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Alaska – The Last Day-ish

The last day of adventure. The only plan for today was head back into Denali and do whatever we wanted. Choices included hanging out at the visitor center, going on one of the many ranger led walks and talks, taking a free bus out to Savage River and go on a hike (and risk waiting forever to return), checking out the sled dogs that live in the park or just hang around the campsite and take it easy. I know it was lame, especially since I went on the Helidog adventure, but I wanted to see the sled dog demo in the park. I didn’t want to go on a ranger hike or sit on the bus for an hour each way and go on a really long hike out in Savage River. I wanted to keep it low key, as the weather looked a bit iffy and I didn’t really want to hang out with the group.

freshsnow

The day started slow, but we finally piled into the van, leaving a few lazy bones at camp to make the late morning bus up to Savage River. I left the group in the dust and bee-lined it to the visitor center to see what that was all about. I missed the morning demo, which was fine and the next one wasn’t until 2pm, so I had tons of time to kill. Turns out, the guide made a mistake on the bus timing and our group had just missed the late morning bus to Savage River and now had to wait until the next bus in the early afternoon. Most of them hung out in the cafe, but I wanted some time alone and I didn’t want to buy anything, so I set up camp near a plug in the visitor center and sat on a bench and read and wrote while charging my phone, as the only outlets in the campsite I could find were in the bathrooms or laundry and I didn’t want to leave my phone in either place unattended. TM found me and she was going on a ranger walk when I was supposed to leave for the dog sled demo, so we chatted and gossiped about the group for a while, as the tour was winding down, it was time for guide evals and tip talk. We talked for a while before we went our separate ways.

ourbusreststop

I was wicked early for the bus pick up, but that didn’t matter as they always have enough buses for everyone who wants to go and there were three that day. Another tourmate joined me, as she didn’t go on the helidogs and wanted to keep it low key that day too. We took a bus to the demo, which was very controlled. A walk down a long path to the kennels were all the dogs were either tied up and if they came up to you, you could pet, or they were in dog runs and going nuts. Most of the dogs were really chill and not nearly as crazy as the ones on the glacier. Plus, throw in the fact that there were just tons and tons (for Alaska) of people and I wasn’t used to the crowds anymore. That was a bit much for me. But the puppies were so cute! They were my favorite part.

Chill Sled Dogs

Chill Sled Dogs

The demo started and most of us had to stand and watch the ranger drive the sled a short distance around and then another ranger told us about what happens to the park in the winter and how they are used, which was interesting. We then got to ask questions and most of the questions were surprisingly pretty good, so that was a treat. I hate dumb questions. Then was picture time, if you wanted to hop on behind the sled and get your picture taken like you were “driving” the sled, which actually was kind of lame, but that might have been because I had actually ridden on a dog-pulled-sled already.

Sled Dog Home.

Sled Dog Home.

My favorite part was after the show ended. Instead of being lazy and taking the bus back to the visitor center, tour mate and I decided to walk it as it was a really easy, well paved walk. The Roadside Trail goes along the road, so it’s hard to get lost, is less then 2 miles and is relatively flat. Since we were spending the following day in the van, I wanted to do a short hike, but something easy and this was perfect. We had a few good views, but it was mostly tree covered. We chatted the whole way, to scare off any bears that might be around and we actually ran into some people walking the other way, but it was pretty quiet otherwise.

walkback

We came up behind the visitors center and went our separate ways before we had to meet everyone at the cafe in a bit. I called my parents, because I hadn’t talked to them in a few days and then I had a wonder around the gift shop before heading to the cafe. The same thing happened again with the group out at Savage River and they waited nearly 2 hours for an empty bus to take them back to the Visitors Center and of course, arrived later then planned, but once again, no one cared too much. We then went into the main drag of town where there were a ton of tourist shops and people wanted to have a poke around and buy stuff, as the trip was finally winding down. We poked around for a bit before heading back to camp for our last night!

We had some sort of stew for dinner that was spicy and mostly we just gossiped about the guide tip, as the guide never spoke to us about it, which was a bit weird. The weather changed quickly and it got so cold and looked like rain. Lo and behold, right when we started eating, it started spitting down and kind of came and went for the rest of the evening. I had showered two days before (a lot, for this trip) and we were headed to the hotel the following day (hallelujah!!!) but I wanted to take a shower and spend some time in the bathroom, if only to charge my dvd player, which had oddly died. Annoying! I trekked in the mud covered road, in the rain, to the bathroom and when I was done, unfortunately, had to trek back, pretty much undoing all the cleaning up I did. All I can say is, thank god, we had these picnic covers as I spread my stuff out everywhere and even changed my pants out in the open (it was pitch black, no one could see me) and everything stayed dry. My dvd player didn’t last long, but oh well. It was the last night!!

Early morning! We were booked on the 8:30am bus in Denali and we had to be there on time. Breakfast was a rush of craziness as we also had to make lunch to bring along as well as snacks. I was burning out from the food at this point and just stuffed whatever food I could find into my backpack before loading back into the van for a quick 20 minute ride down the road. Once again, the walk to the bathroom was to long (I was so over the distances of this state!) and I knew the visitors center (Wilderness Access Center or WAC as it’s called by the locals) would have good, flush toilets, so I just held it until we arrived.

denali

Arrived at the WAC, used the loo and got in line for the buses. Unfortunately, they were already delayed, which was a good preview of the day to come. We finally loaded on to a fairly empty bus, so we got to spread out in the back, which was nice. It was a beautiful, partly cloudy but not a rainy day and we had the windows open for most of the ride out to the Eielson Visitor Center. We stopped and picked some people up who had been camping, loaded them and their gear in via the back and then dropped them off farther down the road. There are three “rest stops” along the way to get out, stretch and use the loo. The ride out takes about 3 hours and makes other stops as wildlife permits. Not too far into the ride, we saw a bear eating some berries pretty close to the road! That was definitely the highlight of the day and thanks to the safety of the bus, we got as close as I wanted.

