Porcupyn's Blog

July 8, 2017

Alaska Trip – Day 5 (concluded)

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 11:30 pm

Folks had chastised me for the decision to use Palmer as a base. But that was a minor blip compared to what I did for my later planning!!

Back when I had originally started planning the trip, I had found out that it is rare to sight Mt Denali. In fact, after asking about Alaska on a couple of bulletin boards, the information I received was downright disheartening. Folks said that the best time to see the mountain was in winter; or one needed to plan for a week’s stay to ensure that there would be a window of opportunity.

Thoroughly dismayed, I decided to spread the trip out to chance a change in weather if we were to encounter bad weather up front. So, I decided thus:

– two days in Anchorage
– a travel day
– two days in Denali
– one day in Fairbanks (friends had visited Fairbanks and I got the impression that there was a lot to do out here as well – the Dalton Highway, the Alaska pipeline, and hot springs)
– a travel day
– one day in Seward for a cruise
– two days in Denali (in case we missed the mountain the first time, here would be our reason to do so
– drive to Anchorage to fly out

I had even put in a deposit for the Denali area cabins because everyone had said that those are the toughest to get, and I wanted to take no chances on losing those.

Then, after spending some more time researching, I calculated travel times and went, “What the heck was I thinking?!!” We’d be spending half the time on the road with that schedule. So, I decided to change the schedule around to have four continuous nights in Denali as opposed to splitting them into two sets of two. If we spend four days and four nights (counting it from afternoon the first day to the noon of the fifth day) in the Denali area, hopefully we can at least glimpse Denali on one of the days, even if the view is not perfect. And here’s where I made – what we all agreed – my biggest mistake.

My friend who had visited Alaska before us had used Talkeetna as a base for a portion of his trip and had done the Denali flyby and the glacier landing out of there. While I didn’t fancy the flight for two reasons – a) no factor of safety and b) too expensive – I assumed that Talkeetna would be as good a base as any to get to Denali. At the time of this decision making, what I didn’t realize was that Talkeetna is closer to Anchorage than it is to Denali!

And why did Talkeetna even figure as a factor? Well, by the time I looked at our schedule and decided that it needed to be changed, the cabins were unavailable for the revised (final) dates as outlined in the opening post. All alternatives were more expensive, and Talkeetna looked as good as any other. I reserved it, meaning to come back to it and change it if necessary. In the event, I never got around to revising it. By the time I found out how far exactly Talkeetna was from Denali, we were stuck with it.

And this decision got even worse soon. Why?

Well, as you have read thus far, we were in no position to go north of Denali on Day 5. By the time we reached Denali in a steady drizzle, it was past 8 pm!! Knowing how badly I wanted to drive up to the Dalton Highway, Mrs. Porcupyn bravely volunteered to come with me right then and there. But if anything, I know my limits!! So, we quashed that plan and decided to just get something to eat near the park and retire for the night. With the drizzle coming quite steadily, though the front desk person who checked us in at the cabins said that the weather was supposed to get better tomorrow (but be cloudy and rainy the day after), it was not looking good.

Alaska Trip – Day 5

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 10:18 pm

My original plan for the day was for us to get ready early in the morning, then go up to Hatcher Pass and check out the scenery there, then drive over to Matanuska Glacier and decide whether it was worthwhile to walk over to the glacier. Then, by about noon, drive over to our cabins near Denali, reaching there at about 4-5 pm, we could then decide who would be interested to join me to a drive up to Yukon River and back, leaving the rest in the cabin. Folks had advised that it would be a very long day, but I had thought that I could do it and get back to Denali by, say, 1 am – which wouldn’t be too bad to do in the middle of summer. Well, that was the plan, anyway!

 A hearty Wimbledon breakfast ... in Alaska

A hearty Wimbledon breakfast … in Alaska

We finally woke up at about eight am and had a very good breakfast that our host had prepared for us. In honor of Wimbledon, that they never watch anyway (I would bet on this, based on the fact that the TV was not turned on anytime while we were there), we had waffles with strawberries and whipped cream. All of us asked for seconds 🙂

It is now nine am, and we are still twiddling our thumbs. So, I decided to bite the bullet and decided to drive up to Hatcher Pass. Only Baab was willing to come with me. It had been drizzling all night long, and host also said that there might not be much to see near the Pass, conditions being what they were. We soldiered on, regardless. It was nice to see the little Su river by the roadside and high school kids practicing for cross-country skiing. They were maintaining really good time. The scenery was nice as well with greenery all around and low clouds as well. However, by the time the road started to climb, we were in near white out conditions. There were clouds all around us. Besides, at this point, the car informed me that we were low on fuel too. So, we decided to turn around and back to the Airbnb. Hopefully, the rest of the family was ready by now!

Not really! We had asked our hosts if we could do some laundry (it was a good thing we did!) and so, that had taken some time out of the morning, as the laundry equipment was in a bathroom that was being used by other guests. In any event, by the time everyone was ready to a steady drizzle, it was nearly noon. But I still wanted to visit the Matanuska Glacier and no one had any objections to that, as the Yukon plan was also mine alone (i.e., it would not impact their rest of the day)!

The Matanuska River flows by the road (Glenn Highway, which connects Parks Highway to Valdez)

The Matanuska River flows by the road (Glenn Highway, which connects Parks Highway to Valdez)

... but the road quickly gains elevation ...

