Originally published on 27 December 2007. I went to Alaska for a week after my college graduation. Alaska in December? You bet!
Hey, everyone! I’ve been in Alaska a total of 42 hours, and already I’ve flown a plane, gawked at glaciers and mountains, seen moose from the air, learned to ski in the dark, and camped on (yes, ON) a frozen lake in the middle of old gold mines in the mountains!
I left home Tuesday morning flying from Nashville to Houston (where I spent 4 1/2 hours getting intimately acquainted with the E wing of the airport) to Anchorage. The flights were thankfully uneventful, but I love flying, especially take-offs and landings. The 7 hour flight to Anchorage was not too bad. I talked to the guy next to me, who is a pharmacist up here. It was interesting to get an insider’s view on the way up! I love making friends!
I met the friends of my friends who live up here, Shannon and Kristie, for the first time at the Anchorage baggage claim. They’re the people I’m staying with up here. We claimed my bag and braved the cold to Shannon’s truck. Well, I braved the cold. It didn’t affect them at all! Shannon is with the Alaska Bureau of Investigation, so I’m feeling pretty safe up here. We got back to their house and talked till about 1 am Alaska time, and by then, I’d been up 23 hours already. I slept incredibly well that night!
The next morning, I woke up about 9 am (noon where my body clock was concerned), which was a big accomplishment for me since I’m such a morning person! The sun wasn’t even up yet, but that was ok with me… I looked out the back window in the kitchen downstairs to see the most beautiful view–Mount Pioneer is about 5 miles away, all snow-covered, and huge. The three of us watched the sun come up over the mountain around 10, ate raspberry waffles, and Shannon decided it was clear enough that we could go flying! Don’t worry, he’s a pilot with his own plane!
So off we went! Kristie ran some errands while Shannon and I went up in his 2-person Bush plane. We cleaned the snow off, took off the covers, and were on our way! He said he’d never taxied in that much snow before. So up we went. And at 12 degrees F outside, I was so cold! Definitely worth it, though. He pointed out moose, told me the names of the mountains, and even let me fly the plane! He took over again eventually and flew us over a glacier. It was so blue, and very pretty. The three of us are planning to go out again if the weather’s nice tomorrow and do some ice climbing there!
When we got back to the house, we all packed up our camping gear (well, mostly their camping gear), ate a late lunch, and loaded up the truck for… cold weather camping! To be honest, I was sort of dreading it. I’m a total weenie when it comes to cold, but they assured me that if we got uncomfortable, we would come right back and sleep in the warm house. We arrived at the parking lot at the base of the mountain about 4:30pm or so, and it was already getting dark. No worries, though, we had our headlamps ready!
Up the mountain we went–on skis! Please note that this was my first experience on skis. Still tired and slightly jet-lagged from the trip up there, I did, in fact, learn to ski in the dark! It was slow going, but we were in no rush, and Shannon and Kristie were great about helping me along when I needed them!
On the way up (but it wasn’t very steep at all), I looked around at everything, completely amazed. The mountains were so big and so pretty covered in snow. The bushes and trees on either side of the trail looked like they were dotted with diamonds. I’ve never seen the snow really sparkle like it does up here. And I’ve never in my life seen it in such abundance! It’s fluffy and dry and stays for a long time because it stays so cold. Everything was sort of blue-ish in the moonlight, which only added to the beauty of the landscape. As Shannon put it, we were “walking in a winter wonderland!”
When we got to the lake, we set up camp as quickly as possible to avoid getting too cold. The ski-hike up kept us comfortable (even warm!), in the 19-degree night. The three of us crawled in our sleeping bags (graded for -20 degrees F) with all our clothes on to stay warm. Shannon was complaining about being too hot most of the night, but Kristie and I were a little chilled most of the time, especially our feet–glad I got to be in the middle!
It was about 7:30 or 8 pm by the time we crawled into our sleeping bags, I think, and we weren’t hungry or realy even tired, and we certainly didn’t want to get out of our sleeping bags to do anything else. The temperature inside the tent was around 24-32 degrees throughout the night, as compared to about 16-20 degrees outside. So we stayed up talking till probably 1:30 or 2:00 am, which was a lot of fun. Since I didn’t know either of them until the previous night (except for a few phone calls in the last month and a half), there was lots to find out!
We all put things we might need in the bottom of our sleeping bags to keep them warm–water, handwarmers, and food mostly. I had to borrow one of Shannon’s sleeping bags, which was interesting because he’s QUITE a bit taller than I am, and so this bag was an extra-long one. At one point during the night, I decided I was hungry and needed a Cliff bar… at the bottom of this unending sleeping bag! Shannon and Kristie were both asleep, but I was wide awake. So I dug around, and dug, and dug, and gave up for a minute or two, then started digging around again until finally… Aha! My hand felt the wrapper, I reached just a little further until I could grasp it with the tips of my fingers, and, at long last, I had it!
After my snack, I just couldn’t hold it anymore… I needed to tinkle. That meant I had to brave the cold and go to the bathroom–which, in this case, was a beaver dam a few yards away. It was a quick trip, but I’m glad I went because on the way back to the tent, I got a good look at where we were. Pictures cannot do it justice. That sounds so cliche, but really it’s more beautiful out here than the pictures can convey. The moon is brighter, the air is cleaner, and it’s inspiring.
We layed around in our warm sleeping bags till a little after 10, then ate Mountain House granola with blueberries for breakfast–pretty good for a dehydrated meal. We decided to pack everything up, ski up a little more, then grab our stuff on the way down and go back home. I had to go to the dam again, and on my way out Shannon said to make sure I did a 360 to get a good look at where we were.
Oh wow. That’s all I could say when I walked out of the tent. It was beautiful. I could still see the moon. The mountains were white, the sky was white, and we were totally surrounded by breath-taking… everything. Just waking up to that was worth every bit of the trek out, the temperature, and having to use a beaver dam for a bathroom.
Up the side of the hill we went, this time in the daylight of course. Kristie led this time, so Shannon could go behind me and push–it’s ok, you laugh at me! They both said I did really well, especially for my first time. When we turned around to go back down the mountain, that’s when things really got interesting! I discovered I do like gliding along the path, but NOT going fast! I felt 4 or 5 times, maybe more, but we all had fun.
We went through snow drifts, fell into snow mounds, and crawled through some shrubbery. I hit my head and got a little whiplash action on the first fall, but all in good fun! I also have a nice bruise on my hip as a reminder, which I discovered just before I stepped into a much-needed shower later on.
Anyway, I got the hang of it eventually, and we had lots of fun! Kristie fell in the path at one point, causing a 2-person pile-up since stopping had not yet been mastered, to which Shannon laughed and I think got a picture. We made it to the bottom without any sketchy or even dicey moments (well, maybe a dicey moment or two when I almost fell into the stream).
We unloaded our gear into the truck, and Shannon and Kristie showed me some old gold mines up in the mountains. That was so cool! I love history, and this is such an unknown part of American history to most people, myself included. The “Final Frontier.”
So then we rode back to the house, stopping on the way for some homemade chicken soup finxin’s! Kristie makes her own noodles! We got back, unloaded, and I took that incredible, warm shower! After discovering my nice big bruise and scrubbing off we had dinner–Kristie’s home made chicken noodle soup! Shannon had also made crusted salmon (real Alaskan salmon from an Alaskan river!), and peanut butter cookies. Yum!
I hope you’ve found this entertaining. I plan to write more as the week goes on! Tomorrow we’re going ice climbing!