The scenery was gorgeous. There is really no way to describe it. It was cold (it had snowed in some parts the day or so before as we could see fresh snow next to the road), but we went on such a beautiful day, that our guide even came along, even though he didn’t have to. He even said, if it was raining, he wouldn’t have come. So you know it was a good day! The driver out there had some commentary, which I listed to for a while, but thankfully since I was in the back, got to gossip with some of my tourmates. When we got to Eielson, I knew I didn’t want to return on the same bus (you have a 30 minute guarantee, but can stay long and try your luck on the next available bus). I took a wonder around the visitor center and then started to join a tour on the paved path around the center, but it was quickly cancelled as a bear had been spotted not too far away and they closed the trail. I immediately put my name on the list to return back, as my bus had left but unfortunately, I ended up waiting about an hour and half for the next available empty bus. That was the downside of the day. Some other tour mates were wondering around and put their names on after me, as well as some who even went on a hike and came back just in time to fill the empty bus. It was annoying, but the way the system works, oh well. Be prepared! The driver on the way back was an older man, who talked really quietly the whole time and thankfully, since we were in the back, we could hardly hear him, so we didn’t have to pay attention. We stopped a bunch of times, both at the three rest stops and to see some caribou and moose that were pretty far away. We saw some “moving rocks”, but they were so far away, I barely cared. We also picked up and dropped off a lot of people and one of the drivers favorite questions was, “how long have you been waiting?”. I think everyone said well over an hour, so that is nuts! A park ranger got on at one point and sat in front of me and we all asked her questions and it was really cool and interesting. Before we left, the guide asked us to be back at the van by 6pm, but half the group was on that bus and we didn’t make it back until nearly 6:30pm, but for the first time ever, I was so not stressed about timing. I knew they would wait for us or if not, come back for us. They would obviously know we were on our way, no worries. I love that attitude sometimes!

The roads are long...life is short. Get here now!

The roads are long…life is short. Get here now!

Me at a reststop

Me at a reststop

I’m not going to go into detail about how the park works (there are websites for that, including the really informative, National Parks Service site). Here are just some random things I noticed and/or to keep in mind:

-Cruisers mainly take the tour buses which are fully inclusive and won’t be picking up any riffraff (backpackers!) along the road. And they pack ‘em in.
-We took the shuttle bus and it was fine, though one of the gals in my group wish we had gone to Wonder Lake, which is almost the end of the line (only Kantishna is farther). We only made it to Eielson, which is the most popular stop.
-The WAC is different then the Visitors Center. They are not the same thing!!
-Bring food, once you are in the park, there is nowhere to buy anything to eat or drink! Though there are places to fill up your water bottle.
-Bring layers, the temperature changes a lot, if you are lucky.

Typical Denali

Typical Denali

Don't cross.

Don’t cross.

mtmac

For dinner, since the guide had been on the bus all day, suggested we hit the pizza place across the street from our campground, which ended up being a great choice. The pizza choices were interesting, the beers were really good and the layout was excellent! We sort of took over the place and put a bunch of tables together and just ordered a lot of pizzas and split the bill in the end. The owners dog was also running around (a dog inside at a food establishment? How many health codes does that break in the lower 48? Oy!) and he taught it some really good tricks, so there was a show to go along with our food! The next day was going to be pretty chill, in and around Denali, so some of the group made quite a night of it, but when I went back to camp not to late as I knew I didn’t want to be hung over and in an awful mood the following day.

dogbar

Another day, another long drive. This was the day I accidentally left my wallet in my bag in the trailer! Whoops! It ended up not being the biggest deal, but just slightly annoying. Oh well, live and learn. This was also the part of the trip where everyone was just tried. Tired of rain, tired of camping, tired of lack of showers and flush toilets. Tired of each other. (Thankfully, we all survived the next few days, but barely.)

Most of this day was spent on a dirt road. We stopped at a few road houses for breaks, some lookouts for views, but mainly just sat in the van. And drive. It was sunny, but freezing, as at this point, we were headed to our northern most stop, though thankfully at a lower elevation then Tangle Lakes. I don’t really remember much about this day.

The roads...they never end!

The roads…they never end!

-At one point, we stopped and since I didn’t use the toilet when we woke up in the morning (the walk was too far for me and it was sooo cold) I waited until our first rest stop, but unfortunately, you had to buy something to use the john, so I borrowed $5 from a tourmate for gummies and the loo.
-The dirt road finally ended when Denali Highway met up with George Parks Highway, and we had never been so happy to see a gas station! I waited outside and chatted with a tourmate, when she spotted moose crossing the road! Very cool, as most of the group missed it as they were using the toilet and buying snacks.
-We drove up and passed Denali, into town to stock up on warm clothes for the final 3 nights as some people wanted sleeping bag liners or gloves. All the store outside the park were having “end of the season” sales and the sandals were on sale and I wanted a pair, but since I didn’t have my wallet, controlled myself, which was a good thing. The town was cute, just a bunch of tourist shops, but we needed something like that. We hadn’t seen that amount of people in over a week.

Back to civilization!

Back to civilization!


