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After our visit to Nome we flew to Fairbanks for a few days to try out dog sledding and see the Northern Lights.  We tried out the Alaskan tradition of staying in a B&B at Dale & Jo View Suites just outside of Fairbanks.  We enjoyed the hospitality and breakfast in the morning.  We tried to stay up and look for the Aurora, but fighting the time change and our busy days, it was hard to stay up past midnight.  In any case, the first two nights were cloudy, and talking to other guests in the morning confirmed that we didn’t miss much.

While in Fairbanks we tried dog sledding since there was more snow on the ground than in Nome.  We went to Just Short of Magic for our incredible mushing experience.


Katharine with Our Lead Dog, Patch

We decided to take the “mushing school”, which means they teach you about dog sledding and then you get a chance to stand behind the sled and drive the dogs.

Eleanor Wirts, owner and expert mushing guide, taught us all about the different types of sled dogs and equipment.  We learned how to harness and hookup the line of dogs.  We had 9 dogs in our team and we were surprised how friendly they were.  They were anxious to get on the trail, but they knew to stand still when you were putting the harness on, but once it was on, you better hold on tight or it would be off and running without you!  We were also taught about the different positions in the line. We had 1 lead dog, 2 swing dogs, 4 team dogs, and 2 wheel dogs to pull the sled, Eleanor, and both of us.

Hooking Up Starbuck, one of the Swing Dogs (2nd in line behind the Lead)

At first we both sat in the sled as the she told us about the commands (Gee- Right, Haw- Left, and Whoa- Stop!).  Little known fact, the dogs learn to poop on the run.  Not thrilling at eye level with 9 butts running 15 mph!

Sledding on the famous Yukon Quest Trail

After 10 minutes we stopped and Katharine jumped on the runners with Eleanor to get some hands on experience.  After a couple turns we stopped and Eleanor got in the sled and Katharine got to drive the dogs solo!

After another 10 minutes Nathan also got his instruction and solo turn on the runners.  It was a thrilling experience to have 9 dogs pull you over miles of snow with what seemed like little effort.  You could tell the dogs were enjoying themselves and could go for miles.

It was about 30 degrees which is pretty warm for the dogs so every time we stopped, they never missed the chance to jump in the snow drifts and burrow to cool off.  Before we knew it we were pulling up to the kennel and the thrill ride was over.

We spent another 30 minutes with the dogs as other guests took their tours.  The dogs were very excited, but once the sled left a calm silence came over the kennel until another sled could be seen coming out of the trees and chaos would erupt.

The dogs were so friendly we wanted to take one home.

While in Fairbanks we had dinner with Tim and Mary who are old friends of Peter’s.  They live in a cabin with limited utilities, which was an interesting lifestyle to learn about.  They had a lot of stories and experiences and it was intriguing to meeting someone who walks the talk even if it isn’t the easiest when living in one of the coldest cities in Alaska.  Their do-it-yourself attitude and accomplishments were inspiring and got us excited about our future house even though we know we’ll never sacrifice as many creature comforts.

After about two days hanging out it Fairbanks, we headed to Chena Hot Springs to get away from the city for one last chance to see the Northern Lights.  We decided to give it our best shot by taking a snow cat tour to the top of a nearby mountain/hill to wait for the phenomenon.

Riding in a snow cat is loud and uncomfortable, but it’s the only way to get there.  After spending an hour or so in a heated Yurt drinking cider and hot chocolate, we heard some excitement outside as the northern lights started to appear.

It was just a trace of a greenish cloud and could easily have been mistaken for a wisp of regular clouds.  The camera picked up the green much better than your eyes could.  The full moon didn’t help either.

 Canon 7D, Sigma 17mm, f/2.8, 8 sec, ISO 400

We were hoping for more colors, but we’ll take what we can get.  It was 10 degrees outside so when after 30 minutes the Aurora faded, we went back into the Yurt to stay warm. We were definitely glad that we did the late night tour because we probably would have missed seeing them otherwise. But we still would love to see them in the future in more glory. A good reason to return another year!

