After I finished the article on Annie, I realized I had more questions about the climbs she made.  Perhaps some of you do, too.  So, for this column, I will do something a bit different.  I’ve asked Annie four  questions about the climb.  Read on to learn her answers.  After you have read them, if you have further questions, please send them in the comments section at the end of this column, and I will get answers from Annie and print them here, as well.

Here’s what I asked her:

  1.  Were you ever scared during your climbs?  “There were times I got worried, but very rarely scared.  I was scared when I was awakened and thought a crevasse was going to open and swallow me when the ice groaned and cracked deep below my tent on Denali.  Also, fear gripped me when the first climber on my rope team fell into a crevasse and I hoped we’d be able to hold him from not going too far.  Luckily, we did, though we had to do a real crevasse rescue to get him out.  Otherwise, I was most scared rock climbing.  I never did it very much but it was always free climbing, and I was always afraid I was going to fall and break bones, whether I was 10 feet up or 25 inches.  I always thought of a friend who was a Swiss mountain guide.  He fell in the Alps and broke 15 bones in his feet.  He had to walk 5 miles out after that happened.  I don’t know how he did it
  2. Was it hard to learn how to walk in snowshoes?  I don’t remember anyone having any trouble using snowshoes.  Although some of the people could ski well, we used the snowshoes to have a level playing field with all the expedition members.  Snowshoes were also a help for crevasses as, at that time, the snowshoes were longer and would more easily help wedge a climber into the sides of the crevasse, preventing a deep fall.  I remember reading about a McKinley climb in the early 80s with Jim Wickwire.  His climbing partner fell into a crevasse.  The fellow was lodged head down and Jim could not get him out.
  3. Did you use ropes, pitons, or other climbing gear at all while climbing the mountain?  We were always roped up on the mountain — lower down for the possibility of crevasses and higher up, where it was steeper, for falls.  There was a fixed line on Denali’s Headwall from about 15,500 feet to the ridge at 16,200 feet.  We would use our jumars (mechanical ascenders attaching us to the fixed line) to go up that one 45 to 50 degree section, the steepest part of the climb.  Then, hiking from 16,200 feet to the bowl at 17,200 feet was the most dramatic part of the climb because the ridge occasionally narrows to perhaps 2 to 3 feet across, and drops off dramatically on both sides.  You are totally exposed and many climbers have lost gear here, which has tumbled down to the Peters Glacier far below.  I’ve read that there are now fixed lines around Washburn’s Thumb on the ridge.  We always had our ice axe, as well.  We practiced doing belays, self-arrests, and crevasse rescues before every climb.

Did you have to rappel from anything during the climb?  No, we didn’t do any rappels on Denali or Aconcagua.  The only rappels I’ve done have been totally for fun and practice, both off cliffs and into crevasses.

Okay, readers, now it’s your turn.  If you have further climbing questions for Annie, please post them at the bottom of this article.  Hoping to hear from some of you.


peddlerSeveral people have asked me why I haven’t written much about myself in this blog.  It’s hard to change directions when I’ve established an operating mode of observing/reporting for my blog content.  However, I’ve decided that perhaps I should branch out and share a few of my own opinions.

It is interesting, though I started this site with one idea in mind, the blog gods have taken over and sent it in another direction entirely.  Originally I intended it to be a collection of Alaskan stories and descriptions of jewelry and gift items that I sell.  Then the blog tweaked at my head and said, “Interview some of the amazing folks in Gustavus and put their stories in here.”  So I began doing just that, and am thankful that I did so.  Gustavus is such a remarkable place, partly because of its location, but more because of the unique collection of souls who have gathered here.

Writing these articles has brought me to an important realization about this place.  First of all, I love small towns.  Big cities might offer a much wider range of available activities and facilities, but there is more of everything else in the city as well — more people, more traffic, more stress and confusion, more chances for accidents or sickness.  In comparison, I might sum up the differences in the Gustavus lifestyle in three words:  More personal freedom.  Because it is a small town where everyone knows and for the most part gets along with other residents, the community is close-knit.  People care about each other and watch out for each other.  I do believe this is the place for which I have been searching, and have found it, thanks to my son, who found it first and brought me here to see for myself.

Many years ago while I lived in Kodiak, my husband, Les Kelso, got a job in the cannery in the village of Ouzinkie on nearby Spruce Island,  We claimed a piece of land there through the last BLM land trustee, and moved.  When Les and I separated, he went to Hawaii and I garnered help from my friends and built a cabin on my homesite claim.  I lived there for 20 years.

I became the GED teacher for the community, found fellow musicians and played music regularly, both for ourselves and for the village, and started a group involved in locating, identifying, and using wild plants, either for medicine or food.  I became known as the Weird White Woman in the Woods, teaching village adults and learning from them as well.

