Sunday, September 19, 2010

Valdez

We were lucky this summer to have many visitors! The most recent one being my cousin Emily! We took her to Valdez, Alaska (#58) to see the amazing waterfalls, glaciers, pipeline and abundant wildlife! We started out the drive on Friday afternoon after work. We had booked 2 nights at a local Valdez bed and breakfast. The drive would have been very scenic although it was dark by the time we turned off on the Richardson Highway from the Glenn Highway. It was also very foggy that evening too. However, we weren't worried as 2 weekend days were still ahead of us!

The next morning, we had a glacier and wildlife cruise booked with Stan Stephens. It was a 9-hour cruise to both the Meares and Colombia glaciers. We were excited because the skies cleared and it was actually pretty sunny!

The first glacier that we were going to go see was the Columbia Glacier (#54). However, there were lots of icebergs at that time, so we went to the Meares Glacier first, instead. Here is a picture of the icebergs!



While we were out cruising, we saw a commercial fishing boat. We learned that the boats sometimes have to wait until the fishing times open up. Then they work very hard and very fast until the fishing times end. There are also tender boats that go around to all of the small fishing boats and to buy and off-load all of the fish. This saves the fishing boats time and they do not have to go all the way back to the harbor.

We saw many animals on the cruise (#86). Puffins,
Seals,
Sea lions,
Orca whales,
and finally, humpback whales. We were very lucky that the humpback was "performing" for us! We sat and watched him for about 45 minutes!
Here is a picture of Emily and I in front of the Meares Glacier! It was a beautiful day and great to spend time with my cousin!
We even got to hold some glacier ice!

When we were coming back into port, we saw an oil tanker that was about to leave the port of Valdez , headed for the lower 48.
After the glacier cruise, we took a short drive around Valdez to see the waterfalls. They were very beautiful and the water was running very fast. The top one is Horse Tail Falls and the bottom one is called Bridal Veil Falls.
The next day on the drive back, we made a quick stop at Worthington Glacier (#113).


There were some nice views of the Wrangell Mountains.


And Emily got her picture by the trans-Alaska pipeline.
Finally, out last stop was at the Matanuska Glacier. A popular spot for all of our out-of-town guests. We got to do a glacier walk!



Rebekah

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Crow Pass Trail

On July 21st I sprained my ankle playing softball. It hurt, but I finished the game and the next day I could barely tell anything had been wrong with my ankle. On July 28th, during the next softball game, I was sliding into second base and I sprained my ankle again. This time it hurt worse, but I still finished the game. By the time we got home it was already swollen and there was a golf ball sized protrusion on the side of my ankle. The next day it was worse. The third day it started bruising. I couldn't walk until Saturday (I just hopped around the apartment on 1 leg).
That weekend our friends Brian and Sarah told us they were hiking Crow Pass Trail (#28 on the list). Crow Pass Trail begins in Girdwood and rises fairly quickly to Crow Pass, the highest point along the Historic Iditarod Trail (which some may remember we saw the sign for the historic starting point in Seward). It is about 3.5 miles one way to the top and we had originally just planned on hiking up and back.

However, the trail continues for a total of 24 miles through Chugach State Park to Eagle River. And the entire hike from Girdwood to Eagle River is what our friends were doing. It is supposed to be a great hike, so we said yes contingent on my ankle.

Well after resting and rehabbing the ankle, as well as consulting with a medical professional (my sister Christina), we decided to give it a go. We rented backpacking packs from REI and purchased freeze dried meals (surprisingly good). Early Saturday morning we made the drive down to Girdwood where we met up with 2 more friends and began our ascent.

The hike up was gorgeous. You pass by some mining remnants. The most notable are the heavy duty metal cables that cross the steep pass in a few places. We took our time and didn't press too hard, since after all we had an additional 20 miles to go after reaching the summit.

