How To Hike The Stampede Trail To The Magic Bus 142 (For Dummies)
It’s 2016, I just spent three months in Alaska and let alone everything else that happened, the dates 5th to 8th of May 2016 shall be forever remembered as my four-day odyssey through this crazy adventure that my boyfriend Mirek came up with – hiking the Stampede Trail in Denali before we fly back to Czech Republic, and visiting the Magic Bus 142 where Chris McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp) was found dead in 1992.
It was Mirek’s dream, not mine, but I could understand why it appealed to him so much, and I also knew it might be our only chance to do it because we might never get back to Alaska. That itself wasn’t a good reason for me to do it, but I soon realized that no matter what, he was not going to let the idea go, he was going to fight for it and make it happen, so when we fought over it and he gave me the choice not to go and to stay in a hotel, I knew that wasn’t really an option. I wouldn’t let him go alone because him walking the trail alone was even crazier idea than the two of us doing it together. So it was going to happen. We were going.
First there was a lot of research. There are some good blogposts of people who went, they often share a tip or two and some pictures, and there used to be also a whole page with a forum dedicated to the hike, called Hiking the Stampede Trail, but unfortunatelly as I’m updating this post (January 2017), it seems to have dissappeared from the internet, I have no idea why and it’s a pity. But you can definitely find a good info elsewhere, too, plus don’t forget to check Youtube, there are some really interesting videos and visuals are always a bit better when it comes to getting a realistic image of what to expect. My research quickly revealed that:
- It’s really not advised for anyone who is not experienced. The hike takes some 40 miles together and unless you have some endurance built up, you better start on that at least few months before the hike. We weren’t experienced and didn’t do much training and that was one of my biggerst fears. I had my moments in earlier life but nope, I do not call myself anything near experienced, and I knew I was not physically ready for it.
- Locals and fans of the trail actually hate people who do it while not being up to it and they beg them to reconsider. Rescues are expensive and complicated – how would anyone even know something happened to us? There is no cellphone service once you step on the trail. And even if we got lucky and a random helicopter happened to find out we are in trouble, what next? Should more rescues happen, the bus might get damaged and vandalised even more than it is, or removed at all (it only hasn’t happened yet because of money and difficulty of the task but locals would much like to do it).
And also our visa were to expire soon, we already had booked plane tickets to Czech Republic and what would happen if we missed it? What if we ended up in the papers like two more idiots? What if we were the last straw?
Simply put, I didn’t take it lightly at all, I was actually trying to talk Mirek out of it and even he was realizing the dangers, he was only willing to go for it anyway because he had trust in his own abilities to prepare and endure, so please don’t think of us as some fools who hit the trail just out of the blue. We spent over two months researching, planning and geting all available info.
What I was missing the whole time, though, was some more info on the actual gear and the trail. What does it look like? What should we bring and wear? Where do you camp and how do people do it with hygiene and food?
When we hit the trail, I soon realized that the main problem of being unexperienced is not the actual physical combat with the trail – it’s that you didn’t know what exactly to bring and what will your body need.
This lack of important informations led us to making mistakes that might have cost us more than just achy backs, if we weren’t lucky. This is the reason I am writing this blogpost, because I, in contrary to what they say, believe that almost anyone can actually do this hike – safely on top – if only they have the right informations (and of course a good common sense and reasonable health). It is still true that it’s not easy.
I want to help all the other „dummies“ who share Mirek’s dream and for whatever reason want to do the hike, but are maybe scared and being put off by the whole „don’t do it unless you are experienced“. There is some true to it, you ARE risking your health and lives by ignoring this good advice, but even for guys like you and me, it is possible. I’m a living proof.
If you have the slightest chance, work on your condition at least three, two months before the hike. Take shorter hikes for example at least every weekend, with a heavy backpack once you built a bit of strenght (if you start from scratch, don’t make it too heavy, you don’t want to hurt yourself). Try out your shoes and clothes, most importantly, you want to know that nothing hurts, makes blisters etc.. But actually the blister situation can change on the hike because of different conditions – I will talk about that later.
It is important that you know your endurance. I knew I wasn’t physically ready, but I also knew that similar things happened to me few times in past and I was always able to finish. When the shit hits the fan, I know I will not fall down crying, I will keep walking no matter what pain. I knew it might become difficult (I really worried about the blisters :D) but I will come back out of there (unless bears or something other serious happened).
One of our biggest mistakes was that we brought a ton of unnecessary clothes and it was pretty heavy. The hike takes usually maximum four days and you might think you need fresh clothes because you will be sweating a lot and stuff.
WRONG. Because you will be sweating a lot and stuff, there is no point in taking much of fresh clothes, clean t-shirts and so. Of course, this is your personal choice, but I only wore one t-shirt over a good thermo long-sleeved t-shirt, so I was quite pissed at myself for having like four of them. It is good and adviced to have a clean thermo-clothes set for the night, but in the day, you just need one set of clothes really, as long as you can keep the night one dry.
Have a set of clean clothes in your car, though, so that you can change to something smelling nice when you come back and I’m not saying cut out clean underwear. Just be reasonable with the top layers.