During the day back at the resort we took a short dip in the outdoor hot springs, which felt good in the freezing temperatures, except your wet head above water gets pretty cold.  The resort has gained popularity in Japan, so much so that there are direct flights from Tokyo to Fairbanks.

We had a couple hours before we left for the airport to explore the Ice Sculpture World Championship in Fairbanks.

Love in Motion, 1st Place, Single Block, Realistic

Imagine Dragons, Multi Block, Realistic

There was also a lot of scuptures for kids to playing on along with a couple ice slides!

Katharine Needed a Sled

It was a fun way to end the trip. After spending 10 days in sub-freezing temperatures, 8 flights, 1,592 photos we were ready to unthaw and hopeful for warmer weather back home, but we were greeted with similar temperatures when we arrived in Philadelphia. Longest winter ever, we are so glad that Spring has finally arrived now!

We’ve heard many stories about the harsh Alaska winters, abundant wildlife, and many other adventures from Peter, Katharine’s uncle, who lives in Nome, AK.  We had a great time on our honeymoon in Alaska in the summer of 2011, but we always wanted to go back to experience the winter season, so we decided to make a trip of it! We planned for a few days in Nome and a few days in Fairbanks.  Of course if you’re going to Nome in the winter/spring, you have to see the finish of the Last Great Race, the Iditarod!  The 1,000+ mile dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome can take anywhere from 9-15 days because of the harsh and changing weather.  After 3 flights and ~18 hours of traveling we arrived in Nome on Sunday (3/9) greeted by Peter in a small 1 room airport.


Peter gave us a great tour of the small Bearing Sea costal town with a population of 3,600.  While driving around the town we kept our eye open for musk ox.  We found a small herd grazing on the outskirts of town. They were grazing and butting heads as we walked from our car.


When they feel threatened they gather together and stand their ground to protect their young.  This of course doesn’t work too well against hunters.


This winter was unusually warm and they had gotten a lot less snow than normal.  As we listened to the Iditarod reports we continued to hear about injuries due to the icy and rocky conditions on the trail and Nome was no exception.  We were able to drive 25 miles east on the Nome-Council Rd along the shore to the Safety Roadhouse checkpoint, which is normally only accessible by snowcat, snow machine, or helicopter.  With the mushers (dog sled racers) still a couple days away, the place was deserted.


 Safety Roadhouse, the last checkpoint of the Iditarod

Looking Across Safety Sound

Looking Across the Bearing Sea Ice

Even though it was clear and sunny, it was nearly zero degrees Fahrenheit, and the brisk wind kept us from venturing outside the car for more than a couple minutes.  As the temperatures dropped and the winds picked up, we decided it was too risky to attempt anymore trips to the Safety Roadhouse. Drifting snow could block the roads in a matter of minutes and the harsh conditions could be deadly without any means of communication.

We decided to spend Monday exploring Nome, souvenir shopping, and watching last minute construction of the snow chute to the burled arch finish line.

This pretty white snow was trucked in that day

We also took in some of the local activities such as the craft fair, snow sculpting contest, and local eateries.  We also noticed as the finishers got closer, the town’s population grew with tourists, mushing support teams, and even a couple (low profile) celebrities including Ariel Tweto from Flying Wild Alaska and Wipeout.

We downloaded the Iditrod GPS app on our iPad to monitor the mushers progress from the checkpoints Elim, White Mountain, and Safety, as well as the final leg on the way to Nome.  There’s a mandatory 8 hour layover in White Mountain and then it’s just 77 miles to Nome.  Since they were traveling at ~7 mph, we figured once they left White Mountain it would be another 11 hours before they reached the finish line in Nome.  So we followed the top three racers over the next 24 hours:

  • Jeff King, 4-time Iditarod winner
  • Aliy Zirkle, Runner-up last two years, our favorite
  • Dallas Seavey, Last years champ

The following is our account of the Iditarod drama leading to the finish…

Monday 3:00 PM

Jeff King leaves White Mountain rested with a 1 hour lead on Aliy.  It seems like another 2nd place finish for Aliy as we watch her GPS marker leave White Mountain and both Jeff and Aliy progress toward Safety with a consistent gap.  They have 77 miles to go and are expected in Nome around 2am. Dallas is still under the mandatory 8 hour layover and can’t leave for another 3 hours. Peter warns us that it’s still anyone’s race, but everyone seems pretty sure Jeff will win it again this year.