-We then dropped some of our tour off at the sightseeing flight because even though it was more expensive, the day was just gorgeous, so some people took advantage of that.
-We stopped in Denali to pick up our bus tickets for the following day before finally heading to camp at Carlo Creek
-We put up our tents for the last time! We got to put them up under a sheltered cover, which was awesome, plus, they had picnic tables. So helpful!
-It was a bit a trek to the bathroom, which sucked, but at least the toilets flushed and the showers were free and it was like all in one room, which is my favorite layout.
-We had some meat and potatoes for dinner and the potatoes were so good! Though I had a beer and cut myself grating cheese on the grater (yeah, I’m awesome like that), so no more grating for me.
-Can’t remember what we did at night, probably not much, as it was still really cold (the girls that stayed in the cabin the night before, booked a cabin for all three nights here, they were just done with camping) so probably just huddled by the fire.

Sneak peak of tomorrow in Denali

Sneak peak of tomorrow in Denali

Alaska – On the Road Again

A lot and not much happened today. For the most part, it was a a driving day. It was the start of the two day drive to Denali and of course, it was today when we found out that someone had gotten killed by a bear for the first time ever (in Denali) over the weekend. Perfect timing! Thankfully, they only closed a small section of the huge park and it was nowhere near where we were going. No way would they close the major tourist area in peak(ish) tourist season. But the timing was crazy. It was after this story broke that the half of the group that still wanted to see a bear, kind of got over that urge. We read tourism packets a little differently going forward (Cartoon bears with the caption “Come play with us!” took on a new meaning. And you wonder why this happens? Even though they do pound it into your head to stay 300m back from a bear (vs. like 25m for a moose)) and we were more aware to stay back, if we saw a bear.

Me and Alaska

Me and Alaska

Since we had 60 miles of dirt road coming into Wrangell, we had 60 miles going out. This was the day I left my camera in my bag, which was a bit of a disappointment. For the first time ever, we were running early and our guide told the coffee hut family we would be passing by around 10a and hopefully they would be open. We got there around 9:40 and of course, they weren’t open so we kept on trucking. On the road out of the park, stopped at the bridge we stopped at on the way in, but this time, some of the group went underneath it. Since I didn’t have my camera, I didn’t go and just got out to stretch my legs. We made another stop and then we were out of the park! We stopped at a burger shack in the town of Chitna for lunch and we had our first moose sighting! It was crossing the road, but unfortunately by the time we piled out of the van, it was pretty much gone. But still really cool! We walked through town to the burger stand and when we were waiting for our orders, it started to rain. TM and I chatted with some locals, who made the mistake of coming to order lunch when all 14 of us had placed our orders, but it was really interesting talking to some locals. They wanted to give us more fish they had back at their hour, but we were moving on, so we didn’t get any, which was fine by me. We backtracked to Glenallen and got cell reception for the first time in 3 days and had to refill the van with gas and food and to pick up thai dishes for dinner (chicken #2, here we come!). We unloaded the coolers to clean them out and some of us weeded through the food to see what was still eatable while the guide drove the van over to the gas station to fill up. I called my sister and said I would watch the coolers while some of the group took the food to the dumpsters and as I was talking to her, it started to pour! At first, I thought I would wait it out, but then it got so bad, that I just left the coolers and the good food out and ran into the supermarket for shelter. Of course, seriously, like 5 minutes later, it stopped and the sky turned blue and since half the group was in the market, they came out and didn’t even know what happened. At first, I didn’t want to leave the coolers and food alone in the rain, but then I remembered where I was. I was in Alaska, no one was going to take it, duh. The rain stopped when the van returned and the guide and I had a laugh because both of us, in our heads, debated leaving the bags we pulled out to rearrange for the food in the parking lot and THANK GOD we didn’t or they would have been drenched! We got so lucky there. After another repack, we were on the road.

Common road in Alaska

Common road in Alaska

We stopped a few more times and it was getting colder and colder, that at one stop, I broke down and put my shoes on (since it was a travel day, I decked out in flipflops, but always pack a pair of socks and have my sneakers handy, just in case) because I was so cold! It was very windy when we arrived at our stop for the night in the Tangle Lakes region. We got out and it was so cold and windy! The guide told us about canoeing in the lake to our campsite, but only one person wanted to do it and it was so windy, so she didn’t get to and we drove on to our campsite. I can’t even describe how cold it was. It was clear and beautiful, but because it was now cloudless, it was even colder! Funny enough, the Swiss girl and Russian girl both opt-ed to stay in cabins that night. What the hell, shouldn’t they, of all people be used to this kind of weather? Whatever. It was pretty miserable, but I didn’t want to pay $40 and it’s not like it was raining. There were no showers, drop toilets only and they were a bit of a walk. It made for an interesting night. For the first time ever, I slept with my sweatshirt on and socks, which I hadn’t done up to that point, as having two people in the tents kept them nice and warm. But not tonight. It also sucked to throw up our tents for just one night, that was annoying. As TM and I were putting our tent up, I commented that we only had to put up the tent one more time after this! YAY!!!

Road and hills

Road and hills

The night was freezing and we just huddled around the campfire for most of it, but I went to bed when the dust from the fire got to just be so bad. This was probably my least favorite night. I was so ready to get on to Denali!

I didn’t take any pictures today and the pack rafting guide was supposed to dropbox me some pictures, which I never got. Oh well! Joys of being on the water in Alaska!

In the build up the McCarthy, the guide told us about this activity called “pack rafting” where everyone gets their own blow up boat and we raft through small rapids in a glacier lake. I love rafting, so I always knew if that was available, I was SO GAME! On Friday at dinner when everyone was discussing what they wanted to do for the weekend, the guide excitedly came over to me and said pack rafting was a go on Sunday, as he excited for it also.

