Today was an early rise. We got up at 5AM and within 15 minutes Carl and I had made coffee, packed up the truck and packed the tent away. There is some amazing ease to the iKamper roof top tent.
We arrived at the ferry terminal as suggested at 5:30 AM and checked in and received our boarding passes. We waited until about 6:30 AM before the loading started. Once on board, we awaited for departure, and after about 75 minutes, we got underway. The view of the Fjords around the area is breathtaking. We arrived in Skagway about 8:30 and proceeded to park and have a look around. Th visitor’s center was first and then I found an RV park we could camp at.
The rest of the day was napping, phone calls home, showering, and then a tour of the town and its establishments. We found one great beer and some really good bears and a restaurant that makes the best pizza rolls. Skagway is a cruise ship tourist town and is really nice and clean and interesting. If we decide to lave tomorrow, we will be saying good bye to Alaska on this trip. We will see how it goes.
I am trying to get photos updated, but Verizon is not really capable of adequate connectivity up here.
We camped at a great spot next to a river and got up around 7 AM. I had stayed up late last night to finish cooking the potatoes that were undercooked and I did some relaxing by a fire. This is the first fire we have had the entire journey and I had forgotten how peaceful it is to watch a fire burn. The goal was to get down to coals so I could get the veggies cooked and then to clean out the dutch oven. I finally got to bed around 2 AM, and it was still pretty light out,
We were only about 90 minutes from Haines, but in our usual style, we didn’t make it there until about 3PM. I took a side road up Porcupine creek and after reaching a dead end, I took another road to Flower mountain. This road started out a little rough but got rougher, and steeper, and muddier, and kept going up and up. After about 45 minutes I thought about turning around but Carl said lets see where it goes. A guy we passed said it went up to the snow line. We were still in the trees and the road had thinned from a 4×4 trail to a ATV trail. We continued and about 10 minutes later it opened up at the tree line and we were driving in a high alpine meadow, about 3500 feet up from where we started. I cannot do justice in words the views and the road we found.
If we had known about this road and the campsites at the end, we would have taken one more day to get the ferry to Skagway. This would have been an epic place to camp and hike to the summits. We were above the snow line on the adjacent slopes and above at least 2 glaciers. It was so beautiful.
We spent about an hour up at the top hiking and enjoying the scenery. As we headed down, we stopped for a photo-op at a glacial lake with Carl fishing. It took us another 50 minutes to get back down to Porcupine creek road and then another 30 minutes to get to Haines, Alaska. We stopped along the way to give soem snickers to some bikers and then found the local brewery. The tasty cold ones were all right so we headed to the visitors center and then to dinner. We finished the night camping along the road about a half mile from the ferry ride that we had to be at at 5:30 AM., This day was epic and I cannot say enough good things about the FJ and its capabilities.
We slept in a bit this morning since we had a long day yesterday. We left camp about 8:30 and headed toward Tok. It has been a goal to get to Tok for two days and today we actually planned on making it through.
As we worked our way south, we stopped at several ranger stations and visitor centers. The first was a rangers outpost on the corner of Wrangell – St. Elias national park and refuge. We met Thelma, a ranger who has lived and worked in Alaska for 47 years. She moved here with her family when she was 20 and she’s still going strong. We had a great conversation and enjoyed her ribbing.
As we rolled into Tok, we checked in to the visitor’s center and library and then did some quick shopping at the local grocery. I filled up the truck and bought some fuel injector cleaner and octane booster to see if the truck will start a little better. I got to talk to my wonderful wife, Kristina, for about 30 minutes, which is always nice. We stopped at the NAPA Auto Parts store where the local Boy Scouts were having what looked like a fundraiser with hotdogs and hamburgers. It turned out it was a community service project and the burgers and hot dogs were free. We tried to give them a donation, but they said it was just service hours and to enjoy. Two days in a row we had a free lunch.
We got back on the road and continued down the road towards Haines. We knew we would not likely make it tonight because it was 9 hours from Tok and it was already 12 PM so we figured if we hit it hard and got about two hours out, that would work fine. I had reserved a ferry ride for the truck and us from Haines to Skagway and the earliest we could get was Sunday, which means we will spend a day in Haines and then a day in Skagway. So far on this trip I have really enjoyed Seward, Homer, and Valdez in the lower portion of the state, so two more days in the costal towns would be nice. These towns are much nicer than what I am used to for coastal towns, i.e. overcrowding, congestion, lack of free accommodations, and these had none of that.
