Adventuring in Alaska part 1
Day 1 – Arrival in Anchorage
I left before anyone else from the Vegas airport. My flights went Vegas – Seattle, Seattle – Anchorage. Arrival at Anchorage, 12:40 am. Next party’s arrival, 4:10 am. I obviously had a bit of time to wait before Dawn and Cathy arrived and although I thought I would just sleep, I snacked (if you know me this isn’t a shocker), and then I finally set up shop on a bench to take a little snoozer. Total sleeping time for the night: a tad more than 3 hours.
When Dawn and Cathy finally arrived we still had to wait a bit before we could snag the rental truck so we grabbed some breaky and gigantic coffees from Starbucks. At 6 we received the keys to our Dodge Ram extended cab with 4WD (Ronda was a great truck!). A must for Alaska winters. We waited for a while to get the truck and realized why when we got it. It was huge. Backing it out in the small parking garage was already a challenge that was applauded by the people walking into the airport watching us. That was soon followed by the challenge of swinging that bad boy around the circular ramp to get down the several floors to the exit. It was so tight there were a few reverse moves necessary. Finally we were released into the great outdoors and a sigh of relief was exhaled by all. Our first unanticipated challenge complete!
The plan for the day was to drive to Seward from Anchorage, where we would spend the next 2 nights. We decided to hit up the grocery store to get some snacks and supplies before hitting the road and on the way there as we were discussing the animals we might see a moose started crossing the street in front of us! It was a cow and she just strolled along to the other side of the road to have a snack on the vegetation while the bull just sat in the suburban shopping center parking lot chewing the cud. Sick sighting right out of the bat! Apparently a day or so after that someone took a video of a bull with a big rack crossing the street in Anchorage and it made the national news! What, what??!! We saw it first! 😁
On the first part of our drive, even though it was on a scenic highway, we couldn’t see a damn thing. The sun was set to rise a little after 10. We turned off for Whittier where we were planning on doing a small hike. We paid the toll for the 2 mile tunnel that we had to drive through to get to Whittier and the Prince William Sound. We didn’t realize that we would have to wait a good 45 minutes to get across but that’s ok, we didn’t have anything else planned! The rest of the cars that were parked there with us were all getting ready to go diving on the other side! We were ok with sticking to our hike.
They finally switched the light to green and we all crept through the tunnel. On the other side the sound was surrounded by snow covered peaks and frozen waterfalls. The pullout for our hike was right after the tunnel and we missed it at first and had to turn around to catch it on the return. As we were parking we could spy our first glacier in the distance. Sweet. I felt like I was finally in Alaska.
The trail to Portage Pass was only a mile but climbed 750 ft., enough to get our blood flowing a bit. Shortly after hiking on the trail we spotted our first snowshoe hare! That was my first time seeing one of these creatures and it was pretty cool! The trail was pretty straightforward and we only had to be careful bypassing a couple patches of ice where the water flowed on the trail. At the pass we were rewarded with views of the amazing Portage Glacier that just seemed absolutely massive even though we were still over a mile away. I can’t even imagine what it looks like close up!
After completing our first hike in Alaska we got back in the truck, went back through the tunnel, and continued south on the Seward Highway, finally being able to spy the grand scenery surrounding us. We climbed a tad in elevation and everything was just coated in the white stuff. What an entrance on our first day in the Last Frontier!
Arriving in Seward we checked into our hotel for the next couple of days, the Harbor 360, and freshened up a bit before going to town and checking out what was around/open. We soon discovered that most of the businesses in town shut down for the winter. That didn’t stop us from finding which bars were still open! We hopped along to a couple and were able to order some Mexican at one of them. Pretty good rockfish tacos and plenty of salsa galore. We didn’t stay out too late since we had the whole trip ahead of us and day 1 was already pretty loooong…and also amazing.
Day 2 – Touring Seward!
Day 2 in Alaska had us bundling up to get out on a boat and on the water with Seward Ocean Excursions to see what we could see. Seward is right on Resurrection Bay and we were going to meander around its edges in a small boat with 2 other people and our captain, Joanne.
Joanne was great and pointed out wildlife right from the get go with some sea otters and sea lions. We popped in and out of the little cabin to take photo after photo of the mountains, wildlife, and each other. We eventually were able to beach and hop out and take some photos on shore, which included a small cave that was encased in icicles. The first part of the cruise wasn’t too bad but after we crossed the open water and went to the other side we were jumping waves in our little boat and holding on tight to stay upright. It was a blast.
We grabbed a late lunch at the other restaurant that was open in town and I got to indulge in some fish and chips. I wanted to eat as much fish as possible while in Alaska. Personal goal. I decided to shop at a couple stores after lunch before meeting the ladies back at the first bar we went to yesterday, Tony’s, where they were catching the Packers game. We stayed there for the duration of the game, chatted with a few folks and then headed to the only bar that we hadn’t been to yet, the Pit.