I observed their lifestyle with interest.  Ouzinkie, population of about 250 at that time, Native except for 10 people, had originally been settled by 3 major families.  Husbands or wives might come from another Alaskan town, slowly building the population.  However, family ties remained very strong.  I was envious of the closeness of village families.  In times of need or of celebration, they came together and joined forces from a position of strength.  If crisis hit, they were there for each other.

As a white person not married to a villager I was on the outside looking in.  More than once I suggested to a village friend that they should adopt me.  In my youth I had a large family, but now had almost no one, and certainly no one close at hand.  I longed for a community of people who were like-minded and who felt like family.

Then, in 2011, I came to Gustavus.  My original motivation was to be nearer to my Juneau-based son, as he was my closest remaining relative.  I had trouble adjusting to the new place, as I missed beautiful Kodiak.  Granted, the land here was flat, though surrounded by mountains.  The lack of hills made it much easier for me to get around, as age was sneaking up on me.  As I started becoming involved with the community — playing music; writing; selling at our Saturday market in summer — I realized I’d found a place where I no longer had to be on the outside, looking in.  As I developed more close relationships I could see that I may just have found the place I’d been looking for.  Here are friends who welcome me into their homes and lives.  Here are people who come together to present a united front in times of crisis.  Here are people who will be there, should tragedy or tribulation try to take us down.  In times of adversity they will help their neighbors in any way they can, and in return, I will do the same for them.  Gustavus artist Lou Cacioppo says that Gustavus is a tribe.  Many small Alaskan settlements are tribal in nature.  As such, these “tribes” preserve a sense of community that takes precedence over personal desires.  In these troubled times I feel fortunate to live in a small community of like-minded souls who will band together to care for each other.  Gustavus, you have become my family — may we move forward into the future together.


About Me
Original article by Fran Kelso

Hunting with Jim
Warren, Marshall Kim. Personal Interview

Meet Roger and Mary dba Alaskan Metalsmiths
Williams, Roger and Mary. Personal Interview

Mountain Ash: The Tree With an Alias
Kelso, Fran. Plant Lore of an Alaskan Island. Indiana: Author House, 2011.

The Truth about Alaskan Ivory
General information researched from several online sources; written by Fran Kelso.
Information on Schreger lines from an "ivory ethics" page at

Mammoth Ivory Bear Pendant
Information from Zealandia Designs, Boise, Idaho

New Twist to Bear-Baiting
Thiessen, Mark. Associated Press. Toronto Star, August 14,2015.

What are Alaskan Attitudes?
Kelso, Fran. Alaskan Attitudes. North Carolina: Create Space, 2015.

Overrun with Dandelions? Make Wine!
Kelso, Fran. Plant Lore of an Alaskan Island. Author House, 2011.

How to Eat a Dandelion
Kelso, Fran. Plant Lore of an Alaskan Island. Author House, 20ll.

A Short History of Cribbage
Kelso, Fran. Original article researched from several internet sources.

A Selection of Weird Alaskan Laws
From the website,

Fine Russian Crafts: Hand-Made, Hand-Painted Matryoshka dolls.
Kelso, Fran. Original article researched from several internet sources.

Bizarre Alaskan Stories
Grass, Jonathan. Taken from the article, "Woman Punches Bear to Save Dog."
Juneau Empire: August 30, 2011.

The Halibut and the Fisherman
Kelso, Fran. An original modification of an old folk tale.

Article by Accelerated Web Solutions administration.


The day’s greetings, ladies and gentlemen!  Welcome to my blog.

I am Fran, known by some as the “itinerant peddler from Alaska.”  I’ve lived in Alaska for 47 years, over half my life, and I have an on-going love affair with this place.  Therefore, I’ll be doing a little “show and tell” on my site.  I’ll show you some of what I sell and tell you a few Alaskan stories.

I lived for 20 years in the small village of Ouzinkie, on Spruce Island, close to Kodiak Island.  While there, I built myself a house and got a job teaching adults in the village.  Besides teaching GED and some business classes, I started a group that we called “Plants Class.”  We studied, ate, and used wild, edible, and medicinal plants from our island.  We eventually published a book called “Plant Lore of an Alaskan Island.” I will be including articles on wild plants from time to time under the category called “Backwoods Botany.”

In 2011 I moved to the community of Gustavus, close to Juneau.  I might as well still be on an island, as the only way to get here is by boat or plane.  It is a fine place and full of interesting people.  I will be interviewing many of these folks for my blog, so stay tuned.

If you have a comment or question about a blog post, please submit it as I’d love to hear from you.  If you would like to buy something shown on this site you can order in one of two ways.  Go to my eBay store, The Peddler’s Pack, to order most items.  If you do not see the item or if you would prefer to order directly from me,  you may contact me at peddlerspackgifts at yahoo dot com, or you can call me at (907) 500-3279.  Please do not send payment information in an email.  Send me your phone number and a good time to call, and I will call you.

I hope you enjoy my blog and come back to visit often.  I’ll be adding new posts each week.

To visit my store, click on the eBay link at the top of this page.

P.S. Many of the pictures in my articles will enlarge if you click on them.