Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Alaskan Summer 2009

It has been a long time since I last wrote and t may be nearing Christmas time, but I am going to flash back to this summer. I’m skipping the last chunk of my trip to South America because it’s been nine months and I have probably shared in person with you all the stories that came from it.

I was back in Alaska for the summer. I flew in mid April and after hearing the stories of how Mt. Redoubt erupted again was graced with a view of her smoking as my plane headed towards Anchorage. The first few days were wonderful with the light sticking with us till late in the evening illuminating the mountains. I wonder if folks who grow up there get as kiddy over the magical feeling the land brings as summer creeps forward.

Before heading north to the park I spent time with some couchsurfers hiking and exploring in Anchorage and Homer. There are some amazing lakes and rivers in Alaska, with varying blue colors. I then found a ride share to head to the park with and we were blessed with a clear day. The mountain was out and as we took our typical touristy photos with it I told myself it was a sign the summer will turn out great.
Somewhere in the Kenai Penisula

touristy photo with Denali

This summer I worked inside the park for a company that runs the tour buses. I sold the tickets and gave out information. Not as glamorous a job as last year, but it felt like a good move having a dining hall to provide food as opposed to driving two hours to Fairbanks to shop, and being inside the park instead of 11 miles north of it.

Me pointing at dinosaur fossils in Denali

In the four months I was there I explored the park more, hiked and went into the backcountry a bunch, found dinosaur fossils, enjoyed a mock wedding of my co-workers, went scootering, and went on a three day road trip to Cordova.

The route of the roadtrip to Cordova and back

Just after we got off work on our 10 hour day, five of us pilled our friend’s car and drove until we couldn’t drive no more. We drove along the Old Denali Highway which I had given the history of in last summer’s blog of Alaska. Given that at this time in the season it didn’t get dark, we still had light when we set up our tents. The next morning we got up early and found our way to the Old Richardson Highway and headed south. We were dazzled by so many glaciers, near and far. We finally made it to Valdez where we took a ferry to Cordova, which is on an island. The first night it rained and we found ourselves in a tiny hotel room, two beds for five people. I stayed up late listening to my friend trade off the guitar with a local as they shared various songs until the bar closed.

Hanging out in the Chugach State Park

The second day we made our way to Child’s Glacier. It was amazing. We were just across a river from this massive blue chunk of ice and we sat for hours listening to the gun shot sounds of the ice cracking as it moved hoping to be watching the right spot when a chunk would fall off into the water. Serena, the only other girl on the trip, and I decided to spend part of the day sea kayaking while the boys stayed behind and battled mosquitoes. I loved being out on the sea! We would chase sea otters that would peak up above the surface of the water curiously at us. We came pretty close to a beautiful eagle enjoying massive fish on a rock. We also spotted a massive orange jellyfish gracefully moving in the frigid water.

In front of Child's Glacier

When we returned to the glacier where we planned to camp, the campground host gave us wood and fresh salmon they caught that day. I spent the night listening to the glacier, just across the river, move and crack so loud the sounds would echo. Our last day we awoke and said bye to our beloved glacier and took a ferry to Whittier and drove back to Denali stopping in Girdwood and Anchorage to see friends and pick up groceries. We got back early enough to get a good rest before starting another ten hour day of work the next day.

This summer I also enjoyed some of the most amazing sunsets of my life time. There was one particular night I went for drive 15 miles into the park near the end of the season where it was just starting to get dark again, but not quite. On the ride into the park we were dazzled by blazing orange, pink, blue, red clouds and the distant McKinley purple in Alpenglow. We walked around a creek out there and watched the sky turn colors. It would be dark blue at one part of the sky while the other was still light blue and lit up by the sun. Over time the park that was dark became light again and the light part dark. We saw the first star that night, a very bright one I still see now and was renamed after me and my friend in the discovery. Finally, at 4am we went to bed.

Other nights the whole sky would be raging purple pink, everywhere, and last for quite a while. I started spending time at a nearby train trestle to watch the sky. Later yet in the season I went out to that trestle to watch the Northern Lights dance across the sky for a long time. Three different areas of the sky had their own show going on.

During the summer I also became very close with a friend I had met the previous year. We decided that it would be best to drive out of Alaska together to California and so the next blog will cover that adventure.

Friends looking at the Muldrow glacier in Denali

Car for sale, Needs some work

View of the backyard from inside our tent

In the backcountry

A day of scootering

red tundra in the fall

Old Denali Hwy in the fall

me and a friend demonstrating rutting with caribou antlers

Denali "The Great One"

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