Thursday, August 21, 2008

Time to Say so beautifully sung by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman....le sigh

So today, August 21st, marks my last day in Alaska. I already feel the tears coming. This will be my final entry while I'm in Alaska. When I get the time, I might upload more pictures here and there that I never posted. But the key thing is that I won't be posting them while physically being in one of the most beautiful states (I think I can say this unbiased-ly) I have come to know. And my toe has just grazed the surface! It's amazing to think that I've been here 3 and a half months, and I've just gotten my feet wet. There is so much more to Alaska that I have yet to explore. People can spend their whole lives here and never see all that they wish to see. ALASKA, the last frontier - is the largest out of all 50 states - and impossible to completely cover. But alas, I must be satisfied with the wealth of experiences I will bring back home with me. TODAY. I can't believe it. These short three and a half months have absolutely zoomed by. Alaska will remain in my heart for the years to come - and hopefully, I'll come back to that special place often.
Anyway, for the very last time, the four of us (many thanks to Candace) were given a field day together last Sunday. Saturday night marked the last (!) campfire program Sam and I did. And it might just be the excitement that comes with things that come to a close - but I swear, that was our best campfire program. I think we both were the most relaxed (and by golly - we should have been - we had 8 programs to practice) and comfortable with the audience. The adults and kiddies were great - engaged, humored, and entertained. Once we finished, Sam, Julia, Eve and I camped at Hidden Lake Campground. We had some din-din, shared some funny stories, and toasted marshmallows with the campground hosts. It was pure and unadulterated joy.

Eve and me in the tent that morning. We look so tired. Ready for hiking, are we!

That Sunday morning, we took a little trip to Seward, in which we partook (is that a word, Dad?) in what was probably the most grueling hike I've done this summer. (Sidenote: I calculated all of the miles I've hiked this summer - and it came to a whopping, 104.5 miles! That doesn't include all of the walking I did all total - just numbers of miles I've done on Refuge, Chugach, and Kenai Fjords NP trails. I must say, I'm pretty proud of myself.) All FOUR of us hiked and completed the 8.4 mi hike on the Harding Ice Field Trail!
Being that the trail ends at the top of a 360-degree view of an ocean of ice, the entire ride up is constant elevation gain. The trail gains roughly 1,000 feet per mile. So at the very start, we were huffing and puffing while scrambling up rocks and precarious precipices (how's that for alliteration!). This is what Eve had to say about that:

That's right! Thumbs down to the HIFT (Harding Ice Field Trail) and all its glory! It kicked our ass. This is Eve at Marmot Meadows. This was a fairly flat area that we came to, before we next got to the copious switchbacks we had to overcome.

This is a marmot! I know I mentioned a marmot when I talked about Sam's and my hike. I didn't put a photo up because none of mine were close enough. But, while Eve was tra-la-la-ing along the trail and taking a breakie-poo, out popped a marmot out of its little hole! So she then immediately aborted the said breakie-poo and snapped as many pictures of Mr. Marmot as fast as her little fingers could go. Then they held hands and continued to tra-la-la along the trail.

Then, we got to this lookout point (which doesn't look like it in this picture, but just believe what I tell you) that overlooked exit glacier and the surrounding mountains. It was an absolutely breathtaking view. At this point, we sat down, relaxed our wearied muscles, and ate some lunch.
I even had a little nappie-poo!

Then, due to a retarded photographer, all three of us look like we're about to start a race! Actually, the original intent of this photo was for all three of us to look like we were suspended in mid-air over the glacier. But as I mentioned said incapable photo-taker, he captured us at the wrong moment. But it's still funny.

This was a sign we saw at the first mile we trekked. I thought it was funny. But I guess I should take it seriously, huh?

Photo of Exit Glacier. Once the sun decided to grace us with its presence, the angels came out heralding HALLELUJAH! and the blue of the glacier literally glowed. It was amazing.Surviving the elements. Or, at least attempting to walk in snow. This is the most snow I've ever seen and/or been in. I had seen a lot of snow when I went skiiing in Utah, but it was nothing compared to this. Fortunately, people that had done the trail before us left definite tracks in the I carefully followed their footsteps, so I wouldn't go cascading down the mountain and die. True fax.