The weather was overcast, but it was warm and wasn't raining so we didn't complain. At the top we met up with 4 more friends who had camped there the night before. Right as you reach the top of the pass Raven Glacier comes into view. It is a fairly large glacier that dug out the valley we would be hiking in for the rest of the day.


After pausing for some pictures we began the descent. On the way down we came across some snow patches (left over from the previous winter).


Most were tiny and crossed without problem, but the last one we came across was rather large and steep. The crossing was towards the top of the snow patch and there was about 50 feet of snowy slope beneath us before it ended in rocks. Rebekah and I were the last to cross, so unfortunately the foot holds had become rather worn and slippery. We slowly made our way across with the help of poles, but the tracks were just too worn. Rebekah slipped and slid about 5 feet down where she caught herself again (as she screamed "Steven!!!"). As she tried to take her next step her legs went completely out from under her. She slid all the way down to the bottom, but with the help of the pole and her feet was able to control her speed and stopped short of the rocks. I slipped down a few feet as well, but was able to make it over to the other edge without additional incident.


At the bottom was our first river crossing (there is typically only 1, but the rain level was high and this creek was above all of the stepping stones). I had bought cheap flip flops for the crossing, which I realized was a mistake as upon my first stop the flip flop slipped off my foot and floated away. We stopped for lunch shortly after as we watched a rather large Black Bear roaming around the slope (and what looked like 2 hunters tracking it).

From there the hike was mostly flat and the going was easier.


We came across a bridge over an impressive waterfall flowing down into a gorge (the same creek we had earlier forded).


Right after the bridge it began to rain. The trail took us deep into some brush for the next few miles. There were roots and stumps in the trail, but the brush made it hard to see the ground. The rain made the trail muddy and slippery. Morale was low and we hiked quickly and silently hoping for the weather to clear.


In one clearing we noticed a moose up ahead. One big old male with a giant rack eating right next to the trail. We waited about 10 minutes and he finally moved off far enough for us to safely pass (but still close enough to get a decent picture).


Now I wore my winter boots with winter socks (only ones I had high enough to wear with the boots) on this first day to give my ankle some support. However, the heavy boots made my feet sweat which led to blisters. And it was about this point in the hike that I began to notice them. They hurt worse and worse with each step until just about the point where I could no longer walk we came across a campsite along the trail. Since the campsite was just before the main river crossing (also known as the halfway point) we decided to set up camp.

Luckily, right after we set up camp the rain stopped and we were able to set up a fire to warm up and dry off. Without that break it would have been a long, wet night. To save on space we had bought a new tent (the Hiker/Biker II) and new smaller fleece sleeping bags. They were both much smaller and lighter than the current ones we owned. However, we neglected to notice the tent was technically classified as a 1 person tent. And I would say it was barely that. The tent was shaped like a long diamond, with the longest points being in the middle on top and the middle on the bottom. And if I was stretched out by myself in the tent my head was pressing against the top and my feet were pressing against the bottom. And Rebekah had to sleep there as well. On top of this, the sleeping bags were not nearly warm enough. And we had no pillows. Needless to say it was a fairly miserable night of shivering, tossing, and turning.

The next morning we woke up rejuvenated (kind of) and to sunshine! We quickly made up camp, ate breakfast, and headed for the river. Now the river is cold (it begins at a nearby glacier) and the bottom is very rocky. And I had lost my flip flops so I was crossing barefoot. And I already had blisters on my feet. We crossed in pairs and had some difficulty with our pair. Rebekah wanted to hurry since the water was freezing and I wanted to go slow since if I didn't step in just the right spot the sharp edges of the rocks would dig into my feet. Finally, we made it to the other side, rested, and changed.


I got to pop and clean my blisters (the ones that didn't pop from the rocky crossing) and put on Second Skin, new socks, and my tennis shoes (which I decided to go with on the second day for comfort).


We finally got back to hiking and this day was definitely easier going. The trail was open, it was flat, and much more interesting. We had to deal with ladders,


and ropes, and many different types of river crossings (luckily all out of the water).