We stopped at the next visitor’s center at Tetlin Wildlife refuge and watched a informative video and chatted with some folks there. The ranger spends time in Apache Junction in the winter and now she and her husband live out of their RV and travel with the weather. 7 years and counting.
We crossed the Canadian border and marveled at the straight line of cut trees that make up the 20 foot swath at the US-Canadian border. We got out passports stamped at the crossing and then stopped in for a beverage at Buckshot Betty’s and then the visitor’s center. The bartender was pretty cool and so was the ranger at the visitor’s center. She showed us two nuggets of gold she found at a mine he works at during the summers. She also heads down to Arizona in the winters (Yuma).
Several more hours down the road we fueled up and then stopped at an amazing campsite next to a river. We are making dutch oven pork tenderloin and vegetables. Tomorrow, Haines Alaska
We spent a good time today in Valdez this morning. We fueled up and then went to see the visitor’s center and museum. The Museum was a fee, so we continued on to the Visitor’s center. They had several bears that were supposedly killed in Alaska, and after prodding the staff about where to see bears, they said the Airport, old town Valdez, and the salmon hatchery were the best. Since we camped at the airport, we knew there were no bears there. Instead we asked about bloody Marys and they suggested The Fat Mermaid.
The Fat Mermaid in Valdez makes great Bloody Marys. And we met the owner, Karen, who started the business 9 years before and now has it running pretty well with just the staff. She bought us another round and invited us back for lunch. We asked about her best bear story and of course it was staring at one face to face from her kitchen window.
We walked around the old town area looking for bears (no bears) and then drove out onto the delta so Carl could witness the glacier river dumping into the ocean. It was fun driving the truck out there on the rocks.
The salmon hatchery was a really cool place to visit. It is at the mouth of a stream and they divert the salmon to the hatchery where they get the eggs, fertilize them, incubate them, hatch and then move them to pens in the ocean. The salmon know to come back to the hatchery and basically line up to spawn. 24 million eggs per day for 4-6 weeks in the summer. Thats a lot of salmon.
We went back to The Fat Mermaid for lunch. Thanks for the sandwiches, Karen, they were delicious. We drove out of Valdez about 3 PM and headed up the hill through all of the glaciers. We stopped at a lodge that advertised Russian food. I really wanted to have some but was still stuffed from lunch, so we had some beer and good conversations with the travelers and the locals. Shout out to Wilma, the guard terrier at the lodge.
We ended our day at a side pull off next to a trail access to the Wrangell St. Elias National Refuge. Note, this is the largest refuge in the USA at 13.2 million acres. The peaks in the park are amazing and packed with snow.
We started on a mission today to get to Tok and then on to Haines tomorrow, but we I got side tracked a bit. Since we were in Anchorage we filled up at Costco and then hit a Starbucks so I could get some business done and the health insurance taken care of. It took about 90 minutes to complete, but then we were off and rolling toward Tok. Several hours in we stopped at a cool looking glacier (Medisina or something like that) to take a look around. We were hoping to hike up to it but apparently someone owns all the land around it and was charging $30 per person to hike and $100 pp for tours. NOTE: If you want to get folks in there, $10 is probably the max most will pay. Needless to say we turned away and settled for some lunch a few miles up the road (i.e. proportional $$ for goods).
We continued on to a town called Glennallen. And stopped at Safeway and then the library. I met a lady in the library that had Arizona license plates that said AZ BEEF. Her name was Liz Johnson from Young and we chatted for a bit. Young is about an hour north of our property in Mesa. Her and her husband are retired ranchers and have come up to Alaska for the past 10 years for the summers, and they are not the only ones. Interesting the small world we really live in.
We turned right instead of left and headed into the Copper river valley. We stopped at the Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve and of course visited the Visitor’s center. We did a quick bear tour and the ranger still swears there are bears in Alaska and even quizzed us on blacks and grizzly bears. We told her they were more than likey in Canada and not in Alaska.
