Black Rapids Tours FAQ
- My tours are all private. You don’t have to worry about other people slowing you down or vice versa. You’re in charge of selecting your route and you can travel at your own pace. You can also arrange start and finish times for your tour to suit your preference.
- Unlike other popular hiking areas around Alaska (Denali National Park, Chena State Recreation Area, Hatcher Pass, Chugach State Park, etc.) the routes I offer typically see very few people. When I do see people they are almost always locals who share the same affinity for Alaska’s backcountry.
- Full-day tours do not have a fixed time constraint, especially in the summer when it’s light out 24/7. Slow and steady is fine by me, so if you are determined to reach the summit or you want to spend a little extra time exploring a glacier, I’m happy to oblige…even if that means hiking until midnight.
- Experienced hikers (including locals) will find plenty of intriguing & challenging options. I offer several routes that are tougher than any maintained trail you will find in Alaska, many with elevation gains between 3,000 and 5,000 feet. Many routes lead to great views or wild places like Black Rapids Glacier that few people have ever seen.
- If you don’t have much experience hiking in Alaska’s backcountry, you can learn a lot during a tour about routefinding, scrambling, glacier travel, finding drinking water, and a host of other challenges that you typically don’t encounter on trails, which can open up a world of new terrain for you to explore.
- I offer optional professional adventure portraits.
What distinguishes Black Rapids Tours from other tour offerings in Alaska?
Half-day tours are limited to approximately 6 hours maximum, while full-day tours don’t have any strict time limitations. Clients who want to press farther into the wilderness or spend more time exploring, photographing, or otherwise enjoying their time outdoors should consider a full-day tour, though half-day tours are designed to offer impressive sights and a fun experience on routes where offered. Some routes (like Rainbow Ridge or Black Rapids Glacier) only support full-day tours because the terrain is difficult or the distance to the main attraction is long; either way, if you have the strength, stamina, and experience to finish one of these in less than 6 hours you will probably want to spend more time exploring around, anyway.
Near the winter solstice daylight hours are limited. By hiking/snowshoeing/skiing during morning and evening twilight (which lasts about an hour before sunrise and after sunset, respectively) you can generally explore for at least 6 hours without a headlamp. By utilizing a headlamp (and possibly moonlight) you can extend that time as long as you time your adventure right. By mid-February, 12-hour days are possible again. I will advise you before completing your booking whether you will need to take daylight considerations into your planning. Headlamps can be provided.
What is the difference between a half-day and full-day tour?
All tours start somewhere between Mile 197 and Mile 233 of the Richardson Highway, about 2.5 to 3 hours southeast of Fairbanks between Delta Junction and Paxson. Depending on the tour route, weather conditions, and where you will be traveling from, we may either meet directly at the “trailhead” (i.e., a road pullout along the Richardson Highway near the start of the route) or rendezvous at the Lodge at Black Rapids. In either case, you will be responsible for your own transportation and you will be provided detailed directions after booking your tour. The Lodge is the only facility open to the public in the vicinity of the tour area and is located at Mile 227.4 along the Richardson Highway, about 38 miles from Delta Junction, the nearest town. I highly recommend staying at the Lodge or in Delta Junction if you are participating in a tour, or else camping nearby. (There are many scenic places in the area to park an RV/camper or pitch a tent.) If you are planning a day trip from the Fairbanks area, please ensure you allot approximately three hours of driving time each way. If you need transportation, please inquire.
The Lodge at Black Rapids serves dinner (by reservation only) around 7 p.m., and there are a few restaurant options and a grocery store in Delta Junction that close by 9 p.m at the latest. If you are participating in a full-day tour we may finish well after those times so plan accordingly.
How do I get to my tour destination?
Depending on your route you are likely to see different types of wildlife, and even if you don’t there will be signs of wildlife all around. On an alpine hike you are very likely to spot Dall sheep, and you will almost certainly see (and hear) arctic ground squirrels, marmots, porcupines, or other smaller wildlife. On most routes you may see moose or caribou as well, even in winter. While I frequently see signs of bears throughout the area, bear sightings are very rare. (I’ve only seen one.) Wolf, coyote, lynx, and wolverine sightings are also rare but possible. I often spot bald eagles, golden eagles, ptarmigan, falcons, hawks, owls, and other birds. I carry bear spray except during periods of hibernation and I recommend participants bring their own as well—keep it holstered and ready at all times or else it’s worthless. I recommend only carrying a pistol for protection if a) you are a skilled shooter, b) you follow standard gun safety protocols, and c) you carry a model that would be effective against a bear—otherwise your pistol is dead weight and an unnecessary risk. The best bear protection is always avoiding a surprise encounter in the first place by making a lot of noise and keeping aware of your surroundings—I have personally avoided several this way elsewhere in Alaska.
Will I see wildlife? What about bear protection?
