Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Wrangell-St. Elias

Since Mike was visiting from the Florida Keys (and soon to be an inhabitant of Yellowknife, NWT!!), I thought, "What better time to take some time off work and explore an unknown area??" So off we went to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. W-St. E. is the nation's largest National Park, yet only receives about 40,000 visitors a year (which is something like a tenth of what Denali sees). Four mountain ranges converge in the park, so you can only imagine the incredible views. I would recommend that everyone go see this place, but I do like that it's not disturbed...so maybe I won't recommend it.

We accessed the park via the "usual" route - the McCarthy Road, 60 miles of gravel road from Chitna to McCarthy. Expect washboards and potholes, but don't believe the tour books (they tell you to have two spare tires - the road isn't that bad, it's like the road to Child's Glacier and the Million Dollar Bridge outside of Cordova). And don't expect the ice cream store at mile 44.2 to be open. That was a disappointment. Anyway, we went to Kennecott Mine in Kennicott, Alaska (a clerical error led to the misspelling of the mine's name), and then took a hike up towards Bonanza Mine. We ran out of time and had to turn back around near tree line, but it's one heck of a hike with awesome views the whole way! Then we explored the town of McCarthy (Kennicott and McCarthy are about 5 miles apart, but you can't drive between them - a narrow footbridge is the only thing connecting the two over the raging Kennicott River), and that place surpasses Seward as my favorite Alaskan city. It's quaint, has tons of dogs, everyone knows each other (and the dogs), and sits in the most spectacular landscape I've ever seen. And it was sunny (and hot!) the entire time we were there. :) Two thumbs way up for W-St. E/Kennicott/McCarthy!

(I have pics, but will have to upload them later...)

The 2007 Harriman Expedition

In 1899, the first explorers (that I know of anyway) of what is now called Harriman Fiord saw glaciers, marine life, etc. Can't say much has changed since then in Harriman, except that the glaciers have drastically receded. Well, that, and we arrived via water taxi with our polypro and waterproof clothing, bear cans, and plastic kayaks. See?

Anyway, my friend, Mike, joined Val, Brent (together, Valent), Jenn, Alison, Ron, and myself for a 5 day trip. We spent our first night at Black Sands Beach, which allows campers to watch not one, not two, but THREE tidewater glaciers calve...all night. Coxe, Barry, and Cascade Glaciers put on quite a show for us (and the couple of black bears who joined us near camp). The second day (first full day) we were greeted by sunshine. Sun in Prince William Sound?!?! What a gorgeous day it was! We paddled past Serpentine Glacier (if anyone can tell me why/how it's covered in sediment, I'll buy you something really cool) and headed toward Surprise Glacier. That's when I snapped this photo:

After arriving at Toboggan Beach (our camp), I learned that Brent had proposed to Val (and she said YES!) just before this picture was taken. Not too shabby a place to get engaged, eh? (By the way, this was followed by a rainbow sighting, and two harbor porpoise, seals and sea otters swimming by!) A total surprise in front of Surprise Glacier...this called for a celebration! Congrats Valent!
Sometime that night the sun was again hidden by clouds and it rained the entire next day. Mike and I managed to get out for a wet, windy paddle. It's still fun to paddle in crappy weather...and then dry your stuff out near a fire. We had overcast skies, and even a little sun (no more rain!) the rest of the trip - perfect paddling conditions. I'll definitely be heading back to Harriman in the future.