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.
Disclaimer: The below video is not about the official geocaching hobby and I doubt any of us watching this video will ever be cool enough to participate. That being said I had to share this video once I was given permission. This is geocaching by small, Piper Super Cub airplanes in the remote wilderness of Alaska. Recently I had the greatest week of my life in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska. The family at the Ultima Thule Lodge (http://www.ultimathulelodge.com) made this little boy’s dreams come true. During our trip our guide Paul Claus asked me if we knew what benchmarks were. Benchmarks are small survey discs put in the ground usually by the National Geological Service. They indicate elevation, boundaries, and other important things about the earth. I said we did know what benchmarks were and asked him if he ever heard of geocaching. He had, but not in the same way we knew it. He proceeded to tell me about a once a year event they do in the spring. They have friends come in from all over. After dinner that night Paul played a 5-minute video his daughter Logan made about their 2015 event. We then talked about their events and geocaching for a long time. They break off into 3 man teams. The first day each team hides 6 hard-boiled eggs (biodegradable) with a secret code written on the outside. They get the GPS coordinates for the hiding location. The following day each team flies around in search of the other eggs to see who can find the most. Once in the air where to land can be a guessing game. Paul told a story about landing near a set of coordinates, but then the actual location was a few hundred feet away. That few hundred feet was straight up in the air and may have required a different landing spot. As a geocacher it sounded like the most amazing thing I have ever heard about. I could have listened to their stories all night. The oddest part is that none of the people that participate are “actual” geocachers. But I guess if you can fly a super cub anywhere you want, who cares about a stupid nerdy game like geocaching. Enjoy this video. If you ever get the chance to visit Ultima Thule I guarantee it will be the greatest adventure of your life. Check them out online and visit them on social media http://www.ultimathulelodge.com. For more about me (who cares), my rambling nonsense, and travel/geocaching pictures check out www.jimmysellers.com
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.
Saturday, leave the boat day and travel day. Leaving the boat was sad. The crew was fantastic. They felt like a new set of friends I will never see again, and that will never think of us again. We had to kill a little time around Juneau again waiting for our flight. Then it was on to the airport for a quick flight to Anchorage. From there we had to get a charter flight into Wrangell St. Elias National Park. Kennecott/McCarthy Alaska to be more specific. I assumed the flight would be utilitarian, uneventful, a form of travel at best. It turned out to be a highlight of the trip so far. It was 2 hours in a tiny 3-person plane with
Bill McKinney, our pilot. He was so much fun. The views were marvelous, just stunning the entire way. Flying around and next to almost 20k feet peaks, over top of glaciers, lakes, rivers, animals, civilization, lack of civilization, everything imaginable. He kept maneuvering the plane so I could try to get better pictures. “Hey Bill, can you move that wing please?” No problem. He offered to let me drive for a bit, but someone in the back seat would not have enjoyed that very much. Turns out that Bill the pilot is an old deadhead. That makes perfect sense. We talked about the recent finale shows. The 2 hours flew by. Once we landed we were shuttled to the Kennicott Glacier Lodge where we spend 1 night and the next day. We arrived just after dinnertime. They eat a communal family style dinner with everyone at the lodge. Everyone was already seated and eating. They threw us into dinner, our heads were spinning. If felt like they were speaking a different language around us. We didn’t know how to act or what to do. We were in a different world with different customs. Wifey said it felt like we landed in Oz. that is a great analogy. This place could not be more in the middle of nowhere. We will kill the next day here exploring the glacier next door and touring an abandoned copper mine, which is supposed to be amazing. Then it is off to the backcountry adventure for the next 5 days. A few pictures HERE if you are interested.