Our Alaska adventure parting thoughts and stats

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Above is Our Alaska Adventure Route, the red pins on our way in and the purple ones on our way out.

Exploring Alaska on our first year of full-timing was considered ambitious and brave by some of our friends.  But we’re so glad we did it!  The experience taught us so much in a very short time.  We learned to navigate tight spaces, deal with rough roads, make due with minimal utilities and live in remote campgrounds with like-minded adventurers.  We have synchronized to perfection our tasks of moving in and out of tight sites and hooking and unhooking the tow.  We feel more than ready to live on the road full time from now on.

The road to Alaska via British Columbia and the Yukon Territory in Canada can not be taken lightly.  No matter how many long hours and hundreds of miles of driving, you will never get tired of the endless views of incredible scenery.  Coupled with the scenic drive are unavoidable road hazards; unending road repairs with lovely female road workers waving at you, frost heaves, dips, gravel breaks and so on.  These hazards were realities that we were prepared for and dealt with as part of the experience.

As much as we tried to cover most of Alaska, it is just not possible.  Alaska is immense and super-sized;  we covered only a fourth of it.  Mountains are higher (Mt. Mckinley aka Denali) and parks larger (Wrangell-Elias National Park).  Check these stats: Alaska is 2.3 times larger than Texas and the size of Texas, California and Montana combined.  It’s home to the biggest this, the highest that and the most of these – with less than a million residents (about 700,000) enjoying all of it.

And the fishing – oh yeah!  To all my fishermen/women friends, this is the place to be excited about the fish.  I don’t fish, but I hooked a Halibut here.  As long as you know how to navigate the complicated fishing regulations,  you’re in for the tastiest and freshest Salmon and Halibut you’ve ever had.  Fishing is well managed here, and its monitored to support subsistence living for Alaskan residents.

Glaciers, glaciers everywhere!  There are approximately 100,000 glaciers here, with only about 600 named.  We never got tired of gawking at them, hiking to them (Portage and Exit Glaciers), driving to them (Mendenhall Glacier), flying over them (Kennicott, Root GlaciersGrewingk Glacier), landing on them (Mt. Mckinley) and sailing to them (KnikAialik, Holgate, Meares glaciers).  Many time we just drove by them while enjoying their beauty (Matanuska Glacier).  They were always unbelievably pristine and beautiful.

Wildlife, yes.  Alaska is where the wild things are!  Wildflowers adorned highways, mountains and homes, wild animals roamed around and across roads.  Birds chirped and/or just hung around, tart but tasty wild berries grew everywhere.  We never got tired of enjoying all of these things in their natural habitats.

Hiking and biking trails galore.  They were all there for the taking, with scenic views and often some wild animals along the route.

Alaskans live in a different frame of mind.  They are relaxed, hardworking, resourceful and rugged.  They are surrounded by such beauty, yet they thrive in the harsh nature of their environment.  We hung out with two couples – Wilma/Randy and Gemma/Steve – who had lived there for two decades.  Amazing people! Are we planning to go back to Alaska?  We can’t wait!

                                                                                                                             

Our trip stats:

Arrival in Canada, start of trip  =  5/30/12

Departure from Canada, end of trip  =  9/17/12

Miles traveled (including 410 on inland passage ferry)  =  5,722

Miles driven in Alaska  =  1949

Miles driven in Canada  =  3773

Days of trip  =  110

Days in Alaska  =  73

Days in Canada  =  37

Gallons of diesel burned  =  648

Border crossings between U.S. and Canada  =  8

Campgrounds/RV parks visited  =  37

Animals squashed while driving  = 1 squirrel and 2 birds of unknown species (obviously not fast enough flyers).  We had some close road encounters with moose, deer and a couple of bears, but fortunately they didn’t get together with Betsy.

                                                                                                                       

For those planning a driving adventure into Alaska, here are some must-haves:

  1. Milepost – it beats a GPS hands-down.  Order one in March for the latest version.
  2. Passports- you are going in and out of Canada, whether by ferry or driving.

  3. Be prepared for sticker shock; e.g. Halibut and Chips $16-$21 (but worth it), lemons $1.79 each.

  4. For RV’rs, the campground /RV parks are just that, nothing fancy – live with it.

  5. A spirit of adventure and plenty of patience.  You don’t want to rush this trip!

 

A word of advice and caution to be given those intending to visit Alaska…If you are old, go by all means, but if you are young, wait. The scenery of Alaska is much grander than anything else of its kind in the world, and it is not wise to dull one’s capacity for enjoyment by seeing the finest first. –Henry Gannet, Harriman Alaska Expedition 1899.

 

 



Northern Exposure – Talkeetna

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Talkeetna

While  roaming around Denali National Park, we hoped that we would not be one of the 30% of visitors who won’t see Denali. It turns out all we had to do was move on to the next destination, and viola! Her magnificent beauty appeared behind the clouds.

Mt Mckinley or Denali

Mt Mckinley or Denali a rare appearance

Denali showed its awesome beauty with just a few cloud cover. We were on the Parks highway when it revealed to us and we saw lots of it when we arrived in Talkeetna.

