Greetings from Lassen Volcanic National Park. Lassen is located in north east California and contains the southern most volcano that makes up the Cascade Range of volcanoes. It is sort of like a super tiny version of Yellowstone in some ways. There’s geothermal areas with hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles. Completed with the smell of sulphur wafting through the air at points. The park apparently is also one of the few places where all four different types of volcanos can be found.
The park for the most part is fairly remote, it’s been about 1.5 hours of driving each way to get in/out of where we want to walk. One of the walks we did was called Bumpass Hell (yep another somewhat intriguing name that got my attention). It’s called Bumpass Hell after K.V. Bumpass an early settler in the area. He found the area and whilst showing it around fell through the earths crust burning his leg. As the Bumpass Hell trail wasn’t that long we continued on down to Cold Boiling Lake. Cold Boiling Lake sounded interesting as it’s named what it is due to it being a cold lake that looks boiling due to escaping carbon dioxide. In reality though it didn’t look like it was ‘boiling’ as bubbles only rose from certain areas and rather slowly at that. It did look pretty though as it was surrounded by a meadowy looking area.
The other hike on my list was Lassen Peak. Lassen Peak is possibly the largest plug dome volcano in the world. Its last activity was May 1914 – May 1917, with its dramatic eruption happening in May 1915. With the eruption being relatively recent, one could say that some of the rocks in the area are California’s youngest rocks. We had to start this hike early as the peak is known for having thunderstorms past noon. The area has been having a bout of cooler than normal weather lately soas we got higher the fog set in and let’s say it was fairly cold. Probably should have had gloves and a beanie. Eventually we made the top rest area and the fog cleared for a few minutes. You could just see Mount Shasta off in the distance. Everywhere else around was cloud. Some snacks and then it was on the way back down. My fingers were going red and hurting cos they were so cold. It was kind of odd later on when they were warming back up because they had a weird sensation.
Today on our last day we went for a drive instead of hiking. First we headed out to Subway Cave which is in the adjoining national forest. The cave is a lava tube formed by lava flowing through lava that had already cooled/hardened. When the flowing lava eventually disappeared a tube like cave was left behind. So with torches in hand into the tube we went. It was only 1/3 long inside it was pitch black and many degrees cooler than outside. There was info boards in the cave that you could read to find out more about the formation. They were easy to find as they’d kindly put reflectors on them.
After Subway Cave we went over to the Butte Lake area of the National Park as Cinder Cone was over there. Cinder Cone is another volcano and flow of lava from it created what is known as the Fantastic Lava Beds. We didn’t bother hiking to the top of Cinder Cone as we were all hiked out and had already spent over 2 hours driving already. So instead we hiked part way up the trail to get a better look then headed back.
The next two days are driving days on our way back to LA before we finish of the trip with a few days at Disney.
The second last park of this 2 month adventure brings us to Redwood National and State Parks. The parks are located in the north coast region of California and consist of the National Park along with 3 of California’s State Parks. The State Parks actually existed from the 1920’s and came about as a result of the work of conservationists and citizens who were concerned about the extensive logging of old growth redwood forests. Through public donations and buying back of land the state parks were formed. Yet there was still concern about the extent of logging around the boundaries so in 1968 the creation of the National Park happened to protect lands around the State Parks.
There are 3 types of redwood trees, more commonly known as coastal redwood, giant sequoia and dawn redwood. The coastal redwood and giant sequoia both occur naturally in the California however the giant sequoia only occurs in the Sierra Nevada. Having been to Sequoia National Park before and seeing the giant sequoias it was interesting to see redwoods. Both types of trees have claims to fame. Redwoods are the tallest living things on earth whilst giant sequoias are the largest single trees and largest living thing by volume. To highlight the difference, the redwoods are basically taller but skinny whereas the giant sequoias are slightly shorter but have massive circumferences. Both can have trees that are over 2000 years in age.
When planning our visit to this region I wasn’t actually sure what to expect as I knew there was super tall trees but that was about it. I’d also wondered how different it was to Sequoia. Having spent a few days here I’m glad to say that it has been enjoyable. There’s a great variety of hikes you can take through the forest as well as trails along the coast. It’s also got a number of fairly accessible trails for those who can’t walk far that take you through old growth forest that still looks relatively untrampled on. Having been on a number of the old growth trails in the other parks this trip I can say that the other parks having nothing compared to RNSP. Standing on a trail, dwarfed by tall trees and just the sound of birds has something serene about it. Maybe it’s why I like doing these park holidays. It’s an escape from my normal life that’s filled with technology, traffic, thinking.
One of the cool hikes we did whilst here was a 11.6 mile loop in Prairie Creek park. The nice thing about this trail is that it goes through a variety of environments, from forest to canyon to beach and back. The canyon is known as fern canyon and has 6 different types of ferns in it. The ferns cover the canyon walls giving it a look from some era long gone by. So much so it’s been used in The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Star Wars.
Tomorrow it’s onwards to Lassen Volcanic National Park, the last park in this 2 month adventure.
