Matt Szundy
Matt Szundy

Matt has been skiing for 39 years and climbing for over 28. He is an Eagle Scout and first tied into a rope in 1987. In 1995, he founded the Ascending Path LLC and has been guiding full time ever since. Highlights of his experience include: Ama Dablam, Walls in Yosemite, M6 in Canada & 5.12 in CO and a 10-pitch first ascent in New Zealand (back in the day). He has mountaineering ascents in Nepal, Peru, Argentina, New Zealand, Antarctica and Alaska. Matt has climbed Denali 10 times (5 summits). He has WFR certs from SOLO and WMA, Avalanche 2, ASA 103, White Water Rescue 3 Technician, ICS 100/200 and was an AMGA Certified Guide (SPI).

Matt has a passion for managing high risk. He worked for 3 years as a Field Safety/Survival Instructor for the US Antarctic Program. He was the Antarctic SAR Team Leader for the US in 04/05, attended several Rigging for Rescue Courses and volunteered for 2 seasons on Denali as an NPS VIP/Search and Rescue Ranger. Off season, Matt contracts his services to several return clients, including the DoD. He is the former Alaska State Film Rep for the DCCED and over 15 years he has helped produce dozens of film projects. Matt is a SAG-AFTRA Stuntman and coordinator. Matt holds a BA in Philosophy and still tries to read even with a toddler running around!


Ascending PathHow do the experiences you offer at Ascending Path give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of your region?

Ascending Path’s trips are mountain, trail, and glacier-centered adventures, guided by knowledgeable, local guides who provide historical and naturalist commentary, and who also attempt to inspire a sense of stewardship of the region and beyond. Southcentral Alaska is an area that has undergone immense geological change over an immeasurable amount of time. The mountains we take our clients on are millions of years in the making; thousands of years ago, the glaciers we stand on were once vast sheets covering terrain beyond what the eye could see, and the trails we hike are filled with stories of glory and hardship from days of the gold rush. Our guides live the lives of mountain climbers, professional skiers, and adventure-seeking travelers. Because of this and our personalized, small ratio, our clients get to intimately meet a prime example of someone who lives and breathes the daring lifestyle and culture of this region. We also offer a unique trip where folks can take a train, kayak, and hike on a glacier in one day– something not offered anywhere else on the planet.

How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?

Our trips evolve every year. We are constantly improving upon the client’s experience, glaciers and climate change affect our tour patterns, and we find (or are offered) opportunities to expand our trip options. Currently, we have a trip offered on a glacier that is nestled in a mountain (fondly called “the glacier bowl”), and the glacier is melting before our eyes. The ice melt has changed this trip from more of a glacier hike to an alpine hike. This is one of more popular trips because it is still so beautiful, and clients are interested in climate change and its effect on glaciers. Another glacier hiking trip we offer was one where we hiked on a trail along a glacial lake, which was our access point to the glacier. Due to climate change, that part of the glacier melted away, so we had to rethink how we were going to safely get folks onto the glacier. We were able to get permission to bring small groups across the lake in kayaks. We didn’t know how this was going to affect folks wanting to go on our trips, but it has added a whole other element of awesome. This trip is our most popular, with folks booking a full year in advance. Not only are folks getting the chance to climb up and hike on the glacier, but they also have the majestic experience of paddling past the bluest of icebergs.

What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?

I’m not sure anything in the actual experience goes unnoticed. Our guests are paddling, seeing glaciers, enjoying beautiful scenery on hikes, and more. We wish for them to take that all in and enjoy it. There is a lot of planning that goes into all of our trips, especially the ones where we drive, hop on Alaska railroad, get into another vehicle at a remote site, kayak, then have to do it all again on the return trip. Things people may not know about it is the emphasis we put on safety and training, and the research and funds that go in to getting the best gear for our trips. Although we are happy to make sure guests are properly outfitted, one thing we noticed is how many are not bringing the proper clothing for their trips to Alaska. When we book folks we emphasize warm, waterproof, synthetic layers, waterproof hiking boots with ankle support, and packs with essentials. This type of preparedness not only works best with the trips we offer, but also with guests’ entire trip to Alaska.

What do you wish every guest knew as they consider participating in the experiences you offer?

You are most likely going to experience the best trip you will have in Alaska. If you don’t believe us, please read our Trip Advisor reviews. Guests are challenged on our trips, but are surrounded by a wonderfully trained guide staff. When clients finish a trip with us, they are not only scrolling through hundreds of breathtaking photos, but they also feel a sense of accomplishment and pride that they wouldn’t have felt had they not had such a hands on experience.

Do you find that guests have a greater challenge dealing with the physical component of the activities you offer or the environmental exposure inherent to operating in the backcountry through all types of weather?

All of our trips require no experience. Most of the guests we take are strong, well-geared individuals looking for this type of back country, off the grid experience. But dealing with the mental aspect of exposure takes some practice. It’s always easier to paddle on a sunny day on a still lake, than it is on a windy day with lots of waves.

Ascending Path 1What is one travel trend that really excites you?

We are seeing a lot more folks– whether it be adventure-ready families, guests traveling alone, and younger travelers– looking for a hands-on experience off the main road. These folks typically want to learn more about eco-tourism and are excited about the flora, fauna, and history of the region. They are looking to immerse themselves in everything local.

What sets Ascending Path apart from other alpine guide companies in Alaska?

We are the only place on the planet where we can take a train (or helicopter), kayak, and hike on a glacier in one day. Our trip-to-guide ratios are small, therefore providing our guests with more time to explore, ask questions, take pictures, and enjoy the quiet solitude of being on a glacier. Our office is a yurt!!! 🙂

What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?

Come prepared with a good attitude and a sense of adventure.

What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?

Adaptability. Not viewing elements (such as environmental things like glaciers melting) as setbacks, but understanding they were simply doors to make our company more unique, and our trips more exciting.

What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?

Empathy.

Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.

We had a client a few years ago who had MS and no use of her legs, we took her rock climbing and she did great!

Connect:

www.ascendingpath.com
Ascending Path on Facebook: www.facebook.com/ascending.path
Ascending Path on TripAdvisor:  www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g31000-d2103152-Reviews-Ascending_Path_Day_Hikes-Girdwood_Alaska.html

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