Field Notes

Northern Lights 2B • July 7-July 27, 2017

A Final Farewell from the Last Frontier

July 27, 2017

Final Greetings Frontier Followers,

 

It has been a while since you’ve last heard from us. Since then, we have hike 43 miles in the Talkeetna mountains, rafted 30 miles along the Chickaloon river, and feasted on a well-earned greasy meal at the Lucky Wishbone diner for our final meal in Anchorage.

 

Our backpacking trip began on a hot and sunny day, only two miles down the road from our ice climbing camp. This was not an easy day, especially for those who had never put on a 40-pound hiking pack. We had, quite literally, our homes on our backs: our kitchens, bedrooms, and living rooms. Seven and a half miles and a good amount of mud later, we arrived at our first campsite to a meal of jambalaya prepared by Chef Kelly and his assistants Anna and Preston on cook crew. Preston wowed us with his wide culinary knowledge, stories about cooking thousands of Turkeys for Christmas and even the best way to cut bell peppers.

 

The second day brought us further into the mountains by way of an ATV trail. The mud and uphill was certainly less than the previous day, but still made for some difficult hiking. Bear calls were abundant on this part of the trip. Thanks to Anna’s constant bear calls, we barely (get it?) even saw any bears down by Caribou Creek. Between bites of some epic Pad Thai, our jaws dropped at the incredible sunset and the fact that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. “Are you guys sure it rains in Alaska?” the kids constantly asked us. At Moonup that night, our Leader of the Day, Ann, helped us all open up about our families and we giggled over some embarrassing and hilarious stories.

 

Day three of hiking brought us to our most interesting campsite yet: something out of “The Road” with a broken down military jeep and some old mining equipment. Despite this oddity, the campsite was in the middle of an incredible valley, with sweeping views of mountains 360 degrees around us. Cooking dinner this night was when we discovered something peculiar about Sydney, who never washed her bowl. She was treated to a variety of new meals every time she removed her lid, including hashbrown pesto pasta and oatmeal chicken curry. While she may have learned a lesson about breaking in boots before you head into the back country, we’re not sure if she will start cleaning her dishes even when she gets back home; these new breakfast-dinner combo plates may be the next culinary hit in the southeast.

 

The fourth day of backpacking was probably everyone’s favorite day by far. After miles of bush-whacking (our girls were very proud of the many scratches on their thighs) and a lunch by Glass Creek, we ascended 1000 feet into the mighty Tundra. Walking almost vertically up the final hill, we entered into the magical, misty valley. Upon reaching the top, Sweet Addie (as she is now known) cried out, “This tastes like victory!” Adair described it as the hardest hour of physical exertion in her life, but also the most rewarding challenged she’s ever tackled. From our incredible perch, we enjoyed lemon-zest chicken with orzo courtesy of our all-boys cook crew. For dessert, we literally brought Campbell to tears with a no-bake Oreo pie. He declared that the crumbles hitting his salivating mouth was probably the greatest moment of his young life. Also during this dessert episode, we learned that our resident Sugar Plum Fairy, Caroline, has an unbelievable sweet tooth. She about cried anytime something with sugar in it was on the menu for the day whether it be pancakes, Nutella, Rice Krispies or especially this Oreo pie. Frank-the-Tank, getting ready for football season, proved to us that he is a master can crusher; he took all the used cans from the night and smashed them Rob Gronkowski-style into flat disks that would fit into our packs.

 

For the next two days, we meandered through the high elevation on shorter hikes. On one section, the students had a chance to spread out and hike at their own pace. We call this our “Reflection Hike.” It gives the kids a chance to reflect on not only their incredible accomplishments so far on this wild adventure, but also think about their goals for the upcoming year and moving forward in their young, crazy lives. It seems like they loved it because they wanted to continue hiking silently all the way into our riverside camp that evening. It definitely wasn’t the same, however, to not have Kate always entertaining us on the trail with her many stories. Kate can discuss pretty much anything from every “Fast and Furious” movie, to the latest fashion trends, to her travels in Europe and even the best food in San Francisco. With Kate by your side, a day on the trail could never be boring.

 

Our last day of hiking, day seven, was the hardest yet. We descended from the tundra down to the Chickaloon River, over miles of loose rock called scree. This slowed our group down considerably, except for our two mountain goats, Campbell (sans trekking poles) and Preston. After 8 hours of hiking well into the evening sun, we arrived at our final campsite, near a landing strip where NOVA guides would soon fly in our rafting equipment and rafting guides. We were rewarded, on day eight, with a rest day, a day of doing pretty much nothing but eating a lot of pancakes and basking in the unusually sunny Alaskan sky. While we all decided to spend our summers in Alaska, some may think from our Hawaii-esque sunburns that we slipped in a quick trip to the tropics before the school year as well.