Hello from Crater Lake, where today it’s the 4th of July, America’s Independence Day. Crater Lake is in the state of Oregon and the only national park in the state. The crater is actually a caldera formed when Mount Mazama erupted about 7000 years ago. The eruption was so huge that once the magma escaped the volcano the mountain collapsed in on itself. Within the lake sits Wizard Island a volcanic cinder cone that actually has a crater at the top. Wizard Island was created by a number of smaller eruptions that happened after the Mount Mazama eruption.
During summer the park concessionaire runs a boat tour of the lake but only 2 of the trips each day include the stop at Wizard Island. Tickets only go on sale exactly 24 hours before and as the boat only takes 37 people you can guess what our first stop on arrival day was. Get some boat tickets.
So our first full day started with yet another early wake up call as we had to make the 1 hour drive round to the rim drive to hike down 1.1 miles in the boat dock. Being on a small boat on the lake was cool as you really got a look at how blue the water was and how high the crater walls were. After getting across to the island we had 3 hours to do whatever we wanted. The majority of people including ourselves decided to go for the summit trail. So up we walked to the top of Wizard Island. At the top you could clearly see the shape of the crater, you could even walk down into it if you wanted too.
We didn’t think we had enough time to walk to Fumarole Bay so after making our way back went to the dock to chill. I’d taken my shoes off and was dangling my feet in the water which was nice and cool. I wasn’t planning to go swimming and hadn’t packed any swim gear. But after seeing the ranger who was onboard our boat tour jump in fully clothed, I was like… well if she’s just jumped in fully clothed so am I. Soon after there was quite a few of us jumping in fully clothed. Usually the surface water in summer is between 55 – 60 fahrenheit (12.7 – 15.5 celsius approx), but it didn’t feel that cold. No colder than the beach on a summers day.
The water is so clear and clean that on the way back we made a stop and the ranger offered to fill anyones water bottles up. She did have to say that obviously there is a risk of giardia but there hadn’t been any detected. Seeing she was filling up her own bottle most of the other passengers did as well. That and I think some of them were running low on water and there was the 1.1 uphill hike at the end.
Day 2 and 3 was time to get some hiking in. There’s a few hiking trails here but not to many. Most of them aren’t that long in the scheme of things either. The Pacific Crest Trail does run through the park though and hikers can take an alternate trail that takes them to the rim trail before rejoining up with the original PCT. We did both our hikes early in the day as there’s been a bit of a heatwave of late. That and it’s 4th of July weekend. You should’ve seen the amount of people coming into the park around lunchtime and trying to get a park!
This evening we’re going to head to Klamath Falls fairground as apparently there is something happening there from 6PM for Independence Day. We have no idea what it’ll be like, a small country fair maybe?
On our final day in the Mount Rainier region the weather was expected to near 100. So instead of hiking we drove out to Mount St. Helens. Mount St. Helens is an active volcano best known for it’s eruption on May 18th 1980. It’s in the same Cascade Volcanic Arc that has the mountains (volcanoes) Rainier, Baker, Adams, Hood, Lassen Peak amongst others.
The region around the mountain is now a National Volcanic Monument and there are a number of visitor centres with the Johnston Ridge Observatory being the main one. The observatory is named for David Johnston a USGS volcanologist who died during the eruption whilst manning a observation site within 6 miles on the eruption. The monument is actually managed by the U.S. Forest Service and it is really well done. It’s on par with the ones run by the National Parks Service.
So with our days in Washington state finished it was time to keep heading south with 2 nights in Portland to break up the parks road trip. Portland is the largest city in Oregon and has a popular slogan of ‘Keep Portland Weird’. For starters there’s a cult following of the airports original carpet design. So much so the Grand Marshal for the city’s 2015 Rose Festival Parade was the PDX Carpet itself. Yep a rolled up section of carpet, googly eyes and hat! There’s even a satirical comedy show called Portlandia that’s set in Portland.
So along with cult followings of carpet, there’s an immense laid back vibe to the city. Microbreweries, good food, murals and an abundance of coffee shops that can make coffee! And competing doughnut stores, of which we tried both.
Next National Park on the list is Mount Rainier National Park. The park is located in Washington a bit inland from the Olympic region. After about 6 hours of driving on Wednesday we arrived at Paradise where our accommodation for the next few nights is at the aptly named Paradise Inn. In the US parks systems a number of parks have accommodation inside the actual park and Paradise Inn is one of two in Mount Rainier. So instead of having to tent or RV you can stay in a historic lodge/hotel. They’re often in prime locations and the parks service have done a great job in maintaining them. Staying in one of them is like a look back in time (and a great way to escape the pace of normal life). There’s high open ceilings, a fireplace, a dining room and usually no TV, phones or Internet (or if they do have it the quality is bad).
Welcome to Paradise Paradise Inn was built back in 1916 and it was restored/renovated back in 2006 to address things like fire safety, seismic structure strength amongst other things. They’ve managed to keep its look and feel though and the very rooms you stay in reflect that of those visitors many years ago would have stayed in. Think tiny room with a small sink in the corner. Each floor has two showers and a male and female restroom. Paradise Inn has the trifecta of no TV, phones or internet. There’s no mobile phone service either. Looking at the old photos up and about, the inn today looks very much like what it did back then. When you look out into the lodge foyer in the afternoon and evening you can see people reading books, playing board games and completing puzzles. Things we would’ve done regularly before the advent of technology. It’s kind of refreshing in a way.
