Field Notes

Northern Lights : 2A • July 7-July 27, 2016

Sad Goodbyes

July 27, 2016

Hello again from the 49th state! The last few days of our trip were a success and everyone is currently en route to their final destination.

 

Upon returning to Anchorage and feasting on Papa John’s pizza (throwback to airport day 1), we gathered together for one of the most memorable moonups I’ve ever experienced. Going around the circle, each and every person in our group had their time in the spotlight being showered with compliments and bon mots. It was touching to hear these kids talk so highly of their peers and leaders. And as if it couldn’t get any better, after closing the individualized nug jug, the students joined together in a singalong ad-libbed for the Northern Lights leaders. It was a moonup that Savannah, Will and I will undoubtedly remember for the rest of our lives.

 

Airport days are the best days and the worst days at the same time. Everyone was more than excited to go home and see their friends and families, but saying goodbye to our Moondance family caused a real tear-fest in the Anchorage airport.

 

Goodbyes are never easy, but especially not when saying farewell to people who have seen you at your very best and your very worst. These people who 3 weeks ago were complete strangers are now best friends. They lived together in incredibly close quarters, ate every meal together, endured each other’s smelliness, picked their friends up (literally and figuratively), and encouraged us all to be the best version of ourselves.

 

It’s hard to believe that our time together in Alaska has already come to an end. It’s experiences like this Moondance trip that the phrase “time flies when you’re having fun” truly gains meaning. The 15 of us became a family these last three weeks, and I hope to have made half the impact on them that they made on me.

 

All the best,

Shelby, Savannah, and Will


Paddling the Sound

July 26, 2016

Day 16:

Cold temperatures and a steady rain was what we awoke to for our first day of sea kayaking in Whittier. However, the kids were smiling and so excited for our next adventures. After a short safety talk, retrieving rain gear, and loading boats, we headed out into Prince Williams Sound. Everyone was in high spirits as we paddled through the fog and rain to get to camp. Lee and Jackson spotted a sea otter as they were paddling along with a few bald eagles. We camped in Prince Williams Sound at a place called Squirrels Cove. Squirrels Cove is a beautiful campsite in a thick covered rain forest that had platforms for us to set up our tents on.  We had a great Moonup led by Tori and Thomas and hit the hay excited for another great day of sea kayaking.

 

Day 17:

We were greeted with blue skies and the sunshine on the morning of day two. Due to some high winds and seas, we were not able to complete our crossing. We turned around and paddled to Decision Point to camp for the night. Charlotte, Ruth, and Anna decided to go for a swim! Everyone followed and jumped off the large rock into the cold water. After a few hours of soaking up the sun and swimming, cook crew cooked pizza bagels for dinner. Bryte blessed us with some singing during Moonup and we all went to bed warm and dry.

 

Day 18:

We were finally able to make our crossing today with ease! We had a long day of paddling to reach Seventeen Mile Beach where we would be picked up by water taxis the next day. It rained for the entire day but during lunch we played a lot of group games to keep the spirits up. Ariel had some great games that made everyone sweat in their Halley Hanson gear. Thomas, Mac, and Ariel sang songs all throughout the day. Ruth, Anna, Charlotte, and Sara told stories about recent trips and friends back at home as well. We had a great time reminiscing on our trip during Moonup led by our LOD’s Jackson and Bryte. We talked about our favorite memories from our trip so far. During Moonup, a few tailless mice known as voles kept visiting the group. Tori was the first one to notice one as it came running out the bushes and hid behind Shelby during dinner. We soaked up our last night in the backcountry with every ounce of our being.

 

Day 19:

This morning was a busy morning indeed! The water taxis were coming to get us and there was a lot of organizing to do. Yet again, we were greeted with more Alaskan weather, but the kids were excited to get back to Whittier. Our LOD’s Noah and Sara led fire lines to get all of the gear loaded up once the boats arrived on the beach. In no time, we were back in Whittier de-issuing gear and had our personal belongings given back to us. All of the kids are excited for their last day together tomorrow with banquet and some down time to tour the majestic city of Anchorage.

 

Shout outs:

Thomas: Hi Mom and Dad. Heard about Fed, that’s a shame. Hope Cinder is doing well. How’s Peter? Miss y’all, Thomas.

Ariel: Hey Mom and Dad! I haven’t showered in three weeks and feeling great. Can’t wait to see you soon!

Mac: Hey Mom and Dad 🙂    :^(    :^/   :^#  :^< See you soon!

Jackson: Hey Mom and Dad. When I get back, the first dinner I want to have is Al’s Burger Shack with Reed. I am having a great time, really glad to see you so soon!

Lee: Can we go to Sullivan’s right when we get back? Love and miss you. See you soon!

