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.

 

 



Land of ice and rock – Portage Valley

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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.

Portage Valley

Portage Valley

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.

Voices of Ice

When the curtains opened….what a fantastic view!

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!

Middle Glacier

Middle Glacier greets you at the entrance to Williwaw Campground

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!

Williwaw Campground

Site #3

Birds mating next to our site

Birds mating next to our site

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.

Flag Tree, Williwaw

Flag Trees- branches only grow on the side out of 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!

Byron Glacier

Byron Glacier

Byron Glacier

Burns Glacier

Burns Glacier

Explorer Glacier

Explorer Glacier

Shakespeare Glacier

Shakespeare Glacier

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!

Trail of Blue Ice, Portage AK

Trail of Blue Ice

Views on the Trail of Blue Ice

Views on the Trail of Blue Ice

Portage Valley

Rain Clouds are gathering

Strike a pose at the trail

Whittier – A nice surprise at the end of the tunnel

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Portage Glacier

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, Alaska

Lane designations and staging area

Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel

Train has priority

Entrance to Tunnel at Whittier

Then other vehicles

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.

Harbor at Whittier Alaska

Harbor

The town of Whittier

The small town of Whittier from a hiking trail

Fishing at Whittier

Boats of all sizes come to town to fish

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.

Whittier AK

Pedestrian Tunnel

Billings Glacier

Billings Glacier viewed from Shotgun Cove Trail

Pink Salmon running

Pink Salmon running

Dead after spawning

Dead after spawning

Shotgun Cove

Awesome view at Shotgun Cove

Whittier Alaska

Taking a quick break

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.

Begich Towers

Begich Towers, a condominium with great views of glaciers, waterfalls and the Passage Canal.

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.

Halibut fish and chips

We thought we’d had enough of Halibut fish and chips but this was highly recommended by the locals.  Folks in Palmer pay the $12.00 to drive through the tunnel just for this lunch!

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!”

Portage Pass

Checking the details of the trail

Portage Pass

Enjoying surrounding mountains

Passage Canal

Passage Canal and gravel airstrip viewed from the top

Portage Glacier

Almost there…

Portage Glacier

Taking a moment to enjoy Portage Glacier

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.