But let’s get back to the park. Mount Rainier NP was the fifth designated National Park in the US parks system and apparently the first that had a master plan. So even the road driving into and through the park had thought and design put into it so that visitors would see views of the mountain as they made their way up. Today it’s roads and buildings are historical landmarks. The park like many others has a number of regions, and driving between them can be time consuming. So some pre-planning of hikes and checking of driving distances is helpful.
Paradise where we hiked today is an alpine region and in summer once the snow melts it is a hikers heaven as the meadows are filled with a bright abundance of flowers blooming, bees and birds pollinating flowers and lush green alpine vegetation. Luckily for us all the flowers seem to be bloom right now, and the weather outside is blue skies with very little snow on trails and none in the immediate area around the inn. Which is actually not normal. This time of year there is still supposed to be like 6+ feet of snow around Paradise and most of the trails should’ve been snow covered still. Unfortunately the Pacific Northwest had a terrible snow season so the Skyline trail which we hiked was pretty much snow free minus for a few small areas up top.
As we’re staying in Paradise, this meant that we could be afforded a chance at sleeping in… except that with the lack of sound proofing and everyone else waking up I still woke up earlier than intended… That’s okay as a peek out the window showed not a cloud in the sky. Today’s hike was only 5.5 miles, considerably short in the scheme of things so we took a few side trails to check out other views. But because it was short it also gave us time to walk leisurely and turn around and take it all in. You ascend up a trail with Rainier looming in front of you, but behind you you’re climbing the valley filled with flowers and the Tatoosh Range in the distance. With the super clear morning weather you could even see Mount St Helens, Mount Hood and Mount Adams in the distance!
The Skyline Trail is also the trail that the mountain climbers take to get up to Muir Camp, the first stop on their way to attempt an ascent of Mount Rainier. You can actually day hike out to Muir Camp and back if you’re well prepared for changing conditions and can navigate back down if the weather changes – unmarked trail and glaciers to fall off. We were actually quite surprised how close the mountain was to the Skyline trail. Along the way we saw many Hoary Marmots. Marmots are a member of the rodent family and they kind of look like giant guinea pigs to me. They basically spend summer fattening up as in winter they can reduce their heartbeat to 4-5 beats per second and live of their fat stores. The trail has a couple shortcuts that you can take back, but we kept going up to the High Skyline trail the back done. It was interesting to see that the other side of the mountain had a very different look. It was more rocky, and vegetation hadn’t had much of a chance to grow yet. Making it back down, it was time to eat a hot dog. Hot dogs somehow = post hike food for me.
Oh something else cool was they have the nightly astronomy setup at Paradise as well. Excellent for us as all we had to do was wander out of the inn and cross the carpark. Beats having to drive like an hour! Last night we saw Jupiter and 3 of its moons, Saturn (with it’s rings) and a moon, the moon and a pair of stars (which I’ve forgotten the name of). And today the guy had his solar scope out so we got to see the sun. Very cool, especially Saturn and the moon!
Summerland I’m a sucker for parks with cute or interesting names in trails or areas of the park. It’s often the name that’s caught my attention first. Park names and trails that have caught my attention before: Delicate Arch (Arches NP), Island In The Sky (Canyonlands NP), Road’s End (Kings Canyon NP), Many Glacier (Glacier NP), Exit Glacier (Kenai Fjords NP). Rainer NP got me for a few things: a mountain (volcano actually), it has a trail called the Wonderland Trail. There’s a place called Summerland (not to mention Paradise!). Hook line and sinker, it had me.
So as you can probably guess, today’s hike was out to Summerland. Summerland is about a 8.4 mile return with just over 2000 feet elevation change. The actual trail out to Summerland is part of the Wonderland trail. Wonderland is a 90 something mile trail (96 I think?) that circles Mount Rainier. The overall trail has elevation changes of over 20,000 feet (combined) and about 250 people hike the full loop each year. Many others hike sections hike portions of it. There’s also plenty of day hikes that follow the Wonderland trail for portions of it. The trailhead was on the way to Sunrise (yes another name that may have caught my attention), so we had to get an early start. Sunrise is about 2 hours driving from Paradise so we knew it would take a bit to get there. From what I’d read Summerland is a fairly popular trail in summer but has limited parking so an early start was called for. Funnily enough it isn’t listed in any of the visitor trail maps, which for some reason only list trails starting from the actual visitor centres. But I had my instructions on where it was so we were set.
