Alaska now owns my heart. I've never, in all my life, seen so much beauty. Every sense was enticed and October in Alaska is my new favorite scent, being a combination of cool crisp air and damp leaves (I believe it was the quaking aspen trees that were giving off the sweet earthy scent). The inside of my camera bag still smells like this so I keep sneaking whiffs. My husband and I drove over 1,000 miles exploring various locations. Every inch that we explored was magnificent. To be miles out in the middle of nowhere and completely surrounded by mountains, trees, wildlife, and nature is so grounding. The vast sky and boundless mountains really puts your life in perspective.
Over the course of the 5 days we were there I took nearly 1500 photos. The majority were taken on my Canon 5D Mark III camera with my Sigma 35mm lens. Once in awhile I opted for my Canon 135mm lens. I also used my dad's old Canon AE-1 but I did not get the film developed yet. And there were times when I the weather didn't permit for my camera to be out of my waterproof camera bag, or I couldn't get to it, so I used my phone.
Our first full day there we woke well before the sun rose. It was a combination of being in a different time zone and excitement. We were staying in Girdwood so we had a beautiful scenic drive out to see Mt. Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America. Many years ago, on a family trip, we drove up Pike's Peak in Colorado. I thought that was massive. And it is! Mt. Denali rings in at a summit elevation 20,310 while Pike's Peak's elevation is 14,115. We viewed the mountain from a viewing point in the Denali National Park as there are no roads leading up to it.
Our drive there and back was full of gasps in awe at the scenic surroundings and pulling over to take photos at the many pull off spots along the highway. The word beautiful is an understatement just as none of these photos truly do the scenery any justice. A small rectangle is so limiting when you're completely engulfed in serene fascination. At one point we even saw a moose!
If you can't already tell, I'm completely in love with Alaska.
The two most memorable pull off spots that day were unreal. The first one was a trail in the woods. I was terrified of encountering bears even though we researched what to do in case of an encounter and had two cans of bear spray. I was still pretty nervous! It ended up being an uneventful hike, thankfully! The second most memorable spot was a little dirt road next to the highway bridge that went down along a river bank where we were able to park our crappy rental car and take a stroll along the receding river bank. We walked out onto an elevated island of river rock that stretched further into the middle of the river. All rocks. And if you know me in real life you know that I can't go anywhere without bringing back at least a pocket full of favorite rocks. That day was an extra spacial day because I stumbled across a bear rib bone too. One happy gal! If you know me in real life you also know I have a thing for bones.
We wandered around here for awhile collecting rocks and taking photos. I could've stayed there all day. There were people who were camping between the river and the tree line in their RV. It made me wish we had an RV so we could've done the same. By far, one of the most peaceful places I've ever seen. How could life get any better than this?!
And then the next day got even better!
Saturday we woke up well before the sun again. We carefully packed a backpack full of essentials like food, water, hats, gloves, a first aid kit, extra layers, and bear spray. My husband carried that bag and I carried my waterproof camera backpack that I purchased specifically for this trip. My bag seemed to weigh 100 pounds but there was no way I was going on this adventure without my cameras.
We left our rented condo before the sun rose and headed out to Crow Creek Pass. Don't tell our car rental company, but we took our little Nissan on a 7 mile road of nothing but potholes so deep a toddler could swim in them. As we approached the mountains we were again in awe of the cabins perched close to 1000 feet in elevation. Living in the midwest all of our lives, it isn't hard to impress us with beautiful scenery. But this was incredible! I could happily live in one of those cabins. I imagine waking up every morning and having coffee on my back patio overlooking the mountain valley and finishing every day by watching the sun set over the horizon surrounded by trees, wildlife, waterfalls in the distant mountains, and silence.
Once we finally reached the trailhead the sun was making an appearance. So far our trip was mostly overcast but that was better than the rain the forecast was promising. We strapped on our backpacks and began our hike. At first it was a zig zag path climbing up and up and around the other side of the mountain. It took awhile for the nervousness of bear encounters to wear off but eventually it did. This hike was like no other hike I'd ever been on in the Midwest. Not even close so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. The terrain and surroundings changed frequently between lush forest to blustery bare mountain summit and everything fairytale like in between. The mountains we were hiking had gold mine ruins scattered throughout. Old rusty equipment here and there but also loose jagged rocks from mining on steep mountainside which made hiking a challenge at times. Did I mention that we're both terrified of heights?
You don't know panic until your Midwestern ass has to cross a rapid flowing creek. Twice! (and again on the way back but I'll get to that) We made our way by stepping on slippery rocks while the cold water rushed quickly around our ankles. My anxiety ridden mind imagined slipping and falling all the way down the mountain, something along the line of 3000 feet. *insert wide eyed emoji here*
Once we reached the top we were well above the treeline and clouds. We could look out over the mountains and trails we just accomplished. Here at the top we could see all of Crow Creek but now we could also see Eagle Lake up on top of the mountain. The water was crystal clear and had a bluish white tint to it making it look cold and delicious. It was snowing and windy as hell. We kept on trudging further on so we could see Raven Glacier. This was the first of many glaciers we were going to see on this trip.
