July 3, 2018
It’s hard to begin with our first group this summer in Alaska. Yesterday was a day full of teary goodbyes. We brought a whole new meaning to soaking in every last moment. To set the scene for you folks at home, we would usher each wave of students to security for perpetual hugs and teary goodbyes before separating. It was a hard, emotional day, and oddly enough, that’s the best case scenario. This group was so connected. They were one big unit, making it that much more difficult to part. The last night at Ship Creek, they managed to fit themselves into a single tent for hours of giggling and conversation before going to sleep, enjoying every last second together. As trip leaders, we could not have asked for a better collection of students. But at this point, we see them more as friends than students. They took the trip into their own hands, making it the quintessential leadership experience. More important than that, they made long-lasting friendships and became truer versions of themselves. That is all we want in these trips, for kids to be themselves. The awesome views and challenging activities are just there as a backdrop to the magic happening between all of us. Our Sunflowers, these relationships and memories will live on through you and help you through challenges to come. You are ready for anything. You have the tools; you have the ability; and you have each other. We learned so much from each of you and cannot wait to see where you go. Oh, the POTENTIAL!!! Wow. Before we get carried away, let us say, we are beyond thankful!!!! Here’s to you, the group full of endless laughter, you know?
Love love love love, Kidole Gumba.
(Ellie, Davis, Allie)
July 2, 2018
Our experience sea kayaking in the pristine waters of Prince William Sound for the past four days reaffirmed a theme of our three weeks together. For some reason, the sun follows our Moondance unit, or rather, we follow the sun! Just call us the sunflowers! Our sea kayaking adventure took us around Blackstone Bay, up close and personal with beautiful glaciers, waterfalls, coastal mountains, and all manner of vibrant ocean life. We couldn’t have asked for a better expedition.
The day before we began, our guide Natalie outfitted us with the most fashionable rain gear and the necessary information for a successful, safe trip. We were to float out of Whittier the following day, so we spent a little time exploring this very unique little town—the strangest town in Alaska! We were thoroughly entertained and psyched to hop on the water.
Before we knew it, we were paddling towards Decision Point. Fifteen minutes hadn’t even gone by before our first wildlife sighting. We saw what we thought might be a whale spout in the distance. Jax and Charles, our LODs for the day, suggested that our group “pod up, squad up” and get closer to the shore. Just as we’d all gotten together, a massive Humpback whale breached right next to us!!! Ella and Mitchell had enviable front row seats to this amazing show. We continued the journey in awe of what we’d just experienced. It certainly set the tone for the rest of our time on the water. Not only did we see a whale, but we also made a seal friend along the way. It would pop its head up every now and then to say hello. Our camp for the night was, in a word, enchanting. We wandered through the rainforest on wooden paths to find tent platforms camouflaged amongst the trees. Rocky beaches of smooth stones bordered our campsite, and we spent the evening soaking it all in. After a delicious meal of Southwest Mac n Cheese, an absolute favorite, we mooned-up and went to our bags for a restful night of sleep.
The next day’s sights were set on 17-Mile Beach, which would take us all the way up to where we could see multiple glaciers! However, we had to earn the view with a long paddle day. Our group handled it with ease! We kept a great pace, and the mileage flew by thanks to our constant laughter, singing, and entertainment. It was our singing day for sure. Our group likes to sing through playlists. They’ve also composed multiple original songs during the trip, led by Elizabeth’s (Erdy) killer pipes. After getting to our lunch spot, Olivia and Wright, our LOD squad for the day, picked the group energy back up with the most entertaining game of Pterodactyl! Max, a true Pterodactyl virtuoso, had us all in tears with his hilarious faces. Anna Laura valiantly charged into the finals, but it was Max that ultimately prevailed. You’ll have to ask them to play a quick game with you some time. Alas! We’d shaken off the afternoon sleepies and were ready to finish the last few miles of the day. Natalie asked the LODs if our group would enjoy a silent paddle, or monk paddle, where we would have time and space to reflect and enjoy our surroundings. They thought it would be a great idea, and it certainly was. For about an hour, we all paddled silently as the bay revealed to us too many waterfalls to count. It was a clear day, and about 10 minutes into the silent paddle, the glaciers were in sight! It was quite a dramatic moment. Some of us couldn’t help but let out a “WOOOOW” when we first laid eyes on the massive hunks of hanging ice. In no time, we had reached our campsite! The cook crew kicked it into gear immediately, and we were soon feasting on a breakfast dinner.
