Trip Updates

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

Backpacking, Rafting, & Not Wanting to Leave This Place

July 26, 2016

BP Update
Day 1
Our LODs for the day, Aidan and Riley, woke our group up in the morning and kicked off our backpacking section the right way with some delicious muffins for breakfast. Joining us for breakfast was a little bit of rain, but the group just ignored it and went along with the morning. After filling up, we split up our group gear and food for the next 8 days, making sure that everyone carries their fair share of weight. Everyone packed their backpacks as compact as possible and made sure to have their packs balanced. After a short ride to the trailhead, the group gathered round for a lesson on reading a topographic map, using a compass, and also got to see our route in full. We ate our bagel sandwiches afterwards and started our hike into the beautiful Talkeetna Mountains!
Our first hike consisted of a lot of distance and uphill, but our group handled it like champs. Aidan and Riley did a fantastic job keeping the group motivated as we made our way along the muddy ATV trail. They weren’t the only ones though. Avery made a goal of trying to be positive throughout each day and really radiated that positivity every chance she could. Once we had climbed the long and tough hill, the group took a packs-off rest break and basked in the glorious view of the mountains behind us. An added bonus was the clouds surrounding those mountains making them look like Oreos! After getting some food and water in our systems, we began our descent into the valley of Hick’s Creek. The muddiness of the trail failed to let up on our way down, but we really embraced the challenge, sometimes literally embracing the mud! At one point, Claire was telling Hoke that he was about to fall and then the two of them slipped in the mud at the same time, laughing all the way down. After getting down to the riverbed and setting up camp, Mary Claire, Riley, and Owen cooked up their specialty stir fry, proving their skills on the Whisperlite stoves we use in the backcountry. A perfect cap to our long day was when Hannah, Georgia, and Mary Claire serenaded the group with their awesome voices before we went to bed.

Day 2
We started our second day of hiking with some better weather than yesterday thankfully. Will and Georgia, our LODs today, woke everybody up and initiated a super quick breakdown of camp. After tents came down, Darcy had a dream come true when we broke out cereal for breakfast. We finished our food, put our packs on, and continued down the trusty ATV trail. Much like yesterday, our group trudged through the mud having the time of our lives. We all managed to stay upright until, right before our lunch stop, Georgia slipped into the mud. She exhibited her great leadership skills by hopping up with a smile on her face and embracing the dirt. Surrounded by the gorgeous Talkeetna Mountains, we stopped for lunch by beautiful Hicks Lake. In order to decrease even more weight from her backpack, MC encouraged everyone to eat as many BBQ chips as they could and, lucky enough for her, the whole bag got eaten. Once we finished eating, we kept on our ATV trail and descended into the Caribou Creek riverbed. Once we got down to the water, our group changed up the typical bear calls by belting out lyrics to Hamilton and some classic Disney songs. Throughout the day, Carter took advantage of each rest break by impressively napping while still attached to her backpack. Our group rolled into camp with some time to just hang out, speaking to the efficiency and speed of their backpacking skills. After some well-deserved rest and a delicious dinner, we all got in our tents and fell asleep under the nighttime sun.

Day 3
After a great sleep with relaxing white noise from Caribou Creek, Claire and Carter, our fearless LODs, woke the group up and continued our trend of fantastic leadership with a quick breakdown of camp. The group ate some cooked summer sausage, pop tarts, and grits for breakfast in order to fuel us for the long hike ahead. Our LODs did a great job leading us down the trail by checking in with everybody to see how they were doing and if they needed to stop for a rest break. About halfway through our hike, we stopped at the coolest lunch spot next to an abandoned excavator perched on a hill. From here, we were able to look back over what we had hiked for the past couple of days and take in the awe inducing beauty of our surroundings. During our break, Claire introduced us to a new and interesting tortilla recipe of peanut butter, Nutella, and kettle corn. Needless to say, it was delicious! Aidan, Will, and Owen entertained themselves by rolling down a hill, with the rest of the group joining shortly after. Another cool thing that happened up the hill was when Hannah and MC did simultaneous head stands with the mountains in the background. We made our way back down to the riverbed and made our first major river crossing at Chitna Creek. Everyone did an awesome job of exhibiting their skills and safely got across. We, again, rolled into camp with some time to chill and boy did we appreciate it. Griff had some deep, meaningful conversations with some of the girls while rebraiding their hair. After some relaxation, Carter, Georgia, and Dawson whipped up some impressive shepherd’s pie for dinner. Later on, after everybody had brushed their teeth and wrapped up the bear burrito, Carter and Claire headed up arguably the best Moonup of the trip. With a ball to pass around that gave the person holding it talking power, they posed multiple questions to the group, including what our hidden talents are and traits we have seen grow in ourselves and others. We had some pretty impressive hidden talents which included singing, ability to lick one’s elbow, evil laughs, and front handsprings (which MC, Riley, and Hoke did simultaneously!). The deeper question of what we have seen grow in ourselves and others really brought us together as a group as we realized just how amazing and growth inducing our surroundings and our fellow group members have been. Afterwards, the group slept outside to hang out just a little bit more and talked each other to sleep.