Ruth: Dearest Mother and Father, I have fallen a total of fifteen times and the only thing that got me up from the falls were your pesto waiting on me at home. Loveeeeeee, Ruth.  P.S. Give Huntley, the bunny, a treat for me.

Anna: Hey Mom, Dad, and Georgia, I found my bag!!! Love you!

Tori: I love and miss you Mom and Dad! Please have a hot dozen of Krispie Kreme donuts waiting for me at the airport

Noah: Dear Mom and Dad! I have learned I can poop anywhere and I can drink any kind of water. See you in 24 hours!

Sara: Hey Mom and Dad! I’m having so much fun in Alaska. Can’t wait to see you!

Charlotte: Happy late birthday Mom! I’m now a nature woman, having a great time and can’t wait to see you soon!

Bryte: Hi, I miss you and can’t wait to see you Mom, Dad, Blaine, and Hall! 🙂 Hope summer is going good!


To the Backcountry... and Beyond!

July 22, 2016

Hello from the Magic Bus! We all survived the 10 days in the backcountry and came out a bit dirtier, but safe, happy, and proud of all we accomplished.

Our first day of backpacking was greeted with a steady downpour of Alaskan rain. However, these kids were optimistic and very excited to finally get going on the trail. We backpacked through the muddy and wet ATV trail with a constant flow of conversations and Pitch Perfect karaoke. Mac and Tori were the LOD’s and they led the group up hill after hill at a steady pace. Finally after battling the hills, we arrived in camp safe and sound. Bryte, Mac, and Ruth made burritos with rice, chicken, beans, corn, salsa and cheese for the group. They were delicious!

We awoke to beautiful blue skies on the second day of backpacking. We had a pretty long day ahead of us so we started early following our LOD’s Noah and Anna lead. Off we went on the muddy ATV making our bear calls i.e., “hey bear” or “hey oh.” Similar to the day before, we all had to fight with the mud holes. Ruth lost that battle and went about knee deep in the mud (also known as a Dibble dip). However, she fought her way out and smiled the entire rest of the day backpacking. We stayed at a old hunter’s camp off the trail for the night. After Moonup, everyone decided that they wanted to go for a short polar plunge to rinse off. All the kids went running down to the river and excitedly awaited for their leaders to catch up with them. One after the other, everyone took a short, cold dunk in the river filled with screams and laughter afterwards.

Our third day of backpacking was short and sweet with one major hill to climb. After learning another river crossing technique, the kids trekked up a very steep and muddy hill to get to higher elevation. Our LOD’s Ruth and Charlotte set a steady pace and we reached the top in no time. As we were hiking towards camp, Lee and Jackson spotted two brown figures off in the distance. There were two moose on the mountain adjacent to us! We camped next to an old abandoned military jeep that was left after World War II. Jackson, Bryte, and Mac loved exploring around the jeep and checking out left artifacts from individuals before us. After a very powerful Moonup, everyone decided to let loose with a short stretching and yoga session. We all had fun practicing our Warrior I pose and headstands! Anna, Tori, and Lee all mastered the headstand pose in their first try. After our yoga session, we attempted to make a human pyramid (we have pictures to prove it). Although the form was not perfect, it’s the thought that counts! We went to bed that night after a long day of giggles and playing games.

The fourth day was one of the best because we finally reached the tundra today! We faced multiple obstacles throughout the day, but took on each challenge headstrong. We finished the portion on ATV trail and started to bush whack through the Alaskan wilderness. We followed game trails that were full of bees, thorn bushes, brush, and mud. However, the kids pushed through the hard mile and reached the river’s canyon. A storm was approaching and therefore decided to build a tarp and wait until the weather cleared up to keep hiking. After some naps, Harry Potter story time by Thomas, and the storm passing, we kept hiking. The LOD’s Ariel and Jackson led us up a mountain to reach the tundra. Once we reached the top, Will surprised the kids with Trix candy bars to reward them for their biggest accomplishment yet. As we were hiking to our Three Lakes campsite, we were confronted with yet another storm full of torrential downpours and high winds. We reached camp and set up a tarp for everyone to hang out under. Bryte, Charlotte, and Noah led us in some singing while we waited for the storm to pass. After a great dinner and Moonup, everyone watched a beautiful Alaskan sunset with pink and orange skies before crawling into their tents.

Day five was full of hiking through the rolling hills of the tundra. We had another storm on our tails so we had to keep a steady pace to avoid it catching up to us. After we taught another lesson on lighting protocol, we set off with Mac and Sara as our LOD’s. We reached camp pretty early in the day where we were greeted by lots of marmots. We had a relaxing afternoon reading and napping by a small creek next to camp. Alaska blessed our group with more rain in the afternoon but we greeted it like an old friend with smiles on our faces. During dinner, Lee spotted a big-horned sheep across the tundra from us. After a great Moonup, we went to bed ready for the next day to come!

