Alaska Baskin': The Last Frontier

I knew I'd love Alaska when we landed close to midnight with the sun just starting to set. Perfect. Blast me with that Vitamin D!
On our first day in Anchorage, Bart and I met up with Megan, my best friend from the Peace Corps and fellow mountain junkie. As she headed off to her village in the Bush to teach 2nd graders for a second year, we set off north to Matanuska Glacier, a 27-mile long glacier flowing from the Chugach mountains.

Crampons strapped to our boots and ice axes in each hand, we picked our way up glacier walls. This was fun!! I like slamming things (like axes) into non-living things (like ice). On my fourth climb, though, my grip strength faltered and my legs struggled to kick enough punch with each step to claw my way up the glacier walls - this was tough going!
Left is a picture of me trying to make my way up the wall, and below is a shot of Bart climbing the glacier wall:

Next stop: another glacier. I couldn't get enough! We hiked up the Harding Ice Field to Exit Glacier, where the top of the trail is a horizon of ice and snow that seems to extend to...well, Russia. It's quite awesome to feel like I can rock-jump off the edge of the trail into a glacier's crevasse, or to imagine myself sledding across the blanket of ice that lay in front of us. It's one of those rare moments when I think that life can't get any better. I've just walked up an "arduous trail" (according to the National Park Service) with little effort; I'm standing here with my best friend while eating trail mix; I can't see anything but snow and ice, yet I'm in shorts and a t-shirt - this is what I term a "Jack Brauer moment." When you feel like nature has just rewarded you for taking the effort to climb her peaks.

Our climbing hunger satiated, we headed south along Highway 1 to Seward, a fishing community bordering the Kenai Peninsula. I was looking forward to some delicious seafood and camping near the waters, but our campsite was more of a by-the-road community of squatters who were anti-hotel.
One of the more popular things to do while in Seward is to take a boat trip out to the glaciers to see the marine wildlife. Yes, it's touristy, but it really is quite stunning to spot humpbacked whales slamming their tails into the ocean against a glacial mountain backdrop. During our trip out to Northwestern Glacier, we spotted orcas (killer whales), humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions, and all kinds of birds (which didn't fascinate me as much as the marine mammals).

The best part of our foray out into the bay? As we ooh-ed and aah-ed at the size and texture of Northwestern Glacier, a tip of the upper glacier broke off and created an avalanche of tumbling ice boulders that slammed their way down the glacier, gaining speed and breaking off unstable chunks. The effect of a thunder of ice into the waters below was awesome; it's one of those moments where you don't blink or breathe because you don't want to miss any part of the awesomeness that's happening. Here's the avalanche!

The next day, we planned to go afternoon-fishing for salmon and halibut in the Bay with a hired boat. We figured that we would start off our morning with a climb up Mt. Marathon, a mountain that stands just over 3000 feet above the town of Seward. Every 4th of July, there is a race up and down this mountain - a 5K course that has runners crossing the finish line with bloody knees.
Bart and I thought we could easily fit this hike/run into our morning before our fishing trip...boy, did we underestimate this mountain. It's so steep that sometimes you take a step and slide back half a step on the scree. You climb 3000 feet in a mile and a half, and then go straight back down - add to this that we did it on a morning when the entire upper half of the mountain was shrouded in clouds. Not fun. I was in a grouchy mood, and I was hungry.
Well, we made it up and down the mountain, with a few minor detours, in about 3.5 hours - the winners of the Mt Marathon race are running this in 45 minutes! How they manage to do that is beyond me - I've heard that the average speed uphill is 2 mph, and the average speed downhill is 12 mph. Yikes!
We ran straight to the fishing dock to try to make our scheduled fishing boat departure, but we were 25 minutes late. My spirits were crushed, and there was no arguing with this lady; the boat was not turning back to fetch us. We could reschedule for tomorrow, or we could eat up the cost and just mope on back. I pouted, but Bart turned my spirits around when he said, "It's raining anyways and those people on the boat are probably miserable and wet and cold and seasick."
On our way out of town, while I was still a bit down about having missed our fishing trip, we stumbled on a blueberry festival! I quickly forgot what fish we were supposed to be catching that afternoon, and rejoiced in blueberry pies, blueberry pound cakes, blueberry salsa, and blueberry-chocolate-covered smoked salmon!

Next it was up north to Talkeetna, a small town just south of Denali that affords great views of North America's highest peak. We decided to splurge and retire our tent, and we booked a bed-and-breakfast neighboring an Iditarod-dog-training home.
The first day in Talkeetna, we picked up two heavy mountain bikes from our B&B and headed into town. Biking without any real intention or sense of direction, we found the local fishing hole. I don't like fishing, but having Denali as a backdrop while you catch fresh salmon ain't too bad a way to spend a weekday afternoon. After making conversation with the local dudes, one of whom was from Arlington, the best thing happened.
"Would you eat salmon tonight if I cut you a couple fillets?"
"Yeah, we have enough. Would you eat it?"
When something is offered, I believe in opening your arms and embracing it. In this case, "it" was a plastic bag with a slimy salmon fillet inside...we popped it in my backpack, pedaled to the local store to pick up some fresh veggies, and raced home to our B&B on our clunker bikes.
DELICIOUSNESS!! This was the best meal of the trip - the salmon was cooked perfectly, the skin peeled right off, and the meat disintegrated on my tongue. Nom-nom-nom; I was in Alaska heaven!

The next day, we scheduled an air taxi flight to view Denali - one of the best ways to catch a glimpse of Denali. According to locals, Denali is shrouded by clouds and not visible from the national park or sea level 95% of the year. When we woke up to relatively open and clear skies, our B&B momma ushered us out the door, encouraging us to take advantage of the great weather and fly up to stare at Denali. Our hour-and-a-half flight took us through the valley, straight up to Denali's south face, and landed on a glacier. I blame my obsession with mountains and altitude on my roots as a Utah girl who grew up skiing every Sunday. Flying with Talkeetna Air and weaving through the Denali and Alaska ranges is awesome - check out the vistas!

After a rainy next 2 days in Talkeetna, filled with hikes where waterproof boots proved to be water-retaining, we headed back to Anchorage for one last hoo-rah before heading home.
On our last morning in Alaska, Bart and I went for a 10-mile run along the coast...and ran smack into 6 moose on the trail! All of them were close enough that we had doubts about continuing on the running path, but we tentatively tiptoed our way across, casting our eyes down to indicate that we weren't the aggressive types - we just wanted to get our 10 miles in! What a great way to end our trip to Alaska!

Top 10 Highlights of Alaska:
1. Grilling fresh salmon
2. Denali!
3. Riding rickety mountain bikes on dirt trails
4. Running with moose
5. Climbing glaciers
6. Laughing at sea otters
7. Eating pizza in Anchorage after 3 days of eating cold sandwiches
8. Stumbling upon a blueberry festival when we missed our fishing trip
9. Protecting Bart from the moose
10. Mountains 360* around

Click here for pictures of our trip!

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