What Are the Dangers of Alaskan Wilderness Survival?

Did you know that Alaska has over 57 million acres designated as wilderness? These include a wide range of landscapes from mountain ranges and wetlands to forests and glaciers. Indeed, it’s so easy to be caught in a wilderness survival situation in Alaska!

What are the dangers of Alaskan wilderness survival? These include the extremes in weather as well as the risks that come with the landscape, ice, and wilderness. There’s an increased risk of illnesses and injuries being untreated for extended periods and the search for food and water.

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Read on and find out more details about these dangers. We will also look at the basics of survival in each case and the basic survival items in your pack. 

The Extremes In Weather 

Keep in mind that the Alaskan weather can be unpredictable, and each season has its unique dangers. During the winter season, the ice covers nearly every surface making every activity a treacherous one. Then in the summer, the ice melts resulting in runoffs, flash floods and drainage. 

But the worst time to be caught in a wilderness survival situation in Alaska is from December to February. During these months, there are freezing nights, massive snowfall with the bone-piercing wind, and little sunshine. In the interior wilderness, temperatures can drop to -34.4°C, but it can feel -46°C with the 5mph wind. 

The extreme cold isn’t good for your health as it can quickly cause frostbite and hypothermia! You must then keep your body covered with appropriate clothes, such as a parka, and keep yourself warm. You should pay particular attention to your head, neck, wrists and ankles since your body loses heat faster here. 

Of course, you shouldn’t have gone into Alaska without being properly clothed for its winters! But in the winter wilderness, you will need more insulation, primarily if you haven’t found or made a temporary shelter. You can, for starters, stuff your clothes with grasses and leaves that can trap your body heat.

You must also consider your shelter options since the bone-piercing wind will make short work of your insulation. You can make igloos since these can provide both warmth and protection from the elements. You may also want to choose a location in the woods where the trees can partially block the wind.

But the summer season can also challenge your survival skills! With the wildlife becoming more active and the water levels rising, your life’s on the line. You should try to get more sleeping hours, too, since you have to save your energy.

Tips For Surviving An Alaskan Wilderness Summer

Make a shelter that will block out the sun. With 24-hour daylight, you need it to sleep and protect yourself from ultraviolet rays. Your shelter should be in an open area so you can quickly see animals and people coming and going.

Guard your body against the onslaught of mosquitoes, black flies and other pests. Tuck your pants into your socks. Stay as dry as possible. Wear a hat and veil, if available, to protect your face.  

You should also be aware of the changes in the weather and make adjustments. Your survival will depend on how you adapt to the vagaries of nature.  

The Vast Landscape

In the United States, the largest state by area is Alaska with more than 1.718 million km² in land area. You can easily become lost in it and rescue teams will have an extreme challenge on their hands! You will also deal with a variety of difficult terrain that it’s just as easy to succumb to despair.

STOP! When You Find Yourself Lost In The Alaskan Wilderness

Sit down – You have to let your mind and body relax, so you don’t get into panic mode. You can’t think logically if you’re panicking.  You will also likely venture farther away from rescue if you keep moving

Think – You have to consider your options, even when there doesn’t seem to be many. You should consider what you have on your body and bag, where you are, and how you got there.

Organize your own survival – You still have the most control over your situation than you realize. You should focus on what can be done with the resources on hand, not on what you don’t have.

Plan your next course of action – You can start building a shelter and a fire, if the night’s already coming, for a start. 

Being lost in the vastness of Alaska is unnerving, but many people have come out of it alive! You should then pack a map and compass whenever you’re venturing into the wilderness.

The Tricky Ice And Snow Issue

When we think of Alaska, we immediately think of vast areas covered with ice and snow. These elements of the natural world can cause a wide range of issues, from hypothermia to slipping fractures.

You must then be careful when traversing areas covered with ice and snow! What may appear to be a frozen lake may only have an inch of frozen ice on top. What may look like a hill over yonder may be the edge of a cliff.

And then there’s the issue of cold water. You may not want to take a dip in icy waters, but there are situations when it’s necessary. You’re at risk not just for hypothermia and heart issues but, more worrisome, also from water aspiration.

With cold water entering your lungs, you can drown faster. You must then acclimate yourself to the cold water before making the full plunge.

Dip into the icy waters for as long as possible but stay close to the shore. Stay in the water until you are able to control your breathing. Be sure to warm up through mild exercise before getting into the water, too.

Warm-up again once you get out of the water.

You may have to spend several minutes on the acclimatization process. But it’s vital if you want to overcome the cold while crossing a lake or river. 

The Numerous And Sometimes Aggressive Wildlife

Bears, moose and caribous are just among the animals that make Alaskan wilderness both a beautiful and dangerous place. The first rule in wilderness survival is: Never engage! Keep in mind that even less aggressive animals can still attack for no apparent reason, more so when provoked. 

