20.5 miles today. Harpers Ferry, WV to the backpackers camp near Middletown, MD. I’m destroyed. Now I lay me down to sleep.
At least I brought a gay gangster for protection.
Last weekend Charlie the Dog and I went to Frostburg, Maryland for an overnight. We camped in a park and hiked both days. In the morning we woke up to completely frost covered ground, in Frostburg, how ironic (yuk). It was mostly a successful adventure. We had a great time with some fun people. I dropped my fancy camera and pack into moving water on Sunday. I panicked, but quickly realized I can’t travel in time, so there is nothing I can do. Thankfully I think only 1 thing is ruined, and it is one of the less expensive things. This weekend a few of us are going to adventure along the Appalachian Trail through the state of Maryland. I doubt I will make it alive. Wish me luck. How about these few great pictures from last weekend?!?
Very few pictures HERE. Bush Pilot Paul Claus dropped us off at the McCarthy airstrip where we were met by our charter pilot for the flight into Denali. Wouldn’t you know it, our new best friend in the whole world pilot Bill McKinney again. He had requested our return flight. I guess we hit it off pretty well. He liked having someone to talk about The Dead with. This was a much more eventful flight in the way of bumps and wind. It was just over 2 hours and some of it was very bumpy. Wifey had just come off a week of no anxiety flying, so this was an unfortunate turn of events for her. Of course we made it safely, Bill is an expert. Bill the pilot told me about some music he and some friends were going to be playing later that night just up the hill from where we would be staying, the Denali Backcountry Lodge. Once on the ground and he met up with his friends I proceeded to get an invite. I never felt more accepted in my life. I felt like I was slowly being integrated into the Alaskan Back County Society. In hind site I wish I had went. We got shuttled to the lodge by pilot Bill’s friend Matt. Once there it was almost 8pm, dinner time. It was yummy and then off to bed after a long day.
I guess we hit the Alaskan weather lottery while in Wrangell St. Elias National Park. We had a week in Wrangell of almost perfect weather, and now the forecast for the next few days is pretty shitty. Rain and wind. We slept in with a plan of going to breakfast and then I would go on an unguided hike alone. I set out but only walked for about an hour. Took a nicely leisurely stroll up a stream. Hiking here is not like what I am used to. There are not really any super defined trails, mostly bushwhacking. But I ventured out for a little while with my borrowed can of bear spray. After wandering for a little while I decided to loop back and take a leisurely morning and see what happens next.
What came next was a bus trip to Wonder Lake. It is a beautiful walking area with a view of Denali peak. Unfortunately the weather today only allowed us to see the bottom of the mountain. Seeing the full mountain is apparently a rarity. It only shows something like 40 days per year? Once the bus dropped us off at Wonder Lake we were going to ride mountain bikes back. It was a great ride back, about and hour. A great way to see a very small part of this park. Over dinner tonight we sat with 2 older couples from St. Louis. They were talking about bucket lists. One couple had now officially been in all 50 states. The other older lady wanted to complete the 50 states and smoke a joint for her bucket list. We quickly chimed in trying to help her by giving her suggestions of things to do in Delaware and encouraging her to visit Colorado to smoke a joint. Hopefully it all works out for her. We did not do too much here in Denali but I am really glad we were able to make it. Ben, Paul Clause’s son in law, told us that we would have a nice laugh at the cute little park that is Denali. After being in Wrangell I don’t think anything will ever be the same for me. Tomorrow is our trek back to anchorage for a flight home and back to real life. I’ve spent the last 2 weeks completely unplugged from everything and the outside world. I have never been happier. I could see living like this again. Tomorrow is a 6-hour bus ride out of Denali Park followed by a 7-hour train ride into Anchorage to catch a 1am flight back home. It is either that or stay in Alaska forever. I am still undecided. Very few pictures HERE.
Wednesday day 3 at Ultima Thule. Way too many pictures HERE, but it is hard to narrow down and weed out the awesome views from the other amazing views. If it were even possible, I would say that today was a highlight day for me. It is just dirt, rocks, and water. It’s not pretty, but damn it’s beautiful! Today was spent flying around again with Paul Claus, the captain of this compound. We have decided that he is definitely the world’s most interesting man. He would easily win a contest for the baddest man on earth. Disclaimer, I say that not being one of his children or employees 😉 Most of the day was spent walking on ice of some kind. To start we flew through a narrow canyon while Paul told us a story about an old cabin they found years ago. It has since collapsed, but you can still see where it is. When they first saw it they landed and found a sign on the door that said “left in good health 1926”. He said the oddest thing was there was evidence of a lady living in this cabin. There was a mirror, a dress, and high-heeled shoes. Some lady needed to look good even though she was a million miles, and a 4-week walking trek from anything. Our first landing was on a small glacier. Small is a relative word up here. You can’t see either end of it from the ground or sky. The top we walked on looked like slush we have back home. So the brain was telling me to tread lightly it might be deep or slippery. The reality is it is just like walking on blacktop. We saw very fresh grizzly bear tracks in new, over night snow. Paul said they were definitively from today. Never saw the bear but we followed the tracks for a bit. We each took turns kneeling down and drinking glacier water. So delicious and refreshing.