9:30 PM

The sun has set and the winds are picking up.  The official race website is reporting 45 mph winds pushing the temperatures around -40F.  Jeff continues to lead Aliy, but his marker has momentarily stopped.  Dallas has also left White Mountain, but is almost 2 hours behind Aliy.

10:00 PM

Something is wrong with Jeff or his GPS is updating because his dot isn’t moving and Aliy is gaining as he sits just a couple miles from Safety.  We continue updating the app hoping he and his dogs are okay, but also excited about Aliy’s possible comeback.

11:00 PM

They announce Aliy has officially passed Jeff and it’s not a GPS error.  Aliy is the first to check into Safety, but is clearly stopping until the winds die down. The officials are clocking winds at 70+ mph at the Safety check point 22 miles outside of Nome.  With Aliy waiting for the winds and Jeff pinned down we decided to go to sleep and wakeup around 2:00 AM.

2:00 AM

Jeff has officially scratched after flagging down a snow machine for help.  His dogs we’re tangled in drift wood and he wasn’t able to get the organized and back on the trail in the strong wind.  In more surprising news, Dallas checked in and out of Safety at 1:16.  Aliy left in pursuit 14 minutes later.  With still 22 miles to Nome we decided to get another hour of sleep.

3:20 AM

Aliy is gaining on Dallas and they are within a mile of each other.  We slowly get out of bed layering clothes for the brutal temperatures.  We wonder if they can even see each other out there? Does Dallas know how close Aliy is?  With the drifting snow, maybe he doesn’t know.  We eventually get out the door and drive 5 minutes and park just off the finish line.

3:55 AM

We can hear the crowd yelling and cheering as we shuffle across the polished icy roads.  Not knowing where the finishers are we run along side the crowds of people lining the chute looking to see if anyone has finished.  Then the announcer yells out Dallas has just come off the ice and onto the street! We fight for place at the rope and look down the street.  The crowd begins to cheer and suddenly we see a team of dogs trotting across the snow and Dallas running along side.

Dallas Seavey

The crowd goes wild and the rope can’t hold the people back as they surround the chute and the 2014 Iditrod champion is named Dallas Seavey!  A couple minutes after the announcer yells and there’s Aliy!  Now the crowd really errupts with cheers.  The officials string out the rope holding the fans back and soon another dog team passes and a smiling Aliy high-fives fans as she glides to the finish line.  It seemed like everyone was rooting for Aliy, ourselves included, hoping she could avoid another 2nd place finish. She was a good sport and spent a lot of time with the fans and taking care of her dogs before she left the chute to get some much needed rest and probably think over her strategy and decision to wait at Safety.

Aliy’s Finish

Kids leading the way for Aliy’s dogs after the finish

We left and went back to Peter’s thinking of the agony she must be in missing 1st place by just minutes because she decided to wait.  She was 12 minutes faster over the last 22 miles, but didn’t have enough distance to overtake Dallas.  Dallas however was exhausted and didn’t even realize he was the first to leave Safety.  He thought Aliy’s light behind him was his father in 4th and his goal was not to lose to his father.  He was shocked to find out he was the winner.  We were still amazed how a 8 day race could finish with just minutes between 1st and 2nd.  Peter was right, it really was anyone’s race.  White Mountain to Nome is 77 miles of unpredictable terrain and weather, and it can often allow last minute lead changes.