 

Rafting began the next afternoon when out of nowhere the guides and four separate bush planes dropped off all our requisite gear. We pumped boats, adorned dry suits, and ate probably the best lunch of our lives (it was just sandwiches but after 8 days in the backcountry, deli meat and fresh bread never tasted so good!). Nate, with his consistent high energy and constant hyperbole, declared that this day, in particular, was the second most fun day of his entire life. He laughed manically each time he would get sprayed or “face-shotted” by the ice-cold glacial river. No one went swimming, thankfully, although we thought Frank might throw himself overboard just to say he did it.

 

The day was ended nicely by an unbelievable meal prepared by our guides. After cooking each meal, the last 18 or so days, it was nice to finally sit back and have one prepared for us. We feasted on oven-baked enchiladas and a mouthwatering lemon cake. The second day of rafting yielded a similar thrill with successive Class III rapids, a perfect ending to our adventures here in the Talkeetna Mountains. After we took out of the water, we headed back to Anchorage to set up our final campsite before departure day. We blasted music in the bus, finally able to hear the songs we’ve been singing over and over again a cappella on the trail. It was a long and emotional night during our final Moonup session, where we stayed up much later than expected (it was 4 hours long!), reminiscing about every single aspect of the trip, thinking about all of our highs, and ultimately wishing our time here was longer.

 

We can’t believe that three weeks have gone by so fast. We’ve seen so much of the Last Frontier and have laughed to the verge of wetting our pants through the entire ride. This group was an extremely special one, and we know that the trip is something that they are sure to take with them for the rest of their lives.

 

Your kids are now in the Anchorage Airport, and will soon come home perhaps a little unkempt, with a little more leg hair, craving Taco Bell, a little sunburnt, and definitely with huge smiles on their faces. Thank you for trusting their livelihood with us for the last three weeks and allowing us and them to truly have the summer of a lifetime.

 

With love from Alaska and all the best to you and your families,

 

Shelby, Tyler and Kelly


Glacier exploration and ice climbing!

July 16, 2017

Howdy Ice Road Truckers!

We are checking in from our stay at NOVA’s base camp, our rafting and climbing guides. Technically we are in a “town,” but town would be far too big of a stretch. Rather, we are at a mile marker off us highway 1. The last two days were spent on the Matanuska Glacier, highlighted by superbly un-Alaskan weather and blue bird skies. 

The first day of ice climbing turned out to be more of an exploration of the Glacier. We were fitted with alpine boots and crampons. Now that we were all a good two inches taller, we set out at the base of the Glacier, climbing around to explore the seracs, crevasses, and moulins. Kate was the first to show us just how slippery the Glacier can be, nearly taking our leader Shelby down with her. However, Kate got her fall out of the way early. Every single member of our group slipped in some capacity. Literally, every single one of us. We got a taste of ice climbing on Thursday when our guides set up two ropes to scale part of the Glacier. This was a taste of things to come the following day. The day was capped by our dog whisperers Anna and Sydney making friends with a guide’s dog at camp, only to have the dog playfully chase them a few minutes later. 

The real fun on the Glacier came yesterday after Campbell played one of his rap tracks to the delight of the group and our guides.  Thankfully we had our sunglasses on, lest his bright future in hip hop blind us all. Our guides set up three different ropes of various difficulties for us to try out. Those who were good at rock climbing found that their skills didn’t easily transfer over. Rather, this is more like climbing a ladder. Good weather prompted Frank to be the first to climb shirtless. Nate climbed the first ascent of a new route that our guides introduced us to. Caroline followed after, and nobody else was able to complete the route other than them! This was a feat that even impressed the guides. So, Caroline and Nate’s parents, your children are EXTREMELY good at ice climbing. Everyone had an awesome time. We even brought a mini speaker to the Glacier to play some Motown and 1999 Grammy Award-winning single “Smooth” by Rob Thomas ft. Santana. This track alone gave persistent Preston the strength to try climbing a route no less than four times, draining his forearms of all their might. 