~~Here’s a worthwhile side note: We (Ellie, Allie and Davis) decided to let the group plan out our meals for the remainder of the trip after backpacking. They planned out an amazing menu and shopped for the ingredients during our restock in Anchorage! We are truly impressed with their initiative and attention to detail.~~
Day three on the water was reserved for glacier exploration. We enjoyed a lazy morning and yummy breakfast of oatmeal with all the fixins before getting onto the water. Then we followed the rocky shore until we found ourselves face to face with the Beloit Glacier. At about 1,000 feet tall, Beloit’s jagged majesty was far too large to wrap our heads around. We gawked until we heard our bellies rumbling and made a push to a tucked away beach for lunch and a delightful nap. We hugged the coast of Willard Island until we crossed the bay to return to base camp. There we secured boats and feasted on another student curated meal of backcountry paella. Boy, what a treat! Fat and happy, we had one last Moonup in Prince William Sound and mosied off to our shelters for a great night of rest.
This morning, our last day of kayaking, was absolutely gorgeous. We couldn’t believe we were so fortunate to see a bluebird day in Blackstone Bay. We noticed peaks previously obscured by clouds and marveled at the glassy water as we paddled to our extraction point at 13-Mile Beach. At the beach, it was clear that this group is functioning like a well-oiled machine as we fluidly beached boats, unloaded and divided all the gear, ate a quick lunch, and shuffled boats and belongings onto the charter boat for the journey back to Whittier. In 40 minutes we were back to where the ‘yaking began no worse for the wear but grateful for the amazing scenery and quality time on the water. And then, all of the sudden, we found ourselves back in Anchorage where we pitched our tents for the very first time as a team. Kate scrounged up a guitar from a neighboring group and serenaded us beautifully, bringing us together once again where it all began.
How in the world did this epic adventure fly by so quickly? Well , no one knows for sure, but we all agree in saying it has been a memorable experience from which we have grown greatly as individuals and team members. As leaders, we are so impressed by the cohesiveness of this group of remarkable young humans, by their openness to each other and to the experience at hand, by their unfailing gratitude and zest for life in the face of adversity, and by the exceptional gifts they each offer to others and the whole dang world. Parents, prepare to look upon your children and find them bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and fully prepared to be exactly who they are.
Full-hearted and soaking it all up while we can,
Davis, Allie, and Ellie
June 27, 2018
Wow! Hello dear followers, friends, and family! I know it’s been a while since you’ve heard from us, but we are alive and thriving!! The past 10 days have been incredible, and we have grown immensely as a unit. It’s hard to believe that 10 days ago we were gearing up to enter the humbling Talkeetna Mountains for our week-long backpacking trip.
Day 1 of backpacking was certainly a test of strength, as we began our trek with heavy packs and plenty of uphill. We eventually got to Hick’s Creek, which provided a great first night’s campsite. We had amazing views in front of us and behind. The strong LOD duo of Max and Kate certainly provided lots of positive trail vibes! As leaders, we were very impressed with the overall positive attitude right from the start. We filled our bellies with some delicious stir fry and let Hick’s Creek lull us to sleep.
Day 2 greeted us with a light drizzle hitting our tents, so we decided to wait it out for a bit. This allowed for some much needed extra sleep, and it did the trick! Within an hour, the rain let up, and we were rousing from our tent homes. Anna Laura and Wright, our LODs for the day, were tasked with keeping the group motivated for a day of sizable mileage. They did so with great humor. Wright kept the group going promising camp was “right around the corner”. Safe to say, we all smiled through it! There were beautiful snowy peaks surrounding us on this blue bird day. One of our favorite moments was lunch alongside Hick’s Lake, where we dried our feet and rested our legs for a bit. As soon as we saw Caribou Creek, we knew camp was near. We kept the creek—more like a river—to our right and walked through the new scenery of lush forest. Allie stopped us to announce a Moose ahead! It was a good distance away and our first real wildlife encounter of the trip (not the last). Mr. moose went back out of sight and we kept on moving. We were all ready for dinner, so the cook crew kicked into gear to prepare some healthy and hearty Burrito Bowls. Yum! We hit the hay to prepare for the morrow.