The only real concern on this day was the bears. This area has a very large Brown Bear population and there was bear scat everywhere. On some spots on the trail we would see bear scat every 20 feet (and this was just looking on the trail itself). Luckily, and probably due to our large group size, we did not see a single bear the entire second day.


We just hiked enjoying the beautiful weather and scenery. There were some very large waterfalls along the way.


Finally we began to see signs of civilization. However, no one told us (and we failed to realize) that the first signs of civilization we would see (which were actual signs from the Eagle River Nature Center) were still 3 miles away from the Nature Center and the parking lot. Those last 3 miles were torture. We knew we were close, but didn't know how close. We were exhausted. We were hungry (we skipped lunch to try and get back at a reasonable hour since we all had to work the next day). Our shoulders were sore from carrying the pack. Our legs ached. My feet ached. Somehow my ankle was fine and hurt the least out of any part of legs.

After all of that we did make it to our car. We collapsed, then drove immediately to Red Robin where we devoured burgers, milkshakes, beers, and about 4 helpings of their endless fries. We slept very well that night.


I hope this post didn't come across as complaining, but I wanted you to know the ordeals that went into this hike. It was definitely worth the adventure and I would do it again or another one like it, just maybe in another year or two. I think it definitely completes #36 on the list of hiking throughout Chugach State Park.


Steven

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Native Heritage Center and Arctic Thunder

This weekend we decided to stay around Anchorage and visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center (#13 on our list). The center includes an inside area with artifacts, art and traditional clothing on display as well as a stage for certain events and performances. Outside is a nice walking path with sample native houses from the different groups set up. The houses are all real, true-to-life size and are representative of the following group; Athabascan, Tlingit/Haida, Yup'ik, Aleut and Inupiat. Once you go inside each of the houses, there is a person there who talks to you about the different ways of life for that group of natives. This picture is of one of the houses. Outside, you can see the jawbones of a whale. You can tell that the people who lived in this type of house also depended on ocean animals and lived close to the water.
World Eskimo Olympics is a competition made up of many different traditional games that used to be played for physical fitness. The people would play these games in order to stay physically fit during the long, cold, winter months. The game pictured below is the high kick.
Next on the agenda for the weekend was Arctic Thunder Air Show that is held once every two years at the Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson (Army and Air Force). This is the program booklet that was given out at the event. This event is #112 on our list of Alaskan things to do. The air show is put on to increase awareness of the Army and Navy within the community. There was no lack of recruiters on hand for those interested in enlisting.

This plane was the first part of the show that we saw. If you look closely at the picture, you can see a stunt person doing tricks on the top of the airplane while it is flying. Actually, it is a stunt woman!These next planes were the Canadian Snowbirds. They are the show force for Canada.

This plane is called a Harrier. It is able to float up above the ground. It is also able to turn sideways in midair and also land and take-off straight up and down. This plane was very loud and we had to cover our ears when it was flying overhead. There were many small children there with nothing as far as ear protection goes. Not too good!



Next, was a live demonstration and explanation of a bombing and troops being put in and taken out of a hot zone. This was interesting to see the tactical side of the military. This plane is an F-14. It can fly very fast and quietly, so it is called a stealth jet.

This next plane is an F-22 Raptor. It is also a stealth fighter jet.

Next was the Blue Angels show. First was this plane, nicknamed Fat Albert. This plane is used for transporting people and cargo that go along with the Blue Angels. Here are the Blue Angels. They are part of the U.S. Navy and is the Flight Demonstration Team. There are 6 planes in the fleet. Some of the pilots are from Georgia, which I thought was pretty cool! The planes are F18 Hornets. It was amazing to watch the planes fly and how they must communicate with each other in a certain way in order to remain safe. These planes are also very loud!


After the Blue Angels show, Steven and I got our picture inside this plane which is used by the Alaska Air National Guard for search and rescue operations.




They also let us take a picture inside the cockpit! All in all it was a fun and busy weekend!

Rebekah