Day 4
On day 4, Darcy and Hannah were our fearless LODs. We had a mostly sunny morning. The group efficiently packed up camp, ate delicious cereal and granola, and headed toward our next camp. The LODs had the choice to lead the group further up the bank over rolling hills or alongside the river. They chose to stay by the river, a decision the group ended up loving. We walked through a beautiful canyon and had five successful river crossings using various techniques!
We had a steep final push up to our camp but everyone persevered and became amazed as they looked back down the valley from where we had come. As we crested the hill we walked onto the tundra and loved the expansive views.
Clouds started to roll in so we set up our tents and an awesome tarp shelter but the rain held off so everyone took out their sleeping bags and enjoyed hot drinks as they read and journaled on the tundra. The entire group fell asleep and Hoke and Griff woke everyone up with a meal of hot mac n’ cheese and fried summer sausage. During Moonup Darcy read a beautiful poem and we watched the rain approach from the distance. We made it into bed before the rain arrived, looking forward to the next day on the tundra.

Day 5
Annie woke up early on day 5 and prepared cheesy hash browns for the group. While she was frying up the last few batches the group talked about approaches to leadership and discussed different ways of being a good leader. We then played a game called “mingle mingle mingle” and “look down, look up.” Will and Griff also developed a form of javelin using trekking poles and Owen began announcing the game like a golf announcer. More and more people joined in until everyone was throwing trekking poles across the tundra. After the games and amazing breakfast our LODs, Riley and Dawson led us in a different type of hike. To start off, people paired off with a person they wanted to get to know better and walked with their partner following the other pairs at a distance. Everyone enjoyed getting to know people better and having some quiet time with a new friend in an awe inspiring landscape. After grouping up for lunch we set out on a monk walk where each person leaves a few minutes of space between themselves and the person in front of them.
Hoke and the LODs found a beautiful place to camp which meant the monk walk wasn’t as long as people had hoped. Even though we wished we could keep walking people felt like the monk walk allowed them to observe the beauty around them more closely, reflect on their trip so far, and sing loudly to themselves and the world.
At the campsite we saw a few marmots and many marmot holes. We relaxed by the stream and Mary Claire, Avery, and Hannah practiced and performed a beautiful song with harmony and rhythm. Darcy taught most of the group he lyrics to Hamilton. At Moonup, Dawson had us all thinking about our signature donut and we all fell asleep thinking of delicious treats.