The sixth day of backpacking treated us to not only a relatively short hike, but spectacular views of the Chugach Mountains from the top of Chitna Pass. Historically this day has been one of the most physically challenging days of trekking, but this group of Moondancers handled the climb with ease. Right after we left our (amazing) campsite, a wolverine scampered past us! Lee’s huntsman eyes were the first to spot it, and we were all amazed that one of the most elusive Alaskan creatures was right under our nose. It gave us an extra boost of excitement to help us up the pass! After admiring the views and taking tons of photos at the top of the pass, we began the descent down into the valley where we would be camping for the night. Our campsite was picturesque – colossal rocky peaks on one side of us and rolling hills and valleys on another. When the clouds would roll in it felt like we were walking in a dream! Before a delicious fettuccini Alfredo dinner, we all sat around enjoying each other’s company and taking in the incredible scenery Alaska has to offer. We went to bed that night eagerly awaiting the final stretch of hiking and the push to the landing strip the next day.

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Will, happy birthday to you! What an exciting day to celebrate a leader’s birthday! Day seven of backpacking was one of the most mentally and physically challenging days of hiking as it included not only traversing miles of scree fields, but knowing the landing strip is ahead and having to push to the end. These kids are tough cookies and even though they were tired, they continued on with smiles on their faces. Although the scree fields can be quite intimidating, Thomas and Noah lead the charge and encouraged everyone to stay strong and keep pushing through. Sara’s constant cheeriness throughout the day served as an enthusiasm booster for the whole group. Once we traversed the scree and bushwhacked for what seemed like ages, we finally reached the river which meant the landing strip was straight ahead! We were all so proud of ourselves for completing an incredibly intense week long backpacking section through the Alaskan backcountry. These kids inspire me more and more every day with their hard work and determination. We celebrated the completion of backpacking and our fearless leader’s birthday with our unique version of backcountry brownies.

The next day we slept in late – for Charlotte and Lee it was VERY late – but awoke to a beautiful sunshiney day by the Chickaloon river. These kids more than deserved some rest and relaxation after all they had accomplished the last week! We spent the day eating, napping, reading, eating some more, skipping rocks, and overall enjoying some time off our feet. Jackson discovered the magic that is a “ramen bomb” and Thomas made a point to not let any last bite of peanut butter go to waste. Anna and Ruth were our leaders of the days today, and although there were no technical decisions to be made, they kept us laughing all day long with their goofy antics and nug jug dance routines. We rolled into bed that night, full as can be, and dreamt of the exciting two days that were to follow as we head out on our whitewater adventure.

An early morning on day 13 was well received because the bush planes were landing and bringing us our long awaited rafts and guides! Mac got great videos of the planes landing and taking off – a true spectacle watching them land on such a small runway. Ruth and Ariel showed their strength by pumping up rafts while everyone else helped shuttle gear from the landing strip to the launching point on the Chickaloon. We were more than happy to devour the sandwich bar and all the fresh fruits and veggies it included. Tori and Bryte probably ate 3 avocados each! Shortly thereafter we hopped on the river. Jackson and Lee manned the 2 person boat while Will sat in the middle of Tori and Bryte in the 3 person boat. Ariel, Thomas, Mac, and Savannah composed the 4 person boat, and finally Charlotte, Anna, Sara, Ruth, Noah, and Shelby manned the 6 person boat. Each of us had such a fun and exciting time on the river! The first day of rafting was rather scenic with huge mountain peaks towering over us and a relatively easy float down the river towards that night’s campsite. Our raft guides John, Johnny, Logan, and Jody cooked an INCREDIBLE chicken pot pie dinner in the Dutch oven, followed by German chocolate cake for dessert. We were all in heaven. That night we hit the hay eagerly awaiting another exciting day of whitewater rafting.

Our second day of rafting was jump started with breakfast burritos including potatoes, peppers, onions, eggs, spinach, sausage, and all the fixings. We were happy to scarf down some grub before jumping on the Chickaloon for another day of whitewater. This day included more rapids than day 1, and we tackled each drop and turn with grace and determination. Upon takeout, we headed up to NOVA basecamp for lunch where we would also be camping for the night. Once we bid our guides farewell, all of us Moondancers enjoyed a few hours of sunbathing, reading, napping, and snacking on lots of candy. After dinner and moonup, we retired to our tents knowing we had a long travel day ahead of us.