In case your day clothes get wet, think if you can wear the night ones as emergency, don’t burden yourself with ton of clean jumpers, trousers and shirts. You won’t need those. What you will need, though, is really functional clothes, layers that you can sweat in through the day and that will protect you from the wind – thermo-shirt with long sleeves was my choice, another shirt over, then a bandana on the neck (I had a fleece tunel and never took it off) and a hat (if you can, choose light color. I wore my black warm hat and in the sunny weather my brain was boiling but I didn’t want to take it off and risk getting cold).
On the bottom I wore socks, tights, corduroy pants (didn’t have anything more sporty and it was a better choice than my other thin jeans. At least the corduroy is more heavy duty) and waterproof knee-socks. If doing the hike again, I would wear some sportier trousers over and would try to have higher waterproofs but I would still keep the thights probably, it was a good layer.
For shoes I had these light Sketchers that I bought just before going to Alaska and I love them for how great they were! They are not waterproof so the water could run in and out which is actually great. You will go through a lot of deeper water and mud and with waterproof shoes you only risk having them full of it and heavy. It is better to have something light that lets the water out again. But protect your feet with warm waterproof socks – the water itself is ice cold and hurts on bare skin.
My Sketchers could provide more support on the ankles but I’m not perfectionist. Important is that they are very light and comfy and they have memory foam pads inside (+ I had my own orthopedic pads).
The terrain is full of creeks and rivers you have to walk in, often the path becomes a river, you walk on the rocks, on the dirt, on the incredible slippery field of thick mud, in muddy puddles, on ice that breaks (depends on when you are walking) so you need something good for all of these terrains. Forget sneakers.
Some people think about rubber boots – I’m not sure how that would work. I would be worried about becoming too warm in those and about the bottom that needs to be able to save you from slipping and breaking your ankle. Also if you get stuck in mud, I somehow don’t picture the rubber boots being easy to pull out. They must be generally crazy heavy to wear. But who knows, ask around, maybe it worked for someone.
Some people wear sandals instead and keep their normal shoes for the camp and that is what Mirek did, too. He wore brand new Keen sandals and his only problem with them was that the seams under ankles broke after the first day and we had to fix it. We tried with sewing first (hard and didn’t help much) and glue and duct tape later (kept breaking), eventually he had to wrap his feet with paracord. After the hike he complained about this to Keen and they gave him his money back. I would probably advise to try a different brand or get ready for the possibilty of the sandals falling apart.
I had it the other way around, btw – definitely bring your sandals or other shoes for the camp, so that you can change to dry socks and have something to walk in. The lighter the shoes, the better. Crocs could do.
Think well about clothes for sleeping. This depends a lot on your sleeping gear but consider that we were cold almost every night even in layers. You need something that will actually work so research and try out if you can. If you have a very warm sleeping bag, you don’t have to worry that much.
I brought a swimming suit, thinking maybe I will want to bathe in the rivers and what if we meet someone and I can’t go naked, maybe I will want to change to it to cross the river and keep my clothes dry… well, never needed it 😀
You should definitely have some raingear, at least emergency poncho and raintrousers (unless yours are waterproof/water-repellent already). We were extremely lucky, spent four days under sunshine or just clouds and had only two quick showers in the evening while unpacking our tent, but what if you are not that lucky? You need to have something to keep you relatively dry while walking, or you might have a really bad day. Or have your trip prolonged which sucks too.
I don’t know why we thought that creeks will be the worst that expects us. When we learned just how muddy the path was, when we hit fields of snow and ice that breaks under you and there is a river under it, when we arrived at a field of mud that spreads wherever your eye can only see and steals your shoes, we knew we didn’t know jack about this trail.
The trail is badly damaged by the wheels, right from the start you will be meeting ponds of mud that take the whole width of the trail and you will be forced to try to find your way through and risk slipping, or walk around (which often means going through branches and bushes that catch your bag and aim for your eyes). Either way it takes much more energy to battle with this than just plain walking on dirt, and you will be fighting it every day.
What others tell you are the creeks, but we didn’t expect that much mud and snow. Walking over stones and dirt were therefore the best parts even up the hill, the rest was dozens of rivers, creeks, dangerous frozen areas and endless slippery mud puddles and mud paths.
We got lost few times and it cost us not only time but also a lot of energy because once you are off the path, you walk into the real wild. I was scared that we will fall through the ice or that we will get into trouble in the swamps that we met, and the trees were catching us and it was hard to find a way even with our GPS. I was only expecting some water and beaver ponds and those we actually never saw (or didn’t notice).
Nevertheless I have learned in the first two days that it’s better to always go through the water, if possible – it saves time and energy. The big mud field that I will talk about in a minute is a different story, but apart from that I wouldn’t try so hard to walk around everything, it often turned out to be quite pointless. Go slowly, and only if you can’t go on as it gets too deep, search for a way around. The really shitty parts like deep rivers or puddles never lasted too long and were hardly ever too much for our knee socks. Muddy puddle is a bit worse but you can still do it.
What I wouldn’t dare to do it without, though, were the sticks. It gives you 100% more support and confidence and you can use it to search for shallowest path through the puddle.