Day 6
Our LODs this morning, MC and Avery, woke everyone up with the theme song for the Olympics, a start to their brilliant idea for the day. They stayed up the night before planning out a surprise Olympic-themed day! Instead of countries, they assigned everybody a different Moondance trip for the games they had planned for the day. First up, javelin. Everyone grabbed a trekking pole and attempted to stick the farthest throw until the pancakes were ready for breakfast, which led into our next game, pancake sculpting. Everyone got creative with their food and added Nutella to their pancakes in order to create awesome looking cars, marmots, and Alaskas. Carter had been quietly taking her time and, as everyone was almost finished eating, she stunned us with a perfect pancake-moose. Points for Carter! All this in preparation for a big day of hiking through the pass today. MC and Avery put their map reading and compass skills to use to guide our group through the correct pass (the lowest point between two mountains). This could have been a challenging task given how many peaks there were but they led us in the right direction and made it look easy! Everyone got another chance to do a partner walk today and our LODs put a spin on it this time. As you approached the pass with your partner, you were to come up with an original bear call. There is no denying the creativity of our group after hearing these songs. Owen and Claire won with the critically acclaimed “Hey Marmot.” After eating some lunch, we made our final push up to the pass. The last bit of elevation gain was really tough but made the view at the top that much more worth it. We looked out over the valley with a sense of accomplishment as we knew we had come all that way on our own two feet with everything we need to live on our backs. What a feeling! The view of the other side was breathtaking as we watched clouds roll along the sheer rock wall. None of us had ever seen anything like it. We wish we could have stayed up there all afternoon! As we headed down, we were greeted by a huge snow patch much to Avery’s delight that had only seen snow a few times before! Will, Aidan, MC, and Hannah had a full on snowball fight. Owen whipped out his Crazy Creek and poles and went skiing down the hill. Avery, Darcy, Georgia, Carter, Claire, and Riley made the PERFECT snowman named Elvis complete with a green tuft of moss as his hair. No snow day would be complete without the Frozen soundtrack of course and while everyone was messing around in the snow, Hannah was leading us in “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and “Love is an Open Door.” After wearing ourselves out, we said goodbye to the snow and walked the last mile to our camp for the night. Everyone agreed this was their favorite moment of the entire trip. Our tents were nestled high up in a valley surrounded by beautiful rock faces looking down into the valley that we would be hiking through the next day.

Day 7
We woke up this morning ready to tackle our last day of hiking! It was quite a foggy morning but Carter and Hannah, as LODs, successfully led us across the most technical part of our entire trek- the scree field. We took it slow on this rocky slope and descended to flat grassy land for a nice lunch. After lunch we trekked through bushes, walked along a riverbed, and hiked through some more bushes. This bushwhacking adventure was super fun and Claire and Darcy sang their bear calls from yesterday. We made it through the bushes and trees to our final campsite- the landing strip! This is where we would be meeting our raft guides in a few days when they flew in all of our gear on bush planes. While everyone was setting up camp, Dawson, Georgia, and Carter were busy prepping a thanksgiving feast to celebrate all we had accomplished in the last week! They wanted to make decorations for everyone so they made the most of our limited supplies and strung up a cheerio banner. So festive! We topped off our dinner with some delightfully warm brownie glop. We had some time before Moonup where everyone shared different party tricks and quick games. At Moonup, Carter and Hannah asked everyone to share what they had learned on the backpacking section. The group shared about their newfound appreciation and gratitude for everything at home, and how they learned that with persistence and determination they can really accomplish anything they would like to.
The backpacking section brought our group even closer together and we are so thankful for the sights we saw and lessons we learned in the Alaskan backcountry. These kids took on the tough challenges that backpacking presented and quickly became pros. Through all of the hard times, they focused on the positives and took time to reflect on the lessons they were learning.
Day 8
We slept in this morning on a well-deserved rest day after hiking 7 days in the beautiful Talkeetna mountains. We treated ourselves to some cheesy sausage hash browns and took our time with breakfast knowing we didn’t need to pack up camp to get somewhere! What a great feeling. After we finished, everyone hung out in the kitchen area for most of the morning. You would think this group would rest on a rest day but instead they took advantage of the time to get in 100 pushups, planks, and sit ups. Hannah, Riley, Avery, Claire and MC showed off their head stands and Carter and Georgia mastered their first solo head stands!! Griff then calmed us down by leading a guided meditation that had us feeling thankful and content. While most of us slunk off to our tents for a mid afternoon nap, Hannah, Owen, Aidan, MC, and Will played two intense rounds of the card game, Egyptian Rat Screw, each of the games lasting an hour! MC came out on top with a hard earned victory. As everyone came back to the kitchen from their naps, we quickly realized that our trip has now become a language immersion program! Riley and Carter spoke solely in French for the entire dinner while Darcy, Claire, and Georgia were conversing in Spanish. We were all impressed with their language skills and it kept dinner interesting that’s for sure. We loved getting a chill day but everyone was so amped to get on the Chickaloon and begin our rafting adventure!