Each route is assigned a Difficulty Rating of “Easy”, “Moderate”, or “Difficult”.
- “Easy” routes are suitable for most people without serious health issues, but they may still be challenging for those who are significantly out-of-shape and may involve navigating over rugged terrain that might be difficult for those with limited coordination. If you can easily walk a 5K you should be fine, even if you don’t have much hiking experience.
- “Moderate” routes involve more elevation gain, mileage, and/or strenuous activity than “Easy” routes. The terrain may be steep, hilly, very rugged, and/or involve difficult snow travel in winter. You will struggle if you are significantly out-of-shape. However, most fit people can handle a “Moderate” route even without any hiking experience, while those with plenty of hiking experience should be very comfortable. Comparable examples in Alaska include hiking Donnelly Dome south of Delta Junction, the Mt. Healy Overlook Trail in Denali National Park, the Harding Icefield Trail in Kenai Fjords National Park, and the Reed Lakes Trail in Hatcher Pass.
- “Difficult” routes are…difficult. I can guarantee you won’t complete a difficult route if you are significantly out-of-shape, and even fit people are likely to be sore afterward. These routes involve very large elevation gains, moderate scrambling, lengthy mileage, very steep terrain, and/or tough snow travel in winter. Comparable examples in Alaska include the Granite Tors Trail in Chena State Recreation Area, the Pioneer Peak-Austin Helmers Trail near Palmer, and some of the trails featuring summit climbs in Chugach State Park (e.g. Suicide Peaks). These routes are recommended for those with significant hiking experience and those of intermediate experience who are looking to try something more difficult. If you are in very good shape, you can probably complete a “Difficult” route without much hiking experience, though on steep terrain you may find yourself a bit uncomfortable.
- Note: You don’t have to complete an entire “Moderate” or “Difficult” route to have a great experience and see amazing sights, especially on long alpine hikes. If you’d like to attempt a route even though you might run out of gas, that’s fine and it will help strengthen you for next time. If you are concerned about the difficulty of navigating the terrain, please contact me and I can provide more detailed information.
What level of fitness and experience is required?
What happens if the weather is bad?
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just poor choice of clothes.” In the Alaska Range the weather can be rainy, windy, snowy, cold, really cold, or otherwise imperfect on a regular basis. Preparing for the conditions is an inseparable part of exploring the outdoors and will be part of your adventure. As long as the conditions aren’t dangerous (lightning, blizzard, -50 wind chills, etc.) tours will generally proceed, though for safety purposes I don’t operate tours below about -15 °F. Clothing recommendations are provided below in this FAQ. Please come prepared and let me know if you need additional clothing advice.
I may cancel tours for unusual circumstances like hail, heavy rain, etc. If your tour is canceled due to weather, you will receive a full refund or I will attempt to reschedule your tour free of charge. (Your preference.) Before your tour I will advise you of the weather forecast and I will let you know at least a day in advance if your tour will be canceled.
What is your cancellation policy?
Full payment is required to reserve a tour. Cancellations made by Steven Miley Photography due to weather or other uncontrollable circumstances (e.g., an unplanned Richardson Highway closure) will result in a full refund or the option to reschedule your tour free of charge. Clients who request a tour cancellation three or more days in advance will receive a 50% refund, and cancellations requested less than three days in advance receive no refund; this also applies if you want to subtract a person from your booking. There is also no refund for clients who fail to complete a tour due to late arrival, illness, physical inability, flight delays, etc. Trip insurance is recommended.
If you want to change your tour date after booking, there is a 10% fee if your change request is made less than 10 days in advance, and you may not change your tour date less than 3 days in advance. This gives you a reasonable way to align your tour with good weather or account for personal schedule changes that may occur after booking your tour well in advance. Availability on alternate dates cannot be guaranteed.
The minimum group size is 1, though singles only receive a modest discount off the couples’ rate due to the fixed costs in providing private tours in a remote location. The normal maximum group size is 6, but with advance notice I can make arrangements for groups up to 10.
What are the minimum and maximum group sizes?
As long as one person in your group is an Alaska resident or an active duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces, your entire group receives a 10% discount. The purpose of this discount is to encourage locals and military personnel stationed at Fort Greely, Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base to book tours. Over the years I’ve found many locals are dying to explore the area surrounding Black Rapids but they are kept away by the lack of maintained trails and limited available information about the area, which is one of the reasons I started Black Rapids Tours.
How do Alaska resident and military discounts work?