The biggest obstacles were:
- the big field of mud that we didn’t know about. You will reach it before Savage. First we went pretty much straight through and it was a disaster. On the way back I was looking for other ways and found out there were plenty paths made by the wheels. It was still quite shitty but much more doable than going through the worst, so my advice is – at this field always look for a path that lays higher on the hill. The higher you are, the less muddy it should be. So at first, go as right as you can, on the way back go left.
- Savage river – it’s very doable in early May, the water was low and only because my own impatience I got wet on the way back because I crossed at too deep point.
- Teklanika is much bigger and stronger but also all about a good spot. Take time to walk up the stream and find the shallowest place. We found a really good spot just a bit above the camp, where the little island is (in the back on the right side, the photo is taken at the camp on the hill).
I did get water in my socks but nothing I couldn’t survive. On the way to the bus we took much worse spot and even though we had a special suit to keep us dry, it was too deep and strong to go with our baggage so we were putting it in bags, throwing rope at each other across the river, tightening the bags, pulling them across… it took ages, don’t even ask 😀 Plus when I walked across as the last thing in the suit, I got washed down and had to lay on my back in the water, while Mirek was holding my neck and I was letting the river take me just a tiny bit away to a spot where I could regain my control and climb up. So exhausting and entirely pointless. On the way back we crossed at the island and I was across in less than a minute, with my baggage.
This depends a lot on when you are going so do your research closer to your own dates. Tek changes a lot (as Chris learned) and especially if you are doing it in summer, it gets really wild so it’s probably best to rent a packraft.
I was cold almost every night and it wasn’t the best. I had a Snugpak light sleeping bag with a bivvy on it, inflating sleeping pad and mylar blanket and it didn’t do as good job as I expected so even in all that and several layers of clothes I was still cold. Think about the night temperatures and if you can, try your gear and clothes before hiking, in the similar conditions. You can survive a night when you are cold and shaking, but it won’t add to your happiness. I thought few layers will add temperature rezistance to the light summer sleeping bag, but it didn’t work. So next time I would much likely sacrifice the comfort of lightness and compactness to have a much warmer bag – or I would work on having better functional clothes. It all came down to the fact that I didn’t come to Alaska to do this so I wasn’t really prepared with clothes and gear and I didn’t want to buy stuff when I knew I can’t take it home (and I will probably never need it again).
I can recommend at least the pad, though I would get one with thermo-insulation next time. My hips and shoulders hurt badly so it was good to have something soft to sleep in, at least. But even with the mylar under it I was still feeling a bit cold from bellow.
From what I heard and seen, most people carry gas boilers for cooking (and sadly, they often leave the empty gas tanks behind them), but consider other options like this portable Firebox stove for wood.
It’s lighter (even though it’s still kinda heavy) and it’s much more compact. You will always find a bit of wood around and the Firebox doesn’t need much.
You need something to light the fire with so firelighter and firestarters, you need water filter (there are dozens of creeks on the way, so you don’t need to bring water, only like for the first max. 2 hours of the hike) and some container for water (we had 2 small plastic bags for water to which you can attach the filter, a nalgene bottle and a thermomug that wasn’t entirely neccessary but it was nice to make a tea in it that lasted warm for a while. You need toilet paper, it’s really good to have some rubber bands and bunjee cords (those car thingy’s with hooks), pegs or some clips, paracord, little sewing kit, duct tape, light cooking gear (one small light saucepan should do), it’s good to have some multitool with spoon, knife and can opener (but there is one at the bus) if you have cans (but please try not to have them, or carry them back with you to keep the trail clean), and also consider how will you orientate yourself in the unknown terrain.
We lost the path few times and if it wasn’t for our good GPS maps on an iPhone, we might have been in trouble. Also for pictures you need to charge your phone/camera so I couldn’t imagine going without a powerbank or solar charger. And if your phone crashes or gets drown, you should have a backup plan like paper map and a compass, unless you are walking with someone who already knows the trail well.
You don’t really need to buy walking sticks, there are always some wooden sticks around, you walk through a lot of woods. The first day my hands were not empty and I was sceptical anyway, but then I tried them when walking up the hill and I never gave them up afterwards. I was so much more stable, I had a tempo, it is also great support when you just want to rest a bit by leaning into them, or to help you to stand up.
Bin bags to line up your bag, to store things, to whatever – I wouldn’t go without them. Had like 10 of the big ones, used cca 6. Next time I would bring more smaller ones. Also ziplocks, you definitely need those to protect your foods, to organize, to keep your electronics dry and safe. They were handy to us all the time.
Some piece of soap or detergent is always good when washing your cooking gear or hands.
You might need a torch or headlamp, we never needed it but I would still bring it again next time.
As for backpacks, we didn’t have big hiking ones, ours were like middle size but we had other smaller backpacks attached to them on top by the rubber car ropes. Also the tent and other things were attached by the ropes and paracord.
We needed few carabins, they get handy.
The bag needs to be comfy even when heavy and with a lot of straps to fix it to your body. I think ours were not the best, my shoulders hurt a lot. This is another reason why you need to try smaller hikes before doing a big one.