I wanted to head to McCarthy but after 25 miles on the road, and knowing we had another 60 on a rough dirt road, we decided to go to Valdez instead. The 90 minute drive took us 3.5 hours because we stopped at Worthington glacier and hiked to the terminus. It was really cool to see the solid frozen ice with dirt and gravel in it melting. As we stood there the gravel and rocks were cascading off the melting ice. It is so amazing how much rock and gravel these things move and being able to get onto one without a ridiculous charge or restrictions was really neat. I have some really nice pictures of the ice at the very end and how it actually appears. We did not hike higher up due to time but it was really amazing.
As we crested the pass and descended into Valdez, we did a short 4×4 road to the edge of the mountain and got some great pictures. It would have been awesome to camp there, but there was still 30 miles to go to Valdez and we were looking to camp in or near the town. We saw some amazing waterfalls and rivers and scenery along the way and Valdez is a pretty nice community from what we have seen. Tomorrow we will stop by the visitors center and maybe do a quick hike before heading to Tok. It is about 14 hours to Haines so we will be moving on through Tok and getting closer to Hanes. Today was long, we started at 6:30 AM and finally camped at 9:30 PM.
The plan is wild camp again tomorrow past Tok, Day 27; Get to Haines on Day 28 and explore. Take the ferry to Skagway and explore around on the 29th, and then head back up the the AlCan highway on the 30th. That should put us into Whistler by July 3rd or 4th. Check back for pictures.
We woke on the beach in Homer and it turned out to be a pretty good night sleep. We packed up and headed in for some housekeeping. I had not had a shower since the Hostel outside of Denali and it was time. Plus we had to do some laundry, get the truck washed, and get the websites updated. So we found one of the cool things here in Alaska, a combination laundromat, shower facility, coffee shop and internet connection. Showers were $8 for 30 minutes, Laundry was $12 for the big load and $3 to dry and Internet was free. I was able to get the site updated and the photos uploaded.
We then left for the visitor’s center in Homer and boy did they have a good one. It was very interactive and informative and definitely want to come back. We are on an overland trip and I did not budget for all of the extra side trips that are available in Alaska and oh there are many. There are bear viewing tours where they guarantee you will see bears (must be flying to Canada because so far we have not seen one bear in Alaska). There are water taxis that will take you to one of the local islands and come back for you in the evening, so you can walk and explore all throughout the day. There are plane rides over to the glaciers and to the wild lakes. Definitely I want to come back to the Homer area since that is a great jumping off place to the Aleutians.
We were initially going to head to Kodiak island to see the bears, but neither of us felt up to the ferry ride and the three days of extra travel so we explored Homer a bit and did a drive down the coast and then up to the bluff. We did a small hike to a Fen (its like a bog but the water flows out of it and is not acidic) hoping to see some animals, because the sign said “wildlife viewing”. We did see birds, so that counts, I guess, but after trapesing around the Kep we headed back to the truck and got in. As we turned on to the road a cow moose and her calf walked in front of us across the road. Those buggers are FAST and its hard to get the camera out to see them. We turned around and tried to get some pics of them, but they vanished into the boreal forest.
We headed back north later in the afternoon and did see about 3 more moose before we made it to Soldolma. We hoped to visit the visitor’s center at the Kenai Wildlife Refuge, but it was after 5PM and all the animals headed home. Its probably a good thing because about 15 miles out of Soldoma we encountered the forest fire that had obscured the views from the day before and it had turned and was headed toward the road. We had to wait about 2.5 hours before our convoy was allowed to pass and the fire was close. (Take a look at Carl’s website for videos). We did finally make it to Cooper’s landing and headed onward toward Anchorage. We decided to spend the night in Bird Creek campground just outside of Anchorage. Long but fun day.
We got up from an awesome night sleep in Seward and packed up. The campground next to the water was really nice and had a pavilion and bathrooms with showers. We were heading out to hike and bike so we skipped the shower and will wait until Homer. A quick stop at a local coffee shop for a muffin and coffee and we headed out.
Carl was hiking up to Exit Glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park and I found a trail called Lost Lake that was a 5 star rated bike ride. I dropped Carl off at the visitors center and I headed up the road for my trailhead. There were a couple of other cars in the parking lot but it was basically deserted. I got the biking clothes on and got the trusty steed put together and headed up the trail.
