Archive for November, 2012

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!