...images from planet Earth
Sun 7 August – Matanuska Glacier
Our big green bus arrived at the Spenard hostel in Anchorage late in the morning. We waited while our drivers prepared the bus while we met our fellow passengers (26 people from 22 countries) before departing for our first destination, Matanuska Glacier. It was the only glacier we would actually get to hike on. Before long we were walking on a surface of ice, hollow in places and the sound of running water could be heard underneath. We passed cool blue pools, strange ice formations, and caves carved out of the ice as we walked though streams of meltwater to get as close as possible to the large part of the glacier which was both brilliant white and translucent blue in the bright sun. It contrasted nicely with the mountains behind and the thinly clouded sky. Round the campfire that night we sat out listening to one of drivers playing guitar and harmonica (simultaneously). Camped by the bus tonight.
Mon 8 August – Worthington Glacier and Valdez
We drove to the site of Worthington Glacier and a short walk gave us some nice close-up views of some of the features of the glacier, as well as the scenic valley downstream. We then drove to our campsite at Valdez. A few of us walked to a point in the river nearby where hundreds of salmon were struggling to get upstream though very shallow water so that they could spawn before dying. Was quite sad to watch.
Tue 9 August – Prince William Sound
Most of us opted to do the cruise through Prince William Sound. We passed the terminus of the trans-Alaska pipeline and on the way saw otters, steller sea lions, puffins, cormorants and bald eagles. As we approached Columbia glacier temperatures dropped to close to freezing and icebergs that had drifted off the glacier were getting thicker and thicker. We went as far as we could before the icebergs blocked us and we were suddenly surrounded by thousands of them with a great view of the glacier still some miles away. The scenery was really stunning, unlike anything I’d seen before. We returned six hours later, and at 10pm we left for our first night drive. We were woken at 2:30am when our driver saw northern lights. It wasn’t the red and greens you see on postcards – it was still too early in the year – but we saw streaks of white curvy lines, stationary at first, but moving rapidly across the whole sky at random intervals. It was quite eerie.
Wed 10 August – Fairbanks, Chena Hot Springs
We stopped briefly in the morning at a town called North Pole. We got off to see some reindeers with gigantic antlers. The to a research centre were they had musk ox and other Alaskan animals. That afternoon we visited the Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks where members of staff gave us talks on things like volcanoes, satellites and meteorology. In the evening we arrived at Chena Hot Springs where were relaxed for a couple of hours. It was more of a swimming pool complex with the outer pool built around the hot springs. Some of us later treated ourselves to a big fat steak. (Dinner on the bus was all vegetarian). Another night drive tonight.
Thu 11 August
We stopped at a place on route to Denali national park. There was a nice hike here, about two hours through tundra and gentle rocky hills, with nice views of snow-capped mountains on one side and grassy slopes on the other. The destination was a lake which was one of the quietest places I’ve ever been to, so it was good that I got there first. That night camped at a cool spot overlooking a valley and mountains in the distance.
Fri 12 August – Denali NP
That morning, drove to the Denali visitor centre to see what hikes were available in the next three days and we planned our activities. We set up camp at an RV park just outside the park. Relaxed for a few hours then caught one of the nearby hotel shuttles to the park to watch the dog sled demo. The park keeps a number of Alaskan huskies which it used to transport the rangers around the park in the winter. We were given a talk on the dogs and what they do, followed by a demonstration of five dogs in action pulling a sled. To the visitor centre for a look around then saw a film on the park’s four seasons, the photography was amazing. At about 7pm, a couple of us decided to do a hike to the Mt Healy overlook. We reached the top an hour and a half later, and stayed for an hour. The views weren’t great; it was quite smoky at the time but the sun was just setting behind the mountains and it was worth staying for. By the time we got back the visitor centre was closed and we had to walk back in the dark. Got to the RV park after midnight having not eaten, and discovering that all my underwear had been stolen from the laundrette.
