Thursday, June 7, 2012

We're back!

It has been one heck of a trip since I last posted!  We not only lived for 5 weeks on various glaciers in Denali National Park, but we just had a whirlwind tour of Canada and the U.S. on our drive back to New Hampshire in 7 days.

But you all want to see glacier stuff. . .

There are way too many pictures to upload here, so CLICK HERE to go to a Picasa page with our Alaska pictures:

We had a great time up there.  Despite some technical difficulties with the radar, we managed to get some work done and not freeze our butts off in the process.  The scenery was beautiful, it wasn't even that cold (except for a few -20 nights), and it was most definitely a unique experience.

We were caught in a few snowstorms that had us tent-bound for a couple days at a time.  We managed to cram 6 people in a 4 person tent for movie nights and did a lot of reading.  Despite all the snow, both Curtis and I managed to get the worst sunburns of our lives.  His sunglasses tan lines were absolutely ridiculous.  You'll see for yourself in the photos.

We barely made it off the glacier when we did.  The skies cleared up for a very brief weather window and we were lucky enough to get out of there about 36 hours later than planned.  It's been non-stop ever since.

We left Anchorage late Wednesday afternoon and have been driving longer and longer each day to make it to Concord with time to spare.  We took the Cassiar highway instead of the Alaska highway on the way back, and boy am I glad we did!  We spotted nearly a dozen black bears, one grizzly, moose on the loose and lots more.

It was a very long drive back, but so much better than the drive up in April.  No snowstorms! We even took a detour to come back through Jasper and Banff National Parks and it was well worth the extra time.  Here's Lake Louise:

We came back into the U.S. in Montana and spent the entire next day (750+ miles) driving through Montana.  How discouraging!  We were so happy to get back to smaller states to at least feel like we were making some progress.  After one night in Alaska and two in Canada, we had a night in Montana, one outside of Madision WI, one in western NY and landed here in Concord yesterday evening.  Phew!  We met up with Dad and went out to dinner to get our first taste of the area.  Our next task is to find an apartment in the next 2 days before heading up to Maine this weekend.  We can't wait to see everyone!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hello from Talkeetna!

We're counting down the hours now until we fly out into Denali!  We've stocked up on last minute gear, food (we filled two grocery carts), picked up our skis and satellite phone, and even found a few more books at the bookstore.  I've been told I won the "nerdiest book contest" with my 501 Spanish Verbs books even though Curtis bought Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time and Seth grabbed a physics textbook.  I still think I placed 3rd.

We've sorted and weighed all of our gear.  This is what we started out with:

All that stuff under the tent is going with us

We think the truck breathed a sigh of relief when we unloaded it.  With our gear, Seth's gear, radar equipment, solar panels, skis, food, and who knows what else, that truck was at maximum capacity.  We sat three wide with even the backseat overflowing with stuff.

After getting our gear ready, Curtis and I have been able to relax and check out the town while Seth gets some extra work done.  It's a really nice town, but super small, so it didn't take me too much time to visit every shop open yesterday.

Here's the general store with the West Rib pub around the corner  

The historic Roadhouse with a tasty bakery, restaurant, and rooms that serves these tasty treats:

This not-so-little gem is a sourdough pancake with blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, and blackberries.  The starter for the bread is from 1902!

There are gift shops and galleries here too for all the climbers and tourists that pass through.  Some are still closed for the season, but I got to check out a few yesterday.

We walked down to the river and finally got a closer view of Denali this morning.  It has been lost in the clouds all day yesterday.

Here's a different kind of view of the mountain from the topo map at our bunkhouse.  It's a pretty impressive mountain considering it makes the 15000 ft mountains around it look like little hills.  

We'll be flying out tomorrow to basecamp where we'll stash a bunch of our gear before taking a helicopter over to the north side of the park for the next week or so.  After that, we'll be back on the south side with more work to do and two new crews coming in to help.  Hopefully the time will fly by and the weather will be warm(ish) and sunny!  We'll also be attempting to keep up a research blog that will appear in a few places:

It should be the same blog, just in two places.  We'll do our best to keep you all updated while we're out there!

Now for the big news:

I GOT A JOB!  We finally know where we're headed when we get off the glacier!  I'll be working for the Forest Society in Concord, New Hampshire so we'll be driving back as fast as possible to get me to work the week of June 11th.  It's going to be crazy trip back but we are so happy to be headed to New Hampshire and to have a job waiting!  What a relief!  

Ok folks, that's all you're going to get for the next 5 weeks.  We'll be back in civilization by May 31st and will head back to Anchorage before we zip our way down through Canada and across to New Hampshire.   We'll be in touch as soon as we can!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

We survived the Alaska Highway!