I got to sleep in a bit on Sunday, as the rafting wasn’t until the afternoon, but I was a bit unsure about what to wear and what to pack. I didn’t bring any thermals with me and was dreadfully unprepared in the shoe department, but I made it work. After we packed up the campsite and drove down half a mile down the road to Brad’s Place, where we would be spending the night, I gathered up all my stuff for the day. Since I didn’t have proper shoes, I decided to wear my expensive, wool socks today. I was a bit worried that I didn’t have thermals, but I wore my fleece sweatshirt and hiking pants and my hands ended up being the coldest part. Me, two other tour mates, the guide and two pack rafting leaders hiked out about a mile from camp to the lake where we then proceeded to blow up our boats and put our dry suites, booties and weak gloves on. Blowing up the boats was really cool as they used these like huge bags to push air into the boats and then we had to top them up ourselves, which took a bit out of me. We climbed into our boats and had a little lesson on water and paddling and what we were going to do.

Cold, cold glacier water.

I am such a control freak, I love being in my own boat, so this was awesome! It took a bit to figure out how and when to paddle hard and in what direction, but after paddling in circles for a bit, I finally got the hang of it. My hands were just really really cold because the gloves leaked and I was paddling so much and water splashed everywhere. We took a break after a while and dragged the boats back to shore, ate some snacks and tipped the water that came in out and I took my gloves off to warm my hands up. We then got back into the water and hit some bigger (but still really small) rapids and went around a few times.

I got my confidence up and I guess I leaned the wrong direction (as you tend to do when you think you are hot shit) and flipped my boat over, into the glacier rapids! I screamed bloody murder, if only so the guides could hear me and they came over quickly. I gripped onto my boat and lifted my legs up, as we had been told to do. They tried to get me to climb on top of my boat, but my upper arm strength is pretty bad and all I wanted to do, was get near the shore and climb out of the water. My hands were absolutely freezing and it took a moment, thanks to the socks!! but water finally started filling up my boots and all I wanted to do was get out. They finally pulled me out and I ripped off my gloves and the girl guide had me jump up and down and do jumping jacks to warm up my arms and legs. I was so shocked still, I did whatever they told me to do. I jumped around for a little bit, until they dragged everyone else over and out of their boats, so we could set up for the last ride back to camp. Thankfully, we were pretty much done with that part of the tour when I flipped, as I didn’t want to keep the rest of the group from doing anything.

Glaciers melt fast and all that water has to go somewhere!

I warmed up as much as I could at that point and I was confident enough to get back in the boat, for a slow and quiet ride, down TINY rapids and paddle back to camp. My confidence was gone and even going down the little rapids, I felt uneasy, but finished the trip. The guides said I did really well and listened to all directions and did what they said, so I felt good about that. I am sure my knowledge of swimming helped too in having me not freak out too bad and gave me the confidence to continue on instead of flat out refusing and walking home. No way, I’d much rather raft home, thanks! We finished the trip and dragged our stuff back to camp (I didn’t have the easiest time carrying my boat at this point because all I wanted to do was take a shower!) but I managed.

Oh, I forgot to mention the weather today! It was overcast the entire day and when we first got on the water, it started to spit rain and we hardly noticed at first because we were paddleing and hitting each other with water, so it was a good day to boat. Most of our tour went glacier hiking today and while the colors on the glacier are supposed to be AMAZING when it’s overcast, hiking in the rain can’t be much fun. I am so glad I ended up doing each activity on the day I did in Wrangell.

Fall comes early to Alaska

Once we were back to camp, I dragged my bag to the first cabin, no knowing who was sleeping where and grabbed all my shower stuff and spent a ton of time in the shower. Do you remember the last time I showered? Yeah, me neither and this was a perfect day for it! Also, when I took off my dry suit, my top felt dry but my bottoms did not and I was fully expecting a wet butt. But when I pulled the suite off, everything was pretty much dry! Big round of applause for the dry suite in doing its job! YAY!!!!!!!!

After the shower, I found out that all my pals where in the other cabin (and the snorer had moved her stuff into the one I was originally in) so I hightailed it to the other cabin. One of my tour mates gave me the loft as well and I was so happy to be up there! It was lovely. I hung my wet socks on the porch, seeing if they would dry (they didn’t, and that was the story on how a $17 pair of socks, worn once, sort of saved my life! A purchase well worth the price) and then went to the main house and just hung out there all night. The guide made burritos and most of the group was meh on it, he had to make a spicy and non-spicy meat (guess which one went first in this group?) but I loved them, so good! We hung out in the main house most of the evening, charging up our phones and cameras and taking advantage of power and lights for the first time in 3 days too! I charged my DVD player for the first time, just in case, but gave myself low priority because seriously, a DVD player? Who cares! Luckily, it charged before most of the group returned from glacier hiking. I walked back to the cabin alone, singing and clapping to scare the bears away because I didn’t have my torch and was alone. I made it back and snuggled into bed, watching tv. It was funny, we filled our cabin in like 4 seconds, thanks to the snorer and there were no more beds, but TM arrived last and she REFUSED to sleep in the other cabin, so dragged one of our blow up mattresses on the floor of our room. Of course, no one cared, but that just goes to show you, how bad it was! Give us tents ANY DAY.

Place was cute and had a sauna too, if you are into that!