Rafting Update

A final hello from Alaska! We have had an eventful two days on the Chickaloon River. Our first morning of rafting we woke up to pouring rain, but our LODs, Georgia and Darcy, kept the group motivated and we had camp all packed up and ready as the first bush plane arrived. It was fun to see the tiny planes coming down the gravel landing strip and we were all impressed with the pilots flying abilities. We unloaded the planes of the rafting gear and supplies and made a fire line to carry the supplies down to the river’s edge. While the guides were setting up the boats the group helped prepare the lunch that the raft guides had flown in for us. Claire was overjoyed by eating the fresh fruit and stated that it was her favorite part of the day.  It was chilly in the rain but we jumped and danced around in our dry suits to warm up before we hopped in the boats.
We floated and paddled down the river taking in the views of the gorgeous mountains we had just spent the last 8 days in. As we paddled, little glimpses of blue sky would appear and Dawson was always the first to point them out to lift the group’s spirits. Avery, who has experience kayaking white water, loved being back on rapids. It was Hannah’s first time rafting and she enjoyed being out on the water with a boat full of friends.
About midday we had to pull our boats up on shore so our raft guides could scout out a large rapid and make sure it was safe. Unfortunately, all the recent rain made the river fairly high and had caused a lot of debris, such as large trees, to go down the river. When we saw the rapid there was a large tree crossing the river that was impossible to get around. Therefore we had to portage all the supplies and gear in the boats and the boats themselves down a narrow path, over a big hill to a safe place to reenter the river past the river. This was a large and challenging task and everyone in the group really stepped up and persevered through the hard work. Aidan and Owen worked together to carry a massive food box over the hill. Claire, Darcy, and Georgia pushed the cooler down the difficult path and everyone worked together to carry the deflated rafts on our heads. The raft guides were impressed by both the strength of our students and their ability to remain positive and have fun in difficult situations.
We then paddled a short distance to our campsite, got out of our dry suits and set up camp. Our raft guides made an amazing dinner full of fresh vegetables which was followed by warm brownies. While it was chilly out, this meal warmed everyone up and afterword Riley and Carter kept everyone laughing by trying to say the same thing at the same time. Will demonstrated great expedition behavior by lending his extra warm down jacket to Mary Claire, who was thrilled after the first day of rafting and was excited for the next day.

Our second day of rafting was more eventful with some bigger rapids and obstacles in the river. Several people ended up in the water and we had an unfortunate interaction with a person not involved in the trip but we were blown away by how the group handled the stressful and sometimes scary day. Our group came together to support each other and ensure everyone in the group was safe. The students walked away from their experiences saying they had learned how to keep a level head when they are scared and also realizing how much they had grown to care about each other over the past three weeks.
We cannot express how grateful we are to have gotten to spend this last three weeks with your children. They have all taught us and each other so much. They have been brave, hard working, caring, responsible, fun-loving and an absolute pleasure to spend a summer with and we are so sad to be bringing them to the airport this afternoon.
Here are some shout outs from your wonderful children!

Mary Claire- Hey Mom! I had an amazing time and I can’t wait to see you and tell you all about it.

Riley- Thank you for sending me on this amazing trip, I had the best time of my life and met some great people!

Claire- Dear Parents, I had the  best time ever on this trip! I gained a lot of weight this trip, so please buy me a pineapple. I made amazing friends and I want to go on another trip next summer!

Carter- Hello everyone! I love you so much. I can’t wait to see you soon, and tell you about my trip. Thank you so much and love!

Dawson- Hello family, I had a phenomenal time in the wilderness of Alaska. Can’t wait to see you and tell you about all the  fun times I had. Love you all!

Will- Hey Mom and Dad, thank you for allowing me to come on this amazing trip. I had such a great time and I can’t wait to see you guys!

Hannah- Sorry, not sorry, I’m still not coming home!

Avery- I had so much fun, can’t wait to see you and tell you all about it!

Georgia- Love you guys, I had the best time. Can’t wait to see you!

