This hiking trip got postponed due to weather and back problems. I wasn’t sure it was even going to happen. But now that this trip has come and gone, it went smooth beyond description. Nobody gets 7 days of perfect weather in the Colorado Rockies. Sunny and 70 degrees, cooler at elevation. It didn’t rain while we were doing things, it rained when we didn’t give a shit, and we got hailed on at the peak of Mt Ida, which only added to the experience. Several firsts for me. I was finally able to get OK shots of the Milky Way in the middle of the night. The moon was out, but hidden behind a mountain peak. I also took my first pictures of lightning strikes. There was a storm in the opposite direction of the sunset, over Denver. There were a few guys shooting pics of the lightening strikes. One of them was nice enough to give me a few tips and send me down the path. It was a lot of fun. The only real hiccup was getting home. Apparently there were no flights getting from Denver to Philadelphia for several days. We sat through several delays, got on the plane, drove away and back twice, and then finally decided to rent a car and drive home. While doing that we instead found a flight into BWI. Almost 24 hours at an airport to get home. Truly a very small penance to pay for the week we had. All in all it was a very romantic week with my friendly neighborhood Juggalo watching sunrises, sunsets, star gazing, fighting off nocturnal advances, and shivering in each other’s arms during thunder and lightning storms. There is a gallery of photos HERE.
We were lucky enough to get to Hawaii, Maui and Kauai to be specific, for the big 40th birfday celebration. Finally got around to getting through some of the pictures. They are HERE.
We circled the entire island of Iceland, called the Ring Road. It was amazing. Photos processed so far can be seen HERE. http://jimmysellers.com/pictures/thumbnails.php?album=149
I don’t have much to say, or a bunch of pictures to share. HERE are some pictures. When asked how it went 1 word springs out of my mouth every time, “miserable”. Me, Josh, and Freaky set out on my birfday weekend to spend 3 days, 2 nights, and 47 miles of walking through the woods. It was a perfect time of the year for this adventure. The leaves were at an almost perfect state of changing, the weather was cool, cold at night, and we even saw a little snowfall on our final day. We survived with no problems. We had plenty of water and food at all times, too much actually. We got dropped off in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia on Friday at sunrise and picked up Sunday late afternoon in Pen Mar Park, Maryland, which is right at the Pennsylvania state line. I am overly joyed that I completed this trek. I had apprehensions but Wifey was encouraging and insistent that I could make the walk. Even through all the pain we found some time for a little Geocaching and signing pieces of paper hidden in the woods, yay for us. It has created a memory that will not soon be forgotten. Most of the weekend was spent simply putting 1 foot in front of the other. In between those steps we saw several gorgeous overlooks, bumped into interesting people and scenes, and did not murder each other. As miserable as the walk was we had a lot of fun and laughs, which happens organically in a group of complete assholes. This was definitely a horrible experience that I hope to relive again one day. That is a lot of what makes a good memory. Remembering something that frightened, sickened, or made me nervous and knowing I did it anyway. Due to weight limitations I didn’t take my good camera, but I did take a small camera that I apparently do not like too much. HERE are some pictures if you are interested.
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?!?
We left the Denali Backcountry Lodge in the morning at 6am. We saw a bunch of wildlife on the drive out of the park. The highlight was a grizzly bear eating a moose just 50 yards off the side of the road at a bridge crossing. A couple great pictures HERE. It was pretty intense to see. Vehicles are not allowed on this road until 6am so our bus had a head start. Leaving from inside the park and driving out, we were first to disturb any of the early morning animals that got comfortable with the empty driving road. On to the Denali visitors center to wait for our train to leave. We had about 2 hours to kill. It sucked being back in the real world. The visitor center is full of rubes, and here we are back in the mix. We saw more people in a minute than we had in the past 2 weeks. Mainly frumpy tourists (like us), Ornamentals with cameras, and Midwesterners wearing too much makeup hurrying to get their tee shirts. There is a lot to be said for seclusion and isolation. The train left at 12:30pm. A long 8 hour ride to Anchorage and the end of our trip. Those pictures of the bus ride with the grizzlies are HERE.
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.
Day 4 at Ultima Thule. Lots of pictures HERE. Today was a shorter day because we had to depart at 4pm. We flew with Steve who is possibly the loveliest man alive. He is the mechanic for the Ultima Thule fleet, as well as the guy that flew us from the airstrip in McCarthy, and our first ride in these tiny Super Cub planes. Most of the day was spent in the air. The wind was higher today and a lot of landing areas were not available. Today’s goal was to see moose for Wifey. So he went straight to an area that they call Moose Valley. Even moose valley was empty today because of the high winds. After some time searching Steve finally spotted a moose and her baby. We did a few circles, watched them hide in the brush, and then take off running. Mission complete. We later saw a giant buck as well. Steve did a few laps inside the very narrow valley for me to get some pictures of him. We then went onto a sandy beach area. It was almost comparable to a desert, so crazy to see in Alaska. It was a giant sandy beach area in between 2 glaciers with a bunch of crystal clear glacier ponds. Steve said this was his favorite swimming hole. There was a fantastic view. In a single site line you could see sandy beach with green grass growing, then a crystal clear pond, then rocky mountain outcroppings, and finally the snow capped mountain peaks in the distance. It was finally off to find somewhere to eat lunch. On the way there we flew over a recently burned area. Not too large, only a couple hundred thousand acres. This is where we saw the giant moose buck. It was decided to have lunch at a place called Jakes Bar. This was an old trapper lodge that was build by a guy named Jacobson. This was so fascinating. There were 2 small cabins still standing. The NPS has since done some improvements to ensure they remain standing. Mostly they were original with the woods stoves, a sauna, some cots, and shelving. There we also a lot of the original tools including a still operable axe grinding stone lying around. These cabins were open for use on a first come first serve basis. Of course they only way to get here is by a tiny plane. I was surprised to see how many visitors it actually had in the logbook considering how remote it is. Past visitors had stocked the cabins with everything. There was plenty of kindling, firewood, books, cooking supplies, water, and all kinds of other amenities. It is an unwritten rule to leave a cabin in the wilderness ready for the next visitor as they may be coming in from the cold, and need to make fire immediately with frost bitten hands. This cabin anywhere else would have been vandalized or not respected to the degree it deserves. I love Alaska. We were chatting with Steve over lunch about all kinds of things. Having a bunch of laughs and filling him in on what awful people we are, how we like being mean and having fun at other peoples expense. Steve made a comment that “in another life we could have been friends.” I jumped all over that by saying, “But not now? Gee thanks a lot.” He loved that one, almost fell off the porch laughing. I knew what he meant, but it was still fun to pounce on him. After lunch it was time to head back to the compound for packing and a very sad departure. I went to the main lodge to say goodbyes and take a picture of their geocaching trophy. I milled around like a sad lost puppy making sure they did not want to offer me a job. Paul flew a big group of us back in his larger Otter plane. I got to ride as the copilot, not much could have made me happier. I think Paul felt safer knowing I was there in the copilot’s position in case anything happened. One more round of goodbyes to our new friends, a handsome and well traveled family from Chicago, and the reporter and photographer for the financial times magazine. Hopefully I will be quoted. Lots of 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.