Day 3 of backpacking was sunny and bright, through and through! We began the day with some powdered eggs voted the most “interesting” meal of the trip. LODs Olivia and Mitchell started us off with a rousing quote to get us going. These two always keep the group moving and lead by example. We hiked up and down rolling hills, knowing we were looking for what Moondance calls the “Big Scoop”. We finally saw the rusty tractor shining in the distance, and climbed up to the top of the hill where it sat! It was a beautiful site with a 360 degree view of the Talkeetnas. Our LODs decided this would be a great campsite for the night and provide us with a bit of rest and relaxation. Mitchell and Olivia surprised the rest of the group with their decision. The crew was PUMPED to say the least, and we spent the afternoon soaking up the sun and the awe inspiring views. We celebrated the evening with a Thanksgiving feast. Mashed potatoes, gravy, mock turkey (chicken), green beans, and corn were passed around the circle as we shared things for which we were thankful. Rest assured readers, you were featured. Soon it was time for Moonup, which was full of love and gratitude. A great day for the books.
The fourth day of our backpacking section was perhaps the most difficult. We started with a steep descent to Chitina Creek just above the confluence with Caribou Creek—our guiding North star of the previous day. As expected, the water was pumping with water and silt from the peaks that loomed above. We set up a hand line and the team impressed with their confident crossing. We walked the chilly water out of our boots on a steep climb up to a ridge where we turned and began bushwhacking due West. Uncertainty abound, LODs Jax and Kate really sunk their teeth into the task of navigating us through thick brush to arrive at our alpine home for the night. Ellie treated us to some Nola style Jambalaya and we were off to rest up to make Chitina Pass in the morn.
Day 5 was a great microcosm of our trip (and for life, for that matter). It contained all manner of ups, downs, and in-betweens. After reaching our high point of the whole route, we enjoyed lunch in a wind-protected mountain pocket. The team elected to open the vaunted “Dragon’s Egg”—a heavily duct taped surprise reserved for the highest of highs or lowest of lows. This point was, obviously, the highest of highs. It was a bag of Skittles!! After the midday feast, we engaged in a “Monk Walk”. Davis shared a quote and we descended into the utter beauty of the Alaskan wilderness in solitude and silence. There was, however, plenty of route finding to be done to reach our campsite at the foot of Boulder Creek. We were reminded once again that creek means something entirely different in Alaska as we arrived at a massive, braided river channel. Max and Elizabeth were our LODs on Day 5. In addition to impressive map-reading and group management, they later wrote in the group journal that our Ramen and Sweet Potato dinner was “BOOM BOOM.” Moonup went deep and brought us that much closer. This was the day we became a family. All in a Moondance day…
We started Day 6 with fat stacks of pancakes and ambled down Boulder Creek. We did not cover a lot of mileage this day, but necessarily cut our teeth on what it would mean to travel along this river for the next few days. LODs Wright and Ella started the day with an inspirational quote and briefed us on the many river crossings and bushwhacking to come. Group morale sky rocketed when they informed us we would be camping where we ate lunch. We knew it was fate when Kate found a massive a moose antler in the nearby woods! Huzzah! The following day would be a big one and we needed some good shut eye.
Our seventh day on the trail met us with frigid rain and thick fog. Not to worry, resident ball-of-sunshine Allie took the lead on a hot breakfast of grits and sausage that kept us toasty all day. Thankfully, Anna Laura and Charles were ready to lead us through the challenging task at hand. Our lengthy day of walking included hard earned passage through egregiously thick brush on a bluff above Boulder Creek. We wondered if we would cover the necessary mileage, but our LODs kept us positive and moving in the right direction. We closed out the long, cold day with a hearty soup and collapsed into our bags, grateful and accomplished.
The final day of backpacking would be another for character building as it was cold and wet once again! We awoke at our camp above a boggy, enchanted lake and huddled together beneath a tarp, reminiscing on the challenges and joys of the adventure as we scarfed hashbrowns with the works. The task of the day would be to stay present and soak up the wilderness as we made our way back to civilization. Kate and Mitchell kept the vibes positive and full of song on the seemingly never ending path to our extraction point on the Old Seward Highway. Luckily, they also allowed us all to indulge in some delicious jerky from a friendly neighborhood jerky salesman waiting for us at the take out. Moondance COO Owen Gaddis met us back at basecamp with treats and good cheer! Sharing a great meal of red beans and rice and cornbread was a wonderful close to a wonderful experience deep in the woods of Alaska.
