Owner/Guide, Alaska Alpine Adventures
Dan Oberlatz has given thousands of visitors the opportunity to explore their own public lands, along with their own personal and physical limits. His multi-day backpacking and rafting trips in Alaska take small groups to gorgeous but elusive national parks and wildlife refuges. Very few people get to see these places.
Dan has figured out the complex logistics required for such adventures, most of which require a fly-in to a remote location. For Dan, there’s an intense feeling of liberation when the plane flies off, leaving him in the vast wilderness for up to 12 days.
There’s also apprehension. In Alaska’s backcountry, the dangers are real and unforgiving. It’s uncomfortable, but often transformational.
Q. What do you do? What’s unique about what you’ve created? What life experiences led you to where you are today?
We are unique in that we operate in seven of the eight national parks in Alaska. My experiences climbing, skiing, rafting, and backpacking throughout Alaska, really set the stage for doing what I do.
Q. What makes Alaska special for you?
Alaska is special for me in so many ways. First, it’s an endless playground for those of us who like to explore untouched wilderness. Second, Alaska is a land of opportunity – a state where you can achieve your dreams by working hard and carving your own path.
Q. What are your favorite places and/or experiences in Alaska? What do you remember most about them? What have you learned from them?
Lake Clark National Park is my favorite place in Alaska, hands down. I lived there for 11 years and still have a cabin there. Lake Clark is relatively close to Anchorage and gets very little visitation. At 4 million acres, it offers lifetimes of wilderness to explore.
It’s been said that Lake Clark is “Alaska’s epitome,” and that’s totally true.
My most fond memories revolve around my early days living on Lake Clark. Not only did I learn how to live in rural Alaska, but my former business partner and I spent years climbing and skiing as much as we could in the area.
Those were formative years, and became the seed that blossomed into Alaska Alpine Adventures.
Q. Tell us a favorite story from an Alaska trip.
I have a long-time client who lives in Kentucky. Over 15 years of traveling we’ve become good friends. Our trip in 2011 was a combination backpacking and mountaineering traverse, crossing the Neacola Mountains from Chakachamna Lake to Telaquana Lake.
Over the course of 11 days, we covered 90 miles on foot, crossed nine glacier passes, walked 55 miles in snowshoes, busted through alders, and enjoyed fantastic food and happy hour each evening. It was a formative and culminating trip.
Q. How does the Alaskan wilderness make you feel?
When I find myself within the vast landscapes of Alaska's wilderness, I undergo a physical and emotional transformation. It’s as if the experience of being immersed in the wilds is the catalyst that reunites my body with my soul.
Q. What inspired you to go into the Alaska tourism industry? What feeling or memory or change would you like your visitors to leave with?
In 1997 I had a life-altering epiphany when I was rafting down the Tlikikila River in Lake Clark National Park. At that moment, along a remote stretch of river, I was suddenly aware of my life’s calling – that I needed to be immersed within the wilderness.
I figured that guiding folks around my “home” national park could allow me to make a living and fulfill my purpose. Little did I know that it would grow into what it has today, nor did I know what kind of life altering challenges it would deliver. Even with tragedy and loss, I’m still humbled by the experience and privileged to still be at it.
The palpable feelings of solitude that you get when a floatplane leaves you in the middle of the Alaska wilderness can’t be matched. Those feelings are indelible. Many people tap into vulnerabilities they never would have been able to imagine without the adventures we've created.
I’m often thanked by our guests, some of whom are driven to tears, for allowing them to experience Alaska in the ways we do.
Q. Alaska.org’s mission is to show visitors a more authentic Alaska experience. What are those qualities? How does it change an Alaska vacation?
In my mind, the qualities of Alaska authenticity include solitude, culture, wilderness, wildness, physical exertion, emotional challenge, small groups, isolated places, public lands, physical connection with the ecosystem, and a bit of discomfort.
Visitors to Alaska who choose to embrace these by pushing themselves outside of their comfort levels often undergo an existential awakening that lasts far beyond the experience.
Q. What are 3 words that sum up what Alaska means to you?
Enormous. Intricate. Temperamental.