… but the road quickly gains elevation …

... which gives us good views of the river

… which gives us good views of the river

We went past the official viewpoint, trying to find the trailhead, then stopped at a store that was selling Alaska souvenirs for tourists. The store manager informed us that the trailhead was just around the corner, but the fee was $30 per person. Considering that we were definitely not prepared for bears, and the light conditions and the weather were not really that good anyway, we decided to turn around and head to the glacier viewing location.

One of the explanatory boards near the Matanuska Glacier viewpoint

One of the explanatory boards near the Matanuska Glacier viewpoint

Matanuska Glacier view

Matanuska Glacier view

It was raining quite heavily by now, when we got to the Matanuska Glacier viewpoint. But we managed to hang around long enough for some photos. Here is one that shows the mighty glacier. It was initially tough for us to pronounce the name of the glacier until Katya pointed out that the name almost rhymes with that of her friend (also, an Indian movie star) Anushka. After that, it was pretty easy to say Matanuska 🙂

By now it was past one pm, and we headed right back towards Palmer (and then Denali). Enroute, however, a restroom break turned into a grocery shopping excursion, and shopped an hour more off our rest of the day.

Driving through a steady drizzle even after we crossed Talkeetna, we abandoned any hope of being able to see Denali from either of the viewpoints by the highway.

Alaska Trip – Day 4 (concluded)

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 12:50 am

I forget if it was after our first cruise or our second cruise, but one day we were returning from Whittier and suddenly, I saw this pull-out on the left where I wanted to stop for photos. I made the left turn, parked, and we were enjoying the water and taking photos of the scenery, when a guy came up to us and said something about water trickling down from the mountain and that it was really nice. He had with him a five gallon jug full of the water.

 So, we look across the road and, sure enough, see these people filling up their containers (bottom right of photo) :-)

So, we look across the road and, sure enough, see these people filling up their containers (bottom right of photo) 🙂

Monkey see monkey do! We joined the queue and grabbed a few bottles of water for ourselves.

The pipe had all sorts of “artwork” stickers on it!

That night, when we got back to our Airbnb, I researched the – for lack of a better term – water fountain and got some interesting articles, such as this one.

From that time on, each time we swung by that area of the road near milepost 109 of Seward Highway, we made it a point to fill up our water bottles with the refreshingly cool and clear water off the mountain. I don’t know what the flyertalk locals have to say about it, but for sure, other than one day, each day we saw folks in a queue for the water, some with up to ten five gallon jugs, which they were then lugging and making a dash across the road!

Here is a good video of the bore tide – we didn’t see anything close to it. I would assume that it had passed by us by the time we got there.

The Fly Swatter Lady had informed us about the option of hiking to a place from where one could see the Portage Glacier. So, as we came off the cruise, we decided that three of us – Mrs. Porcupyn, Baab and I – would try out the hike and the other – Katya and my mother – would stay in the car. As we were not confident of going all the way up (it was drizzling just a little bit), we said that we would be back in 30-45 minutes.

As we started the hike, the climb was not too bad, and there were others on the hike as well. So, my initial fear of bears went down a bit. At this point, we decided that we would go all the way to the view point. Mrs. Porcupyn was lagging a bit, so she suggested that we go up and she would try to make it if she could. As there were others on the trail, we were OK with that.

 Every so often, we turned around to look at the scenery behind us. Prince William Sound looked nice from the height we had gained.

Every so often, we turned around to look at the scenery behind us. Prince William Sound looked nice from the height we had gained.

Soon (but not nearly soon enough as it was already about 40 minutes since we left the parking lot), we were at the view point and took in the splendor of Portage Glacier. The medial moraine to the left of center of the photo is formed because of the little arm of the glacier joining it. From what I read online, a few decades ago the glacier covered the entire lake and more. Thankfully, it has been holding steady at the present location for the last two decades.

We could have gone all the way down to Portage Lake and dipped our toes in the icy cold water (which, btw, we never once did on the whole trip – should have tried once!), but at this point, we were worried that Katya and my mother would be worried that we had not returned in time. So, once we were done taking a few photos, we started the hike down which was a bit slippery at some places because of the gravel. But we were able to navigate it all without too much fuss, and though by now the drizzle had gotten a bit steadier, we managed to get to the car without our jackets getting wet. I was warm/hot enough to not even need to use the jacket that I had brought to the hike with me and was sweating by the time we reached the car.

We were glad that we got to do what we did. Just like it happens when one needs to plan out a trip really early to get flight tickets, after the initial surge of excitement, one tends to fall back from planning details. As it so happened, once I paid for the flight tickets, the hotels, the cruises, and the bus(es), I got a bit complacent and stopped researching further – our trip was still four months away at this point.

As a result, I had not really planned for anything past the cruises and the bus(es) in Denali. Therefore, had we not been early the first day to get the chance to talk to the Fly Swatter Lady, we might not have done anything at all but drive right back. Because of her advice, we had some extra memories to take back with us 🙂 Too bad, I never asked her name, but if you happen to see her happily swatting flies at the parking lot that houses Phillips Cruises and Major Marine Tours in Whittier, do thank her on our behalf!

Our engagements in Whittier complete, we then drove back to Palmer. I’ve already addressed feedback about using Palmer as a base. Tomorrow is when we learn that it was the smaller of my planning boo-boos!

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