See? I'm a pro at this!

Snow in August? What? Only in Alaska.

Almost there!

Aaaahhh, time for a restie-poo. This was the emergency shelter near the top of the summit. It's just a little wooden box, pretty much. There was a little register in there that you could sign in to, which we did. The entire inside of the cabin was covered with the signatures and Rufus wuz here (no kidding about the Rufus) signings of people from all over the world.

See those little dots in the picture? That's us.

The Harding Ice Field! It was so surreal. A complete sea of ice surrounding you from all sides. This is something that I think compares to such sights as ones you Must See Before You Die, along with the Grand Canyon. In the lower right hand corner of this picture is Exit Glacier. The glacier is covered in ice and snow, and just that little area of it down there is the blue ice peeking through. We made it to the top! From the left, that's me, Eve, and Sam. Many thanks to Julia for sacrificing herself and taking this picture. Unless global warming kicks up into high gear, this ice will stay here forever. How unfathomable is that?!

While we were hiking the trail and at the top, I was cursing the fact that I forgot to bring my polarized sunglasses. It's unbelievable how snow reflects so much light. My corneas were burning.

Truly a white-out picture. It looks like I copied this picture in Paint and then took the little eraser button and outlined the edges of all three of us. Completely stunning view.Me at the top! The snow was so bright, that all of us were almost silhouettes in comparison. Unfortunate you can't see us that well, but I'm not complaining. Picture of surrounding area. Look, you can even seen a bit of green! (in the lower right hand corner, just in case you were having trouble.)

Another stunning view of Exit glacier and the Harding Ice Field. This is a place that you will only see if you take this trail - or go on a plane. No place else to access it. And no place else like it.

The three of us at the end of the trail. I think those are smiles of win. And exhausted-ness. Too bad we had the entire trail to go down!

On the way back down! Since there was so much snow, and many, many foot tracks, much of the snow turned into slick ice. That was really slippery. So all of us had quite a few close calls. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of us sliding down...but we literally got on our butts and slid down most of the way. For some parts of the trail, we used our shoes as skiis and crouched real low to the ground and slid the way down. It was really fun.

I even made a snow angel! You know, it was just one of those things I just had to do. In the middle of making my perfect snow angel, Sam proceeded to grab ahold of my foot and slid me down. In the act of which, I acquired snow crystals on my back, ankles, and butt. It was so cold.While looking at this picture, don't you just hear Handel's "Hallelujah" chorus singing in the background? Well, we did...and sung it the entire way down the trail. (As a matter of fact, I'm playing it right now as I write this post. It has a little ring to it, I think.) Eve got us started singing the Hills....are alivvvvvvve....with the sound of muuuuuusic, too. It was glorious.

Two thumbs up for a gorgeous view and kicking that trail's ass! (Although it was a mutual ass-kicking smorgasbord.) Of course, I had to get the hair-down picture. Beautiful view. I'm talking about the mountains, of course.Then, at the end of the day, trail conquered, legs shaking and us questioning who we were and where we came from, we went to a Greek restaurant and ate dinner. We were all rewarded with this delicious, fattening, chocolatey piece of cake. Sam's expression is absolutely priceless. I love this picture.

So that was awesome, and an unforgettable experience. I hope you all get to Alaska and do that trail - because it's something you'll remember for the rest of your life. Now, I know I mentioned clamming centuries ago...and said how I'd post pictures. Well, I finally got the pictures from Chad, so here's the evidence:

We caught 135 clams that day. Here's Sam with her two razor clams. Doesn't she look so cute in her little clam gear? (yes, Randy, she does!)

Chad with his clam and clam gun ready in hand. He went crazy with clamming. I think he probably pulled out two clams a minute, he was so badass.And so was I. I got down there, went elbow-deep in muck, and pulled those little suckers outta there. It was exhilerating. Might I add that Sam and I made a clam chowdah out of them and it was absolutely delicious.