Aidan- I had fun in Alaska, see you soon!

Owen- I had a really good time! I’ll tell you about the rafting trip when I get there.

Darcy- Hi Mom and Dad! The trip was incredible and unreal and I’m so excited to see you both and tell you all about it. Thank you so much for sending me here, it’s the coolest place I’ve ever been!


Hello from Hick's Creek!

July 15, 2016

What’s up lower 48??

As we were making our way from Whittier up North to the Matanuska Glacier and our Hick’s Creek campsite, we made a pit stop in Anchorage! While the leaders resupplied food, everyone explored the local Fred Meyer for any snacks or souvenirs they wanted. We about cleared them out of their Alaska animal socks- so comfy and so stylish. After we loaded up on fresh fruits and veggies for the next few days, the group was beyond excited that cook crew was getting a break tonight- we were eating at Qdoba! Everyone loved a little taste of civilization. After filling our bellies with burritos and queso, we headed onwards to Hick’s Creek. Darcy came up with the idea for everyone to write down a favorite song of theirs so we can make a special playlist to share when we get home. We can’t wait to hear what everyone added! Kudos to Darcy for such a great idea. We rolled into camp and everyone set up tents and started organizing their gear without any prompts from the leaders. This group has really gotten the hang of things and we are convinced they don’t even need us around anymore. They are serious professionals. Mary Claire, Aidan, Hannah, Owen, Will, and Dawson set up a hammock village in the trees to spice up our camping life. They have loved getting to sleep outside under the Alaskan summer sun! Claire, Darcy, Riley, Avery, Carter, and Georgia all crammed into a three person tent for a sleepover. With full stomachs and friends close by, our group hit the hay.

We got to sleep in a bit on the first day of ice climbing which left all of us feeling fresh and ready to tackle the ice. At least the hammock crew woke up feeling fresh, the girls in the tent swear they will never sleep in such a squished space again. After enjoying a breakfast of scrambled eggs and fruit, we headed over to chat with our ice climbing guides and grab our helmets, harnesses, and crampons. We crammed into the van and headed down the road to be greeted by the beautiful Matanuska Glacier after a short drive. Once we strapped on our crampons, we hiked out to an amazing glacial lake that reflected the jagged blue and white spikes in front of us. We stood there for a while just taking it all in until we were ready to climb. Georgia was rearing and ready to go and hopped on the ropes first. With ice picks in hand she showed everyone how it was done. Riley decided to push her limits on her first time on the ice by climbing without any ice picks- just crampons. Everyone was so impressed as she made her way up to the top and the challenges began! Aidan one upped her challenge by attempting to ice climb without crampons or ice picks. The guides were so impressed by his technique and ability to get to the top without any tools. Mary Claire and Will quickly followed and did the same! Will decided to try a harder climb with only ice picks- no crampons. While he made it far and impressed us with some super technical maneuvers, Mary Claire was the first one to make it to the top! This group is amazing at finding ways to keep things interesting and challenging each other. Claire got the last climb of the day in with one crampon on, one crampon off. We called this the crampon limp as she powered up the ice faster than most of us could with two crampons on! Our guides were so nice and loved to joke around with us. It was an all-around great day for everyone on the Matanuska glacier. Before heading back to camp the leaders and guides surprised everyone by stopping for ice cream on the way home! We enjoyed some ice cream and Italian ice outside back of the little store in a field full of yellow and orange wild flowers overlooking the glacier we had been climbing all day. Truly the cherry on top of the day. It was late afternoon when we got back to camp and everyone was glad to have time to relax and hang out. We all went down to the river where Mary Claire, Hannah, and Avery washed their hair and Carter had the idea of glacial silt facials. Claire, Darcy, Riley, Carter, and Georgia rubbed silt all over their faces and let it harden. They all swear by it as a great exfoliate and moisturizer! While everyone kept chilling by the river, Hannah, Will, and Avery prepared personal pizzas for everyone for dinner. Some people said it was the best pizza they’ve ever had! After dinner, we played the game mafia with Owen as our narrator. Everyone in the group loves Owen’s creativity when it comes to storytelling and riddle making. We think he needs to be either a mystery novelist or a movie writer! The game “Schmotus” was then introduced and has been a group favorite ever since. The game has many rules but the main rule while playing is that you cannot show your teeth throughout the entirety of the game. Within the first 30 seconds of the game we were all hysterically laughing too hard to keep going. Once we had relatively collected ourselves, we continued on but whenever it got to Claire or Darcy the whole group would completely lose it again. We all went to bed still giggly with grins on our faces. The hammock crew has absolutely loved getting to sleep outside and shimmied up trees into their hammocks for another night of rest. The group that was crammed in the tent decided to move their sleepover outside for the night.

