Monday. Ultima Thule day 1. Way too many pictures HERE if you are interested. Wow. I am speechless. It is unlike me to not have words. The luckiest boy in the world has driven from coast to coast, snowboarded from helicopters, viewed the world from tops of mountain peaks, seen the earth from 100 feet below the ocean, married the best gal on the planet, and followed the migration though the Serengeti in Africa. What we did today is on a completely other level of activity, beauty, amazement, and appreciation of this planet. We saw all 4 seasons in the same day. We got rained on, saw fresh overnight snowfall, needed sunblock, and sweated a bit. Day 1 and we got to fly with Paul Claus, the head muckity muck. He is recognized as one of the best pilots alive and a top pilot for the Piper Super Cub planes. The Super Cubs fit 3 people, barely. We all 3 sit inline, basically between each other’s legs. Very intimate. Flying in the Super Cubs is a cross between and airplane and a 4 wheeler ATV. Landing and take offs only require very little ground space. We flew to about 5 different locations. We traveled a total of 200 miles according to my GPS machine. At each location we walked a bit, to the top of a cliff, along a river, and ate lunch facing an enormous glacier. The one thing that freaked Wifey out was when Paul decided to take his own pictures from the plane. I assume he was steering (or whatever it is called in a plane) with his knees, and taking pictures out the window. I equated it to when your dad would steer the car with his knees so he could reach in the backseat for another beer. Or today’s equivalent of texting and driving. One of the other planes was flying near and next to us. I wanted to get a picture out the window. Screw that Paul says, he just flips a lever and removed the window all together, no big deal. We saw fresh bear tracks a couple places. We scoured through some old glacier melt for cool rocks and geodes. We got rained on for a while and the wind picked up. There were two groups together during this time. The pilots decided that we needed to get out of this area because of the wind. So Paul took Ken the professional photographer from the other group solo and dropped him off, to have a lighter load. Then he left Ken by himself, in the wilderness, while he tested the winds coming back to get us. Ken was stranded for a while in the middle of the wilderness. Ken is here to take pictures for Travel and Leisure or Financial Times magazine, one of those. They almost didn’t get the completed assignment. I guess Paul thought Ken’s life was less valuable than the rest of us. Good call Paul. 13 million acres of playground, which is known as Wrangell St. Elias National Park. The largest National Park and about twice the size of #2. The size of Switzerland, whatever that means. We saw almost none of it, yet it is somehow the most spectacular things I have ever seen. At times I felt like we were lucky enough to be along with Paul on his Alaskan vacation adventure, just following him around. That is what I told him we wanted to do…whatever he wanted us to do, this is his world. It was either that or these guys somehow figured out the greatest scam to get their adventures and hobbies funded by other people. Whatever the case is, I was just happy to be along for the ride. Way too many pictures HERE if you are interested.
Sunday, Kennicott Glacier Lodge. Today was the day we killed in the town of Kennecott. It is inside the Wrangell St. Elias National Park. The airstrip is just 4 miles away from the lodge. We had until 4pm to do as we see fit before the Ultima Thule folks picked us up. We decided to do the tour of the abandoned copper mine. The Pepper-Herman family, that were our dinner companions, went on and on about the tour for hours. Granted they were not looking us in the eyes while they did it, they were sort of googling around all over the place. It was a walking and history tour of the abandoned copper mill and mine. It was so fascinating. We got to go inside and all the way up to the top of the abandoned copper mill where the copper was processed after coming in from the mines. I can’t get over how interesting it was and how much we enjoyed it. Back when this happened in the 1920’s they did amazing things in such a remote place. It seems impossible what they pulled off. The best part of touring the old mill was having access to almost every area. There were almost not hand rails, very little safety precautions, and hazards a plenty. We did have to sign a “sorry if you die” waiver. But since this is a national park in America it seemed very out of the norm to have access to such dangerous places during a guided tour. It was refreshing not to have every little aspect sanitized for my consumption. I’m an adult, if I want to make bad, dangerous decisions that is my right. After the tour we relaxed, had lunch, and killed time checking out the view of 2 glaciers while waiting for our ride. The Ultima Thule folks arrived at the airfield right on schedule. We were flown about 20 minutes away to our new home for the week. We were flown in a Piper Super Cub plane with no electric of any kind. The propeller is manually started. The 2 of us had to sit in between legs, single file, with the pilot in the very front, also single file. Hard to believe there was room for all 3 of us. Our luggage had to go in another plane that was larger and brought in for the luggage and some other people. Wifey had a hard time with this tiny plane. I loved it! Such a thrill. We arrived safely got settled in to our new home for the next week. We were greeted by 1 of the 8 dogs that live here. Hopefully we will get to know them all soon. We should have brought Sandy and Charlie. We will be flying everywhere we go inside the national park park for the next 5 days. This place is amazing but even more so knowing that everything here came in by small plane. They have built an amazing little compound here 1 small plane at a time. Tons of pictures HERE if you are interested.