The alarm was set for 6:00AM and we were on the road by 6:30AM. We arrived at the trailhead around 8:00AM, restocked our CamelBaks and hit the trail. The trail was under tree canopy for the majority of the journey uphill. A nice change as it was a lot cooler. The weather is in a bit of a heatwave at the moment so it’s 90+ fahrenheit which is mid 30’s celsius. It’s supposed to be getting close to 100 on Sunday! The trail gradually climbed and we reached a small meadow thing which had flowers which we weren’t sure whether was Summerland (no map). Basically my instructions said something along the line of crossing the creek and then there would be a steep 0.5 mile climb up to Summerland. We had a snack then debated whether we were there or not. The trail seemed to keep going uphill and the first bit didn’t seem particular alpine-ish. The portion after the creek to where we were wasn’t partially steep so the feeling was that it was probably actually 0.5 of a steep climb not 0.5 from the creek. So we started going uphill. Along the way a guy was coming up so we asked him if he knew whether the thing below us was Summerland. He’d done the trail before and he told us nope, Summerland was up all the switchbacks and that it was a huge meadow that was pretty with campsites and a pit toilet. So upwards we kept going. Soon we arrived at Summerland and yep it was a huge meadow. The flowers were in early bloom. July-August is when they really take off. We sat down on a rock for a rest surrounded by the meadow with Rainier in the background. The occasional marmot was scurrying around the place. A cute thing was the marmot we encountered on our way back down. We’d just left the toilet and wanted to take a track down to the main trail but a marmot decided it wanted to dig and play with the rocks on the track. It just sat there, then decided to go lie down on the side of the trail. Then it decided it wanted to eat again, ran up to a flower stalk grabbed it pulled it down and ate it. And ate more flowers. The hike back down was fairly uneventful, just very hot as the temperature had heated up since we left in the morning.
After Summerland we headed over to Sunrise as it wasn’t too far away. Sunrise visitor services and facilities don’t actually open till tomorrow (Saturday) but with the lack of snow season the area is open for hiking now. It’s the highest visitor centre point in the park and the mountain looms in it’s background. We didn’t do any hiking up there as it was super hot but it did offer different views of the park. Then on the way back down we stopped of at Grove of the Patriarchs Trail as it was only a 1.1 mile trail and went though old growth forest. It was an okay trail. It’s probably a trail more catered to day trippers, as you can definitely see the same/similar things in better forms doing a longer trail or visiting parks like Sequoia or the Redwoods. But it did have descriptive boards describing the various trees and how forest ecosystems worked which is great for education.
We’ve spent the last few days in the Forks region. Forks being the place that the Twilight series is set in. We’re staying in a little town called La Push (population approx 350) that is actually the home of the Quileute Nation (Indian reservation). It’s a Sovereign Nation, so they have their own government – a Tribal Council. They run a oceanside resort and RV park that has a nice beachside holiday feel to it. There’s the RV park portion, cabins and a motel. We’re in a room in the motel and all rooms have a balcony looking out onto First Beach. In hindsight we probably could’ve based ourselves out of here as everything in Olympic is about a 1.5 – 2 hour drive from here. It would’ve been a fairly long drive from the airport though. The whole of La Push is in the Quileute Nation. There’s one restaurant and a small grocery store in terms of catering for tourists. Anything else is a drive back to Forks. Every room/cabin is self contained though. In fact tonight we’re going to eat in. Still minimal cooking but we have a roast chicken (already cooked), salad, potato and onion.
So other than that, what’s been happening? Originally we’d planned on doing a longish hike on the day we moved over to Forks, but I did some shuffling, as it was going to be just over a 2 hour drive followed by a 9 mile hike. A hike which was dependent on the tide. So instead on driving day we drove on down to the Hoh Rainforest. It’s a rainforest climate and the token visitor walk is the Hall of Mosses trail. A short loop where you walk through the floor, with spruce and maple trees growing/hanging over tendrils of moss hanging down. Fungus growing on trunks and ferns all over. We also walked a bit up the Hoh River Trail. That whole trail goes for 17+ miles on way so we just said walk for 20 minutes and turn back. It was similar scenery but I can understand why people say to walk some of it at least. It’s definitely has less people through it so has a more untouched feeling to it.
Finishing up at the Hoh we headed on down the coast to Ruby Beach. The low tide had already happened a few hours ago but it was still down low enough for us to walk out to some rocks and look at starfishes and anenomes. Then we head on back towards La Push with a side trip by Rialto Beach. We couldn’t go out to Hole In The Wall as the tide was definitely on the way up by now. You’re probably wondering why I’ve mentioned the tide quite a bit. The tide change here is probably more so then we’re used to in Australia so you’ve got to make sure you don’t get trapped by the rising tide. As in some places you’ll be stuffed or you’ll have to wait it out. Along the coast at certain places there’s markers to mark where you can up if you’re caught by an incoming tide.
Which brings us to todays hike. The Ozette Loop. A 9.2 mile loop hike that has 3.1 miles down on the beach between Cape Alava and Sand Point. You’ve got to time this hike around the low tide as otherwise it’s not accessible. Apparently there is a way to hike it overland if necessary (and we did see some of the markers), but that’s no fun. So with the high tide being at 5 something AM, we set our alarm clocks for 5:45AM. It was just under a 2 hour drive there and we we’re on the trail by a bit after 8AM. The ‘beach’ isn’t what we’re use to back home. It’s more rocks, pebbles, some sand and driftwood. So the 3.1 miles over that was slow going. As we got close to Sand Point we started seeing non human tracks in the sand. Bird maybe? Nah probably looks like a dog, nothing to worry about (even though dogs aren’t allowed on trails). Hmm what’s that? Ahh a deer. I’m not to freaked out about deer as they don’t have antlers or horns, but still nonetheless a safe distance was kept. Rounding Sand Point we had to start finding our way back onto the trail. We managed to find a marker which seemed to be in roughly the right location, so off we went. Yep correct trail.