Whistle. We had quite a loud one on our paracord bracelets along with tiny compass and it was a good way of checking what’s going on, since we parted a lot, walking each in his own tempo. It was also his loud whistle that made me know he just reached the bus and I began to cry 🙂 For so long I didn’t believe I was going to make it, on the first evening I was so convinced that we will not proceed in the morning, that we will go back, but we didn’t and we made it. Even though it wasn’t my dream that much (in the sense that I was ready to give it up when feeling too tired), I was so proud of myself and I will always remember the whistle telling me to go on just few more meters and there it is. And it was 🙂
I won’t even post a photo of us at the beginning because you would laugh so hard. Not only we had heavy backpacks, I actually had another full backpack on the front, plus a plastic bag in each hand.
I had apples, bananas, chocolates, biscuits, gummi bears, 1/3 of a big ziplock of trail mix, same amount of oats + chia seeds for breakfast, we had five packs of Mana, a big can of beans and another one of ham, some dried rice/beans mixes, a plastic dose of peanut butter and some other bits and the most riddiculous thing, a whole chicken leftover from the day before that was still in its oval plastic box and I carried that in the bag up until Teklanika, where we ate a bit but still couldn’t get rid of all of it. And I was still scared we didn’t have enough food, or more like that we didn’t have the right food. Anyway none of that was true, we were more than fine and we even left something behind.
The thing is, the first day I felt hungry all the time. Every time we stopped, I ate an apple or banana and a moment later I felt hungry again, so I was feeling very desperate about this. But the reason for my hunger was obviously too much crap being carried => too much energy being wasted. Plus apple is not really something to make you full for a long time. I learned through the next days that a big can of beans is more than enough to share for two for a dinner, you don’t need bread with it (we had Bushes, they make it seasoned enough so you don’t need any salt or other spices). The ham can was also quite enough for two. I felt through the day that I will be so hungry in the evening but actually just a bit of warm food went a long way and if I got hungry later again (I do tend to have night hunger), trail mix would do.
The peanut butter was great, I regreted not going for it untill the second day. It was actually a mix with tahini and just few spoons went a long way and kept me surprisingly full for hours. I would definitely bring that again.
Oats were fine but you don’t need a bag of it, just a handfull for each morning. Normally we would put maple syrup, fruits and almond milk in it but on the hike it’s more than fine to have it mixed with chia and flax seeds and cinnamon and then just add water and some stevia to sweeten it up.
Mana seemed to be a great idea but the problem was that you need a water full of bottle for it and to filter such amount of water took a long time with our filter straw, so we never found time for it during the day. Plus we had a ton of other heavier things that we wanted to deal with first, so we actually never got to Mana until we were back in the car! That forced us to leave two packs of it at the bus, I was feeling sorry for it but I wasn’t going to bring it all the way back. Mirek enjoyed a can of mackerell that somebody else left behing in the bus, so we felt it was quite right to do this. Maybe somebody else will not bring that much and will need it.
Having small packets of gummi bears and small snickers‘ in pockets was a great idea. Your bag is heavy and may be difficult to take off, so it’s good to have a way of reaching for your little snack on the move, so you don’t have to stop and loose your partner just because you are feeling a bit hungry. In your pockets, in a waist-bag, whatever. Just have something that will give you energy, keep you stuffed and raise your mood (and preferably something healthy).
I just want to say, don’t be crazy like we were. Nobody needs that much of food, even if you are giving away all that energy. Try not to bring cans, you cannot burn them and they are heavy and not practical even when empty. Bring dry food for breakfast and dinners (I had some Zatarain’s beans and rice mix for two dinners and it was ok), bring a bit of trail mix, I’d recommend the peanut butter/tahini, some little snacks and maybe few apples. For a peace of mind, if you are walking alone, you might bring an extra day worth of food, but you will quite likely find something at the bus, people always leave things behind. We even found spaghetti with an instant sauce there.
Teas were nonsense. We only made it twice and for that we only needed ginger and water – and I highly recommend ginger. It really warms you up. Also spices were unnecessary, as I said, bring dry food that is already seasoned and maybe just some stevia or sugar for your morning oats.
You will sweat no matter what so I wouldn’t expect too much of your antiperspirant. But for me personally, it was totally worth to have some spray deodorant. Four days can be a loong way to go without a shower and if you are spending another two or more nights in the car with your partner (like before and after), it’s even longer 😀 Have it at least at the car but I would still bring it to the hike, too.
The first night all my dreams of bathing in the river were gone, because the rivers are freezing beyond crazy, it’s just plain pain 😀 Also once you stop walking, you get cold quite quickly and you don’t want to add to it by bathing in the freezing river. Baby wipes are saviour and I managed to wash my hair at the bus because we made fire inside, made it warm and my hair could dry without me having to worry about catching cold or pneumonia, but apart from that there was no proper hygiene until we made it back to the hotel in Anchorage. You might need to get used to that idea, it’s that or freezing river. Again, it’s good to have some water at the car so that you can wash yourself a bit before getting back to civiliation.
And I didn’t have to bring my whole Lush shampoo bar, just a tiny piece would do it. It’s not that heavy but I was still angry with myself for not thinking about that.
Be clever, save your energy
There is only one trail that you walk there and back, too, so use that to your advantage. Leave anything that you don’t urgently need – clothes, food for the way back etc. at a base in the middle (e.g. at Teklanika) so you don’t have to carry it all the way.
