Musings from the Wilderness – Day One

I just got back from a trip to Alaska, and I wish I never had to leave.

Perhaps I should explain.

I left last week for a week long trip trip to the (other) great white north, and it was one of the most humbling and impressive experiences I’ve ever had. Some of it didn’t even sink in until after I came back, I was so saturated in nature and the wilderness.

20150704_153351I’d never been to Alaska before this trip, and though I love the outdoors, and had been to other fairly wild places such as Norway, Finland, and even Colorado, I was totally blown away by the sheer amount of nature up there. There’s heaps of it! There’s nature left and right! You can’t take a step any which way without falling into some of the freshest nature you’ve ever seen.

I flew into Anchorage with my friend Aaron, and quickly set about acquiring provisions for the trip south. It wasn’t immediately clear where I’d be going, since trying to get a good feel for Alaska in a week in is like trying to get a taste for sushi with a California roll. But I did some research and talked to some friends, and since time was such a major factor, decided to check out the Kenai peninsula. It’s just south of Anchorage, which meant a quick drive, and after reading online, I discovered it had most of everything I wanted to see.

My list included 1) bears; 2) salmon spawning; 3) bears catching salmon spawning; 4) Orcas (that is to say, killer whales!!)

20150704_172102Everything past that was a bonus. I really wanted to see Denali, but was informed it wasn’t really worth the trip if you couldn’t stay longer. Since it’s so popular it’s apparently very crowded, and frequent cloud cover meant you could rarely see the mountain in all its glory.

Well, research suggested the week I was there would be the only sunny week of the month. After arriving, I learned that research was full of dirty, dirty lies. It was cloudy the entire week, every day and all day. We even got rain! So, so much rain. But it’s Alaska, right? Part of the experience.

20150704_200552_003So after getting kitted out and having a very unsavory experience with customer service at Walmart (any real surprises there?) we picked up our rental car and headed south. Anchorage is about two hours north of Seward, which was the ultimate destination. However, being July 4th weekend, there was a competition in town that I hadn’t known about, and which meant the town was completely packed. So avoiding the crowds, we set up camp on Kenai lake, about half an hour north of town.

The drive down was eye-opening just in itself. Massive, sweeping mountains carved out over the eons by titanic glaciers. Grey clouds hovering over the peaks of green mountains hung with misty waterfalls. Wet grasslands and tundra stretching between the mountains, with forests winding off into the distance amid cerulean lakes and rivers coursing white with glacial runoff. The air was brisk, and the cold, pattering rain a soundtrack to the evanescent new world.

IMG_3588Arriving at Kenai lake, we unpacked in a campground on the shores of the lake, made a fire, ate some obligatory hot dogs and roasted the obligatory marshmallows, and then strapped on some hiking boots to find an adventure. I love hiking. It’s seriously one of my favorite things to do in the world. Just being in nature is such a rewarding experience, and Alaska was no disappointment. There wasn’t particularly a lot to hike to near the campsite, so I set off along the shore to see what I could see.

I say shore, but really it was more of a collection of rocks, fallen trees, and thick underbrush crowding to be close to the frigid lake waters. I had never seen water that color before. Aaron said it was called “rock-flour”, and was caused by by glaciers grinding up rocks, and the resulting sediment mixing with the water and turning it the most astounding turquoise blue.

The hike around the lake took a few hours, the brush was so thick, and the shore so covered in brambles. I admit I fell into the water several times as I tried to balance on fallen logs that extended into the water. They were often the only avenues to get to the next part of the beach, but were frequently rotted and slippery, and having feet that were completely soaked with the coldest water I’ve ever felt was just the price to pay.

20150704_202704I set a goal of reaching an rocky outcropping that jutted further out into the water than the rest of the shore. The little peninsula was perhaps half a mile away from where I started, but the impossibly thick underbrush made it take much longer than a walk on, say, a beach in San Diego.

It was totally worth it though. I got some incredible pictures, and just as the rain-wet vegetation was soaking my trousers, I was soaking in the scenery and, to use a cliche, rugged beauty of the Alaskan wilderness.

IMG_3750Camping that night was a different experience as well. Although it did get “dark”, it never became what I would call fully “nighttime”, and the grey twilight made falling asleep difficult, despite running on just three hours of fitful sleep from the night before.

Besides, I couldn’t switch my mind off. I was actually in Alaska, and it was glorious.

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