Sat 13 August – Denali NP
We ad booked a Discovery tour to Wonder Lake, 85 miles away from the visitor centre. The main reason for this is to see wildlife – it was like a safari. We saw plenty of caribou, some moose and quite a few grizzly bears, though most were quite far away. There were plenty of dal sheep, and these were usually at crazy heights on 45 degree and angles and always appeared as white specks. Our driver said he saw a wolf with her young far away on the other side of the valley but no one believed him. We were lucky that the sky was clear and we were treated to great views of Mt McKinley’s snowy peaks. Wonder Lake was really pretty and warranted more than just a 20 minute stop but it was a long way back and we couldn’t stay and wait and take a chance on another bus.
Sun 14 August – Denali NP
For today most of us booked a ranger-guided hike. We took the shuttle bus again drove quite far into the park to our drop-off point. On the way we saw more wildlife, including a bear cub being chased for ages by two wolves. Before the hike began, we were given a long talk on bear safety and what to do if we encountered one. The hike exceeded expectations. It wasn’t apparent from the road but we walked through some really stunning scenery. It epitomised wilderness. When I looked back at one point to see the other hikers, their appearance as mere specks put into perspective the scale of the place. We walked up some steep rocky slopes but didn’t quite make it to the peak because we were short of time. We still had great views all around, and it really felt like something out of Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately the smoke (from nearby forest fires) had deteriorated since yesterday and had reduced visibility, but it was still a great hike. We got back at 8pm and left that night for another night drive.
Mon 15 August - Seward
After our customary stop at Safeway / Fred Meyer for coffee and breakfast, we drove onto Seward, where we were to spend the day. It’s quite a nice little coastal town, but seemed like a ghost town when we were there. It’s quite famous for the mountain marathon, where people run up and down the mountain that overlooks the town. A few people did the walk and from their reports I was glad I spent the day chilling out instead. A few of us walked around the town, did some shopping, and killed some time in a café in a building that looked like an old wooden church. That night we drove to Homer Spit where we set up camp by the beach.
Tue 16 August – Homer Spit
There’s quite a bit to do here, like wildlife tours and trips to nearby Seldovia, but I spent the day relaxing by the beach. It was overcast but it was still really pretty, with the silvery ocean and the hills beyond. Others had gone fishing and brought us back dinner tonight.
Wed 17 August – Homer Spit
We missed the boat departures to Seldovia, so we spent the morning taking it easy and ended up catching a 3pm flight there. It’s cheap and you can get on a plane as quickly and easily as catching a bus. Seldovia is a very picturesque little village, not ruined by hoards of visitors and tourist shops like Homer is. Walked around passed the interesting looking houses and lunched at the end of a breakwater, overlooking the harbour. After early rain the sun began to shine and it turned out to be a nice way to spend the day.
Thu 18 August - Hope
On the drive to Hope, we stopped at the US’s most western point that you could drive to. Then to a Russian Orthodox church where we were given a brief talk. We arrived at Hope in the afternoon. This was at the Cook Inlet, and just across the water was our start and end point, Anchorage. It was a tiny town with about 200 people. The was one bar and a few of us filled it that evening to see some live music, including a performance from our driver, Bill, who somehow managed to sing with a harmonica in his mouth, while playing the guitar.
Fri 19 August – Hope
It was an early start for white water rafting at Six Mile Creek. We had to prove our swimming ability before being let on the rafts. The water was pretty cold here and we all wore dry suits over our clothes. The rapids were class 3, 4 and 5. Although not terrifying, it was great fun and was probably the most enjoyable white water rafting trips I’ve done. The scenery was excellent; pine trees, canyons and silvery blue water, but it was also probably something to do with just doing it in a place like Alaska. We got back to camp to meet the others who were showing of their treasures having been gold panning.
Sat 20 August – Girdwood, Chugach National Forest
In the morning we drove to Girdwood. Cow Creek was a mining down set in some beautiful hilly forest scenery. There was more gold panning here. Most of us relaxed for a while before starting a hike through Chugach National Forest. It was a nice forest and looked liked something out of a fairytale. It was quite a gentle hike, about two hours all the way through. At one point we all had to get across a canyon using a hand tram, two people at a time. Nearby the river narrowed through some high walled rocks and we spend some time watching and listening to the power of the gushing glacial water. It was a really good hike and the perfect way to end the trip. We arrived in Anchorage at 5:30 and went out for a meal together to celebrate our amazing two week adventure.