Our Top 10 Favorite Hikes – 1st Anniversary Post

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A year ago today (March 1st, 2012), Steve and I made the final move into our RV and began our adventures on the road.  Wow, how time flies!  One of our goals is to continue to be active and exercise whenever we can.  As you might guess, in this lifestyle it can be easy to just sit, blog, eat, blog, read, blog and fail to get our blood flowing and pumping.  To commemorate our first year of full-timing, we thought it would be fun to share our favorite hiking and biking trails.  Who knows, you might find yourself in the neighborhood of one of these locales and decide to give it a try. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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!



 

Its all about hiking, when in Denali

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If you have more than one day of visit to the park, hiking  is one way to enjoy and explore it.

Our bus/tour driver commented that summer in Alaska is an illusion and winter is the reality. Having heard that made us smile for that is exactly what we had been experiencing since we arrived here. It is summer  yet we have not worn our shorts and tank tops!  So when the sun came out we traversed some of the many trailheads that are near the Visitor Center and the ones inside  the park. With the sun blazing we chose the trail that is labeled strenuous, the Mt Healy overlook trail which was very rewarding once we arrived at the top.  This was a 4.5 miles roundtrip hike that climbs 1,700 feet and up to 25 percent grade. It began easy but steadily  kept  climbing up and the last third was the toughest where we used our  hands for it was rocky and steep. But the reward at the top was well worth the challenge. What we saw at the top was a dramatic view of the valley with the Canyon Village, Nenana river, the visitor center and panoramic views of the  mountain ranges. On our way down we encountered a Moose on the wayside busy eating his lunch.

Mt Healy

We are aiming for the top of Mt Healy!

Mt Healy

The reward a the top

Mt Healy

Come on, lets go!

Moose

Moose grazing along the trail

Beautiful butterfly

MT Healy

Are we there yet ?

MT Healy

Lets keep going

Moose Bark

Check the bark, Indication that a Moose is around

The following day we were scheduled to go back inside the park for another hike. The day started sunny but as we neared the Eielson Visitor center  which is at mile 66, four hours later,  the clouds gathered and it started to  drizzle but we pressed on. We went up to the Alpine trail, a 1010 ft climb gain on a ridge trail and quite steep. There were no bushes or tress but  an unobstructed view of the mountain ranges including Denali if there are no cloud cover. This trail is considered a hike on the dry tundra for it is on the higher alpine areas, interspersed with scree (small loose rocks). Oh my, the climb began at the trailhead and just kept on ascending. To catch my breath I made several stops and admired the many spectacular  wildflowers along the way. They were beautiful ! The view at the top was again awesome and just incredible. On our way down we got a glimpse of Denali for a few moments and then it was covered with clouds again.

Denali National Park

Alpine Trailhead

Denali National Park

On our way down

Wildflowers on the trail

Denali National Park

Pose at the top

Denali National Park

Denali National Park

Scree Rocks, can you spot the hikers?

As expected, Steve wants to do more exploring and would like to walk on a gravel bar, the gravel remains of a moving glacier. We did follow the Glacier trail for a while and then there was no more trail. It just suddenly ended and there was no trail towards the glacier. So Steve was feeling adventurous and searching for his own trail. After a few minutes of exploration and discovery, he found himself in the midst of wilderness, tall trees and nowhere to go. He saw a moose trail and upon seeing it he decided that its time for him to come up and get back to the top. On this trek, he found two pair of sunglasses. Yeah that would be a replacement of the sunglasses I lost while also being adventurous on a no-trail hike.

Denali National Park

Can you spot Steve? The gravel bar up ahead is where he wants to go, but there was no trail and he has nowhere to go.

Denali National Park

Lost in the wilderness

Since we were back inside the park, we rode the green bus again and surely enough we stopped at all wild animal sightings. We found mama bear and cubs resting.

Sleeping Bears

Sleeping Bears

During our seven day stay in Denali we wanted to go biking and water rafting as well. Both activities have to be postponed. The weather did not cooperate, wind with a gust of 35 miles per hour descended and rain came  pouring. Oh well, maybe in some other town we can enjoy these activities.

Next stop, Talkeetna.

Denali, wild and shy – what a place!

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Mt Denali

During the next few days we will be at Healy, which is about 11 miles north of the entrance to Denali National Park. We are spending several days here as there is so much to explore, see and experience. One thing of note though is that every morning is a surprise in terms of weather.  We wake up in sunshine one day, rain the next day or windy the next day. We have stopped looking at the weather forecast for it is never correct beyond the current day, if that.

Grande Lodge

View from the Grande Lodge, which is across from the park on a very high hill.

Before going into the park we drove around town and ventured further from the entrance. We noted that the services an the park (e.g.hotels, gas, food and tours) are only open from May through September and go back to “wilderness mode” during the winter.