We spent the next couple days tracking mushers as they left Safety Checkpoint, headed for Nome, so that we could meet them along the trail. The Nome-Council road follows the trail for several miles, so it was easy to drive a little ways out of town and wait in the warm car to see them racing across the open tundra or sea ice. As they’d pass we’d cheer them on and take photos, then we’d drive a little ways farther, leap frogging past them, to repeat the cheers and photos. This way we were able to see each musher 3 to 4 times as they headed into Nome.

Sonny Linder (5th Place)

Sonny on the Bearing Sea Ice

The conditions changed rapidly from hour to hour and depending on the location of the trail.  Some mushers fought whiteout conditions with drifting snow.

Martin Buser (6th Place)

They all had to cross the wind polished sea ice which we saw many mushers slide, fall, and dogs stuggle to maintain any traction.

After they went through the final check at the finish line the dogs were given treats and the mushers were greeted by family and friends.

In the chaos some clever dogs stole some extra treats

The dogs also go through routine vet checks throughout the race including the end.

The dogs then get to rest on straw beds until they are flown home.

While waiting for other finishers we also walked out on the sea ice.  It was slippery and you can see the buckling effects of the strong winds and moving tides beneath the surface.

We also watched migratory buntings outside of Peter’s house and even caught a glimpse of a fox.

Jessie Royer (7th Place)

Somehow the sea ice seemed particularly slippery as Jessie came across. Nathan had gone down to the ice to get some different perspective shots of the dog team, and as Jessie headed towards Nathan, they both struggled to gain traction on the ice. A couple minutes of hilarity ensued as Nathan slipped on the ice had to crawl out of the way as Jessie’s dog sled team slipped and slid just several feet from Nathan.

Nathan was extremely embarrassed, only moment ago voicing his concern for the possibility of slipping on the ice and getting tangled with a dog sled team.

Hans Gatt (9th Place)

At this time of year there was about 12 hours of daylight from 9:30 am to 9:30 pm.  We could hear the air raid sirens sound throughout the night and morning as the mushers approached Nome, but sadly it was hard to get motivated when you knew it was dark out and they would be hard to photograph.

Robert Sorlie (21st Place)

We also learned there are actually several races that use the Iditarod trail including a bicycle race.  They started a week before the dog sled teams, but they are clearly crazier.

They had signs of frost bite and open cuts on their faces after falling many times. They said the winds and drift conditions were the worst between Safety and Nome and they had fallen over the handle bars into the drifts multiple times. We also heard there were people running the 1,000 mile race, but we didn’t see any runners finish.

The last night we had an incredible king crab feast with Peter. It doesn’t come much fresher than being caught right out of the Bearing Sea.  We cooked 2 huge crabs giving us each almost 1.5 lb of delicious crab meat!

The last morning after we dropped our bags off at the airport we watched one more musher arrive.

Kristy Berington (30th place)

After the first 10 finishers Nome starts getting back to normal and the crowds die down and sometimes you forget there’s even a race happening.  We saw dog sled teams weaving around traffic down Front Street as they made their way to the arch.

Like most finishers their faces were frozen, but they were happy to be done.  Kristy’s eyelashes even had ice coating them.

Musher’s Mascara

We were to be able to borrow a car from Peter and Jean, which allowed us to greet and follow the mushers into Nome.  We also were thankful for the fur hats they lent us which by far out-performed any synthetic hat we had brought.

It was an incredible 4 day experience.  We have a greater respect for people who enjoy living in Nome and it was great fun to watch the Iditarod finishers, but we were out of time and off to Fairbanks!

We couldn’t include all the photos in our post so check out the rest below.

We spent our last full day in Alaska back in Denali NP. Since we had gone so far down the park road the previous day (requiring lots of time on the bus) we decided to only go as far as the Eielson Visitor center so that we could have more time to hike. We didn’t see as much wildlife this time, but it was a great day for landscapes since the wind had blown the clouds and fog out of the valley.



There was some impressive landscapes as the clouds passed over the Alaska Range

We shortly forgot about the mountain as Katharine pointed out a grizzly cub running along side the road from the bus.  It was definitely picking up a scent in the wind as it ran down the hill into the braided stream.


