A Great Alaskan Adventure (shame about the weather) Parts 2, 3

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August 6th 2007
Published: August 19th 2007
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The Second Bit
We headed out to Whittier from Anchorage the following day, but not before another night out in Humpy's with our Swiss friends from Denali. We ended up failing to get into a karaoke bar, probably for the best really, and the poor girls got a parking ticket for their campervan. The first bit of the evening had been fun though! And who knows maybe Richie will be meeting them later in their trip... watch this space! 😉

Right unlike Richie I'll try not to get distracted by all things Swiss (they do make good cheese though). Whittier is a weird place, originally a US Navy base for WWII it hasn't really expanded (not that their's much room to expand) beyond the original one building where apparently all residents of the town live. The weather is notoriously bad, but on the particular day of our arrival it was rather nice and sunny and we sat out on the waterfront. Little did we know that that would be the last sunny moment of our trip...

Ok fast forward to Cordova, a further 3 hours away by boat from Whittier. We stay at the Alaskan Hotel, what a quality establishment. We eat at the Reluctant Fisherman then share a couple of drinks with an English girl from Brighton (strange I met 5 British people on my whole trip and all but one came from Brighton) in the Alaskan Hotel bar, where we are entertained by a drunken slag calling the barmaid 'a drunken slag'. The barmaid gave as good as she got. The next morning we get our bikes, ready for a quick cycle out to Childs Glacier down the Copper River Highway. Slight problem 1) it's not a quick cycle, it's 50 miles; 2) it's on an unsurfaced road; 3) we don't have panniers and we have big heavy rucksacks; 4) we're on devilishly uncomfortable hired bikes; 5) my ass doesn't have kevlar reinforcements; 6) it's threatening to pour with rain; 7) ah yes, and we have to cycle all the way back the next day. Sorry that rant was purely for Richie's benefit as I know he'll be reading this hihihi.

New -> route map: http://www.bikemap.net/route/588802

Well the rain did pretty much hold off the first day and we arrived in relatively good spirits, if a little saddle sore, having seen bald eagles and geese on the way. The campsite at Childs glacier is excellent and after whipping up the tent we quickly hit the riverfront seating to watch the evening show: the glacier itself. And what a show - I'd estimate there was stuff falling off every minute, and big bits every 5 or so, and the noise! It was also interesting to see the wave height markers which showed that every 2 years or so, bits of ice drop off generating waves big enough to sweep away anyone watching at the viewpoint a good 150m from the glacier base. After a while though it got too cold to sit out (the wind sweeps down off the glacier) and so we retreated back to the tent.

In the morning we heard the dreaded pitter patter of rain. Easing painfully out of the tent I realised quickly this was not going to be a good day. 50 miles were between me and my two good friends: Alaskan Amber and a hot shower. Meanwhile two other friends were being anything but friendly: my ass and my left shoulder. We set out early, but after an encouraging early pace, my speed dropped to 5 miles an hour (as Richie demonstrated by walking past me as I cycled). The whole world became my enemy as I struggled past mileposts 12, 13, then 15. I said to Richie "that's it I'm giving up. The next pickup that comes by...i'm getting a lift." Alas no pickups did come by for ages, and by the time one did, the rain had eased off, and I couldn't quite bring myself to raise that thumb. Somehow it would have been too embarassing. After lunch things went back to bad, before suddenly an M&M's fuelled energy burst sped me through to the tarmac, albeit with a bit of help from Richie's slipstream. The last 12k stretch into Cordova passed quickly and finally I was back. In a bid for forgiveness Richie who'd arrived a bit earlier had bought in some more M&M's. That evening was a heady mix (in no particular order) of food, warmth, beer, clean clothes, and sleep!

The Third Bit
After a long ride back to Anchorage via Valdez with a brief excursion to Portage Glacier whilst waiting for a train, we hit Humpy's again. The next day we headed to Seward in the afternoon. The plan was to camp in Seward, but on arrival it began to pour with rain so we threw in the towel (though i've been travelling towel-less ever since my first week in Patagonia where I left it in a hostel dormitory) and opted for a bunk-style dormitory. That night I splurged and had crab - yummy!