Denali Village

This “town” is only open 5 months a year. Then everything is boarded up and the stop lights are even shut off!

There is  a lot of hustle and bustle in a nearby town where all the tourists go and cruise people stay and hang out.  This place is humming and pricey as I had the most expensive fish and chips ever, $21 ! Three pieces of halibut and chips, but was very delicious. We also checked out the local brewery in town, 49th State Brewery where Steve liked the stout so much that he wanted to buy a half-gallon growler of it.  Not available until after we leave, though   😦

My $21 Fish and chips, made of halibut and yummy!

My $21 Fish and chips, made of halibut and yummy!

A sampling of local microbrewery beers is in order after our successful flight.

A sampling of local microbrewery beers is in order after our successful flight.

Denali National Park is run efficiently and managed very well to preserve its wildness. It is six million acres of wild land and unaltered landscape.  Although there are thousands of visitors entering every summer, entry is controlled and scheduled by bus system. They are doing this to not only reduce traffic on this one lane, winding gravel road, but also for the preservation and least disturbance to the wild animals.  Green Bus Tour

Green Bus, only shuttle and tour busses are allowed inside the park beyond Mile 15.It is not like Yellowstone National Park where visitors upon seeing an animal, pull over and get noisy and excited to take pictures. Here everyone is instructed to be quiet and if you talk the boss driver won’t hesitate to hush you.  By controlling the visitor’s access and behavior toward wildlife, they have avoided any human deaths by bears in the park.  And unlike Yosemite, the bus maybe full but not crowded as every seat is scheduled and paid for.  If it worked well on the 4th of July, it must work well other times. On a side note there were no fireworks here on the fourth of July as it never gets dark here.

How tourists react when there is a wild animal sighting.

How tourists react when there is a wild animal sighting.

We scheduled the longest green bus trip,  a twelve hour,  92 mile drive  drive round-trip all the way into the park.  This is quite a long trip – we stopped for every wildlife sighting.  On this tour we had 17 grizzly bear sightings, we saw a herd of caribou, some Dall sheep that looked like white dots on the mountain, a shy Moose, ducks, eagles, and birds.

Moose

Moose sighting.

Grizzly Bear

Mama grizzly bear and cubs.

The white dots on the mountain are Dall sheep.

The white dots on the mountain are Dall sheep.

Caribou

Caribou

Grizzly bear and cubs.

And as I mentioned earlier, everyone got quiet when we saw wild  animals up close with cameras softly clicking.  Steve was already sick of seeing moose after almost running one over, and one that came to dinner at our RV park . But we had to respect the rest of the guests who seemed to be awestruck at every sighting.

Denali National Park

Narrow and steep curve in the park.

The  bus tour offered not only wildlife but also unparalleled views of an ever changing landscape, and stunning panoramic views of the mountains.  And speaking of mountains we also came here to see  the centerpiece of the park, the tallest mountain in Northern America – Mt McKinley.  The locals call it Denali  meaning “the high one.”  It stands with a summit elevation of 20,320 ft above sea level.  Well, we weren’t able to see the entire mountain on this tour, but we did see a glimpse of the north and south peaks on our way in and out.

Mt Denali

At the end of our 12-hour tour, at 7pm Denali decided to clear a few clouds so we could get a glimpse.

We’ll have another chance to see it on Saturday when we go back into the park for some hiking, then another REALLY good chance on the 10th when we are scheduled to land on a McKinley glacier during a flight from Talkeetna.  Can’t wait for that!

Denali National Park

Stunning view inside park

Polychrome Glaciers

Polychrome Glaciers

We did some hiking outside the park, and being adventurous we aimed for a trail that we saw from the highway called Bison Gulch.  We didn’t see the beginning of the trailhead so we decided to try a wall of shale rock at the nearest steep hill.  Oh my, I had the scariest moment of my life.  I was literally crawling for about 15 feet on a 35% grade of loose gravel.  I dared not look down for I know I would probably panic.  I kept my cool and and prayed that I would get out of this mess.  Steve was ahead of me and seemed quite amused as he pulled me to the top.  He was very proud of me for “making the grade”.  Whew, that was close.  Unfortunately, my $10 sunglasses fell off during the struggle and remain somewhere on that hill.  The other hikes we did were inside the park with good trails.  They were strenuous, but not as scary as the one we did on Thursday.

Inside Denali National Park

Distant view of the narrow gravel road inside the park.

Denali

Never ending picturesque views of the valleys and mountains.

Denali National Park

There was never overcrowding in any stops.

Toklat River

Toklat River restroom stop at Mile 53.

The McKinley RV Park  where we are staying is not one of our favorite. The office workers are disorganized and incompetent, the sites are not level and big potholes on the driveway. The 30 amps did not work and was not fixed during our stay, so instead they gave us a credit back of $15 per day.

 

Nenana River Viewpoint

Pose at the Nenana River viewpoint.