Alaska is huge. No joke, we called bears “moving rocks” for a reason (they are so tiny, you have no idea it’s actually a bear until you notice that its moved) and you can drive and drive and drive and not see another car for an hour, in peak tourist season. And I thought New Zealand was crazy like that! Alaska is even more nuts. But you have never met nicer people, seriously. Half of my tour group, this was their first time to the United States (and they came to Alaska?!) and they couldn’t get over how nice everyone was. Just wait until they “get punched in the face by the Lower-48″. Oy!!

Anyway, besides the hugeness and the niceness, in 2+ weeks of constant moving, all 14 of us (I’m including the guide in this one) didn’t loose a single thing (that I am aware of). On the first night in the tent, I accidentally slept with my ponytail holders, which always fall out in the middle of the night and a few days later, TM found them in her stuff. One of the girls couldn’t find her wallet and while we had to unpack the entire trailer to get to her bag, it was there. I was so unbelievably relaxed about this trip, that I (smartly? stupidly? didn’t even matter) left my passport in the outside pocket of my large duffel and didn’t touch it at all while we traveling around Alaska. I never lost or had it stolen, despite all of us leaving our bags in our unlocked tents during the day. I was so lazy, that I accidentally left my camera in my duffel in the trailer one day, thanking god it wasn’t my wallet, only to swap them the next day, which only had me slightly worried. Thankfully, I didn’t need money that day (well, I borrowed $5 from someone to get candy to use the bathroom, but not having it actually stopped me from buying something I totally DID NOT NEED (just a random pair of sandals in a shop, they had nothing to do with Alaska)) and my wallet was with my passport in my duffel, so crisis averted. I wasn’t too worried. When we were in Denali, our guide left his book on the bus and when we came back the next day, he went to the Lost and Found and there it was, no worries.

Though I have one of my new favorite greatest stories about loosing things (this one is up there about me loosing my credit card at Staples Center and it being returned to me before I even knew it was missing, GREAT story there!) that took place on this tour.

So, at the softball game in McCarthy on Friday night, I didn’t really talk to many people outside our group, but when a couple came over with dogs, we talked about the dogs for a while and that was it. The next day, when I was hiking down to the glacier caves, I noticed two familiar dogs out of the corner of my eye and I called them and then saw their owners, the people I was talking to, right behind them, but they didn’t see me. No worries, just such a small town that of course I am going to run into the same people over and over again. When my group crawled up the hill after the caves, one of my tour mates was in the group ahead of us and the first thing she said is “did you find my sunglasses?” I jokingly said, I didn’t get the message and I didn’t see them anyway, so that was the end of that.

Hangout for the weekend.

Later that night when I first arrived back at the Golden Saloon and hightailed it to the bathroom, who should get behind me in line, but the girl with the dogs! I said I was right in front of her earlier that day when we hiked down to the glacier caves and that I saw the dogs and then you. I asked her how she liked them and she said, I quote you not, “Ohmigod, they were fantastic. By the way, did you loose a pair of sunglasses”.

I nearly fell over. I was in shock. I was like, “Ohmigod, I didn’t, but I know who did.” She was like, we brought them tonight, for the town lost and found. I was like, fantastic, I’ll find you later. And when we were done with the toilet, I found her and her boyfriend and got the sunnies for my tour mate. When I told my tour mate that story and then presented her with the glasses, she nearly died too. Seriously, how crazy is that?! Just goes to show, talk to everyone and get lucky! You never know where it might lead you.

Despite the hugeness of the state, thanks to chatting with randoms, no one lost a single item in two weeks. Crazy.

Anyone loose a pair of sunglasses down here?

Woke up to a quiet campsite bright and early the next day. It was cloudy and raining a little, but nothing to major, nothing that probably wouldn’t pass in a bit. I made some sandwiches for lunch, grabbed a baggie full of pretzels and scarfed down a granola bar for breakfast. One of my tour mates who had her own tent let me get dressed in hers, so I wouldn’t bug TM. The shuttle picked us up across the river at 8:30am and we thought we were all there when the driver said there was supposed to be 5 of us. We tried to figure out who was missing before we realized it was the Russian, but she takes forever, so after one of us ran back across the river to find all this out, we just left without her. There was no way she would make it on time. We chatted with the other passenger who was going on the half day hike as we bumped down the dirt road to Kennecott where the offices were located.

Ice under dirt

I was the only one doing the full day glacier hike from our group, but there were 4 older people and one guy about my age in my group, so it was nice to interact with different people for the day. They just kitted us up with crampons and thankfully one of the women didn’t want to use both her hiking sticks, so she let me borrow one, which was perfect! It really helped me a lot for the day. Another thing I didn’t have, but noticed that another of the women had an extra and wasn’t using it, were those large clip thingys that hang off of backpacks or water bottles. I don’t know what they are called, but I really need to buy a pack because I stole hers (I am sure she thought I was so weird, that I just reached over and took it, but whatever) and clipped my crampons onto my backpack. Super helpful! After gearing up (and using the toilet) we were off!

Lake looks deeper then it is. It’s about 2 inches deep here!

We had a really nice walk through Kennecott and the guide pointed out certain sights and it was really interesting. My favorite part was the tallest (16 stores!) wooden building in the entire United States is there! How cool is that? The place is pretty much a ghost town as it was built for mining, which of course, doesn’t take place there anymore. We then got on the flat path and it was about a 45 minute walk up to the last bathroom before the glacier. We then put on our crampons and jumped on the glacier! The first half of it is covered in dirt, but we by-passed most of that on the trail, but at the beginning there was still a little dirt and these little molehill type things that were kind of hard to walk on. Thankfully I had the walking stick, which helped me with my balance a lot.

Tallest wooden structure in the United States!