We came around the bend and suddenly Denali came out in full view. It was windy out but well worth getting out of the bus to take a few photos in the cold.

Olympus E-PL2, ISO 200, 34mm, f/9.0, 1/200 sec

On our way back towards the park exit we got off the bus to hike some more in the open tundra. This time we didn’t see any bears though. We also took advantage of Nathan’s tripod and remote shutter.



Again, berries were everywhere, blanketing the ground.


Once we were back on the bus, the last animals we saw were a moose and her calf.


Our last day in Alaska was a perfect end to an amazing trip full of wildlife sightings, amazing mountains, and some great hiking. We can’t wait to go back!!


We spent day 10 driving almost 7 hours from Seward to our cabin outside of Denali National Park.

Rainbow spotted on the way to Denali

The next morning we had to wake up early for our bus tour which is the only way to travel in the park.


Denali NP has a unique bus system where you ride on school buses on the only road through the park. At any point you can choose to get off and hike around, then just go back to the road and flag down a bus to get back on.  For our first day we booked tickets to Wonder Lake, nearly the entire length of the park road, which takes about 11 hours round trip if you stick with the same bus the whole day. Given how many hours you simply spend on the bus, we were glad to have long days so that we still had time to get off and explore on our own a bit.

While riding on the bus you are encouraged to point out wildlife (and to shout ‘STOP’ when you see something so that the driver can help show others), but it takes a few animal sightings for people to get the confidence to yell at the driver. Our first animal sighting was a grizzly bear grazing on berries.


Since the bus system is the only way to get through the park, there are hardly any hiking trails, and back-country camping is strictly controlled, Denali is kept as a wilderness area and animals aren’t used to humans, so they are usually seen far away from the road (which is different than most National Parks where you might see moose grazing right by the side of the road).  After a while the driver also encourages people to yell stop for any good photo opportunities like this landscape.

The bushes and tundra were just starting to turn colors for the fall which made for amazing photos.


View from Eielson Visitor Center of the Alaska Range

After we passed the Eielson Visitor Center we got off the bus for a hike through the tundra and blueberry patches.  Katharine spent most of the time picking and enjoying the unlimited supply of ripe berries while Nathan kept a paranoid watch for grizzly bears.

After a while of walking through the thick tundra, we headed down to the stream bed for some easier terrain.

Nathan’s fears quickly turned from grizzly bears to spooking moose in the willows.  As we walked we could see moose tracks all around us and the willows (moose food) became thicker and thicker so that we could often only see 100 feet ahead of us.  At one point we could see the park road ahead about half a mile away and a bus was stopped.  A stopped bus could only mean one thing…ANIMALS! The bus was up against a steep hill so we knew they were looking our way.  We paused trying to figure out what they could be looking at then suddenly a fox or a small wolf ran past us just on the other side of the stream bed.  Now our minds were racing trying to remember all the animal safety rules…grizzly bear you stand your ground…moose you run away…pack of wolves…they never said anything about stumbling on wolves! Luckily the wolf/fox had run by quickly and was soon far away. But multiple buses were still stopped – meaning they were looking at something else. We decided to climb out of the willows to higher ground to get a better view.  We reached the hill opposing the buses with a wide valley between us and sure enough we spotted grizzly bears!

They were still quite far away, probably about a quarter of a mile, but a mother and her full grown cubs weren’t something we wanted to take a chance with. We sat and ate berries as we watched them casually walk into the hills, and then we headed down into the valley towards the road.  Denali has few to no official hiking trails because by allowing everyone to hike in random areas they preserve the overall terrain.  Sometimes it’s fun to explore the wilderness on your own but other times you wish you had a nice trail.

Thick willows that sometimes are above your head

Starting in the afternoon, “The Mountain”, Mt. McKinley aka Denali, began to show through the clouds barely.  It is actually uncommon to see the mountain and extremely rare to see it from top to bottom without any cloud cover. As we headed back to the road after our hike, we looked back and could see the clouds had fully cleared around The Mountain. Sadly we were already headed back and past the best view points, but we still got a couple nice shots.