With a restful night of sleep under our belt we awoke to conquer our second day of ice climbing! We had bagels with various toppings and made sandwiches for the glacier, Darcy used the leftover lochs (lox?) to make a supreme lunch that she was very excited about.  This day our guides had something special in store for us, we were going to be the first group they took 2 miles up the glacier. The hike over the rock and silt covered  ice was very challenging but well worth it when we reached a breathtaking ice canyon. We agreed it was one of the most beautiful sights we had ever seen. After lunch the guides set up a rope to use as a hand rail to help us enter down into the ice canyon. While it was scary pointing straight down hill and leaning weight forward on the rope, we all made it down safely! We walked through the winding path with the ice walls towering above us. The guides set up another rope for the group to safely climb up a waterfall flowing over the blue, white ice. From there we hiked over the top of the glacier and enjoyed the view of the varying landscape between the high peaks, the wide river, and the bright white ice. One our way back we had to do some exploring to find the safest route back through the rocky moraine,  Mary Claire especially loved this adventurous part of the hike.  We made it back to the van and again stopped for treats on our way home.
We had enough time again this afternoon to relax by the river. Aidan, Owen, and Will created their own corn hole game out of rocks, and played a round of stick. Baseball. After five overtimes Aidan won the baseball game! Carter and Georgia (with matching cook crew t-shirts) and Dawson made a dinner of pulled pork and beans. Dawson and Avery led us in a thoughtful and funny Moonup that ended with Georgia  and Hannah singing to us. Owen also stumped us with another creative riddle!

We got into our sleeping bags very full and excited for the upcoming backpacking section of our trip!

Shoutouts

Georgia: Hi mom! I miss you so much. This trip is so fun, literally the best time of my life! Please go see Bunny and take a picture so I know you did it. I miss everyone so much. I was the first to begin to ice climb!! I love and miss you. See you really soon! Much love, Georgia (PS there is 24 hour daylight and I can’t shower. Love you)

Avery: Hey guys! I’m having the best time ever! I hope that you guys are having fun in Atlanta. If Soph hasn’t left for Ecuador, tell her that she’s going to have so much fun! I miss you guys so much and can’t wait to see you! Pet Gracie Mae, Noble Jones, Bentley, and Truffs for me! Love, Avery

Dawson: Hey mom and dad! I’m having so much fun in Alaska! The food is actually real food so don’t worry mom, I’m not starving. The mountains are unreal and are so much more giant and massive than Tahoe. Love and miss yall!

Riley: Hey there fam! I’m having a great time in Alaska and surprisingly it’s really HOT and that one is for Ellery because she though it was gonna be cold and snowy. I climbed a glacier and it was so cool. Also made some cool friends. Carter and I kayaked together. I saw a moose. Been wearing the same shorts for a week. Miss you all and give dogs and Lucky hugs! Miss you all and love you so much! Riley

Carter: Hello Nash, Noelle, Claire, Virginia, mom, and dad! I miss everyone so much. Alaska is so pretty and the weather is awesome so far. We have kayaked and today we ice climbed. We start backpacking soon. Can’t wait to see everyone when I get home and tell you all about it. I love y’all!!

Hannah: Hey mom, hey pops, hey Ling Ling! Miss y’all but sorry not sorry, I am never coming home. Much love from the backcountry! Han

Mary Claire: Hey guys! I’m having such an incredible time. So don’t worry about me. Hope ATL is #lit. Love ya SQUAAAAAD

Will: Hey mom and dad! I’m having an ok time. It could be better. Just kidding! I’m having an awesome time and I miss you guys a lot. Love, Will

Aidan: I hope you guys are having fun chillin back home. I am having a great time with the activities and the kids here are great. See ya in a few more days!

