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By Tuni
August 6, 2002

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Warning - long detail of Alaska Hiking Trip - Totally Off Topic

Well, we did it! Hiked in Alaska, went white-water rafting, flew in bush planes, explored old copper mines, saw humpback & Orca whales, bald eagles & puffins, otters, sea lions and white harbor seals, moose, mountain goats and Dall sheep, and saw some of the most beautiful scenery in the world - all of this in our own USA.

Hiked Root Glacier near Kennicott & McCarthy (within the Wrangell & St. Elias National Park). Largest national park in the U.S. The park contains the most peaks over 14,500 'in North America and has the greatest concentration of glaciers on the continent.

Details:
We flew from Florida to Newark, spent 5 hours on the tarmac in Newark due to weather and then on to Anchorage. Met the rest of the group in Anchorage the next day. Took a 3-hour drive to Seward where we spent our first 2 nights.

Day 2 - did a boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park, watched the glaciers calving, saw sea otters, puffins, seals, seal lions and were lucky enough to get very close to humpback whales and Orcas spouting.

Day 3 - visited the new sea life center in Seward - funded in part by Exxon-Valdez Company (oil spill). One of the most fantastic wild life centers I've ever seen. The animals, fish & birds are well cared for, staffed by informative & dedicated staff and volunteers. A beautiful building. I could have spent a couple of days just there. Unfortunately, we were rained out of our sea kayaking trip on Resurrection Bay. However, we kayak in Florida (where the water is much warmer) so it was no big disappointment for us.

Day 4 - we took the newly completed tunnel from Portage to Whittier. We had to get there right on time because every fifteen minutes, the tunnel is used for cars going from Whittier to Portage, Portage to Whittier and then, 15 minutes reserved for the train! I guess one would call it a multi-use tunnel through the mountains. Whittier was a booming railroad town of maybe 400 people. All living in one apartment building, there is one school, about 20 tourist-oriented stores, it is a port and many boats are docked there. The military was there during WWII but now it's really a dingy, grimy, honky-tonk kind of place. The land is all owned by the railroad, no private homes or property. Not the place to get stuck in....only one road out and that leads back into Portage. No other way out except by plane, ferry or boat! We took the ferry from Whittier to Valdez.

Day 5 - Valdez - somewhat bigger than Whittier, was almost totally destroyed by the 1964 earthquake. Rebuilt the town...but there sure ain't much to it...did wander around by myself early in the morning, picking "salmon-berries" then realized that the bears love them too and I probably shouldn't be alone doing this...went back to our B&B with a handful of berries to share. From Valdez we drove to Chitina in the Chugach Mountains where we boarded bush planes. Was I scared to death? Yep!!! The planes accommodated either 3 or 6 of us. Held on for dear life as we flew over beautiful mountains, valleys, rivers & glaciers. We landed near Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and stayed in Kennicott which was a tremendous copper mine area way back (it closed in 1938), then the copper value & quantity decreased. Now the Park Service and various sponsoring historical groups are trying to revitalize the town as a tourist mecca. However, there "ain't" much in the way of amenities.

Day 6 - strapped on crampons (little metal devices with teeth) to our hiking boots to enable us to climb on ice w/o slipping. Up and down glacier's steep slopes. Was I terrified? Yep, a bit!!! Crevasses, blue pools of glacial ice and water...falling snow etc....a truly fantastic experience, I will always remember. Explored the old copper mine, climbing 14 sets of staircases up and down. Dusty, dirty, falling apart but interesting facility. One wonders about the work ethic then and now. The workers at the mill spent 12 - 15 hours a day in extremely cramped positions, w/o coffee, rest periods (and even bathroom breaks) sifting through dirt as it came through the chutes, looking for copper and other minerals.

Day 7 - hiked into another one-horse historic town, McCarthy (looked like something out of Gunsmoke)...a couple of buildings - a general store, a small fire station, a "restaurant" (maybe?) and a small museum. Lottsa mosquitoes though.... Took the bush plane back to Chitina, drove to the Matanuska Valley, saw the Alaska Pipeline, hiked around the area. Saw moose tracks, mountain goats & Dall sheep.

Day 8 - White-water rafting on the Matanuska River. Class 3 rapids at this time of year. Had hoped for Class 4 but with little rain this summer, the water was just not high enough. Interesting how full of glacial silt these rivers are. Really muddy-looking. The scenery, as always, was gorgeous and we love to raft so it was great!

and, day 9 back to Anchorage and then home.

Since there is a 4-hour time difference, it took us a couple of days this weekend to readjust our internal clocks. We went walking on the beach on Sunday, it was hot, sunny; water was azure-blue, clear and warm. Yep, it's good to back in Florida & home again.

So, now you know...

tuni


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