity and boisterous energy. My dog, Aspen, even though she doesn’t talk, her companionship will be missed. My brother, step dad, friends and coworkers who are all so supportive, but wonder why I’m going on this crazy trip. I will miss them all. I know they each send me well wishes on this adventure and that is reassuring.

Their encouragement also makes me feel prepared. They constantly tell me I will be fine and have so much fun. I know I will, but anxiety about the trip has been very real. I am so excited to get out there though. To disconnect from social media, life’s daily grind, and modern convenience. It will be a simple three weeks. Simple sounds nice. I feel like my soul will have a chance to recharge and reconnect deeply with the mountains and outdoors. I draw energy from being outside in Alaska.

Western Wrangells and the Copper River. Photo by the National Park Service.

The ominous and inviting mountain peaks, the wildlife that scurries along the ground cover, the foliage that rustles in the wind, it draws me in. I feel so alive in moments when I am surrounded by that all. I get to be surrounded by it for three weeks and I can only imagine how much energy and inspiration I will have gained by the end of the expedition. I long for how relaxed I will feel mentally by being so close with nature.

My mind is kind of a goopy mess of thoughts  with the way I feel about this trip. I’m ready to go though. I hope the group joining me is too. We are embarking into the backcountry wilderness of Alaska and I couldn’t be more thrilled. So ta ta for now, I’ll be back in three weeks.

 

If you’re interested in tracking our progress while we are gone please visit HERE. This will begin being active when we start the trip and will update nearly every 30 minutes. Don’t worry about us all if it doesn’t though! No news is good news.

 

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South Fork Eagle River

Took a short hike out at South Fork Eagle River the other day. The scenery was absolutely unreal.

There’s something fresh about fall.

I don’t know if it’s me or the air.

Maybe it’s because I feel like I’m about to fall –

Or if my hearts in snare.

The air has a crispness

Like the feeling of change.


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Cliff hanger: Kendyl Murakami

women wanderers

Starting at a young age Kendyl Murakami has been immersed in the outdoors. Kendyl has ten siblings and her mother fostered in her children a love of the outdoors taking them camping as a cheap alternative to other activities.

“Ten siblings is a lot to do like cell phones and all that stuff… We did everything outside.”

Kendyl to this day spends a lot of her free time outside. She enjoys camping, going to lakes, snowshoeing, skiing, hiking, kayaking and rock climbing.

“There’s so much to do in Alaska!”

Kendyl in recent years has been an avid rock climber and climbing is now her sport of choice. Kendyl first become interested in rock climbing after her older sister Julia took a rock climbing course at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Julia took Kendyl out and ever since they have shared a passion for the sport and partner climb with one another frequently.

“We went rock climbing in Spain, free climbing without ropes. That’s like what roped me down to rock climbing because that was so crazy! We went to this place in Spain that’s like the biggest free climb that you can do because it overhangs water. So it was kind of crazy like just falling because you get so high and you fall that far, but it wasn’t life or death scary, but you felt like you were dying.”

Kendyl travels frequently with her sister Julia. Traveling and rock climbing are Kendyl’s biggest motivators to work. Kendyl spent a year working for Village Inn and Suite 100 just to save money up for her trip to Europe which included her visit to Spain where she rock climbed with her sister Julia. After Europe Kendyl returned to work at Village Inn to save money for a trip to Hawai’i in February. That was then followed by a stint at ORSO’s to save for a visit to Myrtle Beach this last March. Kendyl now works as CNA. Julia always told Kendyl that travel is important and the two go as often as they can afford.

Kendyl and Julia in addition to their trip to Spain have done trips to Washington to chase routes.

“We’ve done other bouldering stuff in the Washington area where you bring your own pads, you hike in. Then you climb up however far you want or however far you’re comfortable falling. You either land on your pads. You only go ten or so feet up, fifteen feet if you’re really comfortable.”

There was also some more classic rock climbing the two did on the trip.

“When we were in Washington, there’s a thing they call tread climbing. It was already carabineered, clipped, routed so we just did that, but it was a double par. So that means you anchor in like 25 feet up so you climb like 10 or 15 feet and then you anchor into the wall and then you continue climbing. It’s like two pitch. It’s really scary because when you’re trying to anchor in you’re not actually tied to anything. That was probably the most coolest part we rock climbed.”

The two also spent time backpacking through California. They used the Rideshare service to get around and met numerous strangers along the way that quickly became friends. While in Sacramento they met two guys named Damien and Abel using Rideshare and ended up hiking Donner Summit to the Peter Grubb Hut which sits just of the Pacific Crest Trail near Sacramento with them.

Despite her vagabond lifestyle and the numerous places Kendyl has traveled there’s many places she’s yet to visit. And much, much more routes she would still like to climb.

“Yosemite is the king of all rock climbing. It’s crazy. They have so many pitches and it’s hundreds of feet up in the air. I’ll definitely go there one time.”

While Yosemite is her dream climbing destination, Kendyl is currently working as a CNA to save up for next trip. It won’t be long, however, before Kendyl travels to the mecca of rock climbing to finally conquer the great walls where women rock climbing legends before her laid the foundation for women in the sport of rock climbing. Kendyl may not be setting new paths, but she is conquering all the paths she has taken.

 

Kendyl Murakami is an avid hiker, rock climber and traveler. She's a 20-year-old biology major at University of Alaska Anchorage.
Kendyl Murakami is an avid hiker, rock climber and traveler. She’s a 20-year-old biology major at University of Alaska Anchorage.
Kendyl, Julia, BLANK and BLANK on Donner's Pass to the Peter Grubb Hut on the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo courtesy of Kendyl Murakami.
Kendyl, Julia, Abel and Damien on Donner Summit heading to the Peter Grubb Hut just off the Pacific Crest Trail near Sacramento. Kendyl and Julia met Abel and Damien via Rideshare while on a backpacking trip in California. Photo courtesy of Kendyl Murakami.
Kendyl in Spain.
Kendyl in Pathos, a Greek island, atop one of the tallest peaks of the island. Photo courtesy of Kendyl Murakami.
Kendyl and BLANK in BLANK doing some hiking and climbing.
Kendyl and new acquaintance Pentos free climbing the Angel Rock Mountain outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Kendyl Murakami.
Kendyl and Julia getting ready for rock climbing. Photo courtesy of Kendyl Murakami.
Kendyl and Julia getting ready for a ropes course in North Carolina at the Adventure Center of Asheville. Photo courtesy of Kendyl Murakami.
Kendyl and her sister below the Hollywood sign in California. Photo courtesy of Kendyl Murakami.
Kendyl and Julia in Hollywood on their backpacking trip from Seattle to San Diego. Photo courtesy of Kendyl Murakami.