Tonight I’m going to see if my fire starting skills work – you’re allowed to have fires on the beach here. Also let of fireworks. We’ve decided to skip the firework portion and just go for fire. Tomorrow we’re on the road again as we’re heading over to Mt Rainier. Apparently the weather is supposed to be somewhat crazy with like 35+ temperatures! Might also be internetless for the next 5 days unless there’s free Wi-Fi. Definitely no internet for the first 3 nights in Mt Rainier.
Well our time in Alaska is up and we’ve been back in the lower 48 for a few days now. With that it means we’re somewhere around our halfway holiday point and are now going to be making our way south back towards LA. But that’s okay, there’s still 6 national parks to visit along the way. Leaving Alaska on Friday we flew to Seattle where we picked up the car and hit the road to Port Angeles. The traffic on the I-5 was a bit of a mess, but we got to the KOA by 6PM so it wasn’t too bad.
We’re spending a bit of time in the Pacific Northwest region, and our first park was Olympic National Park. Olympic is in the north east of Washington and consists of a number of different regions – the coast, mountains, rivers and lakes and forests. As a result there’s about half a dozen different areas of the park and it takes a while to drive between them. So we’ve split our stay into two blocks so that we can avoid having to drive so far – it would take just over 2 hours one way to drive to the rainforest side of the park from where we are now.
The first day we spent in the Hurricane Ridge area. The hillsides look really dry as unfortunately the Pacific Northwest had a really terrible snow season this year. The area got a normal amount of precipitation but as temperatures were warmer than normal it didn’t fall as snow. According to the park newspaper there is usually snow still around on trails this time of year, but in February trails we’re pretty much snow free already. On this day we’d planned to hike out Klahhane Ridge but our hike was to be thwarted close to the end by a mountain goat. Yep you heard right. We got up to the last few switchbacks to be greeted with by a nanny and her kid. Righto let’s back away. So we backed out of sight waited a bit then slowly walked forward to try and see around the corner. Nope goats still there right in the middle of the trail. And ahh crap it knows we’re here, with the mother getting up and oh, walking down the trail. Okay let’s back away again. Hmmm what are you meant to do with goats? Turns out we didn’t know. Bears and cougars yep, know what to do there, but zilch don’t know about goats. So some more waiting another sneak around, and another oh crap. So a scramble up a rock in case it came down the trail and a wait out began. After 5 mins or so, it decided we weren’t harmful and decided to potter on back up the trail where in prompt decided to sit down (again!). Well we’d already known that when animals like goats or bison decided to sit, be prepared to wait a long time. So after a bit we decided we’d just turn around. On the way back we saw that a group did make it pass the area we got stuck in – don’t know if the goat had moved on by then. We possibly could’ve scrambled up the hillside, but after having the goat turn and walk towards us three times we’d had enough.
By the time we’d hiked back to the main Hurricane Ridge area the visitor centre was now open so we went in. Oh look warnings about mountain goats, and what to do when one follows. Apparently stay half a football field away, and be prepared to throw rocks if it starts following you. Hmm good to know after the fact. Had a quick chat to the ranger talking about goats and he’s like “Klahhane Ridge? I think I know which goat you’re talking about, I’ve thrown rocks at it”. Interestingly enough mountain goats are not native to the Olympic Peninsula and the goats here are starting to get a bit habituated which is not a good thing. A Google search soon told me that in 2010 a man was killed by an aggressive goat at Olympic NP on Klahhane Ridge. An interesting thing is that mountain goats crave salt, and the Olympics aren’t known for being particularly rich in salt. But what is? Human pee and the smell of sweat. The parks service here are now recommending people pee at least 50 feet off trail and on a rock so the trails don’t become one big salt lick for the goats. On the upnote, I had my first parks hotdog. Yummy. But damn is it about 3 times more expensive than our first U.S. trip ever.
As for today we headed over to the Sol Duc area which has old growth forest and a river running though. Headed off reasonably early as it was a 1 hour drive, The hike was nice, a loop through the forest, and as such it was actually cool to walk. The loop went through the hot springs resort, so when it said hotdog on the menu a hotdog was halved and shared. Then it was another 2 and a bit mile hike back.
Animal count for the last 2 days: Many deer, many mountain goats, squirrels and a lone bear.
Tomorrow we’re off to the Forks region. Not because I’m a fan of Twilight, but it’s time to explore the coast and rainforest areas.
Hmm I’ll have to add the other 1 pic from the Sol Duc area later. Internet is very slow this evening (edit: now added).
We’ve spent the last few days down in Seward, as wait you guessed it right – there’s another national park. Kenai Fjords National Park is in the south-ish part of Alaska and has a more temperate climate. That said it still rains a lot here. Luckily Alaska is having a nice warm stretch right now so it’s blue skies all round. Excellent as we did a day boat cruise which usually is more choppy. With the fine weather the gulf of Alaska looked and felt more like a lake.