At the Pit we saw one guy from the other bar and the bartender, Angel, and that was it. We stayed for a bit and even got through a whole game of Cards Against Humanity with Angel before another group came in that our bartender was waiting for. Shortly thereafter was our chance to exit. A fun night out in Seward before leaving in the morning.
Day 3 – Seward to Anchorage
The next day we timed our departure so the sun was out for the entirety of our drive, which was spectacular. The Seward Highway is a National Forest Scenic Byway and clocking at 127 miles is one of the most spectacular drives in the country, passing by ice-blue glaciers and alpine valleys and mountains galore. Before we got to Anchorage proper we stopped at a rest stop where we were able to hike down to the water and share some champagne to celebrate life and Xmas Eve. Stopping there we watched slushy ice (the entire river’s-worth) being drifted downstream. It was unreal.
When we arrived in Anchorage it was high time for lunch so we stopped at a Brewery where I had my first taste of official Alaska salmon with a smoked BLT salad. It was delish. We were then able to check into our Airb’n’b and get situated before heading out and making a grocery run before all the stores closed for the holiday. The rest of the day was spent indoors, cooking and eating a veggie-loaded pasta and watching movies in front of the fireplace. Divine.
Day 4 – Christmas!
Christmas Day! The plan was to load up on breakfast and drive about an hour outside of town to Eklutna Lake. The drive on the freeway was fine until we pulled off and then had about 8 miles of snow-covered road that only had one set of tire tracks on it. It wasn’t terrible until we let someone go in front of us and then on the final downward hill they stopped right in the middle of it and we weren’t able to stop and ended up barely skimming by them on the left with a ditch not too far on our side. I don’t know what they were thinking but we were all glad that Dawn was able to maneuver around that one!
We hopped out at the parking lot and headed out on a 7 mile journey. The weather was perfect. Even though only in the low 20’s there was no wind and barely anyone else on the trail. We were able to hoof it all the way to the public use cabin where we went inside and had a little lunch. On the way back we encountered a couple adorable dogs, including my new love, this husky puppy that wouldn’t let me leave without a hug. It was a gorgeous hike even though the sun never quite burst through.
We had no problems driving back out and headed home just a tad after the sun set. Time to start working on the Christmas feast! One of the ladies I was traveling with is vegan so I accepted the challenge to make a gourmet vegan holiday meal. Rosemary potatoes with roasted Brussels sprouts, veggie-stuffed portabella caps, and lemon rosemary almond-crusted tofu. Despite a few potential disasters averted it ended up turning out really well. Our dinner dance party was again followed by some movie watching in front of the fireplace. Merry X-mas!
Day 5 – Matanuska Glacier
The food and dance party were only a haze in our memories as we suited up in our warmest gear yet to head to Matanuska Glacier. We were on a 2 o’clock tour and the drive was about 2 hours away with some weather coming in so we gave ourselves plenty of time to get there. The weather did really start coming in. It was a white-out for part of the drive and what was supposed to be a 2 hour drive ended up being closer to 3! We took it slow as we saw several cars stranded in the snow banks surrounding us. We did somehow manage to still arrive early and so they put us on an earlier tour that left at the moment we arrived. Sweet, no waiting!
After making sure everyone was outfitted with enough warm gear to be on a glacier for several hours (temperature 14°F, which the locals kept calling ‘warm’) and making that last pit stop at the bathroom (they warned us about yellow snow!), we headed a couple miles up the road to another staging area where we put on some micro-spikes and headed out in our ‘pod’, which included a handful of tourists from China that arrived on a bus, the 3 of us, and 2 tour guides.
The guides were great, spitting out endless information about different types of glaciers, silt, and most definitely being patient enough to let everyone get the most stellar shots of the spectacular and striking blue, black, and white ice that we saw all around us. This glacier is the largest one that you can practically drive right up to. Overall it is 27 miles long and 4 miles wide! And we only toured a teeny-tiny portion of it. We also got to see it calve, which the guides said it was very rare for this glacier to do during the day. Score!
After many successful photo shoots and learning a thing or two we were done and got a bumpy, but fun sleigh/snowmobile ride back to the top. We definitely worked up an appetite and a thirst for a well-deserved beer so we headed to the closest restaurant, the Long Rifle Lodge (it was less than a minute from the top of their driveway). Stoked about another amazing day we started our 2 hour drive home, ready to just relax and eventually work on more on the leftovers from the past two nights. We were, after all, leaving for a new town and a new adventure tomorrow. Fairbanks and Chena Hot Springs awaited us on the next portion of our journey. Although we had already experienced and saw so much we were only halfway done…