We took three planes, starting at six AM today. We went from Sitka to Juneau, Juneau to Anchorage, and Anchorage to Fairbanks, arriving at noon. We were met by our guide, Deb Cox, and taken to our hotel near downtown Fairbanks. We were to be on our own for the afternoon and after lunch we just went back to the hotel room and hung out, as we were tired. We also read Kevin's Journal and a little nap was fit in there.
We met in the lobby of the hotel at 6:30 PM with the rest of the group - there are seven from our cruise and nine new participants who will go on the cruise next week. We went to dinner at the Pumphouse on the Chena River, which is a famous and excellent restaurant in Fairbanks. After dinner we got back on the bus and rode out to the Alaska pipeline and learned about it and then back to bed.
I looked at my watch when I woke up at 1 AM and had no trouble seeing it, as it was still daylight out. The days are really long here and you forget to go to bed at a decent hour. Their winter days are very, very short.Monday, July 2 - Alaska Railroad to Denali
We had to get our luggage outside the door by 6:30 so it could be loaded on the bus and taken to the train station, which was close by. The train left Fairbanks at 8:15 and was the start of a beautiful trip. We spent a lot of time in the observation car and Richard took a lot of pictures.
There were several train cars for the different cruise lines. All their people got off dressed in cruise clothes while our group and everyone else was dressed in jeans and hiking boots. The cruise people get on big coaches and go seventeen miles into the park until the pavement runs out, then they have to turn around as big buses are not allowed on the unpaved road.
After a box lunch at the Denali Depot we got on a school bus type bus for the ride to the Denali Back Country Lodge. The ride took over six hours over 90 miles of bumpy dirt road. We had three rest stops, so it wasn't too bad, and there was more than enough wildlife, wild flowers and spectacular scenery to make the drive seem too short. There are three different areas in the park. The first is the spruce forest and then there is the wet tundra and the Alpine tundra. They all have different wildflowers so it was fun to try to identify all of them.
We saw so many different kinds of wildlife. We saw caribou, moose, grizzly bears, beaver, Dall sheep, red fox, Arctic ground squirrel and many mosquitoes. Our bus driver was very knowledgeable about the park and the wildlife. He was good at spotting them and then he would stop so we could all look. We didn't get to the lodge until after eight, so after dinner we went right to bed. It was wonderful sleeping with the window open and listening to the stream behind us. We closed the blackout curtains tightly though, since it doesn't really get dark.Tuesday, July 3, 2001 - At the Backcountry Lodge, Kantishna
I'm sitting here among many dead mosquito bodies, all of whom I got before they got me. We took a flight seeing trip at 10:30 and saw many of the ridges and glaciers on the north and west side of the mountain.
From our gravel airstrip in Kantishna,we flew over the McKinley River and got good views of Peters Glacier, Pioneer Ridge, West Buttress, and Mount Foraker and Mount Hunter peaks. The pilot pointed out some climbers on one of the ridges, but the three passengers couldn't spot them. We did see the camp of some climbers descending in the Muldrow Glacier.
Weather didn't permit navigating to the south side to see Kahiltna glacier or the climbers base camp, but the scenery we did see was breathtaking. The rest of the day's flights were cancelled because of weather, so we were lucky we got on the early flight. We may try again when we get to Talkeetna on Thursday.
This afternoon we went to a talk about sled dogs. Coda was the speaker's dog and he was very friendly - he knew who the dog lovers were. It was interesting to learn the history of sledding and the history of the breeding of the dogs. He also spoke about the different breeds of dogs and what they were useful for in dog sledding. The malamutes are good for freight hauling, as are the Samoyeds. We'll learn a lot more when we go to an Iditarod sledder's place on Thursday.
After being in such a small room on the ship it is a change to have a large room. We are all in individual cabins that are one large room and bath. We have a king sized bed, a futon couch and a table by the window with two chairs. The bathroom has a large shower - a change from the ship.Wednesday, July 4 - Independence Day
This morning I went on a bird walk. There weren't many birds as it was rainy and the guide said they were probably resting since they feed early in the morning (which starts about 3 AM). It was hard to watch for birds when there were mosquitoes flying all over in front of the netting covering our heads. You were never sure if it was a mosquito or a bird
In the afternoon I went on a wildflower walk on the botany hike path. I saw some new ones to add to my list. It's fun to see plants we pay to add to our gardens. We are seeing a lot of shrubby cinquefoil or what we call golden drop. It's the shrub in the island bed. I also saw Jacob's ladder today along with a lot of the native roses.
