July 3, 2018
After a great day at Ship Creek in Anchorage spent cleaning gear, sorting rations, and drying tents, we loaded in the Magic bus one final time and headed for the Anchorage airport, finishing where it all started.
Upon our arrival, we learned about a few delays, so we had another pizza party outside security to make sure everyone was well fed for their journey home. We said our goodbyes and sent everyone on their way, easily the toughest part of these trips. It was our pleasure to be a part of this special group, and we greatly appreciate your support. Each and every member had an integral role, and we want to thank everyone for making this possible. We hope you enjoyed reading along, and we look forward to seeing everyone next summer!
Until next time,
Jake, CC, and James
July 2, 2018
Good evening friends, family and NLT C fans! I’m writing to you from our campsite in Anchorage as we wind our trip down, fresh off the water from sea kayaking. Our last activity began in the small town of Whittier – a town on the other side of a two-mile tunnel where residents walk around with caribou on leashes and the majority of the population lives under a single roof. Sounds quaint, huh? We first stopped at Alaska Sea Kayakers and were outfitted with full rubber rain bibs and jackets and got the lowdown from our guide, Rich. Looking like a seasoned crew from Deadliest Catch, we worked our way back to camp where Tim, Carter, and Jane treated us to a cookout of burgers and all the fixins’ – the perfect meal to fuel our bodies for the ensuing days of paddling. Morning arrived early and in the company of rain as we jumped onto a water taxi and motored past countless towering glaciers and cascading waterfalls – views that would soon be revisited via paddle and kayak on our return back to Whittier.
Fortunately, the drizzle began to dissipate as we landed on Thirteen Mile Beach, our take off point. We learned how to pack our boats with everything we would need to live, grabbed some paddles and partnered up, and we were off! Our first day consisted of an easy-breezy-intro-to-paddling 4-mile cruise to Willard Island, in the scenic Blackstone Bay. With glassy blue water underneath and glaciers looming overhead, the views were absolutely jaw dropping. Kaelin and Caroline were phenomenal Leaders of the Day keeping everyone motivated and helping with any boat issues. We were greeted by a bald eagle on arrival at the appropriately named Eagle’s Nest campsite, where we heard the first large CRACK of a glacier calving at the end of the bay, viewable from our new kitchen. We set up a layover camp complete with bug-out shelter, and Phil and Caroline began whipping up some homemade southwestern Mac n’ Cheese. In the middle of cooking, we heard some rumbles from the glacier and quickly jumped out of the bug-out to see a glimpse of the action. The rumbles grew to a thunderous popping, and an ENORMOUS piece of ice calved off into the bay below, creating a huge wave that reached our shores a few minutes later! Our 10-year veteran guide stated it was the single largest calving event he had ever witnessed from that particular glacier. And to think, all viewable from our kitchen table! Don’t worry though, our group kept a safe distance from the glaciers!
The next day, we woke up with a full schedule. We filled our bellies with pancakes and pushed off towards the end of the bay, where we planned to view tide water glaciers up close. Connor expertly steered a boat through the numerous scattered floating ice blocks deposited during the calving event from the previous night, with the rest of the group closely following her blazed path. Jane and Kaelin creatively pointed out blocks that had been sculpted into delicate shapes such as rabbits, turtles, swans and more as we glided by. After a snack break, we cruised towards Blackstone Glacier, where we were dazzled by an enormous waterfall flowing from the ice with hundreds of sea gulls and at least five eagles soaring around the edges of the cliffs. We were positively awestruck. Make sure you folks at home check out the pictures from this pitstop! Amanda pointed out that this moment was right out of an episode of Planet Earth. We also managed to squeeze in a close-up view of another glacier and explore some sea caves before moseying on towards home. Back at camp, we feasted on fajita bowls and skipped rocks while sea otters curiously popped their heads up and checked us out from the water. We enjoyed a lazy evening, where Beau, Carter and Phil strolled down a glacial moraine that appears at low tide and the girls enjoyed their ritualistic grooming circle, where Lucy treated the gals to a round of hair braiding. This life at sea just might be for us!
