By Jenny Neyman
For an adventure to live up to the Seth Holden standard requires meeting some steep qualifications:
It has to be big — week-long winter ski traverses, remote mountain climbs, explorations of backcountry terrain so way out and wild that few even fly over it, much less navigate through.
It has to be human-powered — climbing, skiing, pack rafting, hiking, hunting; wherever man provides the means, the mettle and the locomotion.
It has to be unique — an unclimbed peak, an untried route or some other feat rarely, if ever, attempted, much less accomplished.
It has to be a challenge — to skill, strength, smarts, resourcefulness and determination (and intestinal continence of any lacking Holden’s nerve).
It has to be thoroughly enjoyed — in all the good weather, bad luck and ugly obstacles Alaska can generate.
It has to be so epic as to approach the mythological in becoming part of Alaska outdoorsmen’s lore, yet grounded by the fact that the quiet, introspective Holden not only never bragged about his exploits, but rarely spoke of them at all.
“I think for him it was just purely internal, for his own benefit, not to try and brag or anything. He did it because it was something important to him. He just had a deep love for being outside and pushing himself against the wilderness whenever he could,” said Clint Helander, Holden’s friend and climbing partner.
In his 29 years, Holden, who grew up in Soldonta, amassed an impressive array of backcountry adventures — climbing Denali, notching first ascents of peaks in the Revelation Mountains at the southwest end of the Alaska Range, scaling the South Face of the Moose’s Tooth, pack rafting the Aniakchak, doing solo Dall sheep hunts in the high country around Tustumena Lake. There’s no doubt that the next 29 years would have brought many more, as the only thing that could match Holden’s ability in the outdoors was his enthusiasm for being in it.
A plane crash Aug. 24, 2010, brought Holden’s adventure to an end, but his adventurous spirit and all-around “Mr. Alaska” reputation lives on to inspire others following in Holden’s very large, very far-ranging footsteps.
And now his legacy will help others on their own journeys, through the Seth Holden Alaska Remote Exploration Grant, established through memorial donations made by family, friends and supporters.
“We had a lot of overwhelming support from his friends and family, from, well, really, just from all over the country. We had people come up and say, ‘What can we do?’” Helander said.