Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Finishing Alaska and the long drive south

Part of traveling successfully is meeting random people and befriending them. I happened to be at a berry-winery when at the same time as a fella from Wasilla and struck up a conversation with him...foolishly he gave me a business card and the offer of a flight in his plane.
3.5months later I took him up on that offer and turned up on his doorstep (with some warning).

For the whole afternoon I was grinning ear to ear as he took me on a scenic tour. The weather was sunny and cloudless with minimal wind so we were able to fly closer to the mountains and glaciers than usual. Memories of this flight can be summarised with x3 moments
1. Flying over the glacier's and the glacier lakes. Looking down into the crevasses and that magic blue colour.
2. Landing next to a glacial lake and finding the canoe left for people to canoe around the icebergs on the lake...hence we did...WOW
3. Flying over bears, mountain goats and Dall sheep

The other Alaskans I meet that week were some young fella's who help me push the Red Rocket out of a glacier stream I had become bogged in...maybe parking in the creek to wash car wasn't such a great idea after all!
These guys after rescuing me and the rocket invited me on a canoe trip down the Kink river. What a way to spend the arvo, a lazy float down stream with beers and good company.

My last stop in Anchorage was a sad one as I left behind a family who had adopted me as a son. However we were able to have some great memories as we went Kayaking on several lakes, rode a GoldenWing bike, feasted on homecooked Ribs and pumpkin pie and I also did several walks - finally the Crow Pass was complete!

Driving south I was stunned at the fall colour's, the memory of golden yellow leaves blowing across the road will stay a lifetime. After a quick 1000miles I made it to Skagway where I could walk the Chilcoot Pass.

This historic walking track was a highway of men carrying supplies to the goldfields in 1898. I carried a respectable 50pounds but nothing on the 1000pounds that the Canadian official's demanded be taken as supplies to the goldfields to ensure people could survive the winter.
I also had stunning weather and was blown away by the scenery. To get back to Skagway I caught the WhitePass railway...WOW as train journeys go this one had the best views.

The Casiar Hwy is slower but more beautiful, so it was an easy choice to go this way. The signpost forrest in Watson Lake was bigger than could have ever imagined with people from everything leaving directions and distances to their homes.

The was plenty of wildlife (black bear in particular) alon the Casiar but also evidence of forrest fires, lakes, volcanoes and my last chance to enjoy spruce forrests. A side trip into Hyder was well worth it to drive so close to the glaicers.

I was fortunate enough to be able to drive Hwy 99 in canada not once but twice is still the most beautiful hwy I have ever driven no matter what time of year!

I had some hastles getting back into the USA from customs...I had been over here to long for his liking and none of my answers were able to convince him that I was trying to living permantly in the USA. Finally after 50min of waiting I was through into the lower 48 again and had a win of sorts by breaking his stern face with the comment I just want to get home to see my mum!

I then heading to Crater Lake national park as the weather gods where being nice to me one last time! This volcanic crater is similar to Mt Gamiber in South Australia but MUCH MUCH bigger. I was convinced to go for a swim in it...rewards but cold. Hiked to the most amazing view points and realised I was not ready for children when I overheard a Dad explaining that he had to hold onto his kids tightly because he didnt want to have to climb down to rescuce them...I thought it would be much easier just to have another kid than climb down to get the stupid one who fell!

After Crater lake I decided i could squeeze the Lava Beds national park in also...well worth it to go caving on this trip. Seeing the flow paterns of the roack and walking through this geological gem was somehting else and also the amazing forests surround the national park.

I headed south again and this time just kept driving until I reached Los Angeles. I did so early Sunday morning and was exhausted but thogh i should wait until a respectable hour before waking Adrian. I lay down on the roof of the car to read my book and promptly fell asleep...the neighbours didnt like this and called the cops on me and was a classic ending to my drive south!

Over the 10days drove 4000miles, used 142gallons of fuel and spent umpteen hours behind the wheel. I had become attached the Red Rocket...the little gal just kept on going going going so to have to sell her was not easy...well emotionally anyway because it took less than 5hours once I had listed it online.

The last few days in LA I was to wrap myself in cotton wool to make sure my good luck didnt come crashing down...well i tried but them decide how often do you get to drive in chaotic traffic and do it in a monster truck...literally a BIG finale for a BIG holiday in a BIG country.

See you all in Australia very soon...