Because we carried so many things with us and it would make little sense to drag them all the way back, too, we not only left some food and medicines at the bus like other people, but we also set up an „emergency/luxury“ box with teas, spices, leftover duct tape and some other bits at Teklanika camp for the future supertramps to use. I hope that it will get handy to someone else and also that some other people might have something to leave there, too. It’s like a relay race, or a version of geocatching – and by the way, did you know there is a geocatching spot at the bus? Look left from the wheel. 😉
The tent and sleeping in the bus + how to behave on the bus
Basically you only need the tent if you spread the hike over more than two days. If you sleep at the Tek, we left behind a nice gift for you – our 2 persons Stansport tent. It’s not much, it only has one layer and a little roof, but it does the job of keeping you kinda safe, feeling like you at least have a room, and we were quite fine in it.
When you reach the bus, you can simply sleep in it (there are three beds covered with matresses, blankets and sleeping bags) plus there is another 4-persons tent that somebody else left behind.
It is kinda open, some windows are broken or missing since the bus has been vandalised and shot at, but the windows are mostly fixed by tarps and I used my time to fix the door with a big plastic bag that I found in the bus. You can always do a bit more to make it more wind-proof and more usable for sleepover. There is a fireplace inside that Chris used for cooking and you can definitely use it too. Somebody left a rusty saw behind so you can get yourself some wood, and if you have time, consider preparing more of it than for yourself. Who knows, maybe the next people at the bus will be hit by a storm or any other missfortune and will be eternally grateful to your kindness even ‚though they won’t know it was you.
It will be always nice of you to find some time to clean up a bit. Burn what you can, tidy what could be useful to someone else, clean up dishes after yourself (you will find some pots and pans), for rubbish that won’t burn there is a big container behind the bus. We can only hope that one of the guys who come there on wheels will finally get the good idea of taking this trash with them since that is probably the only way how it will ever disappear. Until then, we can at least keep it tidy and not add to it.
I felt really bad for bringing two cans which was all the more reason for me to do my part and repay for leaving it behind. And I am hoping that by writing this down I will maybe make somebody think twice about the consequences this decision has. Of course you can bring the can back from the trail, but honestly, who will? You have a lot on your back and it is only understandable that you want to get rid of it and not carry rubbish.
Only thing for the sleepover in the bus, consider your sleeping gear and clothes again. It is pretty easy to warm the bus out but still count on the draft, I was cold in the morning again, woke up about 5am and couldn’t stand it anymore so we had to make another fire.
It is an option but it’s not a solid wall room.
The Sushana river is just few meters away from the bus so don’t worry about water while being at the bus, you’ll be fine.
You will find some journals there to write your message or story in and there were also two black markers that we could use to sign on the walls. There are ropes so you can dry your clothes – only for some reason drying didn’t work much behind or under the oven, only above it.
And don’t forget to clean up after yourself before leaving. There is no room service to come after you, only the next guest.
We have been warned that they will eat us alive and that the only thing that works on them is DEET. According to our research, though, DEET is some really strong shit that can ruin your clothes or even sunglasses if it gets on them, it might leek in your baggage, simply said, people are switching to other, safer alternatives, and so did we. We bought a permethrin spray that you apply on your top layers of clothes and it is supposed to repell the bugs, last for several washes and leave no smell. Well, hard to say if it did the trick, we still had the mosquitos sitting at us and the tent (which was also treated, two times) and I did get several bites (that I only felt itching a day or two after, though) but it could have been much worse. Nevertheless, we didn’t have any bugs on the way, only few at the Tek camp, the true attack began at the bus and there it wasn’t too difficult to shake them off with a lot of smoke.
We might have been extremely lucky even as for the bears as we never saw a one. We did see footsteps, though, and they seemed pretty fresh, so I still highly recommend to have some form of protection.
Mirek bought a big jingle bell that he attached to his gear and was making noise with all the way. It was handy even for me because I could kinda guess how far behind I am 😀
I also had a bear spray with me. In the bus I felt very optimistic so I left it there, but the whole way back as we were finding more and more prints in the mud, I was quite worried, what would happen if we suddenly run into a bear. Don’t take this lightly. The area is also supposed to have jinx in it. Also an animal I’d rather not run into.
The advice is to talk loudly or sing but I’m telling you I was glad that I am breathing 😀 So if you think you will be in similar position, get yourself some other way of alarming bears that you are coming through. Some cans attached to your bag could work.
I received a tip to rub some deodorant on my feet to prevent them, but didn’t have any and in the end I didn’t need them. By some miracle, the slightly wet feet worked as the best blister protection ever! I wore my waterproof socks but I think one was faulty and anyway your feet sweat so you cannot really avoid the wetness. What the socks do, though, is they warm you up, so even if you do get water in them, your feet will not freeze, you will not get cold and you’ll be generally fine. Of course my feet hurt on the last day, muscles struggled, but no open wounds or blisters. I still cannot believe how lucky I was, since when we did a trial 3-hours hike before, my feet got blistered so badly that I thought I will die on the real hike 😀
So I totally recommend you follow my example and give your trust to the waterproofs. They are soft and nice inside, which supports the magic.