By the end of the day we had spent about 14 hours in the park and couldn’t wait to go back the next day, which would also be our last “fun” day in Alaska.  We saw caribou, 5 grizzly bears, moose, arctic ground squirrels, pika, dall sheep, wolves, possibly a fox, and The Mountain. Only in Denali!

On our 9th day we slept in after many early morning flights and boat trips.  We decided to hike along Exit Glacier to the Harding Icefield in Kenai Fjords National Park.  The hike begins at the valley floor and climbs 3,500 feet along side the glacier for about 4 miles.  It’s not every day you get to see a glacier and it certainly isn’t every day that you can hike the length of one all the way to the ice field that is feeding it.


For the first mile the trail was very lush and green, almost like hiking through a jungle.  Then we started to emerge out of the dense trees and were greeted by a steep slope of colorful flowers.


The open meadows and about 1,500 feet of gain gave way to some incredible views overlooking the mountains and the valley below where we started.


As we started up a steep incline with lush grasses on each side of the trail I spotted a marmot sticking his head up out of the tall grass.

I tried to get as close as possible…

He calmly ate grass while I was able to get a few photos.  After we left you could hear their high pitch whistling signal as noisy hikers approached.


The vegetation began to disappear and the landscape became a rocky moon-like surface.  We could look across the glacier and see the icefield and knew we were getting close.

At the top is a emergency shelter which is a small one room log cabin.  This photo was taken at the shelter and you can see the valley down below and the snow patches we had to hike through.  It was pretty surreal but an amazing accomplishment when you look down at the valley 3,500 feet below.


The Harding Icefield is 300 square miles and receives over 400 inches of snow a year!  It is one of only only four Icefields in the United States.


It is also the largest Icefield that is entirely located in the US feeding 40 different glaciers.


We also saw 10 or 15 mountain goats on the mountain side enjoying the view.  There are a couple photos in the gallery at the end of the post.  The sun started to get “lower” in the sky and less people were coming up so we decided it was time to head back down.  As we left the moonscape and headed to the meadows we could see hikers ahead of us stopped and pointing.  When we caught up to them we could see a black bear grazing in the meadow.


We took to some high ground above the bear and waited for him to pass.


After 15 minutes the bear had passed and we headed back down the trail.  Within 10 minutes we looked up and saw the bear on the ridge 100 feet above us, we shouted at him making our presence known and he glanced at us and then walked over the ridge.


We made it back finishing the 7.5 mile hike and 3,500 feet of elevation gain before the sun fully set.  This hike reaffirmed that we were made for each other.. who hikes 7.5 miles up a mountain on their honeymoon and has a smile at the end?!




After a pleasant night in Seward, we took our third and final boat trip through Kenai Fjords National Park.  For our last trip we decided to take the Captain’s Choice Tour, focusing on photography and wildlife. This was the smallest tour boat but there was also only 20 guests on board.  The highlight of the trip was when we came across a pod of orcas!


After 10 mins of following the orcas one breached twice putting on an amazing show.  It was hard to judge where the orca was going to surface next so we didn’t get the best photos, maybe next time.  After 20 minutes the boat left the orcas because of laws regarding disturbing the animals’ natural behaviors.  It’s understandable, but it was frustrating to watch a pod of orcas swim away as the boat changes direction.


The rest of the trip was mostly spent visiting bird nesting sites along the cliffs which yielded some nice photos.

Tufted Puffin (280 mm, f/5.6, 1/800 sec, ISO 1250)

Horned Puffin (280 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1250)

Purple Ochre Starfish

After the tour we watched the sunset outside of Angel’s Rest, which was the best accommodations of our entire trip.

