Standing at the lip of a waterfall, Tim Johnson points his helmet camera towards himself. The roar of cascading water nearly drowns out his voice. Mist fogs the lens as he turns it towards the rocks, logs, and whitewater chaos below the drop. Devil’s Club, dense alders, and a steep cliff make portaging an ugly alternative. As his partner holds a camera in one hand and throw rope in the other, Tim stretches his spray skirt over the rim of his kayak’s cockpit. With a hoot and holler, he launches over the edge into the rapid-filled canyon below. It’s another adrenaline-drenched Alaskan afternoon with Tim.
Tim Johnson’s dream of living in the wildest place on Earth led him to Alaska. Inspired by summers spent building and living at his fathers’ remote cabin in Lake Clark National Park, he moved from Georgia to Anchorage in 2002.
Tim brought along a taste for whitewater kayaking acquired on southern streams. He soon discovered Alaska’s abundant variety of wild rivers. As he studied blue lines and contours on topo maps, Tim realized how little information was available about paddling many glacial rivers and snow-fed creeks. He explored steep creeks and deep canyons rarely run in the 80’s and 90’s. With class V skills and a quirky sense of humor, Tim sought paddling partners who shared his sense of adventure and willingness to endure a little pain. Before long, Tim began to add notable first descents to the list of Alaskan river runs.
As a senior in the Outdoor Studies program at Alaska Pacific University (APU), he proposed writing a new river guidebook. In 2007, he wrote and self-published Alaska Whitewater: A Guide to Rivers & Creeks in the Last Frontier. In addition to documenting more than 40 sections of Alaska whitewater runs, Tim shares stories of a few wild misadventures.
Alaska offers a plethora of adventures, from mellow experiences to life-threatening epics, all in a land with few people, many outlaws, and a grit-your-teeth-and-give-it-a-go attitude. I love this place, there’s no where on Earth quite like it.
At APU, Tim met Roman Dial, who recruited him to join packrafting trips. Tim quickly discovered the potential of these ultralight craft. By making a few modifications, such as glued-in thigh straps, Tim demonstrated to packraft enthusiasts that these versatile boats could be eskimo-rolled and piloted down runs previously runnable only by expert kayakers.
For the past six years, Tim has organized the Six-Mile Creek Whitewater and Music Festival, an event that brings together the state’s community of kayakers and packrafters, rafters, and canoeists for fun, competition, and celebration of the Alaskan lifestyle.
When winter rolls around, Tim feeds his adrenaline appetite with a diet of skiing, snow machining and speed flying. The latter sport combines paragliding with downhill skiing skills. Speed flyers’ nylon wings let them launch from skis into long mountain rides a few feet above the snow slope.
When he’s off the rivers and slopes, Tim channels energy into writing songs and playing banjo. His latest band, “The Shoot Dangs” describe their music as “boot stompin’, fast-paced freak-grass”.
Many of the songs I write and play banjo to in our band are inspiried by Alaska and its shenanigans, from the whiskey-induced RV break-ins of Anchorage thieves to being scared speechless on the rivers.
Tim’s home sports a sticker admitting: “I live in a van down by the river!” His nineteen foot 1989 Toyota Odyssey 4×4 motorhome is equipped with solar panels, wood stove and storage racks for skis, bikes, and kayaks. He tries to live off-grid, moving around to sleep in new places every night.
Read about Tim’s travels and adventures on his blog , or watch his YouTube Channel. You can order his book Alaska Whitewater: A Guide to Rivers & Creeks in the Last Frontier here.