More than you'll get in a trail guidebook

Juneau Alpine Club relishes exploring the known and unknown of Juneau's backyard

Posted: Friday, April 02, 2010

When it comes to Juneau's backyard, a guidebook will get you into it but it won't get you far.

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Photo By Greg Bledsoe
Photo By Greg Bledsoe

Readers won't likely learn about the camping spot up Granite Creek Basin that sits perfectly out of the wind. They absolutely won't read about alternate winter routes up the Grandchild Peaks or that uncharted trail leading to the Icefield.

But the Juneau Alpine Club, a group of local outdoor enthusiasts, thrives on unique adventures near Juneau and surrounding areas. They encourage participants of all skill levels to get out into the wild.

Drew Maples has been a member of the club since he moved to Juneau with his "sweetheart" about three years ago. As a transplant from the East Coast, he said he was eager to learn and explore the area.

"It's a great way to learn about different areas in the mountains, or on the water," he said. "It's a great way to meet other people, and learn more about other places to go in the hills."

But the club is not just for the die-hards or the hard-cores. Maples said skill levels vary, and that's OK.

"One of the things that is different about this club is that the skill levels go from those that want to go for a Saturday walk in the hills ... to people who have put up first ascents on big mountains. You have some very highly skilled mountaineering people here. That is very nice."

Tamara Bledsoe, the club's current president, said the group is driven by members and their desire to explore, educate and encourage those who want to learn. She said outings are planned and led by members.

"The club, being an informal group, is driven by members," she said. "There isn't a formal structure for practice sessions, it's really up to the members of the group to say, 'we want more practice with it.' The type of activities, and what (participants) can get out of the club, all comes down to what they want to put into it."

So, what's to gain as a member?

Bledsoe said the club engages in regular hikes, mapped and unmapped, practice sessions on self-rescue techniques, kayak and rafting trips, backcountry ski tours, snow camping, snowshoeing and climbing.

For Maples, the club has helped him hone his skill with an ice ax and crampons, and with glacier travel.

"Like anything, the more you use them and practice, the more confident you are," he said. "Mostly, it's just been a way to meet other people and find new places."

Outings often last many hours and sometimes include overnight trips, Bledsoe said. It's easy to imagine great conversations are had and good friendships are formed.

"People have met in the club and been married," she said.

Bledsoe and her husband, Greg, are one example. While they didn't meet during an Alpine Club outing, she said the club definitely had something to do with it.

For anyone interested in getting involved, Bledsoe encourages individuals to attend a meeting or outing.

"It's not necessary to formally sign up to go on an outing," she said. "Try out a few hikes and see if you like it."

She also recommended checking the club's Web site, juneaualpineclub.org, prior to a hike to give the checklist a once-over and to call the trip leader to confirm the location and time.

"If someone doesn't know what they're getting into, and they don't have the proper experience, it may not be so fun," Bledsoe said.

Being a member of the Juneau Alpine Club will offer up new friendships, new scenery and, according to Maples, "you get a lot more than a guide book will tell you."

Members meet once a month at the Juneau public libraries (the particular library varies) and dues are $10 per year.

• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at 523-2271 or abby.lowell@juneauempire.com.



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