Looking East toward the town of Seward (44 mm, f/18, 3.2 sec, ISO 100)

Moon rising over Resurrection Bay

More photos

The plan for our 7th day was to take a short morning flight from Valdez to Anchorage and then rent a car and drive 130 miles to Seward.  We sat in the airport with 20 other people waiting for our Era Aviation plane to arrive, but after an hour they announced the flight was cancelled due to the thick fog in Valdez. They booked us on the next flight 6 hours later in the hope that the clouds would lift by then. Disappointed and frustrated because we knew we had to get to Anchorage/Seward that night so that we could go on an early morning boat trip the next day, we stood outside the airport waiting for the “taxi” (the lady with the minivan). Another stranded traveler started chatting with us and mentioned that Grant Aviation sometimes will fly a small plane to Anchorage when Era won’t.  I guess we looked puzzled because he then explained that larger aircraft have different FAA regulations on visibility so a bush plane can fly in poor conditions.  Given that the fog did not show any signs of lifting we decided to book an early afternoon flight with Grant so that we could definitely get out of Valdez that day.

Once again the small plane was a fun experience- one passenger sat in the co-pilot’s seat and the pilot explained all the dials and gages and basically how to fly a plane.

So we made it to Anchorage several hours behind schedule and quickly got our rental car to drive to Seward. On our previous stay in Anchorage, the owner of our bed and breakfast suggested that we stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) because it’s a great way to get to see animals up close. Although it was drizzling and the sun was going down, we decided it was worth the stop to get a chance to practice our wildlife photography. Plus we were anxious to see brown bears and this was a good opportunity.

The AWCC didn’t disappoint although it did have a zoo/farm feel to it with all the animals behind tall fences. Still, it seemed like most of the animals had plenty of space to roam, and the AWCC does good work with rescue animals, releasing many back into the wild. Enjoy the photos!

Musk Ox charged the fence, shortly after this photo I grabbed the tripod and jumped back

Brown Bear


Black Bear


Alaska Day 6- Valdez

Our second day in Valdez started with another early morning, and even though it was cloudy and cold, we were excited for our Kayaking trip with Pangaea Adventures.  We met up with our guide, put our gear in dry bags, and were outfitted with life jackets, boots, and kayak skirts.  We decided this trip wasn’t the best for our expensive camera equipment so we just took our waterproof point and shoot.  We were paired up with another couple and got on the first boat headed to the Columbia Glacier.  After a two hour boat ride we landed on the terminal morraine and unloaded our kayaks.  After a brief lesson on getting in and out of the kayaks and a stern warning that tipping your kayak wasn’t the best idea, we started paddling out to the icebergs!

Getting in was a challenge, can’t imagine tipping over and trying to climb back in

Columbia Glacier was actually ~9 miles in the distance and is currently in the catastrophic retreat phase of its life cycle. Although it is not well understood, it is believed to be a natural progression (not caused by global warming) and is the reason there are so many icebergs scattered in Heather Bay.

Columbia Glacier and Heather Bay


The icebergs we were paddling through ranged in size from small chunks the size of basketballs to large ones that were probably at least 30 feet tall, but it was hard to tell without anything to compare them to.  Although it would be fun to kayak up to one of the large ones or even climb on them it is actually quite dangerous and unstable.  As we saw the previous day, an iceberg can spontaneously roll and since most of the actual volume is hidden underwater it is hard to judge the true size. The rule of thumb is to keep a distance that is twice the height of the visible ice.

This large blue one can be seen in the foreground of the second photo, we estimated at least 30 feet tall

Size of a small house

At first we were disappointed to stay so far away given their advertisement photos but soon after we started paddling, we heard a large crashing sound as we watched a house-size iceberg roll over.  Throughout the day we continued to hear ice cracking and splashing into the water from icebergs nearby and miles away.  At one point we had to navigate through a dense field of icebergs, and when we looked back one of the large icebergs had split in half and tumbled into the ocean.

The iceberg that split in half after we paddled by

On our way back to the boat we took a different route and paddled through an area only accessible at high tide. It was a completely different landscape, feeling more like a freshwater marsh than the ocean.  But as we paddled through the still water we could see foot-long jelly fish just below the surface.