Seward is another small Alaskan town, named after William H, Seward a former US Secretary of State who was instrumental in the purchase of Alaska from the Russians. It’s also the other Anchorage area port for cruise ships as it’s only about 2 hours to Anchorage. As the the national park is the fjord, the major tourist activity is getting out on a boat into Resurrection Bay and the other bay/inlets that make up the area. Many of the glaciers that are see in the fjord are glaciers coming off the Harding Icefield. The Harding Icefield is remnants of the Little Ice Age. The area is also excellent for wildlife spotting.
On our driving day here, we arrived late morning, so we headed of to Exit Glacier. Exit Glacier is actually part of Kenai Fjords NP. It too is a glacier from the Harding Icefield. It’s the only part of this national park that you can access by vehicle – everything else is by boat. Exit Glacier is a retreating glacier and as you drive in they have markers of where the glacier reached to at particular points in time. As you walk around the trails in the area it becomes more apparent as the trails were clearly built back when the glacier extended further. There’s not many trails in this area and it is easily accessible for most people. There is one longish trail though – the Harding Icefield Trail. 8.3 miles return, that takes you to the top where you can look out over the icefield. There was a sign at the visitor centre saying there was an avalanche danger pass a certain point, but we’ll see what the conditions are like on the day we attempt it.
First full day we did a day boat trip out into the Northwestern Fjord. After being on a cruise for 1 week I was slightly hesitant about spending 9 hours on a boat. Not because the cruise was bad, but because I wasn’t sure what I’d see that I hadn’t seen on the cruise. Well it turns out we saw a lot of animals. Humpback whales – one with a calf, many Dall’s porpoise, harbour seals, a sea lion rookery, puffins, nesting gulls, sea otters (one with a baby), coastal goat with baby. As well as various birds who’s names I vaguely remember – murre’s, some rhinoceros bird (you can tell I’m not exactly a birdwatcher). We also saw more glaciers and probably the biggest glacier calving I’ve seen. The wave created spread out ice and soon there were many seals resting on the ice.
Prepare yourself for a pics onslaught of the boat trip (in no particular order):
The next day (today) we went and hiked the Harding Icefield Trail. A 8.2 mile return hike that takes you up high where you end up looking out on the icefield such that it almost looks endless. The hike up pretty much is uphill al the way, about 1000 feet climb per 1 mile. As mentioned before it was posted for avalanche danger 2 days ago, but as of yesterday it no longer has been. That said there was still a fair amount of snow, with the last 1.6 miles to end of trail pretty much being a snowfield. We actually turned around at one point as we thought there was still a lot to go and M was pushing his comfort levels re: snow hiking. It was somewhat slippery and you occasionally did post hole which wasn’t fun.
But on our way back down we noticed a pair coming back so we asked them if they made it to the end, and yes they had. Next question was how far was it. You’ve made it past the hard part, and are about 2/3 of the way to the end they said. Well knowing we were that close we did an about turn and kept on hiking. Luckily we hadn’t made it down the steepest snow section yet, otherwise it would have been no returns. So we pushed back up the hill we had just come down and went up the next rise. Hey, what’s out there it’s the emergency hut in the distance. We were really almost there.
More trudging across snow and up one final hill, we were at the shelter. The Harding Icefield Sheleter isn’t for overnight stays, but rather for emergency shelter. We weren’t going to need that today. Continuing pass that took us out to the end of trail area where you can look out upon the icefield. It’s pretty impressive. From where you are the icefield is endless. And having seen the many glaciers it feeds makes it ever more so impressive.
After a break and some snacks it was time to turn back around and re-make our way through the snow. I may have fallen over a few times but the snow was soft enough. All in all, the hike itself was somewhat strenuous as the lower half of the climb had very hot weather with no breeze. We had to check our water along the way to make sure we had enough to get back. The later half was a lot cooler due to the snow and the breeze of the ice field. At least on the way down there was a slight breeze, but it was still warm nonetheless.
After the snow thwarted hiking day, we had one last day to get in a walk. As we didn’t have any bus tickets booked (and I wasn’t going to go on another 4 hour bus trip to be greeted with snow again) we had to stay within the first 15 miles of the road. So it was off to the Savage River.
Unlike other National Parks there’s very few marked trails in Denali. In fact they encourage you to find your own trail – follow a water course, hike up a ridge. As long as you can see and make it back to the park road you’ll be fine. Savage River however has a few marked out trails and we decided to do one of these ones instead of finding our own way. So off on the Savage Alpine Trail we went.
The trail started with a climb and as we got higher it soon became clear that yes, we were heading into snow again. We could make out the trail through the snow from a distance away, so it looked okay weather wise, a look through binoculars confirmed so.
So we pushed on. Seemingly all the elevation gain was at the start which worked up a sweat, I had to shed my beanie because I was too warm and couldn’t be bothered removing my rain jacket so decided to shed heat via my head instead. Getting into the snow area though I had to put it on again as it got cold. Clouds were blowing through the pass bringing with it falling snow.
Walking along the pass M tells me to come over and look at something. So I catch up and look… a bear print. Wait multiple bear prints. It looks like a mother bear and her cubs has been through the area recently. The prints were still clearly visible so we reckon the bears must have been through in the last few hours. So it was time to talk loudly as there was no knowing where they were. On the up note, looking at the prints they seemed to have gone off down hill.