We came, we saw, we were 3500 feet up in the sky. After taking it all in we high-fived and started our venture back down. If we were more prepared we could've continued the 24 mile hike that would've taken another day and required us to camp out overnight. One day we will go back and do this! But for now, I'm going to appreciate the 15 miles that we did that day.
The way back was a little more adventuresome. Being up that high we could visibly see other trails that we couldn't see while down in it. It also looked easier to cross the creek. So wrong. Little did we know that path was STEEP. One wrong step and we were going to tumble a brutal tumble. At one point we stopped and veered slightly off the trail so two people and their happy pup could pass us. We could tell they were regulars on the path as they were hopping carefree down the steep slope as I'm sure they could tell we were newbie's and carefully placing each step hoping to not make a bad choice in stepping. I think they saw us stupidly cross the creek where we did and wanted to check on us without being obvious. I appreciated their suggestions for next time although I have to admit I felt safer crossing the creek there. Sure it was deeper but it wasn't as steep. We found a relatively flat area to cross. the cool water seeped into my shoes and soaked my pants and socks making the rest of the hike a soggy one, but I still preferred this than imaging slipping down a rocky mountain side.
Some of the trail was now a stream of cool water coming down from the mountains. On the way down I was already soaked so I didn't care so much about the puddles and streams I was stepping in. My muscles were now sore, in spots I never even thought could be sore from just walking. Particularly the sides of my outer thighs probably from clenching in order to remain stable on the unstable paths. So now that I wasn't carefully placing each step to balance on rocks or step onto higher ground in order not to get my shoes wet it helped with the tension in my muscles. Don't be fooled, we were SORE! Very sore. The next day was especially rough until we got to hiking again. We got the blood flowing to our muscles and we were good until we stopped and the soreness kicked in again. It's days later and I'm still sore. I'm not complaining though. If anything it makes me want to make this a daily thing.
On the mountain on the other side of the valley we spotted 4 mountain goats. Thankfully no bears! We did see a couple of bald eagles on that day too.
Hiking is always my favorite activity. Living in Illinois and Indiana, we've never hiked anything like this before. It was incredible, challenging, rewarding, and mind clearing. I think I'd be a whole new person if I could do this daily. There is no better living in the present than going for a hike in the mountains surrounded by grand beauty and focusing on nothing more than the next step in front of you.
On Sunday we, once again, rose before the sun. I slowly drank my coffee, made breakfast, and then we stretched our sore muscles before venturing out. First we found a short trail that we absolutely needed to check out. It was an incline of trees with barren roots in the trails and at the top of the trail you overlook a waterfall. The water was so loud and flowing fiercely. I just had to set up my tripod and get a long exposure shot of the falls. There is an empty lot right in the middle of all of this that I've been daydreaming about ever since.
After traveling on Seward Highway for a bit, we entered a (roughly) 2 mile tunnel through a mountain before entering the town of Wittier. Wittier was misty and foggy giving the small town of Wittier an eerie vibe. It didn't help that nothing was open either due to Covid or it being Sunday, I'm not entirely sure. The main reason I wanted to go here was to see the Buckner Building, an old military building now abandoned. I thought there would be a very slim chance we cold get in to check it out but it was gated off. We respected the no trespassing signs and took photos of the exterior instead. There were a few spots where I could take photos through the gate and through the windows.
Another interesting feature of Wittier is how the majority of the population all live in the same condominium. It was a colorful building close to the mountains but also not too far from the boat docks where I imagine they all work. Wittier also has some of the most fairytale like trails I've ever seen. I thought for sure we were going to encounter a bear here but thankfully that didn't happen. Instead we hiked muddy trails that crossed gorgeous streams and passed rocks covered in moss. The tree-line along the water in the misty overcast sky was stunning in it's own eerie way.
On this day we saw another moose and a couple more bald eagles.
After that we headed out to Seward. The drive was magnificent and the food was incredible. Crab stuffed Alaskan halibut in lobster bisque. OMG I'm drooling. Take me back!
The remaining time spent in Alaska was spent doing the same as above. Driving, hiking, eating the most delicious seafood, and checking out the scenic stops. Our last day there we thought we would spend in Anchorage. We had breakfast there that morning then drove around the city looking for something covid-friendly to do. We did find a pretty rad antique store that was more like a museum where everything was for sale. It didn't take long for us to become bored with the city and crave the mountains so off we went to find some trails. We found a trail in Anchorage, not too far from the airport in fact. Tony Knowles Coastal Trail inside Kincaid Park. This trail led to the rocky coast where I, again, collected more rocks.
After working up an appetite we set out to eat one last meal in Alaska before catching our red-eye flight back to Chicago. We decided on Glacier Brewhouse. No regrets there. The food and drinks were nothing short of delicious and our waitress was pretty awesome too. I'm not much of a drinker so I had their cream soda. Laugh all you want but it was top-notch! My husband had a couple of their beers and they were pretty tasty too. For an appetizer we had Ahi Crostini. I'm literally salivating thinking about it. And for dinner we each had two different halibut plates, both were incredible.
If you've made it this far you're a trooper! I highly suggest traveling to Alaska if given the opportunity. I know I'm beyond grateful I was given the opportunity for us to go and now I'm incredibly anxious to return soon! I'd love to live a year there and experience every season there. I have so many questions. So if you're from Alaska or have ever lived there please comment below because I'd love to hear more!