Mt Mckinley or Denali

Mt Mckinley or Denali

We arrived in Talkeetna, the town which Cicely was modeled after. Cicely is the  the town in the tv series “Northern Exposure” and Janine Turner was my favorite actress on this series.  Talkeetna is the mountain town of Mt Mckinley where all its climbers begin as a jumping off point.This little town is bustling with climbers and tourists alike wanting to climb Mt Mckinley or just do active stuff such as boat rides, hiking, fishing,  biking or glacier landing. With our glacier landing out of the way we ventured around town and checked it out.

Nagleys, one of the original/oldest store in Talkeetna

All About the Moose store

Local micro-brewery, Denali Brewery

At the tasting bar inside the Denali Brewery

Gift Shop

Kiss the Moose

On our third day here the sun came out beautifully. Since the highlight of our stay here has been satisfied we followed the town’s biking trail. On this bike ride we met a very nice couple from North Carolina, Joe and Judy. We first met them during our long Arctic Circle tour. Then we encountered them again along the Alpine trail in Denali park, then we crossed paths again on the main street of Talkeetna. Then on this bright sunny morning as we were admiring Denali without any cloud cover, we heard someone calling Steve’s name. And there were the Grubbs’ again, Joe and Judy. We hung out for a while and exchanged stories about the awesome views that we have been experiencing.

We met initially at the Arctic circle tour, Joe and Judy

Hanging out with Joe and Judy with Mt. McKinley as our backdrop.

Then we moved on with our biking and hit the road. We stopped by a coffee shop and a Salmon Smoke House.

At the Salmon Smoke House, they were removing bones and salmon skin.  This is the tedious part of creating high-quality smoked salmon.

Bakery where we stopped for coffee and a scone

In the coffee shop

The biking trail provided us with excellent clear views of Denali, beautiful daisies and of the river.

Biking along beautiful daises

Hey look, over there! Is that a………oh, never mind – that’s not a moose!

Pose with Mckinley in the background

Denali

River view of Mt. McKinley

Denali

Another beautiful day to admire Denali.

Oh, that hill is too steep, time to walk the bike.

We thought we had enough of the mountain views but when we got back to the viewpoint later in the afternoon, we saw another perspective of the mountain with the sun shining on it creating shadows. Obviously when you are here you can never get enough of Mt Mckinley or Denali when the clouds are not hiding it.

Mt Mckinley

Another perspective of the mountain except that she is behind the clouds

We stayed at Talkeetna RV Camper  Park, a small but nice campground walking distance to town and near a train station.  One interesting note  is that they advertise as Full Service RV park yet there was no sewer on any site, just power and water. Our site was wide and we were able to park our CRV next to Betsy.

Next stop: Anchorage

Glacier Landing on Mt. McKinley – what a rush!

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Talkeetna

On July 10th we were able to complete the most exciting excursion of our trip so far – flying to Mt. McKinley and landing on a glacier at the base camp.  Wow, this was definitely an “e-ticket” ride for us, and we were excited to actually land on that massive mountain that we will probably never climb.

Mt Mckinley

Panoramic view of Climber’s base camp

Mt Mckinley

Pilots chatting

Mt Mckinley

The base camp looked like a small airport, there were 5 planes at one point!

Mt Mckinley

A happy smile from a little woman on a big mountain!

We took off from Talkeetna airport, which was cheaper than flying out of the airport in Denali park.  The airplane was a DeHavilland DHC-3 Turbine Otter (for our pilot buddies reading this).  Although the weather wasn’t perfect, the pictures show that it was good enough to make for an incredible flight.

We landed at the 7,300 ft. elevation on the glacier, which is where the climbers begin their attempts to reach the summit.  The climb takes at least three weeks to complete, and we learned that it’s an amazing journey that’s probably too intense for us to try.  But this trip was a close second!

Mt Mckinley

Climber’s stuff left behind for retrieval when they return from their attempt on the summit

Wickersham wall

Wickersham Wall—at 14,000 ft. it is one of the steepest vertical rises on earth

The Grand Denali Tour offered by Talkeetna Air Taxi is a flight to and around Mt. McKinley, with a glacier landing for an extra fee.  The trip lasts about 2.5 hours and will likely be the most beautiful mountain flying you’ve ever experienced.  Our photos cannot do it justice. There are also other flights around and to the summit of Mt. McKinley, if you are not insistent on the glacier landing as we were.

Kahiltna Glacier

Kahiltna Glacier, the superhighway of Mt Denali.

Mt Hunter

Mt Hunter.

MT Mckinley

Close up of glacier where earth and ice meet

Cache Creek.

a little mining site at Cache Creek. Note the plane there as the only transportation out, and the school buses where the workers live. Hard life…

Homes in the wilderness

Homes in the wilderness, note no road leading in or out.

This was an incredible experience, not to be missed if you are an adventurous person visiting the area.  The sense of scale you feel in this place is indefinable, inexplicable and incomparable to any other place.  It’s not so much about “the glacier” as it is about the place, the beauty and the sense of scale you begin to comprehend when you’re here.

Denali

A ski affixed to the tail wheel on the plane

Goretex booties

Goretex booties helped keep our shoes dry

Glacier Landing, Mt Mckinley

Anyone traveling into Denali National Park or to the town of Talkeetna should take this flight if at all possible.  What an awesome experience!