What I reaped.

Sam and Chad each getting their clams.

Did I mention that I loved clamming?

I know from the last blog entry that I cut my and Sam's vacation story off at when we took the Alaska railroad. Well, our last night in Seward, we took the train at around 6 pm and rode into Anchorage. We saw some beautiful views of Kenai Lake, the Kenai mountain range, and many glaciers along the way. Once we got into Anchorage, we were welcomed by a gorgeous sunset across Turnagain Arm.

It's so beautiful.

Pretty, pretty sunset. You can see the reflection of the train windows on the picture.This was inside the train.

Turnagain Arm.

My last Alaskan sunset. (tear)

Once in Anchorage, Sue picked us up and we spent the night at her house (which was lovely) and the next morning, we drove out to the Flat Top Mountain trailhead. This was a hard hike, too. I think the highest point was 3,500 feet (or somewhere close) at the top of Flat Top Mountain. It really does have a flat top - but you have to scramble up rocks for a good mile or two to get there.

Yeah, that's right, I'm hard core with my big guns. This bit of the trail really epitomizes the entire trail: uphill the entire way. At the top of the summit, overlooking the surrounding mountains. I think my expression is one of strained happiness. Good one, Emily.

See? It really does have a Flat Top. Too bad it looks really easy from this picture. It's deceiving, I know. From probably that bit of snow right there 'til the top, you have to scramble over jutted-out rocks the entire way. It was pretty scary.

Overlooking the entire area. It was a pretty awesome view.

That's it! (for now, at least.) In two hours, I get on a plane to Anchorage that will eventually lead me back to good ol' Florida. I've had an absolutely life-changing, out of this world, amazing time here in Alaska. I've met some of the most interesting people, seen some of the most beautiful things, and been shown a whole new world of possibility. I will never forget those that I've met here and they will remain in my heart forever. I hope to come back to Alaska as often as I can (or as much as my pocketbook allows) and see more incredible sights and people. In a matter of three and a half months, I've done things people don't even get to experience in one lifetime, and for that, I'm eternally grateful.

The sole purpose of this blog was to catalogue my adventures in Alaska. I will continue it, as long as my life remains exciting (it better be!). Who knows where I'll end up next summer. Only time will tell.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Send me on my way

So Sam and I just got back from our 5-day backpacking extravaganza. And it was SO awesome. If blogger wasn't so slow in uploading photos...I'd have the majority of this post as pictures...for your viewing pleasure. But, since I don't have 5 hours to kill in the library, I'll post as many as I can before I must go.

So the trip started at 5 am Sunday morning. We left around 5:30 and were dropped off at the Summit Creek trailhead around 7:15. We took our "before" photos at the start of the trail, smiling with toothy grins and laden with 40 lb packs on our backs. Summit Creek is roughly 8 miles long through alpine/tundra area. Most of the trip you are in a bowl surrounded by mountains on all sides of you. You gradually climb uphill for the first three miles, and then the next two and a half are along a ridge following the side of a mountain. The trail had several snow crossings and creek crossings. The latter was a time where I got go for a little swim. Without fail, everytime we had a creek crossing, I'd slip off of the rocks we attempted to cross by and fall shin-deep in water. Sucked. The rest of the trail my feet, shoes and socks were soaked, sloshing and gurgling the entire way. (But that didn't deter me!)

This was probably three miles in. Snow was everywhere. Fortunately, I think we had about 3 or 4 places where we had to cross it wasn't all the time. This area here is close to the place where we ran into an older couple that were hiking. They were your hardcore hiker-type: petite, lean, and muscley, with poles in either hand and all their gear nicely snug on their backs. They told us they had hiked off of the trail and camped up in the mountains you see behind me there - and that it had snowed on them during the night (and they saw caribou!). Crazy. I would say that it was around 48-55 degrees our entire trip. Dall sheep! We saw a family on our way down from another snow crossing we did. I'm pretty sure there's three females, one male, and two babies in this group. We got pretty close to them! At this point, we saw the sheep, and then out of nowhere, we heard this high-pitched, whistling sound, similar to that of a referee's whistle. We first thought that it could possibly be a whistle from one of the hunters we had met along the trail. But then after another whistle, we turned our heads to the direction of the sound and saw a marmot! They can get pretty big, but they're usually 2 feet long and resemble beavers in a way. They're gray-tan color and have little fluffy tails. We saw a bunch more during our hike.