That is all
Friday, glacier day and our last full day on the boat. The entire day was dedicated to the glacier viewing. We anchored inside Endicott Arm to view Dawes Glacier. They put us on the skiffs for the 5-mile ride to the face of the glacier. As soon as we get in the skiffs the temperature dropped drastically. There are ice chunks all around us. Some as big as busses. We saw seals resting on top of mini icebergs. When we got to the face we saw a huge calving almost immediately. It was super loud and exciting. There is nothing like seeing global warming tear this planet apart. We saw several other smaller calving. Lots of other harbor seals popped their heads out to say hello. Our skiff was the last one standing of the 4 skiffs. The others got too cold, or had to change their tampons. One the way back to the big boat we saw 3 orca whales in Endicott Arm. This is something that never happens. The entire crew said they had never seen whales that far inside the Arm. The whales were heading for a dead end, the Arm ends at Dawes Glacier. We could not wait around to see what happened, we had a hard BOB at 1230…back on board. That evening all cocktails were served with ice from the glacier’s broken pieces. Joel also made the dinner table centerpiece out of a piece of retrieved ice from the waters. The night ended with a group goodbye and an amazing slideshow of the week made by Larry. He used crew pictures and pictures from some of us passengers. Lots of pictures from the day HERE if you are interested.
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.
First thing this morning they retrieved the shrimp pots that were set out last night. The high hopes were for fresh shrimp as a meal. They hauled in a whopping 16 shrimp. But the kids onboard had fun. Delicious breakfast then steaming ahead. The entire day was derailed because we came across a large pod of whales. It seemed like they were on a human sight seeing expedition. Watching and following us, when in reality we were just sitting still. They were first spotted pretty far away, and then proceed to get closer, I can only assume to put on a show for us. It was truly amazing. At least 8 whales could be seen at one time. There were several breaches, and lots of whale tails and blowhole action (get your mind out of the gutter). The only problem was they got too close for the lens I had on my camera. That’s truly a big problem. Dammit, the amazing whales are too close, can you guys back up so I can get a better photograph? Some of these sights were for the mental photos only. Once we got to the anchor location we set sail in a kayak. We tooled around the bay, out into the open water strait, and then looped the other side of the bay. There were a few waterfalls along the coastline that drained right into the bay that we were able to navigate right up against. We saw a ton of crazy looking starfish and a sea otter that came out to play. It rained on us the entire time, which only added to the experience of kayaking in Alaska. Finished the night with a birthday dinner for a mother and daughter from the Sweet Family Reunion. Another unforgettable day aboard the small boat Liseron. What a lucky boy I am. Some more pictures 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.
The luckiest boy in the world strikes again. Last weekend I won a hot air balloon ride at a charity event. Fresh off that victory, yesterday was the picnic to celebrate the end of CAM 2015, cache across Maryland. Like the last few years it was more fun than should be legally allowed. Driving hundreds of miles over 4 days just to walk in the woods, make fun of my friends, hang out with Charlie the Dog, and write my name on hidden pieces of paper. There is a photo contest each year at the picnic. Last year I did fairly well in the photo contest, even came in first in a category. I decided that was my cue to go pro, and upgrade my equipment. Yesterday I took 1st in two categories, and 2nd in a third category. I could not believe it. What a fun thing to have happen to me. Fun things rarely happen to me…sike. That makes me an award-winning photographer 2 years in row. That is definitely making it to my resume. If you are reading this (doubtful) I am available for hire.