The following day we woke up as seasoned kayakers and prepared for a big day. We loaded up our boats and began a 10-mile paddle to our next campsite. After we got adjusted on the water we started a “mediation paddle” where we followed each other’s boats in a line and silently enjoyed the beautiful stretch of coast with no distractions. We soon made it to a rocky beach where we enjoyed a stretch break and lunch. We finished the long day of paddling strong, arriving at an enchanted campsite – decision point. Lucy and Beau helped the group by throwing up an amazing tarp shelter. We took a well-deserved lounge on the shore before cooking the best meal of the trip, Thanksgiving dinner! From green beans to squash to mashed potatoes to stuffing to cranberry sauce to TURKEY, everyone was happy. After dinner everyone competed in trivia for extra bites of cookie cake and Tim crushed it with his Alaska knowledge. Our LODs Connor and Philip led a wonderful Moonup and by the end we were rolling on the ground laughing about the memories we have made. Our last night in the backcountry was bittersweet and we enjoyed every last minute.
The following morning, we loaded up the boats one last time and finished our journey back to Whittier. We made it back in record time, with help from the bluebird skies and a light tail wind. Once back in Whittier we treated ourselves to pizza and ice cream while enjoying the best weather of the trip. We safely made it back to our campsite in Anchorage and are cleaning up with our first showers in three weeks!!! We can’t believe this trip is coming to a close and are expecting no dry eyes in the airport tomorrow. Thank you, again, for sending your kids on this trip. They have grown into such great leaders and we feel so grateful to have had a part in their Moondance experience.
Over and out!
Cecilia, Jake, and James
June 27, 2018
Hello all NLTC Parents!
We have just finished our ice climbing section and it is safe to say each of your children is now a young glacier expert. We started our two-day adventure by a much-deserved slow morning. We slept in, and then were treated to scrumptious chocolate chip brown sugar pancakes whipped up by the amazing cook crew of Connor and Lucy. With full bellies we headed off to meet our guides.
I feel comfortable saying we had the coolest guides in Alaska. After a quick van ride and safety talk we strapped on our crampons and hit the mighty Matanuska Glacier. With a speaker playing music we began our climbs. Carter amazed everyone by completing the hardest climb over 3 times. Jane edged her way up another tough climb with everyone cheering her on. By the end of the day everyone had their climbing fill and we danced our way back to the van. That night we feasted on enchiladas and crushed a huge portion of chips and salsa. We finished the day with Moonup around the fire thanks to Amanda collecting heaps of wood.
The next morning Beau, Amanda, and Kaelin cooked up hash browns with cheese, sausage, and onions to fuel us for the day. It was easily a new crowd favorite. We met the same amazing guides to begin what we thought would be a day of glacier trekking. However, the guides were so impressed with our group that they opted to take us on an even more amazing portion of the glacier and let us climb more advanced routes, belay each other, and rappel down an icy face. Before we began our epic adventures, the guides explained to us how to set anchors in the ice and allowed our group to try. Beau, Philip, and Tim set up the best one impressing everyone. Once we got to climbing we were all stunned at the site. We sat by an amazingly deep and blue glacial lake to eat lunch and then got to climbing! Caroline faced her fear of heights and climbed a tough route with ease. Again, Carter set the record for number of climbs and even raced Jake up one route! It was a photo finish and we think it ended up being a tie. After growing sore we again boogied off the glacier. We were able to stop at a gift shop on the way back to camp and all the girls bought beautiful friendship bracelets to remember their time together in Alaska.
We are all sad to be leaving the Matanuska Glacier but excited to head to Whittier tomorrow to begin our kayaking portion- sadly the last section! Our group has grown very close and even the guides have commented on how cohesive and happy we all seem together. Thanks for sharing your super star kids with us!!
Until next time,Cecilia, Jake, and James
June 25, 2018
Hello from Alaska!!
I know this trip update has been long awaited, and we appreciate your patience as we are finally out of the backcountry (for the time being)! I’m thrilled to get everyone up to speed on the first ten days or so of our trip.
After meeting in the Anchorage airport late the 13th, we enjoyed some pizza that we had delivered to our baggage claim carousel and hopped on our magic bus over to Ship Creek Campground in Anchorage. We played various name games, had an awesome initial Moonup in our “bug-out” shelter, and covered various, important, topics such as Expedition Behavior, Why we Unplug, and more.
We had Tim and Caroline step up as our first “Leaders of the Day”, due to their previous experience on various Moondance trips. We went to bed as quickly as possible in light of our weary eastern travelers, but make sure to cover those eyes when trying to get to bed!! The sun never sets this time of year in AK. We haven’t seen darkness since leaving our respective departure cities.