We didn’t skip a beat moving from backpacking right into white water rafting with NOVA! The first section of the trip is a notorious thrill called Lions Head, a section of Caribou Creek that feeds into the glacial waters of the Matanuska river. We popped into our high tech dry suits and got ready for nonstop rollercoaster rapids with our guides Jodi and Peter. Each boat got their fair share of icy cold waves and splashes, which created experiences of thrill and nonstop laughter! We took turns sitting at the front of the boat known as “riding the bull”. It was a joyous start to the rafting section.
After lunch and some preparation for the next couple nights, we packed up three rafts and headed back down the Matanuska for another night on the shore of the river. We floated between high cliffs of intricate rock as we scouted for that nights camp spot. On the way, our guides pointed out a blonde-ish, brown blob in the distance. OUR FIRST BEAR SPOTTING!! A safe, respectable distance away. Don’t fret. Finally, we found the best spot to settle for the evening.
We had time to warm up in our tents while our guides prepared a delicious enchilada feast! The boys skipped rocks and played like kids until the dinner bell rang. We even got treated to some gooey brownies after dinner. Woah the were goooooood!
The next day brought us another scenic float, which made for some great conversations. Our guide, Peter, taught us a very fun song that makes no sense, and before we knew it, we were docking in Chickaloon! It’s an old sleepy town where the old Nova base is located. We had the whole place to ourselves! We explored the base, ate some lunch, and got some clean clothes from our duffels, which were waiting there for us! It was quite an amazing day. We played around with the frisbee, cards, and hacky sack. For a treat, we walked down to a tiny general store. Then Ellie, Davis, and Allie taught the group out individual leadership styles. Within the group we have so many unique personalities and styles, so we find it important to give names to those styles. I think we all learned a lot about ourselves and one another.
Every day, we realize how fast this trip is rolling by, and we remind ourselves to soak in each moment. Now, to Whittier for some sea kayaking!!!
Jax: Hey mom, dad and Kitty! I haven’t showered in 2 weeks Wish you were here to smell me. I miss and love y’all so much!
Mitch and Max: Happy early anniversary. We love and miss y’all!
Anna Laura: Hey mom, dad, Addison, Jonny, walker, and KR. can’t wait to see y’all!! Hope y’all aren’t having fun without me (ps haven’t showered in 2 weeks). Love y’all so much.
Charles: haven’t showered in a long time.
Wright: Hey Mom and Dad, love y’all. I’m having a great time and miss y’all so much.
Kate: Hey Mom and Dad! Alaska is incredible, and I wish y’all could see this. I miss and love y’all and can’t wait to tell you guys about everything!
Ella: Hey Fam! I’m having so much fun!! I love all so much and can’t wait to tell you about Alaska!
Elizabeth: Hey Fam! Alaska is everything great and more! I wish you all could see how beautiful it is here. Thinking about you all. Love you!
Olivia: Hey mom, dad, and Hollis, wherever you are out west! I miss you all so much, and I cannot wait to tell you all about Alaska. It is gorgeous, and I’m so thankful you guys gave me the opportunity to go on this trip!
June 17, 2018
Well folks, it’s safe to say we have started out on the right foot. Our intrepid adventurers arrived at the Anchorage airport chipper and excited to delve into the great unknown despite the long travel day. Ice was broken, pizza was enjoyed and we made our merry way to a campground on the outskirts of Anchorage for our first Moonup (daily group reflection) and some much needed rest. We selected Olivia and Jax to be the first leaders of the day (LODs) for their outgoing attitudes and Moondance spirit.
Day 1- Prep, prep, prep…the majority of our first full day was spent preparing for the adventures to come by learning important lessons on topics such as Leave No Trace principles, effective layering, animal and lightning protocol, and Expedition Behavior. The lessons were bookmarked by some great games and challenges brought forth by leaders and students alike. We also got word that our intended backpacking route might be impassable due to late Spring snowfall, so we sent Davis to scout a new route with legendary bush pilot “Mike”. He returned with spaghetti legs and a new backpacking route. While he was gone, Anna Laura led us in about 3.5 games of hilarious Mafia. Still resetting our internal clocks in the never ending daylight of Alaskan summer, we hit the hay early to dream of the ice we would be climbing on the morrow.
Day 2- We can speak for the group in saying we were all ready to “get after it” as they say on this fine Alaskan morning. We fueled up for a big day of ice climbing with breakfast burritos then went to meet our energetic, goofy Nova guides to gear up for the day. As soon as we were all equipped with crampons, helmets, and harnesses, we were on our way to the glacier for a full day on ice climbing!!! On the bus ride, our LODs—Mitchell and Ella—took it upon themselves to lead the morning huddle to share an inspirational quote with the group and set the tone for the day. They both emphasized the fact that we were all trying something new today and how important a good perspective and attitude can be!