The next day was a wash out. We made do with a trip to the Sealife Centre, a pleasant enough way to spend a dreary day an I also introduced Richie to his first ever iced mocha at Starbucks.

We'd already decided that the last night in Seward we'd definitely go camping preferably up on the Harding Icefield, so it was with heavy hearts that we woke to find more rain in Seward. There didn't seem any point in rushing out the glacier to camp in the rain, so we wandered into downtown and stumbled upon the Alaska Sealife Rescue Centre annual 5k run, about to start in 15 mins. With ever so slight gung-ho we signed up, but rather than sensibly leaving our packs we decided to do the run fully backpackered up (it was for charity after all) much to the amusement of the small crowd gathered under the awnings. Within the first few hundred metres of the start we realised that we may have bitten off more than we could chew, especially poor Richie who apart from the heavier pack ended up having to carry his full bear cannister in his arms since the strap came undone (i call this a handicap system since Richie is a 3 hour marathon runner and about as fit as he is follically challenged, er... i mean cranio-aerodynamically efficient). With 5 years olds overtaking us left right and centre we pressed on past the turnaround point and back. With a final push I cruelly clawed back one of the young whippersnappers just before the line - a respectable 33 mins. At the prize-giving we both received a trophy, bottles of champagne, and kisses on both cheeks from Miss Seward 2007... no just kidding, but we did get the t-shirt (the things I do for a clean t-shirt!).

After that and with the rain still coming down we reluctantly caught the bus to Exit Glacier, the entry point in our case to the Harding Icefield. There's a 3000ft climb to reach the icefield which took us about 3 hours. Miraculously the rain had actually stopped just as we'd set out, which disproves all theories about early birds and worms. The hike up above the glacier was pretty spectacular and also hard work (again with packs). Alarmingly we also saw some very fresh looking bear scat, which brought about a very hasty recheck of the bear spray just in case.

When we finally reached the emergency hut at the top of the path we were pretty worn out. The icefield stretched out endlessly into the distance eventually merging with the cloud that enveloped us in a mass of white. We scampered down and had a frolic on the edge. It soon became apparent that without crampons we wouldn't be able to get out onto the icefield so we decided to make do with a camp right on the edge of the glacier. Back at the hut to retreive our gear we met 3 lads from Salt Lake City, who were on the last night of their trip too. They'd brought way too much food, handy for us since we'd yet again failed to bring enough. A large bar of chocolate to the good, we left them on their third stew - they weren't willing to brave the cold, and planned to sleep in the hut. Back down on the glacier we pitched tent and took a few photos to prove our insanity. It was surprisingly warm down in the shelter at the glacier edge. After a brief fright when the stove packed in mid water boil (i attribute this to the stove being on the ice - the gas cannister was actually frozen on to the ice, so i'm guessing this had somehow blocked the gas flow) we tucked into Rice-a-Roni and chocolate for dessert. Then to bed. It was at this point that the extreme stupidity of sleeping on a glacier struck home. The tent floor naturally enough was frozen. The thin carry mat was doing its best, but failing. The sleeping bag outer was as close to zero as makes no difference and the inner failed to heat up despite my best efforts (heavy breathing into the bag in case you were curious). At least I had a full head of hair - poor poor Richie. It was with some surprise that I found him alive in the morning despite the tent partially collapsing at his end due to overnight winds and tent pegs secured in snow.

We packed up pretty quickly and headed out, bumping into an interesting local lad with a shotgun on the way. He had a few tales about various friends being mauled by bears which we were glad to be hearing at the end of the trip rather than the start.

The final afternoon we'd booked sea kayaking. I'd like to call it relaxing, though of course the arms start to burn after an hour or so. The highlight of that was seeing porpoises come right by the kayaks and of course seeing Richie in a skirt (not sure if seeing me in a skirt was a highlight for him though). And I must say we made a good team. We also saw a salmon breeding river which was full of post-spawned salmon who, once spent, simply wait rotting in the river to die. Weird. Probably for the best that humans don't do that.

The last night back in Anchorage saw us again back in Humpy's. But being a sunday night it turned out to be a quiet end to the trip.

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16th February 2011

you are a riot! thanks for writing this. i laughed a ton.

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