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Story Last modified at 12:42 p.m. on Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Embarrassing moments in the Great Outdoors
Mountain Echos

By Frank E. Baker

If someone tells you they've never had an embarrassing, awkward moment in Alaska's great outdoors, they're either a victim of amnesia, lying, or the kind of disgustingly perfect people that are hard to stomach.

By jettisoning our egos and agreeing to poke fun at ourselves, we easily double the number of entertaining stories we can tell to friends and family. For people like me, it triples my chances.

For example, several years ago on a summer hike up O'Malley Peak to the south of Anchorage, I forgot my hat — a serious mistake for someone with thinning hair. Realizing I would risk severe sunburn on the top of my head if I didn't cover up, I looked for a handkerchief or anything that might do the job. If I used my T-shirt I'd risk burning my shoulders and back. It was a crucial decision: I would have to use my underwear.

They were blue jockey underwear and fit snugly over my head. Scrambling down the peak into Powerline Pass, I passed a young couple who looked at me strangely and smiled. It didn't register until I passed two other hikers who nearly doubled over with laughter as I approached. My head was still adorned with jockey underwear.

Farther down the trail, with no one in sight, I removed the underwear. Recovering from the grips of embarrassment, I began to contemplate the upside. Perhaps underwear atop the head could someday become an REI outdoor fashion statement.

On another summer mountain trip with temperatures soaring into the 70s, I decided to go with shorts. I finally descended down to a small lake where a few other hikers were sitting, enjoying a picnic lunch.

"We think we saw you coming down," said a young woman. "Weren't you the guy wearing white pants?

"No," I responded. "I was wearing shorts. The white you saw was my legs."

These experiences are starting to make me feel like an Alaskan version of Rodney Dangerfield.

On yet another hike with friends I had a nature call and had neglected to bring along toilet paper. We were high on the mountain and the only thing available was snow. I can tell you, if you don't already know, that crystallized snow is more abrasive than sandpaper. In fact, sandpaper is velvet by comparison. For the rest of the day I walked in a rather stiff, ungainly fashion, wondering if anyone noticed. They probably did, but knowing about some of my other bizarre exploits, like wearing underwear on my head, they undoubtedly didn't want to ask any questions.

These are all true stories and I needn't say that names have been changed to protect the innocent, because mine is the only one mentioned. If I related any more of these tales I'd be subjecting myself to even more kibitzing than I already receive, so I'd best desist.

Even though I now always bring along a hat-- rain, shine or snow--I've sometimes considered bringing along an extra set of jockey-style underwear in case I feel compelled to make an original, outdoor fashion statement.

It's always more fun to hear about other peoples' outdoor gaffes. If you're sufficiently masochistic and would like to share them, e-mail the humiliating details to me at

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, August 3, 2011.