Summer Visitors: On warm & sunny summer days in the Alaska Range you might be able to get away with shorts, tennis shoes, a t-shirt and a light jacket at high elevations. But on most summer days in Alaska the temperature tops out between 45-70 °F at low elevations, and early in the morning or up high you can encounter temperatures near or below freezing at any time. Toss in a little rain and wind and you better be prepared or else you could be facing hypothermia. At best you will be miserable if you’re not dressed properly. Dressing in layers is the optimal way to stay comfortable, allowing you to adjust to changing conditions throughout the day. It’s most important to always carry wind/waterproof outer layers in case of rain or strong winds. It’s also best to avoid cotton altogether because it loses its insulating capability when it gets wet. Most of the time while hiking in the summer I wear a lightweight base layer under a mid-weight fleece layer and windproof jacket, which keeps me warm while I’m moving in colder temperatures. If I get too warm, I take off the middle layer or shed the jacket. I usually bring an extra heavy upper layer to stay warm in case of emergency or for comfort if I want to take a break at the top of the mountain where it’s cold. I only wear shorts on the warmest of days, and usually wear either very sturdy hiking pants or a lightweight base layer under a wind/waterproof shell. (Jeans are made of cotton and not recommended.) Long pants will also help prevent abrasion from brush and rock while hiking. I often carry a beanie as well as a pair of light gloves. I use thick hiking socks even on warm days because they help prevent blisters and will stay warmer & more comfortable if your feet get wet, and I typically carry an extra pair because feet often do get wet hiking in Alaska. Waterproof hiking shoes are recommended, and preferably should reach above the ankle for steep, high elevation gain hikes. Non-waterproof shoes are likely to get wet at some point while crossing streams, snow, mud, etc., and wet shoes can ruin your day.
Winter Visitors: Temperatures in Interior Alaska can drop below 0 °F (-18 °C) by October and -40 °F is a possibility starting in November and lasting through mid-March. While tours don’t operate below roughly -15 °F, it is quite common for me to take people out in temperatures near 0 °F. Once you start moving and your body warms up, you’d be surprised how little you need to wear to stay warm in these kind of temperatures. To stay comfortable you need to wear multiple layers, including a base layer for your upper and lower body, insulated waterproof pants, usually a mid-weight upper layer and a wind/waterproof jacket. You might need an additional layer under your jacket on colder days or if the wind is blowing. I also bring a heavy parka in my pack on cold days for emergencies and for comfort when I stop for an extended period. (You should always have emergency clothes or blankets with you in your vehicle in case you become stranded.) Wool or synthetic materials work well for base layers. Don’t wear cotton in cold weather while engaging in physical activity because if it gets wet (from sweating, snow, or inadvertent contact with water) it loses its insulating capability. Tuck your upper layers into your pants to help retain the heat produced by your body. You need mittens, not gloves, and you should wear glove liners so you can take your mittens off briefly if you need dexterity or if your hands get too warm. Do not handle any cold objects with bare hands, especially metal—this includes cameras, door handles, etc., and avoid tightly gripping objects or letting your fingers rest against cold objects even if wearing gloves or mittens. If your fingers start to get cold, it's better to take your mittens off and place your fingers directly against your body until they warm back up. Hand warmers inside your mittens can work wonders. You'll need a head covering and something to cover your face & neck on windy or very cold days such as a balaclava or scarf. (The tip of your nose and ears are more susceptible to frostbite.) You need heavy winter boots that don't fit too tightly with thick wool socks on to prevent cutting off circulation to your toes. Most of March and April will feature “warm” temperatures in the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s °F where frostbite is not a threat and staying warm is easy. Even January sees days like this sometimes. I do not rent cold weather gear but may be able to make special arrangements or direct you somewhere you can purchase your own. Goggles may be more comfortable or necessary on windy days—these can be provided if you don’t have your own. Sunglasses or goggles are recommended for bright, sunny days starting in February to protect your eyes from the sun reflecting off the snow.
How should I dress?
For summer visitors, a day pack will be provided and hiking poles if desired, though you are welcome to bring your own. You should bring all your own clothing and footwear, along with food, water, sunscreen, and anything else you want to bring on your tour. For winter visitors, a day pack will be provided along with snowshoes, ice cleats, headlamps, and goggles if necessary. Alpine touring skis are much more efficient than snowshoes but have a steeper learning curve; they can be rented at Beaver Sports in Fairbanks. You must bring your own clothing and footwear. See clothing recommendations above. A more detailed list of recommendations will be sent based on the route you choose and the time of year your tour will occur.
What outdoor gear should I bring?
No glacier tours will require crampons, ice axes, or other technical ice climbing gear. I will provide ice cleats when beneficial. All glacier tours will only require simple hiking or snowshoeing. In the winter, if I have been able to scout a particular glacier I can guarantee whether you will see an ice cave because ice caves don’t melt very much from late October into the spring. Castner, Canwell, & Black Rapids Glacier have all had ice caves of varying impressiveness every winter for the past several years. However, in the summer ice caves can change rapidly as they melt and many ice caves become inaccessible due to danger from falling rock & ice or because of water flowing through the cave, so generally I cannot offer ice cave tours May through September. But ice caves are neat to look at from outside in the summer even if you can’t go inside.