This is near the last 2 miles of Summit Creek trail. Before this vista point, we had done a grueling climb from a low point (the bowl area) up to this point. Many breaks were necessary (and taken). But once we got to this point, we were rewarded for all of our efforts. It was an absolutely stunning view. Along the side of the mountain to the right of the picture near the bottom is Resurrection trail. Summit hooks onto Resurrection. We hiked on that for about 3 miles and then took the Devil's Pass trail from there.

One of the creeks we had to cross. And one I subsequently fell in. Not only did we have to cross a creek, but immediately after doing that we had to cross snow. Not fun. But challenging. On this creek we saw our first ptarmigan. We hadn't seen any the entire time we'd been up here - and that's mainly because they're mostly found in alpine/high elevation areas. During this time of the year, they have a red tuft on their heads and they are mostly brown/gray with spotted feathers. During the winter, they turn completely white - so they are almost possible to see in the snow.

Here are the two ptarmigan we saw. One was female (in background) and the other was male.

This is at the point on the Resurrection trail that shows you which direction each trail leads to. Devil's Pass cabin was right behind us, and then we took the Devil's Creek trail leading to the left of this sign.

This is a photo of Devil's Lake. Just beyond the lake is where we camped for our first night. This was about 1.5 miles into the Devil's Pass trail. It was so pretty.

The view we had in the morning. Absolutely breathtaking, huh? We got lucky in finding a fairly flat area to pitch our tent in. We slept on a bed of lichen and it was pretty cushy. The next morning, we woke to sunshine and a fairly crisp temperature. I can also now say I've been in my skivvies in the tundra of Alaska.
Sam just waking up from her perfect slumber.The tent was pretty small...but we kept eachother warm. :)

Me just waking up as well.

Morning view, just got started on the trail.

The Devil's Pass trail had even more creeks to cross than Summit. And more treacherous to boot. Fortunately, I guess I got a little experienced from the day before and didn't have any tumbles (thanks to Sam). These creeks, though difficult to cross, provided us delicious refreshment. There's nothing like drinking naturally cool and fresh water that you took right from a creek.

One of the more treacherous creeks we crossed.

This was a really pretty waterfall we had to go under along the trail. It had some really cold water!Wolf print! We ran into some hikers the day we did Summit and they had told us they had seen a wolf while they were hiking. This print was on the Devil's Pass trail. We suspect it was the same wolf.

The second day, we did 9 miles in roughly 4 and half hours. We kicked ass. We did more than two miles per hour. We finally ended at the Devil's Pass trailhead at around 12:30pm. We did a little victory dance and then took our "after" pictures:

We are #1.

Once we got back onto the Seward highway...we didn't walk more than a mile before we got picked up. We held up our little typed up, overly prepared "SEWARD" sign and within 20 minutes, got picked up by a hippie homeopathic doctor that had a reassuring "Coexist" bumper sticker on the back of his Honda Element. Yes, hitch-hiking we did indeed. I know it was incredibly stupid, but we were fortunate. We had a really nice guy who had done a bit of hitch-hiking himself, and he was generous enough to take us all the way into the town of Seward.

WE WERE OFFICIALLY IN SEWARD!!! It was so exciting.

Once in Seward, we walked down to the boat docks and had us a nice meal in the "Marina" Restaurant (in which I ate a caribou burger. Yum yum.). We then walked to the SeaLife Center and checked out all the Sea Life. Yeah.