From there we went to a meadow in a valley surrounded by mountains with an awesome stream running through. I’m sure this analogy is overused here, but it looked like The Sound of Music. Not that I have seen the movie, but I have seen the cover…I guess. This is where we then had a delicious lunch.
Next we flew over the Bagley Ice Field, the largest nonpolar ice field on the planet. It is around 200 miles long, much bigger than the state I was born in. It felt like the edge of the
world, which seems to happen a lot up here. We landed near a pretty glacier-made lake. We were flying over and Paul comments, “that looks pretty, I want to land here.” More evidence that we were interfering in his Alaskan adventure. We were on the ground for about 20 minutes when Paul noted incoming fog and said we had to get out of here fast. As we were loading up the plane he commented, “4 days is the longest I have been trapped on a glacier with guests because of weather issues.” Wifey panicked and I started moving slower, I would love to hold a record with Paul Claus. From here our final stop was atop another glacier, a feeder glacier for the ice field. This was most impressive. There were huge crevices, several ice caves, moulins (deep holes drilled by moving water), and tons of naturally made wonders in the ice here. Paul had us hopping over crevices and trying to lure us into ice caves. It was surreal. The kind of stuff that only happens to other people. The entire time we were here we could you hear what must have been the start of an avalanche somewhere. Giant snaps and cracks from high above us. The sounds were distant, but not that distant. Paul never panicked so I knew it must be ok, no danger.
Somewhere during the day Paul was in an area that he said was labeled on an old cartographers map as Natural Arch. He has searched for this “Natural Arch” for years but eventually kinda gave up. He said his son found it the other day from the air. So, since this was Paul’s Alaskan adventure, we did a few circles in the air looking for it. Wouldn’t you know, since he was with the Lucky Boy he spotted it. He was genuinely excited like a little kid. Here we went for a few more laps while he rejoiced in the siting and took some pictures. Both hands off the wheel to take pictures, naturally. He then showed us a mountain that recently broke. Yeah that’s right, a broken mountain. A few weeks ago a mountain collapsed around itself. There was broken mountain remnants scattered downhill for at least a mile. Pretty fascinating to know that a mountain can break.
We feel like we are in the presence of royalty up here in Alaska around the Claus family. Not sure that we have felt like that anywhere else we have been. They definitely have the unique adventure and customer service racket aspects perfected. Way to many pictures HERE.
Tuesday, day 2 at Ultima Thule. Lots of pictures HERE. Today started at breakfast with a discussion of what everyone wanted to do. A rafting trip was proposed I knew that we wanted to do that. There was also an offer of a point A to point B wilderness hike. One of the other couples had a very injured foot. So she was going to raft, and the guy go for the hike. Wifey suggested that we do the same thing. Even though I would like to raft, I would like to walk in the wilderness even more. So we split up for the day. Wowzers. When friends and I talk about going hiking certain things are implied. There is going to be leaves, bark, trees, and quite possibly a path to follow. I would not call what we did a hike but it as definitely the greatest walk I have ever taken. A plane dropped us off at point A which was along a ridge line about 7 miles away at an elevation of about 4200 feet. Point B was our camp. We were only getting in a plane once today. From the starting point we hiked almost straight uphill, above the tree line, through meadows to around 6000 feet. Where that part of the walk ended looked like the edge of the world. The other side of the peak dropped straight down and the only thing you could see were snow capped mountains miles in the
distance. Very dramatic. From there began the most grueling walk I have ever taken. It was 5000 feet downhill over 8.5 miles. Most of it was along the spine of the mountain. Some areas were no more than 6 feet wide, walking on loose rocks, staring down into the abyss on both sides. One section was a 3000 feet drop in 1 mile. That is a downhill angle of much more than 45 degrees. Lots of places were spent sliding sideways downhill, jogging and skipping just to stay upright, and even the occasional butt skooch. At one point my GPS machine said we were going downhill at an average rate of 77 feet per minute. Once the mountain ridge/spine ended it was a much flatter walk through the woods back to the lodge. More what a hike is in my world. It was 8 hours of walking, only stopping for lunch. I rolled my ankle twice. It looked like I was smuggling a baseball under my skin. We saw a ton of sheep, a ram, and golden eagles. If I had known what this walk was I might not have signed up. I could not be happier that I had this experience. So in hindsight it was a great decision. I’ll be paying for it for days, but I will remember this walk forever. Lots of pictures HERE.
