Alaska Challenge

Learn to lead, not just in the outdoors, but in any setting. With the Alaskan wilderness as a classroom, learn about backcountry safety and navigation while developing teamwork and leadership skills in the spectacular Talkeetna and Chugach Mountains. Earn a Wilderness First Aid certificate and learn basic mountaineering skills as you ice climb on the Matanuska Glacier with professional guides.

Overview Details Itinerary What to Pack FAQs Before You Go

Overview

Vast and varied, Alaska is an ideal setting for an Overland challenge trip.

On this trip, the challenges take many forms. There’s the physical challenge, of course: three separate backpacking trips, increasingly long, increasingly hard. All remote, all beautiful. There’s the learning aspect: wilderness first aid, glacier travel, ice climbing. Good stuff to know, now and in the future. And there’s the simple fact of Alaska: far from home, giant (over 660,000 square miles!) and different, in so many ways. So many cool ways.

The challenges work because you’ll be in an Overland group. On Overland, you’re never alone. You’ll be with two terrific Overland leaders who will care for you every step of the way. And you’ll be with a small group of dynamic, adventurous kids who share your desire for new discoveries and new challenges. Kids, like you, who want to have fun and make friends. Great friends, from all over.

The Talkeetnas, the Mantanuska Glacier, the Chugach. Legendary Alaskan names, legendary places. On Alaska Challenge the destinations alone are worth the trip.

This is our goal: helping you grow – and have a blast! – through a carefully crafted series of challenges with a clearly defined goal. The takeaways for you? Fun, friends and accomplishment, a clearer sense of who you are and what matters to you, a deepened understanding of teamwork and leadership. And not just in a place as wild as Alaska, but anywhere you go.

Questions? Contact us!

I loved my leaders. They were always very nice and helpful, and they made sure everyone was getting the most out of the trip.


- Jack Sendek, Briarcliff Manor, New York

Days 1 & 2: Trip Start

We’ll meet in Anchorage and spend our first couple of days getting to know one another and preparing for our backcountry hiking. We’ll review our gear, learn how to pack our backpacks, shop for food and go for a day hike in the Chugach Mountains.

Days 3-8: Backpack the Talkeetna Mountains

From Anchorage, we’ll head to the Talkeetna Mountains for the first of three backpacking trips. We’ll hike through valleys and over passes, across the Alaskan tundra and along remote lakes. During this trip, we’ll focus on learning backcountry skills such as Leave No Trace practices, bear awareness and map and compass navigation. Averaging six to seven miles per day on the trail, our days will be long and full as we learn and practice new skills.

Days 9-12: Ice Climbing & Glacier Travel on the Matanuska Glacier

For the next three days, our professional guides will teach us how to travel across glaciers. Equipped with helmets, crampons and ice axes, we’ll learn how to walk in a rope team and read a glacier. In addition to basic ice climbing skills, we’ll learn to tie knots, climb and rappel.

Days 13-17: Backpack Kesugi Ridge

We’ll drive north to Denali State Park, where we’ll hike for four days along Kesugi Ridge offering us staggering views of giant Denali, North America’s highest peak. Averaging seven to eight miles per day on the trail, we’ll continue to learn and practice the backcountry skills we addressed in the Talkeetna Mountains.

Days 18 & 19: Wilderness First Aid Course

After our second backcountry hike, we’ll drive to Eagle River for our Wilderness First Aid course. Under the guidance of a professional wilderness medicine instructor, we’ll spend two days learning how to manage first aid and emergencies in the backcountry. Upon successful completion of the course, we’ll each receive a Wilderness First Aid certificate.

Days 20-26: Backpack the Chugach Mountains

After our Wilderness First Aid course, we’ll drive to Palmer and prepare for our final backcountry hike. For seven days, we’ll hike in the Chugach Mountains over challenging terrain. Averaging five to six miles per day on the trail, we’ll hike up braided riverbeds, over passes, along ridges and through fields of blueberry bushes and fireweed. During the last few days, every student will co-lead the group for a day, testing their planning, navigation and leadership skills under the careful supervision of the Overland leaders.

Trip End

At the end of the trip, we’ll return to Anchorage and celebrate a month of adventure, accomplishment and fun in the great Alaskan wilderness.

ACCOMMODATIONS 

14 nights of backcountry camping with no access to bathroom facilities.

10 nights of frontcountry camping. Campground facilities vary; some have pit toilets while others have flush toilets, showers and laundry.

