I’m doing some fly-in camping soon. What is it and why am I going to such lengths for a simple camping trip? This is episode 149 of The Great Outdoors Photography Podcast for July 27, 2022.
I have some air miles with Alaska Air, the only airline that flies into my regional airport. And I was craving an adventure this summer. But with virtually no budget for it and with gas prices going through the roof I needed an alternate plan.
I have only been to Alaska once, that was to Unalaska Island in December of 2019. It was an amazing experience, and I wanted to go to Alaska again, this time in the summer. I tried to make it happen last summer, but with my sabbatical also happening then it just didn’t work out.
Deciding where to go
It seems that whenever I think of Alaska some serious analysis paralysis sets in. In a major way. There’s just SO MUCH and I know that it’s all awesome and it’s near impossible to make a wrong decision. But with this trip I needed some parameters. I create this type of challenge for my students all the time, that is, to limit yourself. By providing severe boundaries you open yourself up to really getting creative.
I wanted a backpacking trip if at all possible. But camping with day hikes would also suffice.
I wanted easily accessible trails that didn’t require me to rent a car.
I was also very interested in doing this “on the cheap” as it were. Meaning my use of public transportation needed to be very minimal.
All these restrictions led me to look seriously at the Inside Passage. Southeast Alaska has many little islands and towns, many of which are served by Alaska Airlines. They’re also served by numerous cruise lines in the summer and the Alaska Marine Highway which is a ferry system.
After looking at a few places I settled on Ketchikan. It’s a big enough town to support a Walmart yet it’s isolated on its own island. There’s plenty of trails to hike on, but most of them are designated day use only. There’s a few for backpacking but their trailheads are a bit too far from town for me to easily get there.
I also looked at Sitka, Juneau and a bit at Skagway. These are all in the inside passage. Sitka looked amazing but it’s not as big of a town as Ketchikan. Juneau almost made me plan a second trip later in August. I still might do that, but I’ve got a lot of other stuff planned for later August, so for now that plan is on hold. But hiking around the glacier would be wonderful. I didn’t look too in-depth at Skagway, but it remains high on the list for sure as each of these places are direct flights from Seattle. So all I have to do is hop on a plane here in Walla Walla, fly to Seattle, and then I’m on the next plane to either of these locations.
Costs for this trip
I mentioned I wanted to do this trip “on the cheap” in a manner of speaking. Let’s see some of the costs I’ve incurred thus far.
I’m using my Airmiles. So out of pocket this is costing me $11.20.
I’m also giving up 37,500 miles to make this trip, but more importantly, how did I gain these miles? Certainly from previous travel that goes back years. But there’s also a few other ways I have been able to add to my frequent flier miles account.
I used to have the Alaska Air Visa card. I don’t anymore as I decided I want to live more like Dave Ramsey and pay everything with my debit card or cash. But for a while I put all my business expenses on the card and that got me a good number of miles. Also, Alaska Air has a program with tons of retailers to earn Alaska Air miles when you shop at their store. Sometimes they run one-day specials. One of these stores is Apple.com. From time to time I need a computer and I always buy from Apple.com. So if I can wait for one of these special days where they offer more than one mile per dollar I get even more miles. One time I bought a computer and it was eight miles per dollar. That was crazy, but it worked. So not all of my miles were earned because I’ve previously flown with Alaska.
Since I’m no longer an Alaska Air Visa card holder I will have to pay the checked baggage fee of $30 each way for a total of $60.
I’ve already reserved one of my camping sites at a cost of $38 total. I’ll have another camping site that I need to pay for on site at a rate of 20 per night. I’m spending two nights there so that will be $40. In total I’ll spend $78 in lodging, I mean camping, fees.
I decided to bring most of my food with me so it’s already packed in the bag. However, when I went shopping I actually bought more than I needed. So the $38.25 I spent on food would likely be about one third to a half of the food I need on my next trip.
Other Camping Necessities
I expect it to rain quite a bit while there so I decided I’d better top of the weather proofing of my tent and my rain coat. I also wanted to guard against the bugs which should be diminishing in August but still, I wanted to be prepared so I got some permethrin insect repellent for spraying on my clothes, tent, hat and camera bag. I also purchased a waterproof food bag to hang my food out of the reach of the bears. All this cost another $56.84.
