Wild Alaska

To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world ~ John Muir 

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I can’t quite explain Alaska.  While we were there, someone asked Ben and me how it compares to Colorado. And when I think of that question now I don’t quite have a good answer.  Alaska is wild. It’s rural.  It’s like no where I have ever been. Yet, it’s still America.  And it feels like America. But, it’s not commercialized like here in the lower 48.  It feels like how I wish America were here in Colorado.  It feels more like Colorado was 8 years ago when I moved here, before more and more transplants arrived.  I’m growing sour on Colorado.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE IT HERE.  But over the past 8 years it’s changed drastically and as each year passes it becomes more similar to California.  And for that, I’m growing sour.

But, Alaska. 

Ben loves Alaska and wanted to show me his favorite place. So last month we traveled from Seattle to Alaska (our first time flying first class and OH MY GOODNESS, IT WAS AMAZING) and spent 8 days traveling the beautiful state. And oh, how beautiful.

On Sunday:  I flew to Seattle to meet Ben who’d been there for a week or so climbing Mt. Rainier.  We spent the day exploring Seattle with Ben and his two friends.

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That night, we flew from Seattle to Anchorage.  At close to midnight, when we landed in Alaska, it was will light out (Now THAT is weird). We stayed in a cabin right in downtown Anchorage.

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On Monday:  We drove a few hours to the entrance of Denali National Park. We stopped in Talkeetna on the way – cutest climbing town!  That night, we camped outside of Denali National Park.

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Our camp spot for Night 2

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Walking back to our campsite on Tuesday morning we stumbled upon this big gal.

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Of course, we kept our distance and tried not to disturb her. Moose can be very dangerous.

 

On Tuesday: We took the Camper Bus well into the park.  Denali does not allow private car access into the park past the first few miles.  Shuttle buses are required.  The camper bus is an old school bus available for the hikers & backpackers to take into the park. A section at the back of the bus is removed for backpacks. This is different from the tourist shuttle bus that also travels through the park.  It took us about 5 or so hours to get to (almost) the end of the road to Wonder Lake Campground where we’d spend the next couple of nights.

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Can you spot the three grizzly’s out the window?

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Poor quality on the iPhone, but we saw this wolf up close to our bus

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Up close and personal with grizzlys

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Mama and her two cubs

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The Denali Park Road

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Next time we’re in Denali we’ll take the bus to this spot and backpack. It’s a backpackers paradise. Beautiful Alaska range views & great hiking opportunities.

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We started at Riley Camp & ended at Wonder Lake Campground

On Wednesday:  We woke up to sunshine, but so much haze, due to a fire we didn’t know existed at the time in the Yukon. It was hot, humid & sunny but we didn’t have any views of the massive mountain range in front of our camp site because of all of the haze. We got our bear spray, bear bell & bug spray and headed out on a hike.  If I learned one thing about Alaska on this day it’s that Alaska is a temperate rain forest.  Which means: TUNDRA which is like stepping on a sponge, OVER GROWN PLANT LIFE, BUGS & TREES. Oh – and the rivers are HUGE. After a 5 mile hike to the McKinley River, we headed back to camp to eat and relax and explore Wonder Lake.  After that, we walked to Reflection Pond. Total was 10.5 miles for the day I believe.

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On Wednesday night we got our weather window when the haze began to clear around 9pm and Ben realized the mountain range was FINALLY coming into view!! Denali, formerly known as Mt. McKinley but always referred to as Denali in Alaska, came into view.  Approximately ONLY 1/3 visitors to Denali NP actually get to see Denali who stands at 20, 310 feet making her the tallest mountain in North America and technically the third most prominent mountain in the entire world (but arguably the most prominent in the world).  She creates her own weather and she’s often covered in clouds.

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Ben when he realized the mountain was coming into view

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The haze slowly fading so we could see her.

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Meanwhile…. mosquitos were also coming out as the evening cooled. It was about 9:45pm at this time and the sun had not set

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She’s a giant

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Our view from our camp spot

What a wonderful evening we had watching Denali from about 9pm-11pm.  And then, the haze returned and she disappeared.  But we got our opportunity and were so thankful!

Thursday: We woke up really early and headed out on the first 0630am shuttle bus.  Time for the Alaskan coast! Our camper bus ride was quite entertaining! We saw more grizzlys & some caribou!

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After getting back to the entrance to Denali National Park we retrieved our car and headed to get some coffee & some food!  Eating backpacker meals and snacks for three days is a bit rough.  We were ready for some real food (well, our options were somewhat limited, but it was better than eating dehydrated food out of a bag!) Hot dogs, hamburgers, fries and coffee.  And then, we drove to check into our Air BnB TINY CABIN in Moose Pass, Alaska which was nestled between Whittier and Seward.

Thursday night we went to dinner at Seward Brewing Company in Seward and then retreated to our little cabin.  Our tiny cabin was perfect and it was nice sleeping in a bed rather than on our sleeping pads in the tent.  Also, HELLO FIRST SHOWER SINCE MONDAY MORNING!

Friday:  This was my favorite day.  On Friday morning we packed up and headed out of our tiny cabin.  We went to Moose Pass to get breakfast. I had a reindeer sausage breakfast burrito. Yes, I actually ate it. Reindeer sausage is pretty good 🙂  Then, we headed to Whittier.

To get into Whittier you have to drive through the train tunnel. Basically, this means there is a tunnel that was built many years ago for a train to travel into Whittier. At some point, they decided to open up the train tunnel to vehicles. There is a meter and a pay station.  Cars pay the fee and then wait at a stop light for the train to pass through the tunnel.  Once the train passes through the tunnel, the light turns green and the cars can drive, on the train tracks, through the tunnel.  It’s a 2.5 mile tunnel designed to withstand 150mph winds and -40 degree F temperatures.  Let me tell you – it feels very weird being in a narrow train tunnel, on train tracks, in a vehicle.  But, we did it & came out on the other side of the tunnel to a small tiny coastal town called Whittier.

Once in Whittier we picked up snacks for our hike & then headed to the trailhead for the Portage Glacier Hike.  

Alaska is known for many things…. including beautiful glaciers & it was really important for me to see one!

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We were fortunate to get a perfect glimpse into the rain forest that Alaska has.  Green, lush, wet and beautiful.

That night we headed to Alyeska, ate a good dinner, and then set up camp in between Alyeska and Whittier.  We had the pleasure of sharing a campsite with a wonderful family from Germany who we made friends with.  I will definitely contact them when I visit Germany later this year. It was our last night camping in Alaska… which was very bitter sweet.  The next day was our last full day in Alaska.

On our last day in Alaska we explored the Seward highway, spent the afternoon in Anchorage, went to Simon & Seafort’s for dinner (which was busy… but veryyyy good!) & then Ben packed up his stuff for spending the next two weeks in the bush with his dad, brother and nephew.  I flew home Sunday morning & Ben flew to Bethel and then to the bush on a small plane to begin his fishing trip on the river.

 

Our trip was perfect.  And I can’t wait to go back to Alaska! There is so much to see and do. We saw a tiny fraction of the state and it was BEAUTIFUL!  My goal is now to obtain my RN license in the state and then take a travel assignment there for a summer. If you like wilderness…. it’s a paradise 🙂

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