Exhibit A: The homo sapiens. Look at it attempt to fool itself into thinking it's driving a boat that is really a wooden box cut out to look like one. Exhibit B: A Murre, I think.Exhibit C: A horned puffin. I swear I bet some of the tourists at this place were taking pictures of all of the sea life and were going to go back home and brag to their friends and family about how they got such close-up pictures of all of this sea life out in the wild. I guarantee.

A HUGE Steller sea lion. It had a really freaky eye that was looking at us.

An Alaskan King Crab. (It's a bit blurry due to the fact that it's in a tank.) These crabs are supposed to be THE deadliest catch.

After the SeaLife center, me and Sam had some quality time with the Captain. We spotted him in downtown Seward.

Then we met up with Eve and her sister, went out to dinner, and then spent the night at Miller's Landing in Birch cabin. It was such a change (and better sleep) than the night before. Then the next morning, we went on a Kenai Fjords Tour, like the one I did during our first week of training. This was a 6-hour cruise, the one we were originally supposed to go on but didn't, on account of bad weather. As opposed to the previous one, this one is two hours longer, and you get to see more of Resurrection Bay. We also got a close look at Aalik Glacier. This picture above is of a humpback breaching. The picture's blurry of course. We were all so excited because he did it out of nowhere. He was being a total ham. He breached a total of three times, and did a lot of back-stroke swimming. It was so amazing. It was peculiar that he should be breaching, because it is typical humpback behavior to do such a thing around other humpbacks. But we didn't see a single other. It was just him the whole time, putting on a show for us.

The picture above is of the humpback swimming stomach up. He kept on flapping his fins back and forth on top of the water. The sound was incredible. The next picture is of Aalik Glacier. It is a forbidding sight. Here's the ice calving. The sound is out of this world. Since sound travels slower than the forces of gravity, you could watch the ice falling in silence. Then a couple of seconds later, a huge, cracking CRASH and BOOM into the water reverberated the entire surroundings. It's a sound you can't really describe in words. One of those - you have to experience it moments.

More close-ups of the glacier. In the crevasses, the blue was a much deeper hue. Anywhere there was a crevasse was huge potential for the ice to calve. Apparently, I'm pretty sure this glacier recedes 200 m each year. The Kenai Fjords tours guarantees this sight. It happens every couple of seconds (even quicker at some points) of every day. The amount of mass this glacier loses each day is incredible.

Sam and me on the boat. It was pretty cold! It felt like you were standing next to a refridgerator. Pretty cool feeling (haha, forgive the pun).

Unfortunately, we didn't get to see any orcas. But we did see a ton of steller sea lions. This is a huge area for the stellers to hang out. Unfortunately, they are endangered. The ship captain told us that this is probably the smallest number of stellers he's seen this year. He told us that usually, you can't even see an inch of rock beneath the seals because there are so many covering the entire area.

For the entire boat tour, we saw a plethora of wildlife. Horned and tufted puffins, double-crested cormorants, red-faced cormorants, auklets, steller sea lions, harbor seals, humpback whales, sea otters, eagles, mountain goats, murres, oystercatchers, tons of gulls, and kittiwakes were just some of what we saw. I took a ton of bird and wildlife pictures - but unfortunately, it would take me hours to put them all up on here.

After our cruise, we walked outside of town and hitched a ride from a Russian fisherman to Exit Glacier. This picture above is of the glacier. You can actually hike down right to the toe of the glacier and touch it. Unfortunately, the water you see there was running fast and deep - so it was too hard to cross to get to the glacier. Instead, we hiked to the edge of the glacier, and got about 10 feet close to it.

This is a tremendously dorky picture of me. I didn't realize the hood of the jacket I was wearing looked so retarded. Anyway, that's Exit glacier behind me.

After we hiked up to Exit, we camped at the Exit Glacier campground for the night. The following day, we hitched a ride back into town with a couple from Wyoming, who were celebrating their 10-year anniversary. The next day in Seward we hung out around town for a while until we got on the Alaska Railroad to Anchorage.

Anyway, I've spent way too much time in the library. I'll have to post more photos later of our trip and time in Anchorage, in which we hiked Flat Top Mountain. Hope you were stimulated by all of the photos, and wish you were here!