We hit a peak and it was time for a couple of quick photos before we quickly kept walking. Mainly because it was very cold. I wasn’t wearing any gloves either so my hands were going red from the wind and cold. Dropping over the side of the pass was a lot warmer, with no wind. It was nice seeing the spring flowers flowering in the snow. Plants must have a hard life up in the harsh weather climate.
Finishing off at the Savage River campground we walked the 2 miles back following the road. There was a shuttle but it only came every 2 hours. Plus we needed to get up our miles. We haven’t done much walking so far and we’re heading to Kenai Fjords in a few days where I want to hike the Harding Icefield Trail.
Right now we’re back in Anchorage for the night before heading to Seward tomorrow. On the way back though we made a bit of a detour to head to Talkeetna for lunch. Had to get the last Denali stamp from the ranger station there. After the snow and freezing weather here, we’re now in a bit of a hot streak. Blue skies, mid twenties the mountains were out and visible today. Got some nice views of the mountain from the Talkeetna River and from a viewpoint near town.
So there has been a lack of posts for the last few days because of two main things: no time and the internet is a bit hit or miss. In fact the Internet is dead right now for miles on end with no estimated time of when it’s coming back. So I’m using the time to write this post in advance. As for the lack of time, I seemed to have booked activities that had a start or pickup time before 7:45AM which has meant a lot of early starts every single day. Yesterday we had to make a 7:20AM bus, today a 7:45AM pickup and tomorrow a 6:00AM bus. Last night we had to crash 9:30PM. It’s the most sleep I’ve had probably since we left Australia!
First let’s have the pics from College Fjord that I didn’t have ready last time:
Anchorage But now let’s go back a few days to Anchorage. Anchorage is the most populated city in Alaska (but it’s not the capital). In fact it use to be the busiest air cargo airport in the world, back when planes were tiny and they had to make a stop between Asia and the lower 48. In Anchorage we stayed at a B&B – 11th Avenue Bed and Breakfast. It was our first stay at a B&B, and it left us impressed. I have a feeling most other B&B’s aren’t as nice. 11th Avenue had different rooms all with their own private bathroom – we booked the cheapest room so our’s was just across a hall. There was even a friendly daschund. In the morning the host Marilyn put on a feast for breakfast – there was fresh fruit, yoghurt, muesli and the home made halibut quesadillas with a side of scrambled eggs. Juices, tea and coffee as well. On the day we were driving to Denali we were leaving before breakfast time so Marilyn put together a breakfast to go bag for us – hard boiled eggs, apple, cheese, trail mix, muesli slice and water. We were impressed. If anyone’s ever in Anchorage definitely check out 11th Avenue Bed and Breakfast.
We spent our full day in Anchorage not actually in town though. We we didn’t do any actual glacier activities whilst on the cruise – helicopter rides onto a glacier cost a lot of $ – so we made a drive out to Glacier View where there is the Matanuska Glacier. This glacier is on state land but the only way you can actually access the glacier is over private land. So there’s a $20 glacier access fee per person. You can drive down yourself but we chose to go with a glacier hike operator. Firstly the drive down is really crappy pot-holed dirt track and you’re not supposed to take hire cars down them. Secondly, hiking on a glacier that you don’t know isn’t exactly a smart thing to do. There’s ice to slip on and holes to fall in, no natural selection happening here. After checking in, getting gear allocated it was time for u to get over to the glacier. Down the bumpy road we went, spotting a moose and her two calves along the way. I’ve been to Yellowstone and Glacier NPs and never spotted a moose, so I was very happy to see moose in the wild. It’s the only ‘big’ animal from the US parks that I had not seen.
After parking and helmet-ing up we walked out the first bit till it started getting icy. Then it was time to crampon up. Crampons are things you wear under your boots that have sharp edges so you can dig into the ice. We did see a few people out there without them, but it probably wasn’t a smart move. A slip on the ice and your head was probably going to get sliced open on rock. We made our way over to the ice fall part of the glacier which was really pretty. The tap water I’d filled our water bladders up with tasted very chlorinated so the chance to drink melting glacial water was really nice and refreshing. Then after hacking out a place to stand with his ice axe our guide took us to a spot to look into a crevasse. Don’t want to fall into one of those!
Driving back into Anchorage we were feeling tired, it was a 2 hour drive each way and the next day we had a 5-ish hour drive up to Denali. It was basically dinner, shower, pack, sleep. Normally we try to be on the road before 7AM for long drives, but this time we decided to sleep in till 6:45AM. If you can even call that a sleep in – that’s the time I usually wake up on a work day. Oh speaking of sleep, because we’re so far north the days are almost endless – we had to sleep with eye masks because there were no blackout curtains.
Denali drive day So the 4-5 hour drive turned out to be more like 6 hours. As the summer season is really short up here now is the time to get all the road maintenance/work done. It can take multiple seasons before a particular piece of roadwork can be completed. It’s been similar in various other parks we’ve visited in places that get snowed in come September-October. The first half of the trip has pretty much no road work, but the later half had quite a lot. There’s pretty much nothing on the drive up. Just a few very small towns where there’s a gas station to refuel and take a break.