Moss that thrives on ice water!

The walk was really cool and very unlike the hike in New Zealand. I felt like, while the guide was all about safety, there was less fear about falling or walking where you weren’t supposed to. If I remember New Zealand correctly, we had to walk in a straight line most of the time and always follow the guide. I felt like on this hike, we walked in a group and could wonder more because there was little fear of falling into a crevasse. The glaciers in Alaska are huge. 35 miles LONG and 1-2 miles WIDE is not uncommon for glaciers. If you loose something down a crevasse, you are not going to see it again in your lifetime at the rate they move (unlike NZ where lost hiking sticks come out at the end all the time). We hiked around, saw some non-existent pools (which later filled to 2 feet deep!) and “waterfalls”. The sun came out and we ate lunch and filled our bottles up with water (my favorite!!!). The “rivers” started running a little higher as the sun came out and everything started to melt. The clouds passed and we saw the top of a giant glacier, which apparently you can only see the top of 10% of the time, so we got really lucky! Because the clouds cleared, the planes started flying and a bunch came around and flew over us as we walked around and off the glacier.

Tallest mountain in the park and we saw it!

There are these giant ice caves down the side of a cliff that we “slid” down too and while the walk down (and again up) sucked really bad, the caves were totally awesome. Apparently they have been there, like that for a really long time. You just have to see it to believe it. At this point our group caught up with some of my tour mates who had done ice climbing and we all arrived back at the headquarters at the same time.

Ice Cave

Me in the ice cave.

We walked back to the main office, unloaded and took the shuttle back to the river for dinner. Our guide had a late night and spent the afternoon making chili. It was kind of funny because usually I am the lamest person ever when it comes to spicy things, but this group could not handle spice AT ALL and kept loading their bowls up with soul cream. Turned out, chips actually did a better job cooling things down. After dinner, a bunch of us went back into town to “Tall Tales Night” at the Golden Saloon (and to use an actual flush toilet). I bee-lined it to the bathroom when I arrived and grabbed a beer before heading outside as inside was PACKED with pretty much the entire town. After only being around for about 1 day, I recognized so many people, including my guide from earlier that day. There was a silent auction taking place in the back and the stuff on offer was just so typical small town. In between stories, they also auctioned off people to help out around their businesses and homes with certain chores. The whole thing just reeked of small-townness. It was like Stars Hollow had come to life, I kid you not. I freakin’ love it, but after two stories, petting some dogs on the porch, drinking my YUMMY beer and checking out the auction, I was pooped and found some people walking back across the river to camp and joined them.

The glaciers just never end.

Looking back towards camp, the ice never ends!

The guide was in such a good mood today because we were headed to his favorite place in Alaska, Wrangell Saint Elias National Park, but more specifically, the town of McCarthy. He had been talking about it non-stop all week and we were all excited to get there too.

On the way to McCarthy, Alaska

I don’t remember the morning, but I assumed it contained lots of driving and beautiful scenery. We then got to the town of Chitna before the road turned to dirt for the next 60 miles. The road was built over old railroad tracks and it is still quite common for tires to blow out due to spikes still in the road. Spoiler alert, we didn’t blow out any tires (thankgod!) and our guide still has a 100% success rate for driving on that road. We made a bunch of stops along the way, including a bridge we walked over, Mama’s Coffee Hut (too funny, we crossed a small bridge and saw a family playing in the river and they saw us pull over at the coffee hut and had to run and open and serve us! Welcome to McCarthy!) and Long Lake before we finally arrived at our camp ground, which as we traveled along on this tour, kept getting more and more rustic and this was the most rustic of all because it only had one drop toilet, no sink or shower. (Well, you could walk to the hostel and pay $10(!!!!) for a shower or just wait it out 2 days and take a free one) Baby wipe shower, here I come! Unfortunately, some douchebag took the campsite with the great view of the Root Glacier, so we grabbed a spot by the river to toss up our tents. After getting settled for a bit, we walked over the bridge and into town for some pub grub dinner at Golden Saloon. It was at this point, I realized I hadn’t really eaten yet today and scarfed down my buffalo burger as we got a sales pitch on glacier hiking. The company in town is St. Elias Guides and even though I have hiked in New Zealand, I loved it so much I knew I wanted to go on the full date hike also. Other things on offer in town were just hiking around or a guided tour of the historic town of Kennecott as well as some way off the grid activities such as pack rafting in a glacier lake. The latter sounded awesome, but we didn’t know until we arrived in McCarthy if it would happen (as things tend to be in Alaska) and the guide broke the news that it was a go on our 2nd days! I was so in, so that meant I had to do my full day glacier hike the next day and therefore miss out on the tour of the town. Whatever! My order of priority went 1) pack rafting 2) full day glacier hike 3) tour of town. I didn’t really care about the tour (though others in my group went on it and loved it, so just FYI, if you are every around and pack rafting isn’t a go) so I didn’t mind too much missing it. Even though it was going to be expensive, my weekend was booked! I was thrilled.

Long Lake, on the way to McCarthy, Alaska

After dinner, since the sun doesn’t set until late (even though it’s almost always cloudy), the locals have a softball game that everyone is invited to so we went and it was tons of fun! Some of our group played, but I just stood and chatted with my group and then some dogs ran around near me and they actually had tags, which we had rarely seen in Alaska! I started chatting with the dogs owners and turns out they weren’t locals either, they were up from Valdez for the weekend, but the girl just loved it here. (I know this sounded lame, but trust me, knowing these people came in handy later, you’ll see.) The game went really fast and it was over less then an hour after we arrived, which is so rare for baseball, I was telling some other people in our tour because they had no idea how to play.

