I love meetups (www.meetup.com). I’ve been going for years and have even organized a few. A meetup involves signing up for an activity online and then sharing that activity with total strangers. In my experience, meetups attract friendly people with positive expectations. People who don’t like other people, or are paranoid about doing an activity with strangers won’t last long in a meetup group.

Photo by Mark

Photo by Mark

I found a great meetup group in Alaska called the Anchorage Adventurers. The first meetup was very challenging and took place in a spectacular area I would have never found on my own. I was shocked these types of dangerous and grueling experiences would be open to me as a tourist, but these Alaskan meetupers quickly welcomed me into the fold and I was then hammered on three epic meetups with them.

My first meetup was a weekend backpacking and peak bagging trip in the Chugach Range near Anchorage. It looked like it may be beyond my abilities, but hey, it’s a meetup where strangers are welcome. How hard can it be? Also, it was the weekend of my birthday and I was travelling solo. I wanted to do something exciting for my birthday.

P1400928 (Medium)I showed up for the meetup on a Friday afternoon at the Glen Alps Trailhead, only 20 minutes from downtown Anchorage. Most of the meetupers had already backpacked to Hidden Lake, a beautiful, blue lake in a rocky bowl above tree line. The organizer and I backpacked in together, just the two of us. She was an extremely fit mountaineer and I hurried to keep up during the five mile hike into the lake. She nonchalantly pointed out a moose browsing on foliage right near the trail, and I was thankful I wasn’t doing this hike solo.

As soon as we got to the mountain lake, we stripped and took a quick dip in the cold water in the soft glow of the evening Alaska sun. I needed some convincing because the lake was very cold, but after the organizer convinced me to plunge into the water I felt like I had become more of a member of the group and less of an outsider as I emerged naked and shivering from this lake in their backyard playground. All of them lived in Anchorage and I was the only tourist.

I asked the organizer about the next day’s plans, and she pointed to several technical peaks around camp which required climbing skills and looked far above my ability level. The organizer just shrugged and said “if the goats can get there, so can we”, and she announced she would just solo the peaks if no one wanted to come along.

I asked if I could join four of the other meetupers on the trip, who planned to attempt a peak several miles away. It would be a long, grueling day but would not involve any exposed climbing. They said, sure!

P1400945 (Medium)We all set up tents and found a cooking and eating area on a hillside nearby. The Alaskans were pretty casual about bears and food. I started to feel my tourist bearanoia wearing off as they decided to just leave food in their old drybags (with small holes in them, even) right there on the side of the hill as they slept 100 yards away. One person just kept his food in his tent that night, and no one thought that was unusual. They talked about recent bear sightings at the lake just below us, but showed no signs of worry. There wasn’t a single bear canister in the group. I felt delighted to observe these Alaskans and kept silent about the food storage.

Sure enough, the next morning all the food was intact. We ate breakfast on the hillside as the organizer left to solo the peaks around camp, waving at us as her bright pink shirt got smaller and smaller as she quickly gained elevation.

The rest of us started out toward Williwaw Peak. We hiked off trail on slopes covered in tundra, which felt like a colorful sponge under my feet with reds, greens and golds intertwining into a dense, soft mat. This tundra was an amazing hiking surface as well as beautiful. Even 40 degree slopes were incredibly stable and every foot hold felt good as we went up a steep pass and over the other side to enter the valley which would lead to our peak.

P1400966 - Copy (Medium)At the top of the pass, five mountain sheep approached us timidly. They stood just 30 feet away and seemed to be making some kind of silent decision. We stood absolutely still as they galloped right around us, only 15 feet away. We stood together as a group, breathless with cameras clicking. Maybe we just happened to be at the pass at the time when they usually cross, around 11 am, and they didn’t care to have their schedule disrupted just because we decided to hike that day.

P1400999rotated (Medium) (2)We went on to attempt the peak but no one made the summit. After hours of side hill hiking on the way to the peak in trail runners, my feet began to blister badly on one side. They were not used to this terrain. Another man in the group said his ankle was bothering him and the summit was still a very long way to go. We turned back and stopped to soak our feet and lounge on the soft tundra at a spectacular lake on the way back to camp.

P1410031 (Medium)We arrived in camp and enjoyed a leisurely dinner. The organizer returned with a big smile on her face, still bouncing with energy. The other two people from our peak bagging group still hadn’t arrived. As dark approached they stumbled back into camp. One was saying things that made no sense and the other was very sick and vomiting. We offered them food and water, but they stumbled to their tents to recover and neither one of them was seen for the rest of the evening.

I had never experienced such a challenging meetup, anywhere, anytime. This meetup group showcased Alaska outdoor culture at its finest, and I couldn’t wait for more.

Lisa Hackett

About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, drive from Idaho to Alaska solo, live and work in a van in the wilderness and dodge encounters with wolves and bears. Seriously. More

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About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van and on a sailboat with my superhero husband, Brian. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, scuba dive with sharks, dodge encounters with bears and wolves, and work remotely as a full time computer programmer.
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About the Van

Hi, I’m Vanifest. I’m a big, 4x4, off-the-grid van complete with solar panel for power. I'm a 2000 Dodge Ram Van and Lisa has had me since 2009. Read more about me here.


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