Richard went on a hike to McKinley Bar. This "wet tundra" trail starts at the Wonder Lake Campground road and ends at the McKinley River. This is a relatively level trail that has been recently improved (slogging through mud was minimal) and is considered a "moderate" hike. The only challenges we encountered were at McKinley Bar. We hoped to see wildlife, but had to settle for tracks and other evidence of the larger creatures, but plenty of real mosquitoes and wildflowers. The river doesn't have a clearly defined bed, but consists of a number of interwoven streams separated by gravel bars.
At the recap, one of the party toasted the authors of the Declaration of Independence by quoting many of the key phrases from memory. He was warmly applauded.Thursday July 5 - Leaving Denali Backcountry Lodge
We had to get up very early in order to leave the lodge a little after six this morning. The ride out is six hours so that is why we needed an early start. The ride out was just as good as the ride in. We saw a wolf for one thing. They are not seen that often near to the road. A pair of beavers swam in a lake along the road. We also saw more caribou and moose, and a family of ptarmigans - they are the Alaska state bird, not mosquitoes as many people think.
When we got to Denali Depot we got on a small more comfortable bus and started out toward Talkeetna, eating our lunch on the way.
We stopped at Jeff King's home to meet with him and his dogs. He has won the Iditarod twice and has about seventy dogs. The best part was holding a three-week-old Alaskan Husky puppy. He was so cute and cuddly. We met some of the grown up dogs too including Canon (they name their litters after a theme and Canon's litter was cameras). Canon has been on David Letterman, because she loves to leap up in people's arms - she is a fifty-pound dog . We had our picture taken with Jeff King. Now I'll have to be sure and watch the Iditarod and Jeff King.
After leaving Jeff king's we traveled on to the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge. Talkeetna is the town that the climbers, including Kevin, leave from when they are flying to McKinley. It is also the town that the TV series Northern Exposures is based on. I haven't seen the show often but it looks just like that town. After dinner several of us took the shuttle into town and saw the whole town in half an hour. It's really an interesting town.Friday, July 6 - Flightseeing the South Face of Mount McKinley
We had to get up early again because we had a reservation to fly to McKinley and the day looked perfect. We had a beautiful look at the mountains from our hotel room. After breakfast a representative from K2 Flying Service picked us up. There were five of us from our group and two other people who took the plane.
It was a perfect day and we saw the south side of the mountain including the base camp and Cassin Ridge where Kevin climbed. We had reread his journal several times in the preceding days so we were so happy to have such a good view of it all. Here's our group with the pilot.
After the flight we walked into Talkeetna where we had about ½ hour before the bus left for Anchorage. We would have liked to have had more time there.
On our way into Anchorage we stopped at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, which had models of the different kinds of native homes. We had read about the homes and it was interesting to actually see them. After our visit we went to the Regal Alaskan Hotel (now the Millenium) in Anchorage. We had our final dinner then and had to say goodbye to all the good friends we had made.Saturday July 7 - Seattle
We got to sleep until 8:30 since our flight for Seattle didn't leave until afternoon. It felt so good and we needed it. We arrived in Seattle about 6 PM and went to the SeaTac Marriott. We didn't want a big dinner so we went to bar and had a drink and ordered warm crab and artichoke dip and a bowl of soup for each of us. We went to bed early and appreciated the fact that it got dark earlier than in Alaska.Sunday, July 8 - Seattle
Today we slept in again and then had a big breakfast before setting out to see Seattle. We boarded a shuttle at the airport for downtown Seattle, which is about fifteen miles away. We went first to the Pike Place Market, which is like the Strip but much bigger and a lot of it is under cover. It has the main Sur La Table store - a catalog I use and a lot of other neat stores ranging from fruit to fish to antiques. Richard bought a Keith Jarret LP for $1. After that we took the monorail to the space needle and took a Duck tour - we saw a lot of Seattle including the lake that Tom Hanks lived on in "Sleepless in Seattle". After the tour we rode up the Space Needle and saw all of Seattle. One of the impressive things is Mt Rainier, which rises out of the clouds and is taller than any of the other mountains around the city. We had a wonderful view of the mountain from our hotel room. After the Space Needle we went back to the area near the shuttle stop and had a sandwich. Then we went back to the motel and claimed our luggage and went to the airport, checked in and waited for our flight.
We have taken seven large planes, three small planes, one ship, Zodiacs, kayaks and buses.