Overnight Guiding at Carmen Lake

Alaska Backcountry Access is a small outdoor adventure company based in Girdwood, Alaska.  Shortly after arriving in town, I met owner and lead guide Andy Morrison by chance at a Girdwood Chamber of Commerce BBQ.  He needed a guide, I needed a job, and so it was agreed I would tag along the next couple trips for a sort of unspoken probationary period.

And so it became, midway through the summer, I was being dropped off at a remote lake in the Alaskan wilderness to guide two complete strangers on an overnight camping trip.

Not sure whether I passed or failed.

I’ll get to the trip shortly, but before I go into the work and delight of guiding an overnight camping trip, let’s back up a minute.  Working as a guide doesn’t always involve getting dumped in the woods with strangers and a pile of gear.  In fact, most of the time it means driving a handful of tourists up a dirt road and doing something reasonably dangerous and exciting for a few hours.  Namely, Gold Rush Canyoneering — a 3.5 hour trip I’ve been guiding lately that includes a tour of the Crow Creek Gold Mine and a series of rope-and-harness repels into a rainforest slot canyon.  Everyone seems to enjoy the trip and it’s priced to sell at $139 a person.  My role is generally to inform, entertain and ensure a safe and satisfying trip for everyone involved.  It’s a job I find challenging, but more importantly, it’s one that pays me to do something I love.

When no canyoneering trips are booked I typically guide extended gold mine tours and the occasional whitewater rafting trip.  Andy and his other two guides Opie and Ashley are the whitewater champs, relegating me to fourth fiddle.  But this summer I’ve gotten to lead two paid trips down the class 2-3 whitewater of Glacier Creek — and any attempt to describe the exhilaration it brings me in 12 point font would be watered down.

One downside of the job is lack of hours.  I guide an average of five trips a week, totaling about 25 hours of paid work plus tips.  Will I get rich doing this?  No sir.  But it’s a dang fine way to spend a summer if you ask me.

Flash forward to the overnight.  The two people I found myself marooned with at Carmen Lake were Roger and Claudio, two spry twenty-somethings from Switzerland at the tail end of a six month world tour.  During their stint in Alaska, they wanted to experience an authentic wilderness camping trip — but without gear, transportation or knowledge of the area, they hired Andy to make it happen.  After a few text messages and some paperwork, the four of us (Jess tagged along to help and hang) were in the back of Andy’s jetboat zooming up Twenty Mile river and into the wild.

After setting up camp and building a fire Jess and I cooked a dinner of halibut, reindeer sausage, rice, vegetables and caesar salad.  After dinner we loaded into kayaks and paddled around the lake, taking in the many wildflowers, blue ice glaciers and beaver lodges along the waters edge.  The weather was sixty and clear.  Not a manmade object for miles.

The following morning after breakfast the guys went for a hike while Jess stayed back and read by the fire.  We climbed a steep and slippery snowfield and eventually reached a point where the snow became a waterfall, making it too dangerous to continue.  The altitude we gained afforded us a magnificent view of the lake, allowing the grayish blue water of Carmen to appear almost Caribbean against the forest green alpine.

After a lunch of tuna & cucumber pitas, cheese & crackers, swiss chocolate and IPA, Andy arrived in the jetboat and dragged us away from the spot we were just starting to call home.

As for the trip, I think it went well.  Jess and I worked hard to be helpful without being too weird about it.  The weather and conversation were nice, and I believe Roger and Claudio were able to appreciate the beauty and solitude of Carmen Lake.

So long gentleman, I hope you too find what you’re looking for.


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