It was cold and dreary the entire time we were in Valdez. We had a few beers at ‘The Fat Mermaid’ while the locals were setting off fireworks for the 4th of July. You could hardly see the fireworks through the fog, plus it was light outside until about 11pm. I’m sure the fireworks are better at New Year’s.
Despite the weather, or perhaps because of it, there was a calm sense of anticipation in the village. The harbour was full of fishing boats waiting for the pink salmon to start running. And the poor weather gave us a great excuse to lounge around in the van all day watching movies on the laptop and catching up on some neglected internet errands. It was nice to have a holiday from our holiday for a day.
The main reason for visiting Valdez was to take a kayaking tour to paddle amongst the icebergs of the Columbia Glacier. The glacier has been retreating since the mid 80’s, hastened by the sea water lapping at it’s toe. It leaves behind a trail of icebergs that have calved off the main glacier into the bay. I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story.
Sea otter. These might be the cutest animals we saw in Alaska.
Becci Rae. Almost as cute as a sea otter. Almost.
The wolf iceberg. Can you see it?
We got real close.
Becci doing all the work.
From Denail we headed towards Seward. The landscape certainly changed when we got to the Kenai Peninsula. Everything became much more lush and green. The weather however, also became more costal and rainy. It was obviously the perfect time for Oscar’s windshield wipers to stop working. This actually hasn’t been as big of a problem as I first thought. We stop if it’s raining too hard, or just stop and wipe them manually. Mark is in contact with AIRS (Aircooled Interstate Rescue Squad, like Ghostbusters for VW’s) so hopefully we’ll get the part we need and have it sorted soon. Most likely in Vancouver in a couple of weeks…if we’re lucky!
We’ve seen the most wildlife so far on the Kenai Peninsula. Mainly Moose, but also a Grizzly lumbering up the road. It’s been tricky to get good wildlife photos.
We hiked the Harding Icefield Trail to get a better look at the Exit Glacier and the icefield. It was a pretty busy trail, but beautiful nonetheless. It was a tough climb, which we weren’t really expecting. As a result I broke my cardinal rule of hiking, lots of snacks. Somehow I survived and more surprisingly so did Mark.
The road to Exit Glacier.
Exit Glacier – From the bottom of the trail.
Mark getting fancy on the camera.
More of a close up. The blue colour was amazing.
The view as we headed up the trail.
After picking up some tips from a guy on couchsurfing and a drunk hitchhiker, we found a private beach campsite in Seward. There we met a nice Alaskan couple and their dogs. They gave us some great travel tips and then asked if we had a gun as there are lots of bears around. When we replied that we have bear spray, the fellow chuckled and said that he’d heard that bears like a little pepper seasoning on their food. They then proceeded to tell us a story about a bear trying to get into their camper. It’s fair to say that I was not stoked about popping our canvas top that night.
Still alive and well, although a little chilly. “Get out of here bears”
It would have been nice to spend some more time in this area. It is regarded by many as the most beautiful in Alaska.
Remember the other brown bus from Whitehorse? Well the owners are a Czech couple who are driving it from Vancouver to the Arctic Circle and back. We bumped into them again in Dawson City and they were also keen to hike and camp in Denali. So we made plans to meet in Fairbanks and arrange the trip together.
Our hiking get-up
Hiking and camping in the backcountry of Denali National Park is different to most places we’ve been. There are no official trails or campsites. The park is divided into units, the units can be up to a few hundred acres and only a few people are allowed in a unit on any given night, so you really do have the place all to yourself. You also get to plan your own routes and camp wherever you want.
Alaska range in background
Happy to be at the top
Looking into Toklat valley
Heading down to the Toklat River East fork
Toklat River. I think it means cold toes… so cold.
The wildflowers were all in full bloom and they were really impressive. We were constantly coming across new ones that we hadn’t seen before. We tried to take some photos but none of them do it justice.
On our second night, the wind howled through our campsite all night long and we hardly slept a wink.
I just reread the description of Unit 9 on the Denali website which says, “The Toklat River area can have high winds coming from the south, so place your tent in a protected area if possible.” Oops.
We didn’t get a clear view of Mt McKinley from our hiking route. So on the last day we hitched a ride on the bus further into the park. We were rewarded with a few minutes of clear skies and a great view of the mountain. It is massive!
Mt McKinley, the highest peak in all of North America. The Natives called it Denali, which means ‘The Great One’.