The trail climbs 2300 feet over about 7 miles, which was a lot less of a grade than I had experienced the day before in Alyeska at the ski slope, which was 2000 feet in about 2 miles. The trail started in some lush pine and fern forest and after about 3 miles, changed into the low brush and thick undergrowth of the lower mountain slopes. I was cognizant of bears and moose, but not real worried since we have not seen bears in Alaska. The trail peaked into a meadow and met up with another hiker trail that supposedly went back to a cabin. I rode the cabin trail a little over a mile to see if I could get there, but I could not find it, so I turned around and continued up.
The trail peaks above Lost Lake and has 360 degree views of the surroundings. I could see glaciers, waterfalls, alpine tundra, and just amazing beauty. I took 15 minutes or so to enjoy the scenery and then saddled up for the ride home. The trail up took me about 2 hours and 10 minutes and the ride down about 45 minutes. The trail was flowey, rocky, root filled, and just an all around fun time. Definitely worth the ride up if you are in the Seward area.
I met back up with Carl, who had gotten to hike up to a viewpoint and then hike down the canyon to the glacier. He described it as surreal and hard to describe. Check out www.SevierConditions.com for this day’s video.
Carl and I headed back up the Seward Highway and stopped at a hatchery where we were able to get a short tour and saw multiple tanks filled with 65,000 (each tank) silver salmon and 6-8 tanks filled with sockeye salmon (125K per tank). We learned some interesting facts about the hatchery and the survival rates. Hatchery salmon have a 90% mortality rate when then get to the wild compared to 50% of wild hatched. However, wild hatched have a much less rate of survival when young, so like the manager said, its a numbers game.
We continued on to the Sterling Highway and made our way through some pretty dense smoke from a forest fire that has been burning for several weeks. We stopped at the confluence of the Russian and Kenai rivers and watched the salmon fishing follies. The salmon are running in the Russian and it is battle fishing along the shore. Still no bears.
The smoke cleared and the waters of Cook inlet came into view. We saw moose and a bunch of beautiful boreal forest. We made it into Hope about 6:30 and stopped by Safeway for some supplies, Chevron for gas, and then on to a Thai food restaurant for dinner. We looked around the spit at Hope (mini peninsula) and found a nice place to camp for the night on the beach. The wind was a bit cool and the water is nothing to swim in, but it was beautiful with all the mountains and glaciers framing the background.
I left the tent rain fly open to get some nice mountain air. I got the air, and a nice coating of dew in the morning. So far the iKamper roof top tent has been almost flawless. We had an issue with one of the latches coming undone and then it bent slightly. We were able to fix the latch and have been careful to make sure its buttoned up tight when we pack it for travel. I also accidentally broke one of the strut mounts when I left a flashlight up on the edge. I was able to pound the bracket and rivets back into the floor and so far it has held. I think that happened on the 3rd or 4th night and so far it has held up without problems (on night 24 today).
We continued the 10 more miles down into Hope, AK, since it was recommended to check it out. The town has about 110-200 residents but apparently is a hot spot for campers, hikers, fisherman, and bikers. The whole town was filled up with cars, tents, camper vans, RV’s and people were camping along the streets, in between houses, and in parking lots. Maybe the night life is not to be missed?
About 60 miles from Hope is Seward. I had learned from Lifestyle Overland that this was a great stopping place, so I had it on my list. The town is a combination of fishing and tourism. We picked up a guy whose truck broke down (yes, Carl climbed in the back on top of the gear to help this guy out). The guy, Dan, had retired here about 5 years before and had built a home. He had lots of suggestions for things to do. We asked about a good local establishment and he gave us many, but one hot dog stand who was run by his grand daughter (we thought) was suggested. So we stopped and had reindeer sausages. They were pretty good and the conversation with the lady who owned the thing helped us learn more about Seward.
We drove and walked the cruise ship tourism section and then headed into old town Seward. We found lots of cool shops and things to see. We decided to camp at the local campsite so we could walk and bike around. We are both tiring of travel and needed an afternoon to chill. Tonight there is supposed to be a band at the Yukon Bar, so we will be checking it out.
