If it's one thing I've learned from 11 years of living in Alaska, it's a healthy respect for this environment; one which borders on paralyzing terror. That's because I know from personal experience that anytime you set foot in the wilderness here--even slightly more developed sections of the wilderness--you're literally one bad decision away from disaster; even in places you've been hundreds of times before.
I am extremely conservative with this to the point of being boring, inhibited, and very annoying, since my #1 goal in life is not to end up as one of the all-too-common headlines in the Alaska newspapers, either as rescued, missing, or dead. I don't know anyone who doesn't have at least one terrifying story of outdoor peril here.
I'm really careful about where I go, who I go with, for how long, and with what gear in tow. I try to follow all the usual rules: tell someone your plan and when you'll be back, don't go alone, bring a GPS or some sort of charged cell phone/satellite phone/means of communication, bring inclement weather gear and food and water even if you'll only be gone a short time (since sometimes a short time accidentally turns into an unexpectedly long time).
Oh. And of course, don't make a Chris MCandless pilgrimage, like these two mid-20's bros from South Carolina and Georgia did by attempting to Brexit the safety of a parking lot at Denali National Park only to need Alaska State Troopers and federal park rangers to rescue them. According to the above-linked Alaska Dispatch report, the duo attempted an ill-advised short-cut that had them paddling for their lives in the swift, chest-deep current of the Teklanika river.
In short: Alaska kicked their asses, as it has so many asses before theirs. Fortunately, they told someone where they were going and had some basic provisions, hence enabling their rescue. Seriously this is (almost) my worst nightmare, and I'm glad they were found safe and sound. Next time though, they should follow O.H.M.'s additional rules of neurotic Alaskan outdoor recreating:
1. Find someone more competent than you to venture out with, and grill them on their outdoor know-how until they dis-invite you from the trip.
2. If the trip involves an ocean, lake, or river, thoroughly inventory your collection of PFDs (Personal Flotation Device) and then use your PFD (Permanent Fund Dividend) to buy a brand new one because you don't trust the shitty ones you have.
3. If the trip involves an open skiff, make sure you're not 17 weeks pregnant lest you hit rough water and spend an hour riding waves like a bucking bronco, positive you have dislodged your growing fetus from the security of its uterine home which then results in a night of pannicked Googling upon return to civilization.
4. If the trail or ski route is not well marked, make sure you go with someone who has been to that trail or ski route recently, and when you get to the super sketchy part, keep asking them over and over again if they think you're lost until they get really mad and yell at you to STFU.
5. Bring along an automatic defibrillator for the inevitable sighting of a black lab or porcupine that you will be 100% positive is a black bear or a bear cub.
And there you have it. Just follow O.H.M.'s simple rules for enjoying Alaska's wilderness and MAKE IT BACK ALIVE, people! Make it back alive.