As we came out of the calm shallow water we were greeted by a few curious harbor seals.  They liked to pop their heads up near our kayak, but once we grabbed the camera they vanished.  We also tried to stalk a couple otters, but like the seals they stayed at a safe distance.


It was an awesome experience, and a special thanks to Kim & Cory and all of our work friends whose gifts went towards this kayaking tour.





After missing our last flight to Anchorage we woke up incredibly early for our flight to Valdez.  This was the view outside our plane as we flew east along the coast.

iPhone 4, 3.85mm, 1/380, f/2.8, ISO 80

We had to get to Valdez check into our hotel then head to the docks to catch our boat trip in Prince William Sound.  Valdez is a small oil and fishing town so the airport was small but not as small as Gustavus.  The taxi was just a lady in her minivan and I think she might be the only taxi in town since every time we called a taxi she showed up.

It was the perfect day for a boat trip to Meares Glacier, not a cloud in the sky, we just crossed our fingers hoping we would see some animals.  The boat was by far the nicest boat we’ve ever been on, the interior was clean and it was a smooth riding catamaran style hull.


While we were near Glacier Island the captain spotted a small iceberg that had drifted out from Columbia Glacier.  After viewing the iceberg for 5 minutes or so it suddenly began to roll because it became unbalanced as it melted. The ice exposed to air becomes white and porous more like snow, while the ice under water is still clear blue glacial ice.  Watching this massive piece of ice roll was incredible- even the captain / tour guide was speechless for a couple minutes.  The 3 photos are taken as it rolled and came to rest in a new position with the clear blue ice on top.


The captain classified the iceberg as a growler meaning it is 3′ high and 16′ long.  In the photo below you can see a gull sitting on the top.  If a gull is a foot tall that berg is at least 14′ high, meaning it could be classified as a bergy bit (3-16′ high and 16-49′ long).


Because of the good weather and many animal sightings we took almost 500 photos but we’ve narrowed them down to just a few of the best.  Check out the album at the end of the post for some more photos.

Sea Otter (Canon 40D, 280mm, 1/500, f/5.6, ISO 400)

Unakwik Inlet (Olympus E-PL2, 14mm, 1/320, f/7.1, ISO 200)

Meares Glacier

Harbor Seal (Olympus E-PL2, 150mm, 1/640, f/10, ISO 200)

Dall’s Porpoise

Steller Sea Lions

Horned Puffin (Canon 40D, 280mm, 1/1000, f/14, ISO 800)

Kodiak Fishing Boat seen on “Deadliest Catch

Two of the most excited honeymooners!

Our fourth day began with an early morning wake-up call to fly from Juneau to Anchorage. Due to a few things out of our control (some the fault of the hotel and some the incompetence of Alaska Airlines), we ended up missing our 7 am flight and instead were placed on a 9:30 am flight. At first this didn’t seem too bad – we thought we’d still arrive in Anchorage before lunch and have plenty of time to explore. Unfortunately our new flight was not direct and instead made two stops (in Yakutat and Cordova) so we didn’t get to our Bed&Breakfast in Anchorage until nearly 3pm. We were really frustrated to have missed so much of the day (and it was such a beautiful day!!) but we eventually rallied our spirits and headed to the Flattop Mountain trailhead.


The trail up to Flattop Mountain was an easy 1.5 mile, 1,200 foot climb. It is a pretty popular and crowded hike – but for good reason. On clear day like we had, you can see all the way to Mt. McKinley, over 130 miles away.


The trail itself was easy to follow but quite steep and the final climb was really more rock scrambling than hiking. But it was worth it!


We didn’t start the hike until nearly 5pm but since it stays light so late, we had plenty of time to enjoy it!  The fireweed flowers were in full bloom which gave a bright pink highlight to all the green hill sides during our whole trip.


We ended the day at Humpy’s Restaurant and had our first sample of delicious King Crab legs for dinner!

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