After breaking down camp at Ship Creek the next morning and enjoying an outstanding breakfast of toast, eggs, and bacon, we got back in our bus with Tim, a retired pilot in the Air Force who was stationed in Anchorage during duty and never left. Tim took us about 2 hours toward the Matanuska Glacier, landing at Nova, the name of the guide service and hub for 3 out of 4 sections, Backpacking, Ice Climbing, and Rafting. Our first activity on the docket was backpacking, and we had quite a bit of prep to do before hitting the trail.
After getting off the bus, we began by learning how to set up our tents. Carter jumped in and helped Beau and Philip with initial setup, as Caroline and Tim continued to show the others how to build our “houses” for the next 3 weeks. After setting up camp, we dove right in to how to pack our backpacks in preparation for hitting the trail the following day. We learned about weight distribution, waterproofing our critical layers and sleeping bags with contractor trash bags, and the importance of the bare essentials and nothing else. We also covered important topics such as lightning and bear protocol in addition to “staying found” and sanitation among others. There’s a lot to learn out here, and everyone has stepped up outside of their comfort zones.
On Day 3, after 2 long days of travel and preparation in rationing food and gear, we left Nova in a small rafting bus that dropped us at the trail head. 13 expedition members, 10 students and 3 leaders, stepped off the bus with 24 meals for 13 people, as well as all housing, personal gear, and group gear such as kitchen supplies and more. These packs were NOT light on Day 1, but we continued to reiterate that each bite lightened our packs that much more, which certainly brought out some appetites!! Our first day consisted of following an ATV trail system towards Hick’s Creek, and the first forests didn’t come without a few daunting hills. We ate lunch on a hill in the rain that first afternoon out, and we were all very quickly reminded about the forces of Alaska. A dear friend always says that there’s no such thing as bad weather, but instead, bad gear, and I’d like to thank everyone involved for the gear that you sent your students with for this trip. Those rain pants and rain jackets that had the tags recently cut off are no longer new folks!! We arrived at camp around 6 pm, and enjoyed a great chicken parm pasta. Cook Crew on the first night was the infamous duo of Lucy and Kaelin. Lucy did an awesome job slicing the peppers and onions, while Kaelin did some pasta management, checking the noodles religiously. They assisted us in the kitchen throughout the day, and all of our team members were grateful for their help. We ended the first day on the trail with another great Moonup and headed to bed for a big second day.
On the fourth day of the trip, we began walking to what is known as the “Hunter’s Camp”. The weather held in the morning, and although our tents were damp, everyone enjoyed a dry and cozy night’s sleep with the cool Alaskan breeze rolling through camp. We continued to hike along Hick’s creek which took us up and over Divide Lake, a beautiful glassy lake which had two bald eagles fishing in it’s waters during our lunch stop on one of the beaches. We ran into a hunter on a four-wheeler during our stop, who was very impressed to see us out there traveling the old-fashioned way, on our own two feet.
Our LOD’s Jane and Amanda helped us with the maps, as well as water treatment. This involves the use of iodine and a threading method to ensure we eliminate the possibility of any water borne illness. Upon arrival at the Hunter’s camp, we ran into a father son duo who were gracious enough to give us the site, moving their vehicle fleet right up the trail to a different site.
On the fifth day, we headed up caribou creek to an ancient goldmining site. About 3-4 hrs. after breaking down camp and hitting the trail, we arrived at a massive excavation site, complete with gold mining equipment and a large excavator that have been left there and are no longer operating. We ate lunch and told imaginary stories about the history of the site, before arriving at one of our larger learning opportunities down at Chitna creek. Upon arrival, this beastly river was showing no signs of a shallow, mellow area for our group to safely cross the stream. We hung a hand line to assist in the crossing, but after our second tallest leader ended up waist deep in the swift and frigid “creek”, we made a group decision to change our plans. We back tracked up several hundred vertical feet back to the lunch spot, where we continued on the high ridge upstream, hoping that the creek would mellow as we approached its headwaters.
Several hours later, after significant bushwhacking, we stopped and made camp, hoping we might be able to continue even further up the creek to find a nice spot to cross the following morning.