We arrived at Denali in the afternoon. First stop the visitor centre to get an interagency annual pass. I’d worked out we could make a saving as the annual pass is $80 and all up we’d have to pay $75 for individual parks in the lower 48. As we had bus tickets booked for Denali we could then get a $10 refund per ticket. So after getting the annual pass it was time to pick up our bus tickets from the Wilderness Access Centre and get a $40 refund. What’s this bus ticket thing though? Denali has one road through the park – the park road that goes out 92 miles to Kantishna, a former gold mining town. In order to help preserve the park after about mid May to end of the season (some time in Sept), if you want to venture pass mile 15 you need to catch a park bus. Unlike some other parks that have mandated shuttle/bus transport (e.g. Zion), the buses here aren’t free. You buy a ticket and the ticket includes park access. Since most people will catch a bus there’s no actual gate to the park. Along with the park buses, there’s also a few of tours you can book. They’re a bit different to the buses as they’re narrated. We had one tour and one park bus ride booked.
Then it was back up the highway to check-in at our accomodation. Travelling for this many weeks gets costly, especially with car hire, so where we can we’ll try and save some $. Often this will be in the form of staying in RV parks but instead of lugging tents and all we’ll stay in the cheapest cabin and used shared facilities. The cheap/smallest cabin this time was Cabin T, a cute little cabin with a sod roof:
Kantishna Experience – the 12 hour bus tour Our first full day in Denali was spent on the 12 hour Kantishna Experience tour. 12 hours on a bus. Yes it really does take a long time to get further into the park. The KE tour went all the way to the end of the road, and we made stops at a few key places. Riding the bus you can understand why there’s no cars allowed. It’s dirt track on windy road with barely any passing room on some corners. There’s also the stopping for wildlife watching. If visitors could drive their cars in the road would get damaged a lot quicker and there would be ‘animal’ jams. We did get to see quite a lot of animals – 8 grizzly bears, multiple moose, too many caribou, dall sheep, various birds. There were a group on our bus who we’re like lecturers (or researchers?) in animal sciences who were really good at animal spotting and one guy in particular seemed an avid bird person so we got to see quiet a number of birds actually identified. Not many animal pics though as my zoom lens doesn’t zoom that far. Cute animal spotting of the day – mother grizzly with 2 cubs sleeping in a field.
An also awesome thing about the day was that it was sunny enough for Denali (Mt McKinley) to make an appearance. Apparently it’s only visible 2 out of 10 days in the summer whilst in winter it is almost always visible.
After we got back from the epic day, we bought Subway for dinner drove back and ate, showered and went to bed at 9:30AM. Another early start for the next day as we we’re going ATV-ing.
ATV-ing ATV day was meant to be a ‘rest’ day except I forgot I’d booked it for a 7:45AM pickup. We got to sleep till 6:30AM at least. ATV-ing was fun. We’d decided to go single rider ATV, because why share driving when you can both ride yourself? For the first half we rode a bit more slowly. I’d never been ATV-ing before and as it was more a 4wd style track I was handling the embankments more carefully. Nothing like rolling an ATV to break a leg or kill yourself. The trails and river bed we rode on are just outside the park boundaries as it’s not allowed within the park. Whilst it was super fun, I can understand why – it kind of destroys the paths as the wheels cut out tracks in the trail. By the end of I was covered in a dirt all over. The last time I was covered in this much dirt was crammed in the back of a ute in Cambodia.
Post ATV-ing it was a food stop then we headed back into the park to properly check out the visitor centre and walk a short trail.
Hike Day Today we were catching a bus back to Eielson to go hiking. Or at least that’s what we had planned to do. We had a 6:00AM bus booked as it takes about 4 hours to get out there so we had picked the early bus to make the most of it. When we woke in the morning it was quite cold and socked in. It looked like it had been raining since some time the evening before. That’s okay we thought, we’ve got rain jackets and pants. Ain’t nothing going to stop us. Except as the bus made it’s journey through the park road it became clear that more than just rain had fallen overnight. All the mountains and plains we had seen just 2 days earlier we’re now covered in snow! And as the bus made it’s way further in it started snowing. And kept snowing. By the time we got to Eielson everything there was covered in a good 2-3 inches of snow. The flags were even out for the start of some trails. So our original plan was kind of scuttled as we had planned to just hike uphill to wherever we wanted to. With all the snow it wasn’t really possible. So we had a quick walk about the Tundra Spur Trail, checked out the visitor centre then headed on the bus back. Whilst there was no hiking done, it was cool to get to see everything covered in snow. The weather here varies quite a lot – rainy on one side, sunny on another, very windy elsewhere.
So since we made it back earlier than we thought – it was still 2PM though – we made it over to the sled dog kennels for the 4:00PM talk. Denali has kennels, and the dogs here are actively used as a canine ranger unit. Summer is the dogs holiday time though, as in winter they go out on trails patrolling the park, as well as so maintenance work can be performed. These dogs are workhorses – larger and very lean. When the 5 dogs were getting brought out for the sled demo all the other dogs suddenly became very active, as if they were saying ‘pick me, pick me’.