Other tips that can help you out when considering wildlife in your Alaskan wilderness survival situation:

Never feed wildlife no matter how cute or pitiful they look. You should also never leave your food unattended and never bury your food. You should instead store it hanging from two trees. 

Never approach wildlife. You may want to carry a bear spray, just in case, but it’s always best to stay out of the bears’ way. It also applies to moose, musk oxen and wolves.

Keep in mind, too, that there are strict laws regarding the killing of wildlife in Alaska. Unless you’re in dire straits, you should think twice about killing wildlife like bears and moose. You can, fortunately, survive on the abundant fish and plants. 

The High Risk Of Illness And Injury

You’re in the middle of nowhere with unfamiliar terrain, aggressive wildlife and extreme weather conditions. Your risk of illness and injury increase and these can be life-threatening because of the absence of medical care. With illness or injury, you can’t think and move as well as you should resulting in decreased survival chances.

And there are so many injuries and illnesses that can happen in the Alaskan wilderness. To name a few of them:

  • Head and spine injuries from falls and trauma

  • Closed extremity injuries, such as on the shoulder and arm

  • Open wounds, which should be cleaned as soon as possible

  • Burns and foot blisters

  • Altitude sickness – Usually occurs at elevations above 2,500 meters. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, lassitude, and difficulty sleeping. There are three types, too, namely, acute mountain sickness, high-altitude cerebral edema, and high-altitude pulmonary edema. The most effective treatment is still descending to lower altitudes, about 300 to 1,000 meters. 

  • Hypothermia – It can kill so immediate action is a must. The appropriate action includes removing wet clothes, providing maximum insulation, and adding more heat. 

  • Frostbite – It is best treated with skin-to-skin warming if it’s superficial. Otherwise, immediate evacuation is a must.  

  • Heat illness – It typically happens in the summer season. Symptoms include heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat syncope, even heat stroke.

  • Animal bites – These are common in the wilderness for obvious reasons. It emphasizes the need to steer clear of the wildlife as much as possible. As for the insects, there’s little that can be done about them. 

Suppose you have medical training, your chances of survival even with an illness or injury increases. You know what to do and how to do it, for one thing, and you can improvise supplies.

But people without medical training can still make the most of their situation. There are plenty of online courses and books that provide useful information on these matters.

Of course, you should ideally have a first-aid kit in your survival pack. The supplies in it will reduce the risk of infection and increase your comfort while waiting for rescue.

The Search For Food And Water

With Alaska’s abundant bodies of water, it shouldn’t be an issue looking for water! You have natural springs and rain to source water from, as well as melting ice. Just be sure to disinfect water before drinking it if you’re unsure about its safety. 

As for the food, you can always forage in the wilderness, and it’s, in fact, vital to survival in the Alaskan wilderness. But be very careful about eating leaves, fruits and plants just because they look and smell good! You should also avoid eating fruits and veggies because they look like the ones at the supermarket. 

Fortunately, Alaska has an abundance of edible, delicious and nutritious berries like:

  • lowbush cranberry
  • strawberry
  • thimbleberry
  • salmonberry
  • highbush cranberry
  • gooseberry
  • bunchberry
  • huckleberry
  • watermelon berry
  • elderberry
  • cloudberry
  • Alaskan blueberry
  • Be careful about these berries because of their toxic effects on humans:
  • Baneberries
  • Devil’s club
  • Snowberry
  • Hogweed
  • You should also remember these general guidelines about not eating fruits, berries and plants if these have:
  • Seeds, bulbs or beans inside their pods
  • Spines, thorns or fine hairs
  • Foliage that looks like dill, carrot or parsnip
  • Soapy or bitter taste
  • Almond scent in the leaves and woody sections
  • Purplish, pink or black spurs in the grain heads

Three-leafed Growth Patterns

And let us not forget the fire. It is the key to survival in any wilderness environment because of its multiple uses. Fire not only provides warmth, but it gives heat for cooking food and boiling water. Plus, it can keep wildlife away from your camp or shelter. 

You should learn to make a fire using basic tools, such as a magnifying lens. Better yet, you should have a few fire-starting tools in your survival kit.

Conclusion  

With that said, here are few of the must-have things in your backpack whenever you’re venturing into the Alaskan wilderness for any reason:

Survival knife and multi-tool

Fire-starting kit

Flare pistol

Appropriate clothes from gloves and hat to insulation blanket

Head net

Cordage, preferably 550 paracord

Ziplock bag

First-aid kit

Fishing gear

Food items

Water disinfectants like portable filter and iodine tablets

Flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries

Map and compass, perhaps a GPS device

Raingear

Tarp

Of course, you have to know the effective and efficient ways of using these items! You may have a fire-starting kit, but if you can’t maintain a fire in Alaskan winter, then it isn’t efficient.  You may want to read survival books for more information about the hows and whys of their use. 

You must also have the presence of mind when you’re in a wilderness situation! You can’t engage in self-pity because then it will take away your physical and mental energy. You have to be in the present lest you miss out on something that could have led to your early rescue.