Owen: Hey fam, I’m having a lot of fun. I’m writing this on a glacier. I told the group all of my riddles and they love them so much. I made more using my imagination. I’ll tell them to you guys when I get back. 

Darcy: Mama and Dada! Alaska is AMAZING! Kayaking was super cool but really hard – did you know this is the most challenging Moondance trip there is? But it’s absolutely beautiful here and I love my group and am taking a ton of pictures so get excited. Love and miss you! PS, I learned to poop in a bag and am going through all 3 weeks without a shower

Claire: Hey family! I’m currently sitting on a glacier, so I guess you could say this trip is pretty amazing. All of the views here are insane and I am trying a lot of new things! Can’t wait to see y’all and show you the pictures!


Hello from Alaska!

July 13, 2016

Hello from the wilds of Alaska! Our first five days in this beautiful state have been incredible. We have had so much fun kayaking and bonding as a group. From the beginning the students have been excited, eager to make friends, and full of laughter. We’ve become fast friends and can’t believe we’ve only known each other for a few days.

After picking our group up at the airport, we headed to our first night of sleeping without the sun fully setting. On the first morning our experienced Moondancers, Will and Mary Claire, acted as leaders of the day (LODs) and helped the group break down camp as quickly and efficiently as any seasoned Moondance group. We made our way to Whittier, passing spectacular mountains that ride out of the bay. We also drove through the second longest tunnel in America (probably the most dark we will see the entire trip!). When we arrived at our campsite everyone really stepped up to unload our luggage and gear, especially Owen who was moving duffel bags like a pro. We realized our group was already practicing great expedition behavior (EB), by being eager and happy to help each other out.

In the afternoon we set up tents in high winds, which turned out to be a comedic challenge. Even in the wind, the day was beautiful and we walked into the tiny and very cute town of Whittier. Only 180 people live here year round and ninety percent of them live in the same building complete with a doctor’s office, library, and a barber shop. There, we indulged in ice cream and looked out over the bay. We then met up with our kayak guide, Natalie, and received all of our dry bags and heavy duty raingear. We felt goofy trying on the thick waterproof layers in such beautiful weather but it felt good to be prepared.

Back at camp our cook crew for the night, Mary Claire, Owen, and Riley made a scrumptious vegetable and chicken stir fry, followed by Oreos for dessert. Riley, Carter, and Claire had a major accomplishment of making their Oreos last for over a half hour.

Everyone bonded a lot on this first day. The boys made up a game called slap ball, the girls have started a push up challenge, and Georgia kept everyone laughing all day.

The next day we woke early to begin kayaking. Avery was woken by a group singing happy birthday to celebrate her 17th! Everyone was excited to celebrate with her and really get the adventure underway. It takes time to load nine kayaks with enough gear and food for four days but everyone enjoyed the process because of the beautiful weather and breathtaking surroundings. It was windy and the water was choppy, which made paddling a challenge. Cruising in birthday hats made for quite the party on the water which helped us persevere to the campsite leaving the students feeling proud and strong when we finally arrived. Will’s kayak led the final stretch to camp as his kayaking experience and endurance made it look easy. Darcy especially liked how the campsite felt like you were in a jungle with wooden boards forming a walkway from the beach that zig zagged through the forest. That night there was a birthday beach piñata that Avery and everyone else threw rocks at until it burst open with candy. The party didn’t stop here! Avery and the group were greeted with funfetti pancakes with frosting on their walk back from the piñata! Avery said it was one of the best birthdays she’s ever had. We all went to bed very full, tired, and happy. 