It never hurts to have a marker and a piece of paper with you. There are markers left at the bus, but you might want to leave some notes on the way (we left one with our food, that we left at Tek on day 2, so that nobody would think those are free leftovers and take them).
To bring a little (but really just a little, like that tiny hotel room fridge bottle!) alcohol cannot hurt. We had a tiny plastic bottle of Jack Daniels to celebrate making it to the bus, we shared it and it was lovely. It can warm you up in case of major cold or river trouble. But please do not leave bottles behind. If you cannot man up to take the empty bottle with you, bring plastic and burn it. It will be lighter to carry anyway.
Suncream – that’s something to consider. We didn’t have it and I don’t regret it. We had a lot of sunshine and I burned my nose and cheeks tiny bit, but nothing too bad and I’m not too fussy about protecting my skin. But if you are, bring a bit of it, like a travel size bottle.
Medicine/First Aid Kit (you can get sunburn, headache, back ache and muscle pain, be bitten by mozzies, cut, have splinter, break a nail, hurt your ankle, get blisters… think what can happen and how prepared you are for it.) There are quite a lot of bandaids at the bus and some medicines, we also found a really helpful pain relief spray which is funnily not supposed to be applied to large areas, it’s meant only for minor burns and stuff, but it turned out to be pretty good on sore shoulders and hips. Something like that is a really good idea because your back, shoulders, ankles and generally muscles might suffer a lot if you are not trained.
I had inflating pillow and would probably bring it again. It’s just a detail of comfort and it doesn’t weigh anything so I had it attached to my backpack on a carabine and didn’t even know about it during the day. You could probably have something else under your head but I just wanted to have my pillow.
Tweezers, nailclips, nail file… better to have them than not. Can you think of anything else?
As much as it’s still not an easy hike, if you can avoid making mistakes that we made, if you can make your backpack only reasonably heavy and your hands free to grab sticks, you can make it much easier for yourself and actually enjoy it, even if you were not trained for this and you thought it wasn’t for you. It all still comes down to your own nature and your reasons for walking the trail. I walked because I would never forgive myself if anything happened to Mirek and because despite my carefulness and kinda laziness I also have a bit of adventurer in me – I did wish to be a part of this beautiful world of nowadays‘ supertramps and Chris‘ admirers and it was a tempting challenge to me. So each for our own reasons, we made it together and I am glad. I hope our trip to this heart of wilderness can bring something good to us but also other people, that they will use our tent and other things and that it will make their day better just like ours was made better by what we found in the bus, because through this mutual help all of us who walked are connected and that’s what was the best part.
Isn’t it after all what Chris‘ message was? Happiness only real when shared.
The credit for photos and the actual hike itself goes to Mr M.
Note on 19. 5. 2016:
This post is about a hike done only two weeks ago so it might look like you can rather easily still do it today. Unfortunatelly Teklanika is very, very changeable and unpredictable. Mike Kramer, who is a skilled and experienced Stampede hiker/guide, hit the trail just few days ago on the 16th with a group of people excited to visit the bus. They never made it across Tek as it was too high and wild!
If you are planning to attempt the hike later than very early May, be aware that you might not get the chance to get across. If you have some experience, I would consider renting packrafts, if not, don’t hazard with your lives. Be ready to give up the idea if the river seems uncrossable. This is an advice that everybody who went will give you and it’s a well meant one. Remember those who risked and lost their lives. Live to hike another day.
Hello thank you for your report on the trip 🙂
I would like to ask you some questions about traveling to Alaska if its possible.
If yes, please send me a email 🙂
First of all thanks for the article. Can I have your email. Need your assistance in sorting our few concerns.
Hi, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org, hope I can be of help.
hey, really enjoyed reading this whole thing. been wanting to travel for a while likewise about asking more about your trip and alaska in general if thats okay please email me
Hi, thanks for reading it and I’m super glad you liked it 🙂 Will send you an e-mail, though I’m not sure if I did anything else worth mentioning there 😛 🙂
Greetings from France!
I was doing some research on how to hike the Stampede Trail to the Magic Bus since it’s been a dream of mine for years and here I am!
I have to say : thank you. Your article is really helpful and full of important information that I hadn’t seen before on other websites (it’s so hard to find good information, people seem to think that we’re all Alaskian experts..). I’ll definitely keep all your advices in mind, and your pictures made me even more eager to go there 🙂
I just had one question, and it’s probably one of the most important : where did you get the maps? You talked about a GPS, should I buy one? Is the trail already on the thing or do I have to download it? If you know where I can get the maps I’d gladly take them.. (the thing is I’m scared to get lost since a map does’nt give any visuals)
Anyway, it was a great article, so thanks again!!
Hi, greetings back currently from UK! 🙂 Thanks so much for kind words, I am super-excited that this helped somebody 🙂
As for the maps, we had an iPhone that supports GPS maps, my boyfriend downloaded some free app that supports GPS maps offline and then he downloaded the precise map for Stampede Trail from Mike Kramer’s (or Eric Halfacre, I can’t remember now which one was behind it but they are both the guys who walked the trail many times) page about the trail. The trouble is, that page doesn’t seem to exist anymore and I don’t know why. The adress was something like „stampedetrail.info“ and it was amongst the top ones in Google Search. We don’t have the file anymore unfortunatelly so the only thing I can suggest on that matter to go ask around all FB groups related to the trail and ask if anybody has the file or can give any advice. I am sure that whoever goes there must have some offline GPS maps (or be skilled in reading paper maps + have such) so I’d be looking around for anyone who has been there and can help out.