We've been a long way since the last post!  You've all been very patient to wait for the latest update on our trip up the coast and along the Alaska Highway.

We left Portland, OR due north for Olympic National Park.  We found a great campsite in the park (for free) right next to the river and surrounded by the rainforest trees, ferns, and lots of moss and lichen.  Curtis did his best to build a fire for the night, but something about rainforests and campfires just don't mix.

pretty campsite views

We continued our tour of the park the next day, driving around the Olympic Peninsula.  I had an image of the park as just rainforest, but was amazed by the beaches.

It was the only beach I've ever stood on where I actually felt like I was standing below the waterline.  It was a very strange feeling.  And those trees were definitely the biggest driftwood I've ever seen.  

Nature loop through the Hoh Rainforest

We spent one more day in the park, circling all around the peninsula and making sure to have a pitstop in Forks.  

It might be beyond words to describe this town, but I'll give it my best shot.  It's a very small town at least 2 hours from the nearest decent sized town.  Yet there are 3 Twilight themed shops in the downtown, a tour company, and most importantly: Twilight firewood.  We think maybe it sparkles more than regular wood, but we did not actually test it out.  To capture the essence of the town, the photo below shows the tour guide taking a photo of his clients with cardboard character cutouts in the back of trucks that were supposed to be in the movies.  We caught a glimpse of one other couple snapping a photo near the sign, even more embarrassed than Curtis was.  I'm not sure the guy even let his girlfriend get out of the car. . . 

Anyway, we popped in the park one more time on the north side of the peninsula and it was a totally different experience from the beaches and rainforest.  

You can't quite tell, but that is a sheer vertical wall of snow.  And the truck is 10.5" high

Beautiful Olympic Mountains.  Up until we drove to Alaska, they were our favorite mountain range

We drove to Seattle the next morning, taking the ferry across and stashing all four bikes inside the truck to avoid the height surcharge.  It was totally worth saving $12.50!  We spent the day exploring Pike's market and dodging the rain.  We had the most delicious lunch ever at a little bakery, warming ourselves up enough to  go back out and get drenched.  We met up with Maddy that night and had a fun housewarming celebration for her new apartment.

So, the next morning (Thursday) was the official start of our Canada/Alaska Highway experience.  The drive started out really well through southern B.C. with beautiful views of the mountains and river, but slowly turned to a rainy, dreary day that just kind of stuck around.  We made it to 100 Mile House before it started to sink in that most services really are closed down on the highway this early.  We couldn't find a campground that first night so we ended up staying at a rest area off the highway and then just decided that worked best and stuck with it the rest of the way.  

We had day 2 of rainy weather and a long, long drive that got colder throughout the day.  It was snowing by the time we got to our "camping" spot, but the rest area had a little treat:  heated bathrooms!  It's the small things that make a difference these days.  It snowed all night so we woke to some pretty nasty driving conditions for half of day 3.  As soon as we drove through the mountain pass and got back to the western side of the mountains, the roads were dry and clean (and I could finally let go of the door handle death grip I had all day).  And even better, we finally spotted a caribou!

Best of all, we ended the day with Liard Hot Springs.  It's a provincial park in the middle of nowhere, almost to the Yukon border and because it's still so early it was free!  It took some convincing in the snow and cold to get me to consider anything fewer than my four layers of clothing, but it was well worth it.  

We spotted bison on day 4:

And day 5 finally got us to Alaska!  

The mountains got bigger and bigger as we drove towards Anchorage and we stopped to check out the roadside glacier views too:

There were two portapotties at the turnoff that would have won the prize for best toilet view if only they had faced the other way!

We made it to Anchorage last night and spent the day today sorting gear, setting up the test tents (we're testing gear for Backpacker magazine) and trying to get everything in order so we can disappear for a few weeks.  We'll be heading up to Talkeetna on Friday, then flying out to the glacier sometime after that.

I'll try to post again before we really fall off the radar, but if not you can look forward to some great stories, lots of pictures, and one enormous blog update when we get off the glacier at the end of May. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

Even though we're on the road, I still made sure to have my annual easter treat--the little chocolate eggs in the colorful foil wrappers.  Every easter, my grandmother would hide these little guys all over their house so that Missy and I could have a mini egg hunt.  We'd find them on the mantle and on door frames, and they've been my favorite ever since.  I had plenty of time to spare while cooking dinner in the woods the other night, so I had my own little easter egg hunt. . . or I had fun taking pictures of shiny eggs and moss.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Where have we not been?