This morning we are heading to Whittier for 4 days of sea kayaking. More updates to follow – hopefully with tales of humpback sightings and glaciers calving!

Happy trails,
Shelby, Savannah, and Will


Ice Climbing...Check!

July 11, 2016

Greetings from the land of the midnight sun!

If these first few days are a sign of what’s to come, then this group of Moondancers is in store for a fantastic three weeks. Within the first hour of airport day, the whole group was laughing and sharing stories from home around a hearty and delicious Papa John’s Pizza dinner. Ariel, Tori, and Thomas had bonded in the Seattle airport before meeting us in Anchorage, so those three set an example of how quick and easy building friendships is on a Moondance trip. Once our bags were gathered and bellies were full, we headed off for Ship’s Creek campground. The first moonup that night set the tone for our adventure as everyone shared why they came on this Northern Lights trip and what they hoped to gain from this experience. Many students said they wanted to gain confidence by pushing themselves out of their comfort zone and challenging themselves in unfamiliar territory. Sara, a 4th year Moondance student, said she decided to go on Northern Lights because she wanted to do the most challenging Moondance trip. How brave are these teenagers! Exhausted due to jetlag and a full day of traveling, we went to sleep dreaming of all the excitement and adventure that was yet to come.

An early morning called for yogurt and cereal before hopping on the Magic Bus bound for the NOVA base camp at Hick’s Creek. The students lapped up the bounds of information thrown their way, and before we knew it, camp was set up and we were ready for our next adventure. Mac, a veteran camper, set his tent up in record speed and was a helping hand around camp for whoever needed a little help. After a grilled cheese and tomato soup lunch, we headed for the river for some much needed rest and relaxation. Mac and Lee took their time building three foot tall cairns while most of the girls read books and took naps. Jackson proved to be a world class rock skipper! We hung out by the river for a few hours until dinner was ready – a delicious Asian stir fry with peppers, carrots, rice, and fortune cookies for dessert. We took turns reading aloud our fortunes and finding parallels to this Moondance trip. Jackson and Sara lead moonup that night, during which everyone got to know each other a little bit better. We could hardly sleep that night as we anxiously awaited our first day of ice climbing the next day!

Day 1 of ice climbing could not have been better. Once we got fitted with harnesses and crampons, we took to the ice of the Matanuska glacier. Though we took hundreds, pictures do not do the beauty of this glacier justice. Walls of ice tower over us in every direction, and the cracks and crevices seem as though they go on forever. The wall we decided to climb on had 3 different routes and every student climbed almost every route! Anna made like a mountain goat climbing up the wall – before you could look twice she had already come up and back down! Noah really impressed us with his fearlessness on the ice, tackling the routes with his calm, cool, and collected disposition. Ruth, a seasoned rock climber, took to a new kind of climbing and worked carefully on perfecting her ice climbing techniques. With each person who took to the ice, Bryte was cheering them on as though their success was a success of her own. Her encouragement was well received and gave everyone a boost of confidence to push further up the wall. When it became her turn, she took on the most challenging climb and made it almost all the way up the overhang – quite an accomplishment! Thomas astounded us all by making it to the very top of the overhang! He had to use every ounce of arm strength and mental determination to get to the top. When he made it, everyone broke out into cheers and celebration, a sure sign of the bonding this group had formed in such a short amount of time. Taco bowls, a campfire, and endless chatter solidified another amazing day in Alaska, and we went to bed ready for another day on the ice.

The second day on the glacier consisted of a 6 mile round trip hike on the glacier. It is an incredible sensation hiking along such unique terrain – it feels like walking on Mars! You can always count on Tori to keep the group entertained, as she is inquisitive and genuinely interested in learning about everyone personally. Hiking up and down icy slopes in crampons is quite a feat, and although Charlotte fell a couple times, she has an uncanny ability to laugh, dust herself off, and get right back in the saddle. Her perseverance is inspiring and encouraging to all! The hike was quite exhausting, so we decided that ice cream from Long Rifle Lodge down the road was the perfect afternoon pick me up. Back at camp, Lee and Ariel kept us giggling for hours as they lead us in throwback singalongs and reminiscing on favorite childhood musical memories. As it began to rain (it never rains on Moondance), we huddled under the tarp and warmed up with delicious vegetable soup and pasta. We knew we had a big day ahead of us, so we had moonup and hit the hay.

This morning as we prepare to head off into the Alaskan backcountry for 10 days, spirits are high and smiles are all around. Our packs are packed and we are now eagerly awaiting our ride to the trailhead! These next 10 days are sure to be some of the most challenging yet rewarding times of these kids’ lives, and we cannot wait to get back and share stories with our loved ones. Wish us happy trails!

Cheers –

Shelby, Will, and Savannah