Sorry I can’t be of more help with that but definitely sort this out before going, we struggled even with the GPS maps and went off the trail few times. Which resulted in much harder work, crazy terrain and delays.
And do get back to me if you go, please, I keep dreaming of the place and would love to see some fresh pictures of how it looks now 🙂 It seems to me that every person who goes has a different experience because the trail changes in every weather and every season so much.
Very nice of you to make this guide for dummies, hopefully it makes people well prepared before attending this tough journey.
But please, when travelling in the backcountry, leave no trace…
Too much weight is no excuse for leaving empty cans behind.
If you can pack it in, you can pack it out.
Please use alternatives (put the food in lightweight bags or anything).
I find it very sad that people think the steel drum next to the bus would be a garbage can.
I completely agree with you and it is the one thing that I regret about our trip, that we left a few cans there. I appreciate that there are people who make the journey on four-wheels or dogsled and take some of this garbage out.
I wish there were guides like this for everything, I am the kind of person who keeps saying „wish someone told me that“ 🙂 I am working on an e-book sized guide for Bali, too, with tips like that. I just have zero experience with e-books, let alone marketing, so I am struggling with how to actually finish and publish it. I think I could easily charge for it (I’ve bought and read guides that were less helpful) but since I suck at it, I’ll probably just post it for free download or something. Once it looks ok, that is.
If I ever went on a hike like this again, I’d make sure to leave out cans, it’s too heavy anyway, and if you go somewhere where you can filter water, why drag all the liquid with you?
Diky za clanek! Komentuji uz z Aljasky a nemuzu se dockat splneni jednoho z mych snu. Welcome to the wilderness.
Není zač! Hlavně nikdy nepřeceňovat síly, nepodceňovat přírodu a hezky skautsky – vždy připraven! 🙂
Really enjoyable read, thank you for writing this.
Glad you liked it 😉
I really loved reading your article. I am actually packing my bags right now for Alaska. Can you please mail me as I still have few questions.
I am a solo traveler and I just want to make sure I have covered all aspects of the trip.
Please do email.
Hi there, I have commented my e-mail adress to you on your previous comment, few days ago, so if you have any questions, feel free to e-mail them to me. Or you can simply ask right here 🙂
Úžasný článek! Pro někoho, kdo se tam chce vydat opravdu přínosné a skvěle popsané zkušenosti a rady. Závidím Vám, že jste měli tu možnost se tam podívat a moc gratuluji, že jste to zvládli, musí to být nezapomenutelné.. 🙂
Díky moc 😉 Byl to rozhodně zážitek na celý život, často na to vzpomínám a doufám, že se mi to třeba někdy poštěstí udělat znovu.
Už asi ne,když už tam není. Byl tam opravdu bordel od turistů?
Bus nebus, pořád se tam dá hikovat. Myslím, že málokdo tam šel kvůli nějaké plechové rachotině. Za nás tam něco málo bylo, ale nepřišlo mi to významné. U autobusu byl jeden nebo dva plechové barely a v tom nějaké nespalné věci, v ohništích pár zrezlých plechovek, ale třeba na trase bylo čisto a krásně. Problém byl asi hlavně v tom, že pokud tam nezajeli čtyřkolkáři (kteří tu trasu ovšem ničí) nebo v zimě spřežení (ale to by tolik plechu asi neodtáhlo), bylo by to jen narůstalo, protože málokdo má energie a sil nazbyt, aby odtamtud táhl něco extra než vlastní bordel.
My každopádně pořád sníme o tom, že tam někdy půjdeme znova. Jak se říká, znovu a lépe.
hi ..how long the hicking took
Hi, that depends on your fitness and time of the year, maybe. Most people take cca four days, I think, two days in, two days out, that’s what we did. But I heard some people can do it in half the time (I can’t even imagine how fit they are to get to the bus in one day!), or if you want to hang out at the bus, you can make it longer, or if you go in winter with dog sledding, you can be there within hours, too.
I did this solo in August 2013, there and back in one day…18hours of non stop walking with only an hour stop at the bus for photos and lunch.
My feet were brutally blistered at the end because I was hiking in construction boots with steel toe caps.
On the way to the bus, about 5 miles in, a young girl was running the other way crying and continuously looking over her shoulder, her dad was out of site and bear had been following them for 30mins from their camp just off the trail, when she told me what had happened a big black bear (Kodiak?) came out of the bush 10-20 meters ahead of me, my eyes dilated and I took a deep breath raised my arms (sandwich in one hand, drink in the other) and shouted oi bear) and luckily it got startled and ran straight into the bush. That girl must have been one tasty looking tteat. Her dad came around the corner 20 seconds later shouting what’s happened. They had left fish and meat at the camp to keep the bear occupied but instead it followed them…never feed or run from a bear!!!