The next day was one of our longest paddles so our LODs, Avery and Aidan, got us out of bed and loading the kayaks early. We had another beautiful day of weather and luckily the wind and the seas had died down a lot. The group kept their minds off the distance with some great games. Hannah and Mary Claire taught us a few fun and puzzling games like Around the World and Ghost. They also kept Will and Aidan’s minds sharp with some challenging riddles. Will and Aidan were unstumpable. We saw a seal today! Or rather we saw lots of seals throughout the day but Georgia decided it was just one seal named Dennis following us throughout the bay. Seals were not the only wildlife we laid eyes on! We saw a couple of majestic bald eagles flying around the Alaskan landscape and Mary Claire and Dawson found a cute little fish that trailed their boat today. This cute little fish wasn’t as much a fish as it was a fishing lure but it became a beloved member of the group nonetheless. As we made our way into beautiful Blackstone Bay, Darcy, Riley, and Georgia showed off their singing abilities and got the group through our final push in song. With tired arms and sun-kissed faces, our group was overjoyed to make it to camp and soak in the gorgeous mountains and glaciers surrounding us. The cook crew for the night, Dawson, Carter, and Georgia, whipped up a delicious meal of chili with beans, tomatoes, corn, and chicken. After stuffing our faces, we got some well-deserved shuteye.

After getting to sleep in a little later than usual, we got a super tasty start to our third day of kayaking with some perfectly crispy hash browns and cheese, made by Darcy, Claire, and Aidan. They all learned a little patience was needed to get the hash browns to golden goodness level and the group was thoroughly impressed and pleased with cook crew’s devotion to this meal. We were pumped to not have to break camp down and to pack the boats lighter today for our day paddle around Blackstone Bay. Our LODs, Darcy and Dawson, led our group across the bay to Willard Island which we followed to get to the glaciers we’d be seeing (and hearing as they calved!). As we paddled up to the breathtakingly large Blackstone Glacier, we were surprised with a great view of Northland Glacier, a hanging glacier with a beautiful waterfall coming out beneath it. Everybody sat in awe of Blackstone and took the opportunity to get some amazing pictures and soak up the scenery. Afterwards, the group paddled over to another awe-inducing glacier called Beloit. Owen earned the title of “riddle master” by keeping the group puzzled on the way with an impressive amount of self-created riddles (still stumped by a few of them…). Hannah kept us laughing hysterically as she kept attempting to laugh without smiling. It’s way harder than you think and she couldn’t help but breaking into a smile more often than not. We paddled up to Beloit through icy waters which was so cool! Carter loved getting the chance to snag some ice out of the water to eat. She said it’s the freshest ice she has ever had and we don’t doubt it! Once again, our group sat in silence as we took in the beauty of Beloit Glacier, even getting to see and hear some calving! On our way back to camp, Darcy utilized her leadership skills and made a tough decision for a split group. Some people wanted to take the opportunity to hike up to a glacier while others wanted to kayak to camp in order to get dinner started. She decided to take the opportunity to actually hike up to a glacier and everyone will agree she made the right decision! After a short walk up Lawrence Glacier, we got to get up close and even drink some glacier water! After climbing rocks and exploring and appreciating the glacier, we made our way back to camp and got ready for our nightly routine. With chicken pesto pasta in our stomachs, Dawson and Darcy led the group in Moonup, our nightly reflection of each day. Dawson posed a great question to the group and asked what each of our expectations of Alaska were coming into the trip and if they were met in reality. We got to hear some pretty amazing answers from people and we agreed that Alaska is different and greater to experience than just seeing pictures. After a deep group circle joined by a perfect half-moon, we climbed into our sleeping bags for some shut eye.

Riley and Carter woke up eager and ready today as LODs. They sang chipperly to wake everyone up and helped break down camp in an impressive amount of time. We had a short paddle on the water today but we needed to get to 13 mile beach in time to meet our charter boat that was taking us back to lovely Whittier. We paddled up to the beach with plenty of time to unload, organize gear, and enjoy a nice lunch. Griff and Hannah taught the group how to hold headstands successfully and Mary Claire and Riley picked it up in no time. So impressive! We boarded the boat and loved feeling the wind in our hair as we relived our paddle to Blackstone Bay at a faster pace. Darcy, Avery, and Carter rode up at the very front which made them feel like they were flying! We unloaded the boats, packed up our things and said goodbye to Whittier and the Prince William Sound. We were blessed with beautiful weather, unreal scenery, and countless laughs on the water over the past few days. We are so excited to put our strong arms to use as we climb some glaciers over the next couple days!