This morning was a relaxing one as we are prepping for our backpacking, which begins tomorrow and ends in 8 days when our guides will fly in the rafts. Addie was the first one up, and we enjoyed her company, as the others slept and she joined the leaders in reading and enjoying the beauty of a peaceful, Alaskan morning. The weather was too nice this afternoon to not going swimming in the mighty Matanuska. This water is all generated from the melting Glacier, if you need any idea of how frigid it is. Despite this, Ann managed to stay in the longest, when others were shrieking and at a loss of breath. Adair managed to figure out just how muddy the river banks were. Thanks for the doing some unintentional recon for us, Adair. We’re having some burgers and hot dogs tonight in celebration for our last night in the “front country”.  Expect to hear from us in 10 days!

In the meantime, here are some shout-outs!

Addie: Hey Rosie, and hey sisters and parents! I’m having a great time thanks for letting me come!

Ann: Miss you guys, hope all is well. Happy belated b day to trippy. Don’t forget to feed Kush

Caroline: hHey mom and dad, ally and Olivia (Harrison if you’re still there). I’m having a blast, they found out I love sweets. Ice climbing was a blast.

Anna: Love you mom and Dad having an amazing time! Alaska is so beautiful 

Adair: Hey fredo and mel I love and miss you so much. Ps they found my luggage 

Sydney: What’s up family, Alaska is great and I’m never coming home. I miss you teddy

Frank: I hope y’all are having fun. Love you!

Nate: I convinced the group to secure Bob Ross t shirts from Walmart and like the Grateful Dead

Preston: I dove in a Glacier river and repped a bob Ross t shirt for four days

Campbell: I love you Guys!

Kate: Hi mom and dad say hi to Maggie at the boat race tell her good luck I love you


Greetings from the Last Frontier!

July 13, 2017

We just had an unbelievable four days on the Prince William Sound, marked by unusually fair weather. It seems like a while since we picked the kids up at the airport (Kudos Caroline for being first and so patient!). Whittier, Alaska was chosen for an Army base because it was believed to be nearly impossible to bomb due to its constant low cloud cover, year round. Saturday, our first full day of the trip, showed us just how rainy the town can get. Despite all the rainy weather the first day, Addie impressed us all by being the first to appreciate and enjoy the magic of Alaska. Thanks for the constant smiles, Addie! Thankfully we woke up on Sunday morning to bluebird skies and have not seen any rain since.

After paddling around 7 or 8 miles the first day, we arrived at our campsite. The best word to describe this campsite would be mossy. There were even raised planks to walk and camp on because the ground was so fragile. Our leaders of the day here were Adair, who remained unbelievable positive despite the tedious task of unloading and loading the kayaks, and Frank, who could paddle faster than our guide.  Nate impressed the group with his bravado by taking the plunge in the Sound after we had gotten to camp.

The following morning we set off for a 13-mile paddle. This was a long day, to say the least. Fair weather, once again, accented the unbelievable snow covered peaks that contain the sound. Preston, Dothan’s finest, helped pass the time and take our focus off our fatigue by singing “Sweet Home Alabama”.  At the end of our paddle, right as we were about to reach our campsite, we saw what we had been paddling towards for the last two days: Blackstone glacier. This is the moment that we realized we were truly, and finally, in Alaska. Similarly, this is the moment when we had to start roughing it, in a sense. Gone were the outhouses, and in were our “wag bags”, or, a way to pack out of human waste. Fun! Kate and Ann in particular became fast friends through this peculiar kayaking practice. Also at this time, Sydney started to develop her beautiful dreadlocks as she stopped brushing her hair. Should’ve got that haircut before Moondance, Syd! Just kidding. Despite being in view of an awe-inspiring glacier, the campsite had a few gnats. The bug nets came in handy here. Anna cleverly engineered her bugnet to also hold her bowl of food. She called it her feed bag.

This morning we woke up to the most beautiful day yet. Campbell managed to squeeze in one more nap before we loaded our kayaks after breaking down camp, and set off for a reflective, silent paddle. Four miles lent a lot of time for introspection; it was a moment where we all finally got some silence and let the beauty of this landscape wash over us. Our group is now one unit, goofy as ever in their newly purchased Walmart garb. Tomorrow we set off for ice climbing and glacier trekking. You’ll have one more update from us in a few days. Don’t go anywhere!

-Tyler, Kelly, Shelby


Students

  • Addie
  • Preston
  • Ann
  • Sydney
  • Nate
  • Frank
  • Kate
  • Caroline
  • Anna
  • Adair
  • Campbell

Staff