July 25, 2018
Greetings from three very recent empty nesters,
Saying goodbye to this Moondance family was hard, but we feel so proud. We are most proud of the way everyone came together, all to the credit of each individual student. Our Moonup last night really showed how much the group cares for one another. We went around the circle highlighting one person at a time. We laughed at the funny memories and showered each person with love. Hearing your peers speak honestly and lovingly about you is something everyone needs to experience. As leaders, seeing our students share like this brings us so much happiness. It is a mark of success. However, we cannot take credit for it. You all, you incredible 12, created this magic. You overcame obstacles alongside each other and lived in the moment all the while. The challenges were real in the Alaskan wilderness, and you braved them like veterans. Now, if you didn’t know before, you can do anything. To think back on this trip is to remember incessant laughter and goofiness. What a gift it has been to spend this time together. Last night and today we met with moments of tears, not wanting the trip to end, and moments of belly-aching laughter, glad and thankful for the spectacular shared experience.We miss you already and are fulfilled with another amazing Moondance summer.
Love,Your fearless leaders
July 24, 2018
Holy moly folks, what a few days we have had sea kayaking in the stunning Prince William Sound. We couldn’t have hoped for better weather, and it was an excellent final activity to close out our time together. It’s safe to say none of us will soon forget the opportunity to paddle in such a pristine landscape.
After spending a night in Whittier getting our bees on a leash, so to speak, we packed boats and pushed off from a rocky beach next to the ferry terminal. Dasha and Russel were the first in the water and immediately showed they would be a strong team, impressing ferry-goers with their intricate maneuvers. And just like that, we were off! Our destination was Decision Point, nine miles due East. We stayed together, chatting and paddling along the rocky coastline beneath old growth Spruce and Alder. It was a task to keep bugs from flying into our open mouths as we ogled the incredible scenery. After a late lunch stop (Pitas!), we made a big push to a glorious campsite at the point. We had a gleeful fleet, people laughing and singing all along. Lauren and Hannah definitely entertained us with their pipes. It was all hands on deck once we got to Decision Point. Rebel (Rebecca), our silent leader, made sure we all had our ducks in a row. The campsite featured a network of wooden pathways and platforms created by the Forest Service to protected the flora and fauna. It all had a feeling of enchantment. We rested our weary heads to the sound of the gentle tide ebbing and flowing.
Waking up at Decision Point was like a dream. The sun was shining dramatically through the thick trees and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. In high spirits, we fixed up some oatmeal with nuts and coconut milk to fuel up for the long day of paddling ahead. We were to travel from our camp to Blackstone Bay—a glacier-laden inlet of epic proportion. It was a true summer day in Prince William Sound, and we soaked up the sun with gratitude. Our long journey really flew by thanks to a favorite game of ours—Boticelli! We played all the way until lunch, where we recharged our batteries and skipped rocks on the ocean. Boy, does this crew like to skip rocks! You can always find Fuller searching the beach for that perfect rock. Again, it’s the simple stuff. Alas, we finished lunch and paddled around a point. What awaited us was a huge glacial panorama. The LODs Russel and Dasha agreed it would be a terrific opportunity for a monk paddle (silent reflection paddle). In silence, boat by boat, we turned in and out of inlets, witnessing untouched Alaskan wilderness. There were waterfalls around every corner. Moments like these help us really appreciate and notice the beauty surrounding us. After a couple miles of this, we gathered together, campsite in view. We called 17-mile beach our home for the next two nights. We stayed on the southern side closest to the glaciers, giving us the best view. Cook crew got to it, whipping up some famous Southwest Mac. A great day on the water. Not a complaint. All smiles. All good feelins. The kids laughed themselves to sleep, which is becoming tradition.
We were in perfect position on day 3 to explore all that we could in Blackstone Bay. We had our base camp set up allowing some wiggle room for a big breakfast and sleeping in. Our LODs, Will and Will, were a perfect pair for the day. They booked in some surprises for the group and encouraged us all to see everything we could throughout the day. In the words of our Alaska Sea Kayaking guide Rich, “yolo”. So, we hopped in boats and aimed our bows toward Willard Island. From there, we followed the beautiful rainforest shoreline. We were in good spirits fo sure. Hannah and Hadley became the entertaining duo of the morning. Our first side trek was into two shallow caves. They were a mere appetizer to what came next. We kept following the coastline, feeling the chill of the glaciers we approached. All of the sudden, we turned a corner to an incredible waterfall coming from the Northland Glacier! It was massive and humbling. Surprise #1 led right into surprise #2. Just after the waterfall, we came upon a kittiwake rookery. (A kittiwake is a gull-like bird and a rookery is a spot in which 100 or more nesting animals live together). We watched them fly as if they were one body. It’s a phenomenon that these birds come to this exact spot every summer to raise their young. As we were floating there in awe—waterfall to our right, birds swarming overhead—a massive calving happened on Blackstone Glacier (up ahead of us to the right). Calving, for those unfamiliar with the term, is simply ice chunks breaking off the glacier. It makes a huge thunderous noise. We watched as pieces of the tidal glacier tumbled down to the ocean beneath. It was quite a show! The fun did not stop there, nor the exploration. After a delicious lunch on a beach between the Blackstone and Beloit glaciers, we decided to go on one more adventure. We began looping back to our base camp, ready to make our last stop on the way at Lawrence glacier. From the beach, it was a quick and scenic hike following blue pools and falls up to the glacier. The pink wildflowers were popping, and we were all in good spirits. When we got to our destination, we all took it in (and took tons of goofy photos). It was getting late, so we made the final push back to camp for a massive, well-deserved feast of quesadillas. That night, among other things, we discussed the diverse and highly entertaining noises that Ruby makes intermittently throughout the day. How could we not have made this realization sooner. It was all laughs. We have surely taken advantage of every last minute here in the Alaskan wilderness.
