Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent Was the Summer in Alaska

We had a running joke on our journey this summer through Alaska and Canada:

“Canada is so beautiful that everyone in the world would want to live here.  To ensure that didn’t happen, God gave Canada really lousy weather.”

Snowstorm rages on the mountain behind our campground in Banff National Park, Canada

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Darby and Shadow in the Rainforest

Darby and Shadow in the rainforest

The dogs took a break on a long, steep climb up to a mountain pass in the Olympic National Forest, Washington.  Shadow was so tired that he fell asleep on our short break!  Darby kept a watchful eye on us while we grabbed a quick snack.  Notice the cute little “Alfafa” hair (from Little Rascals) on top of her head. 

 

Shadow and Darby on Marmot Pass

After a 6-mile hike and 3500-foot climb, we reached the top of Marmot Pass with a spectacular view of the Olympic Mountains.  Though our dogs are in terrific shape, they took our lunch break as an opportunity to catch a few winks.  What they really wanted to do was chase the marmots in the nearby boulder field, but we wouldn’t let them. 

We had a brief scare on the hike back down the trail.  Shadow got lost for about 10 minutes.  Theresa and Darby stayed put, while I hiked back toward the pass.  Fortunately I passed by a couple that saw Shadow running up the trail, so I yelled for him, and a few minutes later he came running down the trail, so happy to see me!

Alaska: Land of Glaciers

One of many glaciers in Whittier, Alaska

Although the last ice age was 10,000 years ago, remnants of that frozen time still exist throughout Alaska.  There are over 100,000 glaciers in Alaska, and 5% of the vast state is covered by ice.  In simple terms, glaciers are formed when it snows more in winter than it melts in summer.  The snow builds up year over year, and within just a decade the snow compacts into dense ice forming a glacier. 

We saw hundreds of glaciers on our trip through Canada and Alaska.  You can spot a glacier at a glance by its “cottage cheese” appearance and blue hue.  Glaciers appear blue because they absorb all colors of the visible light spectrum except blue, which is transmitted to our eyes.  Glaciers look like cottage cheese because the surface of glaciers often crack as a glacier slowly works its way down a mountain.  These crevasses appear small from a distance, but up close they can be too wide to jump and hundreds of feet deep.  Falling into a glacier crevasse is usually a fatal mistake, because the body often succumbs to hypothermia before a rescue attempt can be made.

Please check out our updated photo tour which includes lots of glacier pictures:

Portage Valley
Whittier
Prince William Sound
Chugach State Park
Mat-Su Valley
Glenn Highway

Flying High Above Denali

Pilot Tyler, Theresa and Timm on a glacier below Mt. McKinley

We spent a week in June hoping for a glimpse of Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain in North America.  There’s a saying in Denali National Park that you have a 95% chance of seeing a bear but only a 25% chance of seeing Mt. McKinley.  The mountain is so tall that it creates its own weather and is often obscured by clouds.  We never did see “The High One” while in the national park, but we saw it a couple of times while in Denali State Park.  Even at 40 miles away, the mountain loomed large in our view. 

While waiting for the mountain to emerge from the clouds at the Denali South Viewpoint one afternoon, we met a couple who saw the mountain up close the day before in a “flightseeing” tour.  They said it was one of the most amazing experiences of their lives.  So we were inspired to fly there ourselves.

The weather was mostly cloudy and rainy the few weeks before, but we hit a patch of nice weather that enabled us to view the incredible glaciers in Prince William Sound.  We studied the weather and made reservations a couple days out.  Talkeetna Air Taxi has a 100% money-back guarantee if the weather is too poor to fly, so we weren’t worried about wasting our money.  But Talkeetna was a 2-hour drive from where we were camping in Palmer, so we didn’t want to drive a half day for nothing.  It was cloudy the morning of our flight, but right on cue, the clouds parted around noon, and the weather was perfect for our 5 o’clock flight.

The photo above shows us with our terrific pilot Tyler when we landed on a glacier below Mt. McKinley.  Please check out the photo tour of our amazing flight over Denali National Park.

Darby the Grill Inspector

Darby inspecting the grill

Darby loves to inspect the BBQ grill at each new campsite.  You never know when there might be a leftover hot dog or marshmallow in the fire pit!

Mom, Why Are You Taking a Picture of Nothing?

Polychrome Mountains in Denali National Park

We were riding on a bus that brings tourists into the heart of Denali National Park in Alaska.  The sun broke through the clouds to light up the beautiful Polychrome Mountains.  Their red, yellow and brown rocks were laid down 60 million years ago when volcanoes erupted frequently in this area.  The driver stopped the bus so we could enjoy the spectacular view.  We all took out our cameras, slid open the windows, and started snapping photos of the mountain mosaic.

That’s when an 8-year-old boy in the seat in front of us exclaimed, “Mom, why are you taking a picture of nothing?”

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Cruising Around in Prince William Sound

Sea otter floating in Prince William Sound

After a few weeks of cold and rainy weather in Alaska, we were blessed with sunny blue skies for our day cruise in Prince William Sound.  We saw two humpback whales, dozens of lazy sea lions, and scores of cute sea otters as shown above. 

  

Coxe Glacier

Plus we saw more than the 26 impressive glaciers that were promised on the “26 Glaciers” cruise.  The incredible sights, wonderful wildlife, and perfect weather combined to make this one of our best days on our trip.  Please check out our photo tour of Prince William Sound.