We woke up to a light drizzle and decided over pancakes that today was the day. We broke down camp as a team, and everyone knew exactly who was responsible for which items of group gear by this point, down to the plastic spatula. After another hour or two up the stream, we finally found a nice place to cross. We hung a line, set safety downriver, and pulled ourselves across one by one. Next up: Chitna Pass! This hike was full of challenges, and as soon as we crossed the creek, we were climbing. Chitna pass offered beautiful 360 degree views of the mountains surrounding us, and we found several cool items such as a caribou antler rack and skull. Carter and Tim loved finding these antlers! As we continued to climb higher and higher, lush moss gave way to scrubby tundra grasses and lichens, immersing the group in a true tundra environment. After a quick pit-stop and re-energizing with our beloved tortillas, tuna and trail mix, we continued the uphill trek until…. (drumroll)…. WE MADE IT! Chitna Pass had officially been conquered for the first time in Moondance History by Northern Lights C! Connor made sure to document the delighted squeals and selfies with her GoPro, as the views were outstanding and morale was high. Of course, a celebration of chocolate was in order, but as the day was getting late. We geared up again and continued to our destination in the much-appreciated downhill direction. We found a beautiful campsite in the tundra between two peaks with outstanding views of the valley below- I didn’t think it was possible to top the previous landscapes from earlier in the day, but let me tell you folks, this was one for the books! After a great Moonup with a thought-provoking question from LODs Jane and Tim, we finally crawled into our sleeping bags and got some well-deserved sleep.
The next day consisted of continuing to descend into the Boulder Creek valley below, where we proceeded to make great time due to the relatively flat terrain. The group found a cozy campsite in a grassy meadow by the river, where we feasted on burrito bowls while sharing laughs and recounting the previous days still unbelievable accomplishment. Morning greeted us with a visit from our friend, pilot, and human-alarm-clock Chuck, who buzzed a few times over our tents in his plane! As the group slowly emerged from the tents, they were surprised by the well-received news of a “layover day” to heal our tired bodies and spend some time relaxing in the Alaskan wilderness. The day was spent reading, sunning, and laughing by most, with Jane taking the role as resident hair-braider and wilderness beautification expert. Simultaneously, the adventurous Carter, Lucy, and Beau decided to go tackle a nearby peak with leaders Jake and James. The adventure continued the next day, as the group moseyed down Boulder Creek to conclude our backpacking section. Even though we were on our way towards our pick-up destination, the adventure didn’t stop, as we had our fair share of bushwhacking and fighting through the dense Alaskan foliage! Despite the challenge, attitudes were great, with Philip and Amanda exclaiming that the bushwhacking up steep hills had been one of their highlights of the trip so far! Eventually, we reached our rendezvous destination with screams of delight and a few bites of Alaskan road-stand jerky, compliments of Tim and Carter.
With backpacking checked off the list, we moved on to our next item on the docket- white water rafting. The group returned to the Nova basecamp, wiped the mud off our legs and got some well-deserved rest before the morning brought our challenge of the day- the famous Lion’s Head segment of the Matanuska River. With well-fitting dry suits on our bodies and paddles in hand, we headed to the put-in on the river. I don’t think I have seen as many smiles and heard as much laughter from the group as on this action-packed morning, despite the 34-degree water splashing in our faces! An extra kudos to Philip, Connor, Amanda, and Lucy, who took one for the team by sitting in the front rows of our respective rafts, thus saving the rest of us behind from being reached by the majority of waves! The Lion’s Head surely lived up to its reputation, with non-stop rapids and amazing glacier views. After this feat, Amanda then proceeded to wow the group by riding the bull, or the front of the raft, down a segment of rapids! After the Lion’s Head, we popped into Nova to pack our overnight dry bags and swapped our dry suits for rain gear and sunglasses and embarked on a relaxing cruise down the relatively gentle Matanuska River towards our river-side campsite for the night. The evening was a real treat, as the Nova guides made us a delicious dinner of enchiladas, complete with brownies for dessert. All we had to do was play a few rounds of some favorite games, skip rocks, and enjoy the view. Tough life! I don’t think we could have had a better way to cap off all our hard work of the previous eight days in the backcountry. Our cruise continued until the next afternoon, where we drifted smoothly down the braided river and kept our eyes peeled for eagles and mountain goats. Back at Nova, we set up camp once again and made a delicious meal of stir fry, followed by a surprise visit from Moondance Office member Owen, towing cupcakes and cookies in hand. Well, despite the sun in my eyes right now as I type away on the Nova porch, it’s getting late up here folks, so I’m going to wrap up this segment by giving a big thanks to all the parents and families who are making this trip possible and sending positive thoughts from north country to all those below. Until next time!
Jake, James and Cece
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.