Monday, September 6, 2010

Magic Bus - Into the Wild

Alaska has had its share of famous traveler's; Capt Cook early on and recently a young lad called Chris McCandless aka Alexander Supertramp. The book and movie "Into the Wild" have made the kid famous.
He came to Alaska to discover himself and did well enough to survive off the land (subsistence living) for over 100days. This requires some considerable skill but he also was way under prepared and forgot the some essentials which led to him starving to death in a remote area north of Denali NP (18years to the day I was there!).His home away from home and final resting spot was an old Fairbanks school bus aka the Magic Bus parked in the middle of nowhere along the Stampede Trail.The bus has become a pilgrimage sight of sorts to backpackers all over. Sadly many of these folk didn't learn from watching the movie or perhaps they didn't finish the book because the Stampede trail continues to claim lives. 3 days prior to me walking the trail a female backpacker was killed attempting to cross one of the glacial rivers, she fell and her backpack held her under the water.Walking the Stampede Trail was a beautiful trail leading to the bus 20miles from where you park your vehicle. I was warned by numerous locals and even a park ranger about the river crossings but when it came to it my long legs and that I use trekking poles make river crossings much easier than it was built up to be...I also crossed it the correct place and at the optimal time of day.As I walked around the corner of the trail to find the bus I felt something stir inside me, it happened again sitting inside the bus...I was surprised to have felt anything as I normally remain aloof to the touchy-feely crap associated with places...the place really did have a feeling to it...I guess it was striking a chord with how it easily it could be me through some simple errors finding my end in an isolate corner of the world.
I spent a couple of hours at the bus, taking the typical photo's, reading the graffiti on the bus and plaques to his memory. I had planned on lunch there but it felt weird to be eating were he starved so I walked back to a decent blueberry patch and soaked up the sun before the return trip along the trail.Remember Alexander Supertramp's words of wisdom - "The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."



Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Denali - Mt McKinley

You know when you are back at one of the most prominent tourist destinations when you start paying tourist prices and see "Princess" tour buses rolling past.To see Denali NP and Mt McKinley are the sole purpose of many people visiting Alaska - it is that good!

Access into the NP is limited to a well run bus system, no private access is allowed and it caters nicely for as many tourists as it does. I unlike most tourists who only go on a day trip into the park, I went hiking for x5 days.
The bus trip in made me re-evaluate my plans as there was going to be a music festival that night so instead of camping by myself I followed the crowds and went to my first music festival. Being 90miles along dirt road with restricted access there was only 75-100people at the festival, the music was Bluegrass and Folk and it was a great evenings entertainment standing on the road with the stage also on the road...very low key and very cool. It was nice to wake up early though and escape the sea of humanity/tents and the few stoner's and drunks still up and about.I had planed on hiking further than I did the first day but between the incoming rain clouds, carrying a heavy pack of full of food/jumbo bear container and the constant bending over to pick handfuls of blueberries I didn't get far before setting up camp. However during arvo the sun came out and I started to get sick of blueberries so I found some amazing tunnels left behind from lakes in/on the glacier to climb around in.
I found ways to add blueberries to everything...the best by far was breakfast with porridge, almonds, cranberries and more fresh blueberries. Otherwise a blueberry crumble could be improvised by using a oats/honey bar sprinkled over the top after heating them. Yum Yum Yum! (it is also amazing the colour that they turn number 2's!)
The weather whilst in Denali NP was stunning...I saw the mountain for 4 consecutive days...most people don't even get to see the mountain as it hides itself in cloud 70% of the time. I was ambitious in my ridge climbing route and seemed to find the steepest points to climb over (would have been more fun without a 25kg bag on my back) but every time it was worth it for the views provided!

I saw numerous Grizzly bear feeding on the berries but there was x1 bear who rather than ignore me like every other bear decided to come within 15m and then do several bluff got my heart rate up anyhow! It was the first bear that wasn't scared of me...I didn't feel safe and the bear spray looks pretty small when a bear is that close. There was a classic moment when I was fumbling with the safety switch on the spray and I dropped the spray completely...I would have loved to seen my face at that stage scrabbling to find it while watching the bear getting closer and closer! Pity there are no photos...when I realised he was coming for me I put the camera away away quick smart and started screamed blue bloody murder at it. No amount of talking/screaming, clapping, banging my bear bell seemed to alert the bear to the fact I was not breakfast! I was backing away from the bear for 0.5mile before it decided that enough was enough and he went back to his berries felling pretty chuffed I'm sure that he got that response from me! I was pumping with adrenaline!!!
I had some amazing campsites, the most memorable was camping on top of a ridge when the weather changed later that evening...hail and snow decorated the tent nicely and between the squalls the rainbows over the tent made nice pictures!Following the national park I walked the Kesugi Ridge in the Denali State Park. This ridge line walk offers incredible views of the mountain and the colours were again beautiful.
I promised myself when I first got to Alaska to spend the money on a plane flight around Mt McKinley if the weather was clear enough. The day I got to Talkeetna where the airport is it was perfect! It is hard to describe the size of the cliffs carved out from the glacial action or the speed at which the 20,000ft peak rises out of the low-flat terrain to the north south. Landing on the glacier was so much fun and to see it in sunshine and perfect conditions made the flight worth every cent!With Denali done I had now just about 'finished' Alaska and I could say to everybody I had been everywhere in Alaska...more places than the person asking anyhow!