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
We back-tracked on the Seward Highway heading north. The drive on Seward Highway, which is designated as National Scenic Byway, would have been spectacular for the scenery it offers along the way. The highway winds along the coast and through two separate mountain passes, Chugach and Kenai Mountains. But we could not enjoy it as much for on both ways in and out of Kenai Peninsula it was pouring rain. Oh well, the beautiful and colorful flowers adorning the highway were still visible and we enjoyed it.
Our destination was Portage Valley, a 14-mile isthmus that connects the Kenai Peninsula to mainland Alaska. It was carved by numerous glaciers that still straddle mountain peaks visible from the valley floor. Portage Glacier once extended the entire length of the valley and has receded to the point where it is no longer visible from the valley, but there are cool icebergs floating in the lake which is visible from the visitor center.
And for the first time we checked in into a US Forest Service managed campground, Williwaw. Upon entrance to the campground, Middle Glacier greets you, Wow! This campground though primitive has breathtaking views of mountains and glaciers and for the first time our site was asphalt, not gravel. It is primitive for it has no dump station, no hook ups, no shower facilities and just a hand pump for water. But this place rocks!
It is just beautiful and a quiet respite from our water views. We recommend this campground if you like dry camping, which we did for 3 whole days – a record for us. Our neighbors were trees, mountains, glaciers, and birds, and maybe wild animals that we did not see or meet!
The campground is named Williwaw from the 130 mph winds that gust through the valley and we noticed trees and shrubs that are bare of branches on the side facing the wind.
The glacial remnants that can be seen today are Explorer, Middle, Byron, Burns, and Shakespeare glaciers. In short we are surrounded by glaciers!
Our short stay here was enjoyed by viewing the glaciers, mountains and rivers. We walked on the Trail of Blue Ice trail, a 4.7 mile route which we learned is the most expensive trail in Alaska, costing $4.4M to complete. We felt privileged to walk on this trail for it is really a gem. We would have loved to bike it but the weather was once again conspiring against us. Just our luck to pick a record-setting cold and wet summer to go to Alaska!
After setting up at the really nice Williwaw Campground in Portage that we learned about from our friends Joe and Judy, we decided to drive our car to Whittier, which can only be reached via The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. The tunnel is the longest combo vehicle-railroad tunnel in North America. It is open to vehicle traffic to travel directly over the railroad track once per hour from each direction, subject to interruptions by train passages. The tunnel is 2.5 miles long and takes about 7 minutes to get through. The cost was $12.00 round-trip for the car, but a large RV would cost over $125.
Whittier is a very cool small fishing town that you might want to check. It is the gateway to Prince William Sound. The drive through the tunnel is a fun experience, and once you arrive and get parked there are several things you can do and see.
We walked and hiked almost all day, since it was nice out and we wanted some exercise. There is a great view of yet another glacier from the Shotgun Cove Hiking Trail, which is on the west end of town. You have to go through a pedestrian tunnel, which passes under all of the train tracks, to get downtown and on to this hiking trail. We stopped at a cove and saw some salmon trying to run upstream to spawn, as well as dead Salmon.
This is an easy walk on a new road that takes you past the abandoned Buckner Building, which was built in the 1950’s and was once the largest building in Alaska.
We had lunch at the Swiftwater Seafood Cafe at the harbor, and can’t recommend it enough! The food is very fresh, and the beer is served cold in frosty glasses. After walking several miles it got a “gold star” from us. It’s a tiny place, but you get just the right feeling about the atmosphere and service there.
After lunch, we walked all the way back to the tunnel to hike the Portage Glacier Pass Trail. The hike is a moderate one – a steady ascent for a mile, finishing at a promontory (elevation 750ft) that offers views of Portage Glacier and Passage Canal to the east. It took us about 45 minutes to hike up the trail, after the 30 minute walk from town. We were rewarded with a fantastic view of the Portage Glacier and surrounding mountains. This hike was a “WOW!”
When the sun is out, it brings a whole new perspective of the surroundings. It was a beautiful day at Whittier and everyone we saw were all enjoying the break in good weather.