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Published: August 30th 2007
I hope everyone is well and is having fun. Welcome to the new people I have enlisted to my blog page (you can unsubscribe yourselves if you wish). Thank you to everyone that sent me birthday wishes (unfortunately if you sent them by text message, then I never got them as there was no reception in Alaska).
So I just spent two awesome weeks in Alaska. While my sister was busy getting herself married (congrats again), I was flying my way to Anchorage. The flight from Vancouver to Anchorage was lovely as you fly up the BC coast and then over the Queen Charlotte Islands and some of the Alaskan glaciers (I'm not going to comment about my reception into the US from their customs department, only to say it wasn't very nice). My first day in Alaska was spent ambling around town and the farmers market.
The night before the tour was due to started to I met a couple of people who were doing the tour and I began to notice a bit of a trend. First there was Veronique (originally from Belgium), then Manfred (German), Martina (Swiss), Sylvia (German), Philippe (Flemish), Thais (an
The group :)
Thais Turner, Martina Schuler, me (Cielle Stephens), Pete DiCicco (trek leader), Philippe Stuyts, Sylvia Nuesslein, Veronique Huyghe and Manfred Mergel.
Aussie) and then our tour guide Pete (from Vermont). So German (or some variety of German) was the native language of most members of the group. However I needn't have worried, everyone's English was so good, that I still don't speak a word of German. Everyone on the tour was lovely, a brilliant bunch of people and lots of fun to be around.
The first place we visited was Denali National Park. Mount McKinley (the highest mountain in North America) was reluctant to show itself over the four days we were there. But we did see plenty of wildlife with the aid of a very excitable tour bus guide ("Look over there at the grizzly bears!!" "no they're hikers" "Look the grizzly's are standing on their hind feet" "no they're hikers!!" "oh sorry folks, they're just hikers"). We did however see (3 by my count, 5 by the tour guide) grizzly bears, numerous caribou (including the biggest our guide had ever seen), dall sheep, squirrels and a couple of bird species. Our walk up a nearby hill in Denali was thwarted by rain. But we did get high enough to receive lovely views down the valley.
we drove over the Denali highway (most of which was a dirt road) then over to McCartney glacier. While the rest of my group went walking over the glacier, ice climbing or searching for absent cameras, my free day in McCartney was spent hiking up to Jumbo mine near the top of the mountains surrounding the glacier. The weather was awesome, perfect sunny day. The view from the top of the mine was superb. I became little paranoid hiking by myself in the Alaskan wilderness, as I was walking I began to remember all these bear stories people had told me and all the warning on the map. So I yelled "Hello Bear" into space every couple of minutes. I'm not sure that helped at all, but I never saw any bears.
So the next day the plan was to drive to straight Valdez. But the van seemed to have other ideas. Before we left Pete had to repair one rather flat rear tire. Then as we were driving off, we were stopped by two groups of people who commented about the rather strange angle the front tire was on. On our arrival in Chitina (a town of about
6 buildings) Pete decided that the wheel should be checked out. Well, we could tell by his face that the news wasn't too good. The van was undrivable and the town mechanic thought that it may take up to three days to repair. But thanks to Pete's hard work - he was able to find a tow truck and mechanic (no mean feet when your in the middle of nowhere) who was able to repair the van that night - we were on the road again by 9pm.
The highlight of the trip (at least for me) was the kayaking through ice bergs in Valdez. The water was calm so very easy to paddle. A little face appeared above the water as Philippe and I paddled into the water. On closer inspection, the face belonged to a sea otter. He popped up his head up and then rolled onto his back and just watched us for a while, before diving under and reappearing somewhere else. Luckily for our tour guide, Philippe was in control of our direction, otherwise I would have spent all day chasing the sea otter! So off we went to paddle among the ice bergs. The
ice bergs came from Columbia glacier, about 10km away. In between us and the glacier was just a tonne of icebergs. You could hear them breaking up or rolling over as we paddled inbetween them. We were fortunate enough to see one very large iceberg roll over (although had it rolled over half an hour earlier, it may have been a different story as we were right under it). The experience was amazing. Quite unlike anything I've done before. Awesome!
From Valdez we caught the ferry over to Whittier and then drove over to Seward. In Seward we attempted to go whale watching and to see a carving glacier. We did see a pod of orcas, one hump back whale and puffins(!) , but the weather thwarted any attempt to get to the glacier. In was incredibly wet, and very rocky. Many of my fellow passengers became quite green. The lunch for those of us who were still capable of eating was lovely.
Homer was the next stop via Exit Glacier. After days of me moaning about the lack of moose on the trip, in about half an hour we went from zero moose to four moose, including
a mother with two calves. The camp on Homer was right by the beach in a lovely spot. Which would have been more lovely if it would only stop raining. By now we had, had rain almost solidly for 5 days and were getting a little tired of trying to bbq in the wet. The next night was spent just out of Seldovia in a luxury camp. It was so nice to be somewhere warm and dry. The ferry ride out was awesome too, we saw a humpback whale, puffins and sea otters from the boat. On shore we saw a salmon shark thrashing about having got itself stuck. Manfred skills at the piano were put to great use that night as he put on a brilliant show for us.
From Seldovia we returned back to Homer, and then on the homeward run to Hope. The weather finally cleared and gave us time to dry out our tents for their final clean up. Hope is an old small town with heaps of character. I went for a walk along the coast (yelling for bears again) and then by the river to watch the last few salmon swim up stream.
Like most people, I've heard about the salmon run, but have never really thought about it. There are massive numbers of salmon swimming up stream, but of course they all die at the end of it. So the rivers at this time of year really do stink of dead fish, and you can see them everywhere. Certain towns like Valdez smell of dead fish. From Hope we drove through to Anchorage, stopping at the wildlife park. Noticing a pile of cars on the side of the road as we drove up the Turnagain arm, we pulled over. A huge pod of beluga whales was swimming past. An awesome way to end the trip. I never thought I would see beluga whales!
Anyway, awesome trip, awesome people. Go to Alaska everyone 😊
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