You can take a kid out of a village, but you can’t take the village out of a kid. Luc Mehl grew up in McGrath, on the Kuskokwim River, where he learned that “things going wrong” are just normal parts of being outside. From frozen pipes at subzero temperatures to bears breaking into cabins, Mehl watched his parents problem-solve and adapt in an untamed environment.
After moving to Anchorage for high school, he was introduced to being outside for fun instead of chores. Ironically, it took an urban setting for him to discover hiking, biking, and snowboarding. Chopping firewood and feeding the dogs were replaced by rock climbing along the Seward Highway.
Mehl’s love of the mountains led him out of state for college (Minnesota) and master’s degrees in geology and geophysics (Santa Barbara and MIT). He returned to Alaska in 2008, eager to revisit the wild lands that only Alaska provides.
Combining his comfort with “things going wrong,” and strong legs from carrying backpacks full of geologic samples (a.k.a., rocks), Mehl discovered the vast potential of long off-trail adventures in Alaska. He participated in his first Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic in 2008 and was thrilled to discover a community of friends equally excited about witnessing as much of the state as possible under their own power. The Wilderness Classic involves hiking, packrafting, or skiing hundreds of miles in a grassroots event. Over the next 10 years, Mehl completed the Wilderness Classic 12 times, including finishing first in both the winter and summer courses in 2011 and 2012.
Mehl claims to have learned “more during the Wilderness Classics” than at any other time in his life, and he joined forces with other “Classicers” to apply some of the same strategies to larger objectives. Between 2011 and 2013, he and his friends climbed North America’s three tallest mountains under their own power: Denali by bike, ski, and packraft; Mt. Logan, in Canada, by ski and packraft; and Pico de Orizaba, in Mexico, by bike and packraft. Packrafts, compact and lightweight inflatable boats (eight pounds), are the common factor that made these trips possible.
A packraft opens a world of adventure, but also a world of risk. After losing a friend in a 2012 drowning, Mehl was forced to reevaluate his risk tolerance and to acknowledge gaps in his paddling skills and knowledge. Determined to prevent future accidents on the water, he became a swiftwater safety instructor and wrote The Packraft Handbook, the definitive resource for new and experienced paddlers alike.
Mehl currently works in Anchorage as an outdoor educator helping people to safely visit and learn in Alaska’s wild lands. In his free time, he visits new corners of the state under his own power, adding to the 10,000 miles he has already accumulated. You can find more information about Mehl at thingstolucat.com.