This is going to take some full mental capacity for me to remember where we've been this last week or so.  I suppose we left Ridgecrest to drive to Sequoia National Park where we found the one and only free campground in the park but soon discovered that it was 10 miles down a one way, narrow, windy road that eventually tunneled through lots of overhanging branches and trees that proved unfriendly to our bikes and general 10'6" height.  At least it was free!  And Curtis spotted this little guy in the river:

Too squirmy for a good photo

We went into the park the next day and had a rather abbreviated driving tour since most of the park was still closed for the winter and/or under construction and the rest was under 5 feet of recent snowfall which meant no hiking for us.  We were at least able to see the biggest tree "General Sherman" and spot some other rather huge trees along the drive.

And here's Tunnel Rock where the old road into Sequoia used to go.  Clearly the truck would not have fit.

So next we drove to Yosemite, which may just be my favorite place of the whole trip.  It's certainly the best national park.  Even the drive in was gorgeous:

The orange on the hillsides is all california poppies!!!

We drove in super early to the park so we could get a nice hike in.  Again, most of the park is still closed but we timed our visit perfectly for all of the huge waterfalls to be gushing.  But first I should mention how I had to lift my jaw up off the floor when I caught my first glimpse of El Capitan:

The morning light was at the worst angle, but maybe you can just pretend this captures how huge it is

One of the falls on the way in

Ok, back to our hike into Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls.  Like I said, it was the perfect time of year; those falls were moving!  I think Curtis even got a little concerned when I ventured too close to the edge.

On the way up

That's vernal falls behind us

Half dome!

Liberty cap to the left and nevada falls far off

Here's Vernal from above

And Nevada

We camped out in the park that night where we got to use the telephoto on some friendly neighborhood robins.  This one made me laugh as it struggled to finally get this worm:

No bear sightings despite the bear boxes and warnings plastered all over the place.  I was a little disappointed.  We left in the morning back through the valley and caught some better views of El Cap from the other direction:

Our next destination was to get a better look at those pretty poppies so we headed out to Hite's Cove and after a very short hike got to see this:

Would it be silly if that little hike was the highlight of my trip?  They were so pretty!

Anyway, our next destination was Napa to see some wine country and maybe take a tour or two but plans changed drastically in part to a) pouring rain and most importantly b) my 101 degree fever.  That was the real kicker.  I had managed to hike into those poppies, but things went downhill rapidly after that.  The twisty, turny roads didn't help my throbbing headache and carsickness all day so by the time we arrived in Napa and managed to find a hotel room at a reasonable rate I was shivering with chills and mostly nonfunctional.  Curtis pointed me to the shower after which I curled up in bed with a cold washcloth on my cooking brain and didn't emerge until the next morning.  So needless to say, there are no Napa photos.  Besides, I should have realized that the vines are bare this time of year.

My fever broke overnight so we took the soggy driving tour through Napa valley in the morning and detoured down the San Francisco to see the Golden Gate Bridge.  We even got to walk out on it a little ways until the blustery winds turned us around.

Then it was all coast from there.  We drove up route 1 for the rest of the day, stopping at a state park to camp for the night.  It rained as soon as we arrived so we waited to explore the beach until morning:

We made it to Redwoods next and took time to do a few little hikes to get a closer look at the giant trees:

This guy passed in front of us on the road

Clearly "Big Tree" is rather big

The park meanders from forest to coastline so we spent quite a bit of time just driving through until we found our pretty campsite for the night.

And met this cool little dude

We finally left California on Tuesday morning for Oregon where we knew of this great mountain biking area near Glide.  Has anyone checked the forecast for the entire pacific northwest lately?  Not exactly mountain biking weather.   I think we'll have to reschedule that for another time in some warmer weather.  Instead, we had a beautiful drive in along the North Umpqua river (which is my new favorite river ever) and got to see this cool spot:

There's a river coming in from the left (more brownish) and a river coming in from the right (more green) that collide and then spill off into one river.  pretty cool, huh?

Other than the beautiful green rivers and moss everywhere, our best find was a free hot springs on the national forest land.  It was just a short hike in and we got to soak in the hot springs all afternoon overlooking the river with a light rain coming down.  Much better than mountain biking anyway :)

The next day we hiked in to see some waterfalls where when we stood in one spot it was raining, while 50 feet away it was snowing, and across the river the sun was shining.  Only in Oregon!

Toketee Falls

Green rivers are the best

Columnar Falls

And Surprise falls 

So that's it!  We journeyed over to Bend this morning to check out the downtown and now we're in Corvallis staying with a friend and are so happy to be warm and dry for the night!  We'll set out for the coast tomorrow and will be in Portland this weekend before we head up to Washington for a few days.