As co-owner of Kennicott Wilderness Guides, Jared Steyaert has made Wrangell-St. Elias National Park more accessible for those who aren’t veteran backcountry travelers. Although it’s the largest national park, it’s one of the least visited. Wilderness travel here requires knowledge and preparation.
Jared maps out multi-day journeys and handles trip logistics for individuals, small family groups, and even film crews. Visitors can walk across ancient glaciers, hike up steep inclines to incredible alpine vistas, and packraft from deep into the wilderness, down rivers where few have been.
Q. What do you do? What’s unique about what you’ve created? What life experiences led you to where you are today?
Living in remote Alaska requires us to do so many different things. Personally, I am a father, homesteader, carpenter, musician, adventurer, and community member.
Professionally, I am part owner and guide for Kennicott Wilderness Guides. My partners and I promote the ethos of the human spirit of adventure.
We have been able to build an incredible connection with our family of guides. Many return every year. Maintaining a successful business comes from the cultivation of creativity, empowerment, support, flexibility, humility, and knowledge within the staff. If we can help foster these things, then the business can grow in a sustainable way.
Q. What makes Alaska special for you?
I love how small I feel out here.
There is a different kind of freedom – to make my own choices – that I have never found anywhere else. Unless you have visited Alaska or lived here, it is hard to describe.
I think a large part of this is the people. People help each other out and care for each other, regardless of beliefs or status. It’s a true community.
And, of course: adventures! There are lifetimes of ways to explore even a small corner of the state. All of these adventures come with life lessons that can be applied in so many ways outside of the mountains.
One of the biggest of those lessons is humility. Alaska’s beauty seems to provide a level playing field on the human scale. It doesn’t matter where we come from, or what kind of wealth we assign to ourselves. This is a place where, no matter what, adventure leads to humility.
Q. What are your favorite places and/or experiences in Alaska? What do you remember most about them? What have you learned from them?
I am partial to the Wrangells, as it is my home. I have always been amazed at the Alaska coast and its robust sealife, too.
My favorite thing would be to either fly or hike deep into the backcountry. There is something special about how the vast human solitude can put so much of our problems into perspective, especially when the weather turns, and we have to cut down to basic needs to stay alive and well.
I have been fortunate enough to learn countless lessons in commitment, persevering, creativity, and flexibility that I have been able to apply to everyday situations.
Life is full of uphill bushwhacks. Eventually they end, and we are rewarded with the peace, satisfaction, and views from the alpine.
Q. Tell us a favorite story from an Alaska trip.
By far, my favorite part of any trip is that moment when, after a long day, you get to camp. There is something settling about setting up the tent and getting our nook ready for the night. With sore feet and back, stretched out in the warm sleeping bag, all the other worries of the world drift away and my body feels renewed.
Through all of the trips, forgotten and remembered, there is one particular time that stands out.
I had been helping a scientific expedition, out somewhere on a lost coast in Icy Bay. Our return pilot was supposed to pick us up first thing in the morning, but got delayed by winds. We were on a tight schedule to get back home, but were stuck for awhile, enjoying the sound of calving glaciers and frenetic shore birds.
At one point, I saw a wolverine trotting across the beach just a few yards away. Of the countless miles and days hiking through the mountains, that was the first wolverine I had ever seen. They are such elusive and rare wonders.
Behind him were beached icebergs, driftwood and a pink sky. There were a frenzy of birds dive bombing the wolverine to protect their nests. I stayed perfectly still and watched while it scavenged around at close proximity. It minded its own business, not at all bothered by what seemed like thousands of annoyed birds.
Had the pilot been on time that morning, we wouldn’t have experienced such an amazing few minutes.
Q. How does the Alaskan wilderness make you feel?
Most of all, alive. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true. I have that buzz of being alert, a heightened awareness of my surroundings, and a little bit scared. I love it. It makes me feel wonderfully small.
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?
Initially, I fell into a guiding job. I had been a climber and backpacker for years, but hadn’t considered it a career. I have always liked helping people, and once I found there was a way to share experiences that taught and spoke to me on a deeper level, I guess it just became natural. It is like I get to travel without leaving home.
I often feel that one of our biggest jobs is to be the conduit for someone’s “A-ha moment” of empowerment and confidence. It is such a cool feeling knowing that we get to be a part of an individual or family’s unforgettable story.
I hope people go home with a sense of self-confidence that they were able to do something they never thought they could, while remembering how small they felt in the grand scheme of things.
I have often thought the world would be a better place if everyone could have the experience to be enveloped in a place so much larger than themselves.
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?
I’d like people to experience a place where not everything is bubble wrapped and handed to you on a platter.
Life takes work, and so does finding the true gems in the world. There is great value to visiting a “working” town, where it is so much more than the Disneyland experience that travel can feel like sometimes.
The times where we get to meet locals and trade stories about our past in an authentic way are part of the travelling human experience. These things make a good story. When something may not work as planned, you never know the magic that might happen.
Q. What are 3 words that sum up what Alaska means to you?
Honest. Humbling. Adventure.