McCarthy, Alaska

Most of the group was going to take an easy day again the following day, so they all made it a late night at the Golden Saloon and then to The Potato for music, but since I had to be up early for glacier hiking, some of the group was headed back to camp, so I went with them. A quick pee and then gather up as much as I could for the following day as TM was going to have a lie-in and I didn’t want to bug her in the morning before curling up in my sleeping bag with my dvd player. Just in time too because by the time I heard TM come back, it was raining!

What follows the best day so far on the tour? The worst, at least up until this point. We all got up early, to make the tunnel and then the ferry and it was pouring rain as predicted. No one was in any mood to do anything and I was in no mood to trek to the bathroom or make lunch, so I just packed up my stuff as well as I could and grabbed some granola bars and crackers and hoped for the best. We just threw everything in the trailer, in the worst order imaginable and it barely fit, but we got it closed and got on the road. As we were backtracking towards Anchorage, the guide got a call on his phone that the ferry was canceled. Apparently, this like never happens and of course, it happened to us. Most of us were really looking forward to it, it’s why we didn’t go on the nature cruise or in my case, just an excuse to not be in the van. When the guide got the call, we backtracked AGAIN to a tiny town, so he could get better cell reception and reroute our plans, since we didn’t need to make the tunnel or the ferry.

The road back to Anchorage

I bought a candy bar so I could use the bathroom, which is normally against my religion, but since I didn’t go in the morning, I sucked it up and paid. Whatever, I got some candy out of it too! We piled back in the van and headed back towards Anchorage. Our next stop, was the old and faithful Fred Meyer (with chimes from the peanut gallery, “Haven’t we been here before?”) to stock up on more food. We were finally getting into the habit of what we all liked to eat and what meals were coming up (fish that evening, so a fellow tour mate and I stocked up on chicken) and we knew where everything was in the supermarket, so we were in and out pretty fast. We unloaded the entire van and repacked way better because the rain had stopped and we had more room on the cement of the parking lot to deal with everything. They didn’t have the lunch bag that I bought the previous time, so I and then the rest of the group followed me over to Wendy’s, as they don’t really have them overseas for lunch.

After the morning of backtracking, it was on to some new road! We drove quickly through Wasilla and Palmer, home of the state fair, which we were all enamored with earlier in the week. You would be too, if you had seem some of the events taking place! And there really isn’t anything more American then a state fair. Just based on the crap that is for sale and the food you can eat, it’s everything you picture about America and more, all in one place. But after a week of meeting people and seeing some of the state, we were kind of over it, which was a good thing. We did stop at the Musk Ox Farm, which was super touristy, but I still paid the $11 for the 30 minute tour. I am definitely interested in weird animals! We got the feed them, but unfortunately, they weren’t super active when we were there, but their whole reason for being is really interesting, so it wasn’t a total waste. We then hit some just fantastic scenery and not a car in sight for miles and miles, which was amazing before our stop in Sutton at the Sheep Mountain Lodge for the night.

Musk Ox

Musk Ox at the farm, Palmer, Alaska

Cute Musk Ox, eating at the farm, Palmer, Alaska

Me and the Musk Ox, Palmer, Alaska

Since we had such a terrible night sleeping in the rain, we all voted to cough up $20 each and sleep in the bunk house at Sheep Mountain Lodge, though we did all throw up our tents to air them out of the rain for a while on the lawn. The place was pretty cute. Bathhouse with a sauna for a couple of bucks and a shower for $5 (I think we all skipped that night) and two rooms of bunks, which we split into snores and non-snorers, which sucked for me because I snore, but am a light sleepers, so I had a pretty miserable sleep. Though the non-snorers had it worse, because something was lost in translation and the Russian girl ended up in the non-snore room and apparently she was the worse snorer of them all! The guide thought it was hilarious that we all wanted tents for the rest of the trip, even though we had one more night in a bunk house in a few days, we were all, can we do tents instead? Too funny that we all preferred tents over sleeping indoors. The lodge also had a full service restaurant, with my favorite coffee which of course I got in the morning. They also had a really cool green house with a dead moose inside. The green house was really really warm (of course) and since I was having such a miserable night, I was tempted beyond belief to pull my sleeping bag and sleep there, but the ground was covered in rocks and I didn’t have a blow up mattress. AGH! Hindsight. But the green house was really awesome.

Me and the moose in the green house. The closest I got to a moose in Alaska. Sutton, Alaska

The guide made a fish stew for dinner but I ate chicken and it was delicious! We ate outside with no fire and while it was a bit cold, but ohmigod, so freakin’ beautiful! After dinner, I gossiped with some of my tour mates (it was getting to be that time in the tour were we all talk about each other behind our backs, so elementary school, I know) before the rest of the group crawled into bed and I went into the green house to write for a while before slipping into my bunk and took out my dvd plaver for the first time to watch some tv shows. I got into such a habit this night, that I ended up doing it the rest of the trip. My boss had loaned me a portable dvd player for the trip and the battery life on this this was out of the world, it only died on me once, on the last day. Perfect timing! I am sure I looked a little shady to my tentmate, no porn, I swear!

Woke up to one of the, if not my favorite day on this entire trip. Woke up to absolutely gorgeous weather. No rain, clear blue skies and best of all, a casual day! The guide had to make a run back to Anchorage for sleeping mats and because of that, we had a totally chill day, which after only 3 days of constant living with the same people, we all needed it. The guide was doing a run into town for the people that wanted to go on a nature cruise at 9am, but otherwise, the rest of us were on our own all day. And I loved it. TM and I woke up late and lounged around and made breakfast, took showers and just sat on the porch of the shower house to charge our cameras and phones and read with some of the other tour mates.