Thursday. This morning started with a 6:30 am kayak tooling around the bay we spent the night in. The waters got choppy on the way back to the boat. Makes for harder work, but much more fun. It was great almost tipping over. We had life jackets, so who cares. Breakfast, then out to do some halibut fishing. Man is that boring. Drop a line and then talk to your friends. Drop a line and then talk to your friends. Drop a line and then talk to your friends. I got lucky and caught the same herring 3 times. I named him Kenny Rogers. The professor and his wife caught about 5 halibut and let them all go. They asked if we wanted one, in hind site I wish we had kept one. Wifey and I stunk. A fisherman I will never be. A casterman I am an expert. Back onboard for lunch which was very rudely interrupted by a giant pod of at least 60 humpback whales. They told us there was more likely 100 whales surrounding us. I was worried about some sort of Whale Pirate invasion. I can just picture a whale squawking out the words, “I am your captain now.” It was most impressive. They were whale tailing and blow holing nonstop. But I guess that is what they do for tourists. We stayed there at least and hour. Again whales derailed our itinerary. Bastards. Hopefully got some good pictures. After the whales they took us to a sea lion complaining zone. They were loud and obnoxious and a bunch of fat soughs. On to the next anchor point, Bothers Islands. We did a short but beautiful hike across the length of East Brother Island. This island looked enchanted. The moss was complete cover and ankle deep. It was so soft you could dive into it without getting hurt…trust me. Someone said it looked like Chia Pet island or Nerf Island. Definitely one of the more beautiful natural surroundings I have ever been in or on. Some more pictures added HERE if you are interested.
Day 2 on the boat. We went for a short walk on an island to go stream fishing. We have no fishing experience, but that was ok. They set us up, showed us what to do, how to look like a fishingperson, and turned us loose. The spot was gorgeous. So serene it felt like we were in the most remote part of the world. Neither of us caught any fish. I did catch a lot of plants and some amazing photos of Eagles. They were hanging around overhead. One even ate a fish that someone in the group caught. We did not get to see that happen but saw the remnants of the dead fish body after the eagle was done it’s lunch. An eagle was on a small island in the stream watching fish. Then it went up on a very low nearby tree branch. I sat and watched and shot photos for about 20 minutes. I was hoping to catch it diving for a fish. That didn’t happen, but I did get some great shots sitting still and also in flight. Back on the boat for lunch where we had fresh king salmon caught yesterday by the professor and his wife. Non-Sweet Family People.
The afternoon activity was a “meadow walk”. Wifey decided to skip that and turn me loose. It’s a good thing she did. It turned into a disaster in some people’s eyes. For me it was the highlight of the trip so far and nothing but fun. The closest thing I will ever get to an actual Alaskan adventure. I was secretly hoping they would have to air drop us some supplies and tents. It was supposed to be a nice leisurely walk around a beautiful meadow. This meadow was at the edge of the forest tree line. We got dropped off on shore by a skiff. The tides changed quickly and we were all of a sudden trudging through water looking for ways to avoid deeper water. We backtracked, rerouted, and kept trying to stay dry from the ankles up. Larry, our guide, was trying to keep his guests safe and dry. It got to a point that was unavoidable. We had to wade through waste high water. I loved it, some of the other people not so much. There were 7 of us including Larry the guide. I thought we might live on this island now. I was quietly forming alliances in the background, figuring out who we would sacrifice first to the Bear God. After we took the plunge, got soaking wet all over, we were able to get back on the skiff to bring us home. What was supposed to be an hour or so of leisurely meadow walking turned into several hours of bushwhacking, wading through water, and crossing head high grass fields. I did get to eat all the salmon berries I could handle most of the walk. A treat within a treat. Some pictures HERE if you are interested.
Went for a hike to sea lion cove. We anchored and took a skiff to shore. There was a maintained trail by Alaskan DNR. It was about 6 miles round trip. The destination was the other side of the island, which was the Pacific Ocean. As soon as we starting walking across the island we saw a brown bear just across the way in a small meadow. He didn’t see or care about us. The walk was beautiful through the rain forest. It was a well-maintained trail by humans, which was obvious. There were a lot of man-hours put in to making the plank walks, bridges, and stairs. Once at the Pacific Ocean it felt like the edge of the world. The next thing from where we were was Japan. Quite an enjoyable day and hike. A little strenuous at times, but well worth the payoff to see the Pacific Ocean. Some pictures HERE of bear, eagle, the Sweet Family Reunion, and scenery if you are interested.
Finally after all the shake ups and changes we got on a boat named The Liseron. We gathered at the hotel and met up with the other passengers, there are 20 of us total. Most of the boat is sold to 1 family and there are 3 other couples. So my first introduction to these people is a conversation with a guy in a Trey tee shirt talking to his uncle about the Dead 50 shows that were happening at the time. I threw myself right into their conversation. I knew there was never going to be a better way to break the ice. What a perfectly kick ass start to having to meet strangers that I live with for a week. The boat is small, in comparison. The staff are all pleasant and this seems to be a fantastic alternative to our original choice of boat. We sail for a couple hours and then anchor to go kayaking or out on a skiff for sight seeing and visual animal hunting. I was surprised when Wifey chose the skiff. Whatever she wants. We saw some deer, a bunch of Eagles, and lots of other birds. The scenery is indescribable. If there was such a thing as heaven, it should be designed to look like this. After the boat tour it was time for our first sit down meal with the Sweet Family Reunion. 20 of us at a big oval table. The meal was top notch, king salmon, baked broccoli, and a rhubarb crumble for desert. After that it was sleepy time. Waking in the morning to a spectacular sunrise, coffee with a view, and awaiting threat of the world to come alive. Some pictures HERE.