Our guides Nick and Pat shared some cool info about the glacier and took us through safety precautions during our approach to the climb while Colton went ahead to set up for the day. Being out there is an experience in itself. The guides talked about how massive this glacier used to be, and how when it melts, it leaves behind a vast moonscape. This eventually allows vegetation to grow, but our walk up to the climb site took us across mounds of rock that have been crushed by this powerful glacial ice.
Before we knew it, we were stomping on ice. Then we came to this glacial cirque with a pool bellow, massive cracks, and a beautiful ice fall (glacial waterfall). This would be our climbing site for the day! Pat took us through some climbing basics, then Charles stepped up to be our first one on the ice wall. He made it look easy. As a matter of fact, every single member of our group did the same! We were all eager to give it a try and climb all three routes they had set up. It was wonderful seeing everyone cheer on their new friends. Some even tried their hand at belaying, Wright being the first to do so! When we weren’t climbing, we were chatting and exploring the nearby ice. Jax brought out her camera to takes some photos of the group as well!
We took a break for lunch, then our guides challenged us to try what they call the PAIN CAVE—a particularly difficult route that we renamed “the pancake”. While some tried the Pain cave, others learned how to belay. Olivia, Wright, Mitchell, and Max all gave it their best shot whilst the others cheered them on. We loved seeing how eager our team is to face challenges. It bodes well for the remainder of the trip. It was time to head back to camp, but our guides suggested a super secret surprise treat for the crew to conclude the day. We loaded up the vans, but planned a stop at a local Lodge for ice cream and great views. They certainly earned this one.
Day 3 – To start out the day we gathered our bananas, pineapple, almond butter, granola, and maple syrup…put it all in a wrap, and BAM we had ourselves some scrumptious breakfast burritos! We then got our happy bellies into the NOVA vans and headed back to the Matanuska Glacier for an adventure trek. Our guides David, Petra, and Hannah led us to some breathtaking features throughout the glacier. From the deep crevasses, to staggering glacier waterfalls, our eyes were in for a treat that day. The aqua blue water in the moulans looked as blue as the bluest Gatorade you’ve ever seen. They stopped to let us fill up our water with world class glacial water flowing through cracks of ice. It was delicious!! After a full day with great views over ice we had climbed the previous day, it was time to go back to camp for some final backpacking prep. On our way back to the vans we spotted a glacier wedding! It was ridiculous! But also very sweet. We clapped and waved to the happy crowd as we walked by.
When we got back to camp, we tasked the group with setting up our shelter for the evening. They set up the most “baller tarp”, as we like to call them. We were very impressed. Little did we know, while we were off going over last minute navigation details, the kiddos were planning a theatrical stunt to pull on us at dinner. So, we enjoyed a beautiful, sunny afternoon then before we knew it, it was dinner time. The cook crew set up dinner family style, which warmed bellies and hearts. Then, all of the sudden, Max and Mitchell (the Marconi brothers) began arguing at the table with Kate between them. Mitchell looked like he was about to lunge for Max when Kate stood up, slammed her hands on the table, and exclaimed, “HEY! WE CAN WORK THIS OUT!” The girls promptly got up from the table and burst into a song that I can’t even explain, but all I know was that it had synchronized dance moves and lessons in conflict resolution. To say the least, the three of us were very confused and even more entertained. We all cracked up in laughter for the rest of dinner over the minute details of this dramatic stunt they planned out. Quite a WOW moment. What a crew!
We ended the day with a thoughtful moonup led by Charles and Elizabeth. They gave us a quote about compromise to get us in the right mindset for our backpacking trip. It read, “Learn the wisdom of compromise, for it is better to bend a little than to break.” -Jane Wells. They then asked a question that provoked beautiful nostalgia and history about each of our hometowns. Safe to say, this Moondance family is ready for the remote and beautiful backcountry. Sending love to all of our friends and family out there! We are thoroughly grateful.
Side note: the next trip update will not hit the streets until after backpacking (8 days) and white water rafting (plus 2 days).
Over and out,
Ellie, Davis and Allie
June 14, 2018
Hello Northern Lights Families!
We heard from our leaders that the group has arrived safely in Anchorage! They departed for their first campsite last night and the trip is off to a great start.