View from the campsite in the morning. Seward, Alaska

Some randomness about the campsite:

-Lots of showers, but they take tokens, which you have to buy before hand and there are no refunds. $1 for 2 minutes of shower. Apparently you can toss all your tokens in at the start and just guess how long you have left, but I tossed my tokens in one at a time, so I knew my time and I was under by like a minute. Better then being over! I wish I had known the shower situation before hand because I would have washed my hair at the other place, but it ended up being okay, because the shower situation at the next two places was even worse. So it all worked out for the best!
-Right on the water!
-A bit of a walk into town, took me over an hour.
-Shop is a little disorganized, so don’t count on them for much.
-Tree canopy for most of the grounds, which is good and bad.
-A bit muddy when it rains.

Walking into town, alone the road and the water. Seward, Alaska

So, after taking a few hours and enjoying the sun and charging my phone, I waited for a few of my tour mates to leave for town and I followed them about 45 minutes later. I just needed a nice walk to myself! I ran into one of the girls who went into town with the “shuttle” at 9am (it was like 1pm when I ran into her walking back to camp) and we chatted on the side of the road for a while. She didn’t do much but have a wonder around Seward for the day. I was walking into town to meet up with the group at 4pm to go Heli-Dogging! The walk was a flat 2.3 mile (now according to Google Maps) walk into town and it was the perfect day for it!

View while enjoying my coffee. Seward, Alaska

I stopped at Resurrect Art Coffee as recommended to us by the guide and it was okay. No Kalandi Bros! But it was a pleasant place to stop for a drink and the fantastic view and call my parents. I continued into town and since I didn’t have lunch and I thought we were going to have more fish for dinner, I wanted to eat a big lunch. I ran into another tour mate at a restaurant and stopped in and said hello and she invited me to eat with her, but I passed, said we all need some alone time today, which I think she was happy I said. Like I said, it was a good group, we all gave each other space when needed. I found a pizza place [great pizza, friendly owner (from LA!) which ended up being awesome. The owner who took my order said I looked familer, but of course, where from? Turns out, he was from LA too and had been living up in Seward for over 15 years! But how funny is that. I got a calzone to go, as it was beautiful outside and I wanted to eat it near the water. It was huge, kind of expensive, but really really good. Perfect for the day. I had a wonder around town and into the national parks visitor center for a while. I sat on the dock and read my book until I heard the rest of my group, being the loud people we were on the other side of the building.

Wood carvings are all over the state. I just love them! Seward, Alaska

We all met up with the cruisers and the guide drove us to the airport for our helicopter ride up to the glacier! After signing our lives away and investing our 401K’s (expensive!!!!!) I claimed the middle group and really wanted to sit in the front, as I had never been on the helicopter before, but the back was really good too. We saw a bear in the forest on our way up, which was so so so cool, exactly how I wanted to see a bear before we landed about 10 minutes later on the ice. The first group was just finishing their run and we got some great pictures from the air of them.

View from the helicopter on the ride up. Seward, Alaska

My first helicopter ride! Seward, Alaska

The Glacier. Seward, Alaska

The first group, from above. Seward, Alaska

Then it was our turn. I claimed the front of the sled and we went about half way around the track before we stopped and swapped places and I went to the back, which was so awesome too. Then one of the mushers took a bunch of pictures of all of us on the sled with the dogs before we got to go to one of the kennels to see puppies. I got to hold one of the older dogs and thankgod, I had a little experience holding dogs, because I got a crazy one! But they were so cute! Then, when the third group arrived, the pilot took us over to the really tiny puppies who were less then a month old and we got to hold them for a really long time. Fresh puppy!

My view from the front of the sled. Seward, Alaska

The sled dogs on the glacier. Seward, Alaska

Me and my group, the dogs on a freakin’ glacier! Seward, Alaska

I think Poppy would be jealous! Seward, Alaska

Holding fresh puppy! Seward, Alaska

We then went back over to the older dogs who were chained up to their houses and some where going crazy with barking and some where just sleeping. I took tons of pictures of the dogs and tried “my angle” to get some of me with the dogs but a lot of them would not sit still! They just want to run, is what I think, which is why they are so crazy when chained up, but who knows. I had a really good time and it was totally a highlight for me. Expensive, but well worth it.

Angel (my bosses dog) twin! Seward, Alaska

After about an hour, we took the helicopter back a different way and landed. I plugged my phone into the wall while we waited for the last group to come back and I said to myself, yes, I know I am going to leave it. And we pile back into the van and of course! We are right in town, halfway back to camp when I yell FUUUUUCK. Of course! I feel so horrible about this, but no one else seems to mind too much. Thankfully, we turn around to go back and we run into more tour mates who were about to walk back from town, so it ended up being a good thing that we u-turned it in town to get my phone. Even better, when I get my phone back, there is an adapter plug attached, which of course isn’t mine but it ended up being another one of my tour mates! How funny! He had plugged in his camera before we went up but forgot the adapter! So going back saved a lot of people and I didn’t feel bad any more.

Wind picking up on the glacier. Seward, Alaska

We got back to camp and unfortunately, had spaghetti and hot dogs for dinner. I was so NOT hungry after the large and late lunch I had, but I still scarfed food down. Rain was predicted the next day and we had a long day in the van ahead of us and certain times we had to meet to catch the ferry on time, so we all got as much together at night as we could before bed.

Silence on the glacier. Seward, Alaska

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