Yakutat to Unimak: Minnesota hiker recounts 2,500-mile Alaska traverse

A hiker in a dry suit holds a padde and a packraft on an island.
From Yakutat, Binde said he hiked across the Lost Coast, up the Copper River to the Wrangell Mountains, up to Denali, finished the Alaska Range at Lake Clark, and finally made his way into the Aleutian Range. (David Binde)

From mid-June to mid-October, Dan Binde of Minnesota hiked from Yakutat, in the northern reaches of Alaska’s Inside Passage, across the Alaska Peninsula, to Unimak, the largest and easternmost of the Aleutian Islands.

Binde, who was joined by his friend Quoc Nguyen along the way, logged roughly 2,500 miles. 

As they neared their journey’s end, Binde said people repeatedly warned them of the dangers of Isanotski Strait, also known as False Pass — the strip of water connecting the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea, the Alaska Peninsula from the hikers’ destination: Unimak Island.

The strait was part of the final stretch of their four-month-long trip, and less than one mile of their overall journey. Binde and Nguyen took their time, and waited for safe conditions to cross.

According to Binde, they made it across safely with ease, traversed the island, and spent their final day at Cape Sarichef, on the western side of Unimak.

“[There were] waterfalls and so many caves,” Binde said, describing his time on Unimak Island. “We had two weeks of beautiful weather, getting views of [Mount] Shishaldin and the caldera on the island. That last section was really, really nice.”

Binde and Nguyen took the journey week-by-week. Sometimes, Nguyen would leave earlier in the day and Binde would catch up with him later, neither of them thinking too much about their final destination, Binde said.

From Yakutat, Binde said he hiked across the Lost Coast, up the Copper River to the Wrangell Mountains, up to Denali, finished the Alaska Range at Lake Clark, and finally made his way into the Aleutian Range. 

Along the way, Binde said he encountered some hair-raising and literally sticky situations, including glacier river crossings and deep, treacherous pockets of mud that left him trapped 200 feet from a grizzly bear.

Not only did Binde have predators, icy temperatures, and dangerous terrain to worry about, but even small things, like salmon, he said, could be a cause for concern in his small inflatable boat.

“There was a fish that jumped in my boat as I was going across the Ugashik Bay at like midnight because I took too much time off in town,” Binde said. “And right before that, a salmon — or something that was trying to eat that smaller fish — hit my paddle. And I thought, ‘Oh, man, if a salmon tries biting my boat, I’m toast.'”

After his four-month Alaska traverse, now that Binde is back in Minnesota doing odd jobs like masonry work, he’s less worried about menacing salmon and more about saving up for his next adventure.

“Now I’m at ground zero,” Binde said. “So I might actually have to work all year. But South America is on the list, the Ural Mountains in Russia, Kazakhstan. There’s a lot of different ideas that I would love to do.”

Probably first on the list is to finish a trip he started in India, he said, making his way by motorcycle.

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