2 nights at a hostel in Anchorage with dormitory style accommodations.

Itinerary may vary by group and is subject to change.
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Clothing

  • Navy Overland T-Shirt (1)
    We will send every student an Overland T-shirt prior to the trip. Please wear this T-shirt to trip start.
  • Fleece Pants (1)
    Please do not bring cotton sweatpants (they are heavy and bulky and will not keep you warm if wet).
  • Synthetic Hiking Pants (1)
    Lightweight and quick dry material. Non-cotton warmup style pants are acceptable.
  • Synthetic Long Underwear Top & Bottom (1)
  • Synthetic Shorts (2)
  • Synthetic T-Shirt (3)
  • Underwear (5)
  • Wool and/or Synthetic Socks (4)
  • Winter Hat
  • Gloves or Mittens
    Insulated, warm and waterproof. Avoid knit and porous materials.
  • Hat with Visor
  • Swimsuit (optional)
    If we swim, many students will wear shorts (and a sports bra for girls).

Outer Layers

  • Fleece Jacket or Pullover
  • Lightweight, Packable Synthetic or Down Jacket
  • Waterproof Raincoat
  • Waterproof Rain Pants (1)

General Gear

  • Internal Frame Backpack
     65-85 liters or 4,000-5,100 cubic inches. Before purchasing a backpack, find your backpack size by measuring your torso length and your hips (instructions are available here). We recommend getting fitted at a store and trying on multiple packs.
  • Waterproof Pack Cover
    If your backpack does not come with a cover, we recommend buying a cover one size larger than your pack.
  • Day Pack
    Basic two-shoulder backpack large enough to hold your lunch, two water bottles, snacks, extra layers and rain jacket. Use your day pack as a carry-on for your flight and for daily activities or hikes. A standard school backpack is usually fine (no satchels or shoulder bags).
  • Synthetic Sleeping Bag
    A lightweight, compact synthetic sleeping bag rated to 15 degrees Fahrenheit or less. A synthetic sleeping bag is required for this trip; down is not appropriate as it does not insulate if wet. Your sleeping bag should compress into a stuff sack no larger than 20" in length.
  • Sleeping Pad
    ¾-length or full-length closed cell foam (thin and firm) or self-inflating.
  • Adjustable Trekking Poles
    To add stability, reduce strain on the knees and improve balance while crossing unstable surfaces.
  • Gaiters
    Calf-height, waterproof gaiters to protect your legs and feet when hiking through brush, across snow fields or streams.
  • Bowl, Mug & Utensils
    6" to 8" plastic dish or bowl with top, insulated plastic mug, spoon, fork and knife. These don't need to be special camping utensils (a Tupperware dish and regular utensils are fine).
  • Water Bottle
    One 1-liter bottle. A Camelbak or similar water carrier is acceptable.
  • Headlamp
  • Mosquito Head Net

Footwear

  • Waterproof Hiking Boots
    Choose comfortable boots designed for hiking with a pack (i.e., mid to high cut for ankle support).  Boots should be waterproof. Break them in before the start of your trip.
  • Camp Shoes
    Closed-toe shoes to wear around camp. Crocs or lightweight tennis shoes are ideal.

Miscellaneous

  • Pre-Trip Training Calendar
    Please bring your completed and signed calendar to trip start.
  • Synthetic Camping Towel
    A medium-size synthetic camping towel (synthetic camping towels dry much faster than regular towels).
  • Travel Size Toiletries
  • Gallon Sized Ziploc Bags (10)
    To organize and waterproof your gear and small items.
  • Large Trash Bags (4)
    To waterproof your gear.
  • Package of Moleskin or Molefoam
    To protect your feet from blisters.
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen (SPF 15+) & Chapstick (with SPF protection)
  • Insect Repellent
  • Personal Journal or Book (optional)
  • Camera, Charger & Extra Batteries (optional)
    A digital or disposable camera.

Important Documents

  • Health Insurance Card
    Please bring an original or copy of your health insurance card.
  • Photo Identification
    If you are not flying: Overland does not require photo identification. If you are flying within the U.S.: The TSA website has two relevant pieces of information. (1) “TSA does not require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling with a companion within the United States.” This language indicates that TSA staff can insist that an under-18 year old who does not have a companion (we interpret this as a companion who is 18 or over traveling with them—not just checking them in) must have TSA-compliant identification. Our experience is that this requirement is inconsistently enforced but, since it might be enforced, we recommend that all Overland students who are flying to/from their trip have TSA-compliant identification. (2) “Contact the airline for questions regarding specific ID requirements for travelers under 18.” This is always smart to do as airline policies vary widely and change frequently.