Total So Far
If you’re keeping track, I’m at a cash outlay of $244.29 thus far. If I were to photograph the southern Oregon coast, one of my favorite places to shoot, gas alone would be about $200 and that doesn’t include any local driving. This is calculated for gas being $5 per gallon.
Additional costs to come
As of this writing the trip hasn’t happened yet. These additional costs are estimates and I may also be missing something.
- Airline/airport food: $40
- Food in town, Sunday and Friday: $40
- Supplies purchased in AK: $50 (stove fuel, insect repellent, bear spray amongst other items)
- Public Transport/Taxi: $75
- Gas to WW airport: $5
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What I'm Packing
- Sleeping Quilt
- Sleeping Pad
- Inflatable Pillow
- Cocoon Sheet
- Sitting Pad
Total Weight: 18.72 lbs (8.49kg)
- Unmentionables & Socks
- Puffy Jacket, Night Shirt
- Rain Jacket
- Fleece Blanket-Hat
Total Weight: 5.39 lbs (2.44kg)
- Food Hanger
- Jet Boil
- Water Bottles
- Sawyer Squeeze Kit
Total Weight: 7.29 lbs (3.3kg)
- Tripod w/Head
- First Aid Kit
- Light Stick
- Wet Wipes
- Blue Duffel*
Total Weight: 7.17 lbs (3.25kg)
GRAND TOTAL WEIGHT: 38.56 lbs. (17.49kg)
*I may only take the blue duffel and this would save about 6 lbs. if I leave the backpack home. Right now the plan is to use the duffel as a protective bag for the backpack as it sits in the plane.
Nothing in the above list includes any of my camera gear, well, except for the tripod I suppose. All other camera gear will be carried on with me in the cabin. I’m tempted to try and take my tripod with me, but with the small turbo-props we have here in Walla Walla it’s best to just wrap it up nicely in the checked baggage and not worry about it.
- Tenba DNA 13
- Canon EOS R5
- Canon RF 24–105 f/4.0
- Canon EF 16–35 f/4.0
- Three Canon Batteries
- USB battery charger
- RF mount extension Tubes
- An assortment of Memory Cards
- Microfiber cloths
- DJI Pocket Osmo II (video camera)
- Small tripod (not the one that came with the Osmo)
- Three micro SD cards
- Wireless Mic
- Recharge cord
- Goal Zero Sherpa 100PD
- Apple USB-C iPad charger (for the Sherpa)
- Prescription Sunglasses
- Water bottle
- Carabiner clips
- Journal notebook
Thoughts on the gear
Since doing this trip “on the cheap” is so important to me I couldn’t see myself buying another bag. For a journey like this I’d love to try out an F-Stop Gear backpack with the ICU setup. It’s built for something like this. I’d also love to be able to take one of my backpacks with me. I have backpacks that are small enough to fit into these smaller regional aircraft, but once I’m on site I can’t see it working with two backpacks.
This is where taking only the duffel may work. However, I will have up to 6 miles to hike with all my gear if I’m unable to secure return transportation from my first campsite. Lugging a 35lb duffel bag for 6 miles is not doable, so sticking with the main backpack is still the plan. I can either put the Tenba into the main pack, or just sling it over my shoulder. Either way It’ll work out much better than having two backpacks.
However, I was tempted by some small backpack options by LowePro as they have a really cool ICU that I actually already own (I took it to Isle Royale last year) and this small bag of theirs fits the ICU perfectly. But I decided I’ll just stick with the Tenba and I really do like this bag and it’ll do well for me to protect my gear while in transit.
When I’m on the trail I do anticipate bringing my big backpack with me so I can take the day’s food, JetBoil and fuel with me so I can eat while on the hike. The Tenba will just fit inside the main bag as well. It’s not ideal but it’ll work just fine.
The way I hike it won’t be a problem. I often hike with the camera on the tripod and that’s propped over my shoulder. So I’m always ready to shoot at a moment’s notice.
When I’m back I plan to do a trip report episode and blog post so be sure to stay tuned for that!
Today's Dose of Inspiration
Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
—Matthew 25:3, ESV
In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.
—Gaius Cassius Longinus
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