On the way back I saw a moose (female no calf) on the trail and had to get past it so I walking into the bush and waited a few mins and then it walked into the opposite bush, I started walking quietly down the trail to get past it but it must have heard/smelt/seen me coming and charged, luckily it stayed in the bush and stopped about 3meters away and looked at me, I just walked as fast as I could and was damn relieved it was a bluff charge.
I saw beavers/otters and American bold eagles. Just before I reached the teklinika river on the way back I bumped into two Eastern European backpackers and there backpacks were massive, I thought to myself WTF, why oh why and these guys must be super strong/fit. All I took with me was a sandwich a few energy bars and a big bottle of watered down coke and stashed my bags at the beginning of the trail. Although they were planning to camp at the bus.
On the way back I couldn’t find my coat and trousers that I stashed further along the trail so would come back the next day and retrieve them.
I ran out of juice, exhausted and ready to collapse from the blisters and sore legs, l luckily came across a camp for atv tours and it was 11pmish. The guide was preparing for the next day and gave me some drink, damn that was lucky!!! He told me the girl and her dad had come earlier that day and they were telling him I was a hero and saved them from the bear…I was just pleased they made it out and the bear didn’t attack when encountered. Damn Lucky rather than a hero I say. The guide was surprised it was me as he had never heard someone walk there and back in one day before.
Once I left I was hobbling for another hour or so and finally found my stashed bags set up camp (with a fire to deter bears) and relieved my poor blistered feet)
I luckily bumped into the atv company the next day where I was camping and told them I was going to retrieve my clothes and they kindly gave me a lift in and back out on one of the mini atv…wahooo!!!
From experience of climbing mountains and other hikes, I only take the bear essentials and plan to return…some might say I’m an idiot for adopting this approach, but I just can’t move well or enjoy the hike/scramble when I have all that gear on my back. If I was to do Everest I would leave my backpack at base 2-3 and climb the last 2000 meters with only a snack/hotdrink (survivor kit) and an oxygen tank.
Wow, what an experience! Stampede Trail is such a different hike to each person – I’ve heard of people doing it in one day but I can’t comprehend how is that humanly possible. But on the other hand, back then we were neither experienced nor that fit. I wouldn’t be surprised if this time we did it with much more ease, and if we didn’t cut it shorter, at least we’d be way less exhausted.
The luggage definitely makes a difference. We had too many spare clothes for sure. I would enjoy doing it again with less but wouldn’t cut on food, one never knows. Water is easily solved with lifestraw or something like that. I can’t imagine bringing a barell of water to drink O.o And we’d be much lighter for not carrying the suit for Teklanika, that was so unnecessary.
The pain of feet must have been awful, we were so lucky in that department. Had really sore muscles, hips and shoulders but no blistering. Also no animals really. If we ever get to go again, I’d probably be more cautious. We had a bear „repelling“ bell but I heard it actually can attract the bears. It was kinda eerie to not see any animals at all but reading this, I’m glad. That sounds like an experience I do not wish to have.
Thanks for sharing! Glad your story had a happy end.
I went naked below the waist when crossing the teklanika river. I also called out yo bear many times and hummed and whistled whilst walking the trail, to scare off the bears.
That sounds impressive, crossing Tek in August without a boat. Even in mid-May it was a beast and from what I heard, August is the peak. I thought it would be nearly impossible to cross on foot then.
I’m still finding conflicting advice about the bears regarding whether the noise repells them or makes them curious.
IMPORTANT NOTE – THE BUS IS GONE!!
In June 2020, the „Magic Bus“ moved to the Museum of the North.
And many Alaskans, like me, wish they would have done this long time ago as it could have saved lifes. People who were not as lucky as the ones who claim it is doable for everyone and you just need to be prepared.
Countless number of people had to be rescued and some even followed Chris and it became their last hike in life.
Trust me, „Mother Nature“ can be a real bitch and Alaska itself always changes your plans.
Let me quote Albert Einstein:
Two things are endless, the univers and human stupitidy. Whereas he was not sure about the univers at that point.
Take care and stay save!
Thank you for the note, I am not updating this article much, I think and hope the hype of people wanting to hike there eventually fell off, especially with the bus being gone, although for us personally it wasn`t much about the bus itself. But I understand your desire as local for it to have been removed sooner. Not sure if all those who died would have stayed away if the bus wasn`t there but perhaps yes, and perhaps it will help and save some lives now who will reconsider.
Alaska is absolutely ruthless and doesn`t give a damn about your plans, we know that much and you have to be prepared for anything, as well as lucky. I consider it a massive personal achievement but also a gift from the universe that we were able to reach the bus and get back safely. It`s definitely part of Alaska`s charm, though, that she is like this.
We went there this year again at the same time to hike it again (knowing the bus wasn`t there, we visited it at the university where it`s located) but due to the extreme winter we got stuck well before we even reached the beginning of the trail itself, it was totally snowed in. So mentally kinda not finished with the trail, we do want to hike it again if we ever can, but we have massive respect for it so if we ever do it again, we`ll do it as safely as possible. There is a lot you need to know about it as well as be prepared to not proceed if it doesn`t look safe. I hope that anyone who attempts it does their research and has this respect and luck and avoids any needs for rescues in the future. Same goes for any other similar hiking spots in the world.