Spending Money

  • Spending Money & Miscellaneous Expenses
    Each student should bring a debit card, an ATM card or a prepaid Visa card to cover spending money and miscellaneous expenses. Spending Money: While all meals and activities are included in the trip fee, we recommend $25/week for spending money (for example: for souvenirs or an occasional drink or snack beyond what is provided to the group as a whole). Miscellaneous Expenses: Most Overland students will incur some expenses while traveling (for example: an equipment repair or baggage fees at trip end). Please add $100 to the debit/ATM/Visa card (in addition to spending money), to cover these expenses.

Things to know

  • We travel light at Overland; please only bring the items on your packing list.
  • Your group will have access to laundry periodically.
  • Please do not bring your smart phone (or any other electronics).
    Please visit the FAQ tab for more information on our cell phone and electronics policy.
  • Do not bring any type of knife or multi-tool (such as a Swiss Army knife or Leatherman tool).
  • If you are flying to your trip start, wear your hiking boots and carry your sleeping bag and sleeping pad on the plane in case your checked luggage fails to arrive on time.
  • Pack everything in your backpack or day pack. Do not bring additional luggage.
  • There are no reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen items.
    Please schedule expensive items—phones, cameras, bicycles, etc.—on your homeowners insurance policy.
  • Please wear the navy Overland T-shirt that you receive from Overland to your trip start location.
  • What is the weather like on Alaska Challenge?

    The weather on Alaska Challenge varies widely. Sometimes it is sunny and warm, while at other times it is rainy and cold; typical summer temperatures range from the high 40s to high 60s during the day and cooler at night.

  • What are the arrival and departure airports for my child's trip?

    You will need to arrange transportation for your child to and from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC) at trip start and trip end. We will provide more specific travel information once we have placed your child on a trip.

  • How often will my child have access to showers and laundry?

    Groups typically shower and do laundry once a week.

  • What do you do about bears?

    Traveling as a large group goes a long way in preventing unwanted attention from wildlife. In addition, we hike in well-traveled areas and train all of our staff in backcountry skills and awareness. We instruct our leaders how to set up camp and store food in ways that reduce the chances of attracting wildlife, including bears. We’ll brief students on these routines at the start of the trip. Both of our leaders also carry bear spray in case of a bear encounter.

  • Please tell me about the Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course.

    The WFA course provides students a chance to learn the basics of wilderness first aid. A professional wilderness medicine instructor will teach our group how to deal with weather, the environment, injuries and illnesses in the backcountry. Students will engage with realistic scenarios for hands-on practice, putting their new knowledge and skills to the test. At the end of the 16-hour course, students will receive a WFA certificate.

  • Please tell me about safety at Overland.

    Safety and risk management are at the forefront of our decision-making–from trip planning to leader training to supporting our groups in the field. We cannot guarantee absolute safety–no program can. All recreational activities include inherent risks. Therefore, we strive to manage the risks that we can, knowing we cannot eliminate them. We work hard to recruit, train and support our trip leaders so they can create the kind of trips that have made us successful for over 30 years. Please click here to read more about our approach to risk management and our accreditation by the American Camp Association.

  • Does my child need to have previous experience?

    While no previous experience is required, we have high expectations of our students. We expect your child–with your help–to select a trip that is appropriate for his or her interests and abilities. You should spend some time familiarizing yourself with the details of the specific trip and help your child understand what to expect. We also expect our students to prepare ahead of time: to review the packing list, gather clothing and gear and complete whatever training the trip requires (for recommended training please see the Before You Go tab). Once the trip begins, your child should be ready–and excited–to contribute to a wholesome and enthusiastic group where each group member feels welcomed and valued.

  • Please tell me about Overland's admissions process.

    When we receive your application, if your first choice is available, we will: (1) call you to acknowledge our receipt of your application, (2) send you an email with a link to our Admissions Review Forms, and (3) charge a deposit of $795 to your credit card to hold your place in the trip pending a favorable admissions review. If your first choice is not available, we will call you to discuss your second choice, third choice or other options. For more information, and to access our application, please visit our Apply page.

