The best true-life Alaskan stories of adventure and inspiration

Who am I?

To me there is a connection to something larger than myself, an overriding sense of spirit that I only seem to encounter in the outdoors, beneath the canopy of old-growth forest, or within the gaze of ancient snow-capped peaks. Since arriving in Alaska over 30 years ago it is something I have continually sought among this state’s striking landscape and in many of my own adventures here. It's an attitude, a sensibility I also seek in the stories I read, an authenticity tied to place, but also an inclination toward hope and optimism, even a tenuous one, that we can all relate to; a sentiment I have always tried to incorporate into my own writing.


I wrote...

Dead Reckoning: Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on Its High Seas

By Dave Atcheson,

Book cover of Dead Reckoning: Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on Its High Seas

What is my book about?

A story of survival and an ode to the outdoors, Dead Reckoning, Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on its High Seas, is not only an intimate look at life in Alaska's fishing industry, but also an insider's view into one of Alaska's small communities and the myriad of upstarts, dropouts, and rogues that color its landscape

The books I picked & why

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Faith of Cranes: Finding Hope and Family in Alaska

By Hank Lentfer,

Book cover of Faith of Cranes: Finding Hope and Family in Alaska

Why this book?

Faith of Cranes leans more on the inspiration than being an outright adventure, but an adventure it is. It’s a quiet, lilting, beautifully written memoir about home and community, and a former wildlife biologist’s attempt to recover his own sense of hope amidst the ravages of climate change. His story is adeptly tied to the history and lifecycle of the sandhill cranes he chronicles throughout the book, as well as his community, its natural beauty and the eccentric neighbors he shares it with. Ultimately, with the birth of his daughter, his hope is restored, at least to a point.  

Faith of Cranes: Finding Hope and Family in Alaska

By Hank Lentfer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Faith of Cranes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

 

Faith of Cranes weaves together three parallel narratives: the plight and beauty of sandhill cranes, one man's effort to recover hope amid destructive climate change, and the birth of a daughter.



CLICK HERE to download the first chapter from Faith of Cranes


"Faith of Cranes is a love song to the beauty and worth of the lives we are able to lead in the world just as it is, troubled though it be. Lentfer's storytelling achieves its joys and universality not via grand summations but via grounded self-giving, familial intimacy, funny friendships, attentive griefs, and full-bodied immersion in the Alaskan…


Denali's Howl: The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America's Wildest Peak

By Andy Hall,

Book cover of Denali's Howl: The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America's Wildest Peak

Why this book?

Unlike my first pick, this book leans much more toward outright adventure. But because of the way the story unfolds, slowly at first and then building into an exciting crescendo, recounting the details of this terrible tragedy on North America’s tallest peak, it is a must-read for anyone who enjoys an exciting outdoor adventure. It is carefully researched, creating a thoroughly engrossing account of one of mountaineering's most controversial and heart-rendering tales. Hall’s narrative adeptly describes the leadup to what happened, and the fateful outcome, in all its excruciating detail.

Denali's Howl: The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America's Wildest Peak

By Andy Hall,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Denali's Howl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the summer of 1967, twelve young men ascended Alaska's Mount McKinley-known to the locals as Denali. Engulfed by a once-in-alifetime blizzard, only five made it back down.

Andy Hall, a journalist and son of the park superintendent at the time, was living in the park when the tragedy occurred and spent years tracking down rescuers, survivors, lost documents, and recordings of radio communications. In Denali's Howl, Hall reveals the full story of the expedition in a powerful retelling that will mesmerize the climbing community as well as anyone interested in mega-storms and man's sometimes deadly drive to challenge the…


Beyond the Bear: How I Learned to Live and Love Again after Being Blinded by a Bear

By Dan Bigley, Debra McKinney,

Book cover of Beyond the Bear: How I Learned to Live and Love Again after Being Blinded by a Bear

Why this book?

This book is not for the faint of heart or for those with a phobia about bears. This is the story of Dan Bigley, a man whose young, idyllic life had seemingly and completely fallen into place. His fortunes, however, would take a drastic turn one evening while casually walking back from a fishing trip on the Kenai Peninsula. This is one of the most harrowing accounts of a bear attack I have ever encountered and the author’s subsequent story, of dealing with blindness and multiple surgeries and the altering of every relationship within his life, is difficult to digest. Nevertheless, this story is ultimately a story of great hope and inspiration, and the power to overcome the worst life has to throw at you.  

Beyond the Bear: How I Learned to Live and Love Again after Being Blinded by a Bear

By Dan Bigley, Debra McKinney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Beyond the Bear as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A 25-year-old backcountry wanderer, a man happiest exploring wild places with his dog, Dan Bigley woke up one midsummer morning to a day full of promise. Before it was over, after a stellar day of salmon fishing along Alaska's Kenai and Russian rivers, a grizzly came tearing around a corner in the trail. Dan barely had time for "bear charging" to register before it had him on the ground, altering his life forever. "Upper nose, eyes, forehead anatomy unrecognizable," as the medevac report put it. Until then, one thing after another had fallen into place in Dan's life. He had…


The Only Kayak: A Journey into the Heart of Alaska

By Kim Heacox,

Book cover of The Only Kayak: A Journey into the Heart of Alaska

Why this book?

Though this book is 17 years old, it is still a compelling memoir about a young man’s journey to find his “place” in Alaska, and the exploits he has along the way. Heacox describes in elegant detail his paddling adventures, encounters with wildlife, his work as a ranger, and his struggle with humanity and how we are all, including himself, tampering with the natural world we love. A wonderful personal adventure interspersed with rich characters, history, and internal conflict.

The Only Kayak: A Journey into the Heart of Alaska

By Kim Heacox,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Only Kayak as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this coming-of-middle-age memoir, Kim Heacox, writing in the tradition of Abbey, McPhee, and Thoreau, discovers an Alaska reborn from beneath a massive glacier, where flowers emerge from boulders, moose swim fjords, and bears cross crevasses with Homeric resolve. In such a place Heacox finds that people are reborn too, and their lives begin anew with incredible journeys, epiphanies, and successes. All in an America free of crass commercialism and overdevelopment.

Braided through the larger story are tales of gold prospectors and the cabin they built sixty years ago; John Muir and his intrepid terrier, Stickeen; and a dynamic geology…


Into the Wild

By Jon Krakauer,

Book cover of Into the Wild

Why this book?

This is a controversial choice by Alaska standards. Many of my fellow Alaskans can’t help but find fault with the main character, Christopher McCandless, for his seemingly reckless and cavalier attitude while venturing into the wilds of our state, or what they see as Krakauer’s idealizing of the young McCandless’ misadventures. But having come to Alaska as a young man myself, in search of something, some inner meaning, and truth, I can definitely relate to both McCandless’ plight as well as Krakauer’s, which the author describes in great detail. It’s a search for answers many young people face, that some of us seek in the hinterland, among nature’s raw and often austere beauty, a journey that ultimately, I believe the three of us share. In the end, this is an amazing homage to the outdoors and our sometimes-tenuous connection to it.

Into the Wild

By Jon Krakauer,

Why should I read it?

17 authors picked Into the Wild as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Krakauer’s page-turning bestseller explores a famed missing person mystery while unraveling the larger riddles it holds: the profound pull of the American wilderness on our imagination; the allure of high-risk activities to young men of a certain cast of mind; the complex, charged bond between fathers and sons.

"Terrifying... Eloquent... A heart-rending drama of human yearning." —New York Times

In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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