When we got up this morning, Carl started the hike to the top about 9 am. The bike lift didn’t start until 10 AM and after an hour I couldn’t wait for the lifts, so I got dressed and headed up the hill. It was STEEP and I rode for a while, pushed the bike for a while, and at several points, hiked with the bike on my shoulder. I made a wrong turn and ended up on a goat path where I had to carry my bike, I made it to the top in about 1 hour and 45 minutes, which is not bad. Carl was already up at the top (1 hour and 5 minutes) and he was making friends. Jim and April from Washington State come up to Alaska every year and at one point Jim was building a eco-friendly hotel and tour company, but couldn’t get approval from the environmental guy up here. We talked for a good while as I re-carbed up with a good IPA and then I padded up for the trail ride down. To be honest, the trail down sucked. The trails were not really set for downhill, much as would be expected from a downhill bike park, and the trails were not even close to being groomed. At his point, I am really pleased I hiked up the hill and didn’t spend the $45 for a lift ticket. The trails were short, too steep and had ZERO fun aspects that I experienced in Park City.
At the bottom I packed up the truck and waited for Carl to get down. The guy we spoke to the day before said if you hike up you can ride down the tram for free. Turns out, that was not the case, so Carl had to hike all the way down. We finished packing and headed down the road.
We turned at the Whittier/Portal Glacier exit and took in the views of this amazing valley. We stopped at the Portal Glacier visitor’s center and stuck our feet into the FREEZING glacial lake. Apparently about one hundred years ago the glacier was actually at the site of the visitor’s center.
Now you take a boat tour to the end of the lake and hike to the glacier. We decided to check out Whittier, which is on the other side of a several mile long tunnel shared with trains. It cost $13 for the toll, and we got in line. The tunnel was pretty cool, but nothing compared to the views of Whittier and its bay. Waterfalls everywhere and the snow close down on the mountain. Truly breathtaking.
We drove around the old army town and took in the few sites before stopping at Varly’s Swiftwater Seafood Cafe. The fish and chips were incredible, and the ravens are amazingly acrobatic as you toss them scraps. We decided to stop into the Whittier Harbor Master hotel for a quick drink since one fellow tourist said they have an IPA brewed and sold only to Whittier. It was OK for an IPA, but we got to meet some locals and learn a bit more about living in the town. Its busy and nice in the summer and cold, windy, and rainy in the winter.
We continued on and back to the tunnel to head on toward Hope and Seward. We found a great campsite through iOverlander (app) and met some Army soldiers who camped there as well. The river was raging below the campsite and the glaciers were close up on the mountainside. The soldiers had taken their jeep down to the river and we assisted them with spotting as they worked it back up the steep and narrow trail. I turned in around 11 again and slept well.
After the bike ride and refilling our water in Talkeetna, we headed south, intending to stop in Anchorage for the night. As we ventured south, I noticed that the air conditioning was not working on the FJ so we made a lunch stop in Wasilla and hit up an Autozone. After discussing options with the guy, I purchased a R143A filler system and refrigerant and attempted to charge the system. A few minutes into it we smelled the leak and then determined the location. Where the ARB bumper is bolted to the frame, the high pressure side had bounced against the steel and finally wore a hole in the line. I checked the part and it’s about $140 and I may decide to have it shipped to Washington to a friend’s place so I can make the repair before we head back into the desert of Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. We grabbed lunch at a supermarket, picked up some CHEAP crab meat ($4/lb) and watched the construction crews as we ate. (lots of construction in Wasilla).
We got back on the road and detoured through Palmer, AK, and then on down towards Anchorage. As we approached Anchorage, the road had turned into a busy highway and traffic was a bit heavy. We had intended to check out Anchorage, but upon driving into it, it was apparent we did not really feel it was a destination. There was lots of graffiti and a real big city look, so we fueled up and continued onto the Turnagain Arm. The views of the mountains and the coastal tide plains were breathtaking. We leisurely drove up the road and stopped several times to take in the views. We stopped for the evening in a cool little community called Alyeska. There was a ski slope and a downhill bike park, so we camped at the ski slope parking lot that doubled as a camping spot for $10 per night. The only thing they were missing was a porta-john. (Hey guys, you need a porta-john at a campground.)
We found some oat sodas about a half mile down the canyon at a Safeway, and then began to investigate the town. There was not a lot going on from our vantage point from the parking lot since the main hotel and activities were up the road a bit more at the main resort. We turned in about 11 PM after determining that Carl would hike and I would mountain bike the Aleyska slopes in the morning.