  • What are Overland’s policies on phones, electronics and communication?

    PHONES
    To maximize independence and self-reliance, we do not permit phone calls, emails or text messages to or from our campers. Your child will call home on arrival and departure with our phones and assistance, and in the case of an emergency. If your child brings a phone for use while en route to Overland, please do not send an expensive smartphone, instead, an inexpensive prepaid cell phone will do. All phones will be collected on arrival and returned at departure. While we will take reasonable steps to prevent damage, theft or loss, we take no responsibility for phones and we will not make any reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen phones.

     

    ELECTRONICS
    Cameras are welcome but please do not bring any other electronics (e.g., iPods, iPads, Kindles or other readers, GPS or similar devices). All electronics (except cameras) will be mailed home on arrival (at your risk and expense).

     

    COMMUNICATION
    We are committed to providing extraordinary support to you and your child; to that end, the Overland office is staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. seven days a week during the summer. Outside of office hours our answering service provides emergency coverage. Our leaders in the field are in touch with our office regularly; they carry cell phones (and in some cases satellite phones). Anytime a camper is treated for an injury or illness by a doctor or other medical personnel, parents are notified by our office. A director will call the parents to explain the nature of the injury or illness, the sequence of events leading up to the injury and/or the steps leading to the treatment. Parents are typically able to speak with the medical personnel, with the leaders and with their child.

  • Can I send mail to my child during a trip?

    Getting a letter, card or postcard while on an Overland trip is always exciting. Please keep in mind that sending mail to your child on an Overland trip is different than sending mail to camp because your child will be on the move. Our experience has been that mail often does not arrive on time, and, sometimes, even when it does, post offices, campgrounds and other mail stops do not reliably deliver mail to our groups. For these reasons:

     

    1. Please do not send anything valuable – please send letters, cards or postcards only.  If mail is late, lost or misdirected, Overland’s leaders and staff are not able to return to the post office (or other mail stop) to collect it.

    2. Please use the US Postal Service first-class mail only; do not use UPS, FedEx or DHL (many of our mail stops accept US Postal Service mail only).

    3. Please do not send overnight letters: many overnighted letters arrive before or after we arrive and are then sent back. For this same reason, please do not send mail that requires a signature upon delivery.

    4. Please allow one week for postal delivery to U.S. mail stops.

    5. Please allow two weeks for postal delivery to international mail stops.

Hone leadership skills, complete a Wilderness First Aid course, backpack and ice climb in Alaska’s mountains.

Students going on Alaska Challenge should prepare for:

  • Full days of outdoor activities led by two caring Overland leaders
  • Day hikes to viewpoints and mountaintops
  • A multi-day backpacking trip designed for first-time backpackers
  • A fun, supportive and wholesome Overland experience

We expect you to arrive to your trip fully prepared for all activities.

Preparing for the Hiking

On Alaska Challenge, you will hike on well-established trails over a wide range of terrain, from meadows to hills to mountains. You'll start with day hikes where you'll carry just the essentials for the day (snacks and lunch, water, a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen, bug spray and a raincoat). As the group's skills and fitness increase, you'll set out on a multi-day backpacking trip. While backpacking, you will carry all of your belongings (clothes, sleeping bag and pad), some group gear, food and water. Typically when backpacking, pack weights average about 30% of a hiker's weight. In the month before your trip, you should break-in your hiking boots (wear them a lot!) and complete the pre-trip training (see below). Once on your trip, you'll find that enthusiasm and a positive attitude will help to make the trip a success for you... and for everyone in your group.

Pre-trip Training:

  • 4 weeks before your trip: four 90-minute hikes in your boots.
  • 3 weeks before your trip: four 2-hour hikes in your boots.
  • 2 weeks before your trip: four 2.5-hour hikes in your boots with a backpack loaded with 20% of your body weight.
  • 1 week before your trip: five 3-hour hikes in your boots with a backpack loaded with 30% of your body weight.

Preparing for an Overland Experience

Overland trips are wholesome, structured experiences with high expectations of each student’s behavior. You are expected to be enthusiastic, positive, helpful and supportive of your trip mates and your leaders. We ask that you leave your cell phone and electronics at home (cameras are always welcome), so you can fully engage with your group and your trip. Arriving ready for a challenge—and prepared to contribute to an enthusiastic group—will go a long way toward creating a successful trip. Please contact us if you’d like to discuss preparing for your Overland trip!