Primitive Alaska?

Primative Alaskan AirstripAfter having spent some time in Alaska, I now understand why some things there are the way that they are. Alaska is a very inaccessible place. There are no roads going to lots of the places in Alaska. Yes, the towns, cities, and civilized places have roads but much of Alaska is not populated and has no roads. Roads are expensive to build and to maintain in the Alaskan environment.  Therefore, much of the travel in Alaska outside of the towns is done by boat or by bush plane. Bush planes are everywhere as are the small dirt airstrips that they frequent.

For example, on a recent fishing trip, we took one afternoon to hike to a small lake. We were mostly just going to see the sights. We had some directions from the guys at our fishing lodge as to where to go and how to get there. There was a dock along the shore where we left our boat. We took the trail that we were told to follow. It was supposed to be a 3 mile hike. We headed up through the forest, seeing lots of interesting sights.

Suddenly, we found ourselves in a clearing in the trees. The clearing turned out to be an airstrip carved out of the forest. Our trail headed down the center of the dirt airstrip and so we continued on.

We had covered about half of the distance down the airstrip when suddenly sirens went off all around us. We stopped to wonder what that could mean when a small plane swooped into view a hundred feet or so over the tree tops. It ran down the length of the runway over us, banked and then lined up with the runway. We stepped off to the side and watched as the plane landed and then taxied to a stop near us.

Two native Alaskans climbed out of the plane with a duffel bag each in hand.  A four-wheeler appeared out of the woods and then another. The plane spent about 5 minutes on the ground while the passengers disembarked and then turned and took off again. It was much as a taxi would do in the city.

We approached the men who were then talking with the two four-wheeler drivers. We spent a few minutes talking with them. It turns out that these small airstrips are everywhere. The sirens are triggered by the airplane and serve to scare the animals and wildlife off of the runway to give the plane a clear landing field. These two men had been to town on business for the day. After our conversation, they mounted the four-wheelers and disappeared into the trees.

We in the lower 48 states don’t realize just how desolate and un-developed Alaska is. We are not used to the terrain and environment that Alaska has and how it precludes the “normal” conveniences, including roads, that the Alaskans deal with on a daily basis.

Many of the fishing lodges that you will be visiting will be accessible only by bush plane or by boat. All of the supplies needed such as food, fuel, fishing gear, etc., everything… must also be flown in. Many of these fishing lodges rely on generators for their electricity. At night, power may not be available for lighting, charging electronic devices, etc. Most of the water used for cooking, drinking, bathing, etc comes from a creek or river and is filtered and purified for your use.

All of this is not to say that you won’t have great accommodations. The Alaskans do remarkably well at providing you with excellent service and accommodations in spite of the obstacles. It is their world and they know how to work within it.

Just know in advance that many things will not be like they are at home. But after all, that is why you are going up there, right?

Alaska Jim signature, fishing trip to Alaska