Even though we only had a short paddle on our last day in Prince William Sound, our LODs Ellie Del and Meredith were determined to make the most of it. It was an early start to meet our ferry on time, but, like a well oiled machine under effective LODship, we were on our way earlier than expected! Helping hands all around made for more time to explore and enjoy. Early mornings on the water are so peaceful yet full of life. Just a few strokes in, we saw an eagle perched on a great pine tree. Then Rich, our guide, pointed out a sea otter up ahead! Mr. or Mrs. Otter was not shy. We paddled closer, keeping a respectful distance, while the otter twirled in the water and enjoyed its mid-morning snack. It was fate. So many of us call sea otters our spirit animal. Ellie and Meredith decided a mini monk paddle would be the perfect way to end our journey. It was such a good idea. A beautiful moment happened during the paddle. I looked up to see Will G pointing toward something. It was an eagle soaring so close to us, swooping down to the water then above us to its nest. It was a WOW moment for sure. The silence made it that much more dramatic. Fuller and Hadley also spotted salmon swimming beneath their boat as they explored a little nook (or cranny) in the shoreline. It was a special moment. We got to our destination just in time to unpack the boats and load the ferry boat. Our joyride brought us back to Whittier where we decompressed a bit before hitting the road for Anchorage, where it all began…
July 19, 2018
Oh parents, if you could only see your kiddos right now. The dirt under their fingernails, their ruffled hair, their dignified composure. They wear on their faces a spectacular adventure spent meandering through the blustery Talkeetnas and floating out on the mighty Chickaloon River. They have braved the Alaskan bush.
On Day 1, we awoke at the Nova base to a beautiful harmonica tune courtesy of Ellie and got right to it. This can be a hectic day, but LODs Hannah and Will Gamson (a.k.a. Willy G, Gammy, or Gam Gam) kept us on track for an early start. Our trusty friend Chuck, the owner of Nova, took us for a quick ride in a school bus to the trailhead. Just like that, we were on our way. This was a tough day with lots of elevation gain. The crew did not disappoint, showing great positivity and grit. We reached our high point of the day where the flora and fauna opened up beautifully to continue along a saddle and eventually descend to our campsite. It was a tough day, but it was a great day that we closed out with a delicious coconut-rice-stir-fry feast and a thought-provoking Moonup.
In order to give ourselves plenty of time to reach the next planned campsite, we got an early start on Day 2. The morning greeted us with blue skies. We were thoroughly impressed by how quickly the group broke camp! They took down tents, ate their hot bowls of oatmeal, packed their bags, and were ready to meet the long mileage in store. Our LODs Ruby and Rebecca kept us moving all day with a smooth pace. This is key to getting to camp with plenty of time to relax and enjoy our home for the evening. We followed Hick’s Creek until it became Hick’s Lake. Here, we had lunch and readied ourselves for the afternoon push. Throughout the day we saw something so rare out here in the Talkeetnas—OTHER PEOPLE! It was a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) group on their last stretch. And you won’t believe this, but one of their students was on Will Garvin’s Moondance trip to PNW last summer! Wow, what a small world. They caught up for a minute before we bade them happy trails. During the day, we saw a fair amount of rain, but the group took it all in stride. In the words of Gam Gam, “This is what I signed up for.” Before we knew it, we began descending to Caribou Creek! Once we got down there, we knew camp was near. We arrived with plenty of time to relax and dry our feet before starting dinner for the evening. While cook crew whipped up a filling meal of burrito bowls with quinoa, the rest of the group went down to the Creek (more like a river). All we could hear was belly laughter. The sun had finally peeked out, making Caribou Creek sparkle in the light. For Moonup, our LODs took us to the creek side to soak in the last bits of sunlight before it dipped below the mountain peaks in the distance. It was a beautiful sight. That night we really felt the group coming together.
We really got into the swing of things on Day 3 of our expedition. We broke camp after a quick breakfast, giving ourselves plenty of time to get to our awesome campsite. LODs Russel and Fuller were a perfect duo to get us pumped and keep the laughter flowing throughout the day. Due to a bit of rain, our LODs chose a quick lunch spot to get us fueled before our biggest river crossing. After lunch, we got psyched for our river crossing with a quick dance party. Fuller whipped out some impressive moves for us. We had our laughs, and got going toward Chitina Creek (our river crossing) in good spirits. Having seen this crossing before, we were prepared for some strong water. Luckily, the water was much lower this time! One by one, we crossed with ease. The group took this crossing seriously, and we all got across safely and quickly. We then climbed up to a ridge, exposing a beautiful view of the creeks below. The ridge led us to our campsite along Caribou Creek, marked by an ancient Jeep! The sun came out and we sat, satisfied with our progress. After setting up tents and getting settled, we began our Thanksgiving Feast with the notorious all-boys cook crew. Without a doubt, the dudes of the trip formed a strong, unique unit amongst the group. The feast was a success, and we were all grateful for the food, our friends, our families, our health, and so much more. After dinner, the boys got to doing dishes, and the girls huddled together by the creek. It was a beautiful, lively scene. The lighting was just perfect, the girls were belting the Star Spangled Banner (for some reason), the boys were having way too much fun doing the dishes, and all was right in the world.
Day 4 was a big day, folks. It was full of bushwhacking and climbing, but the physical exertion was not in vain. Oh no, for on Day 4, we reached THE TUNDRA!! Not only was it tundra day, it was our last day on known trails. We would be following game trails the rest of the way. No more ATV trails. This was the real deal, and what we all signed up for. When the last bit of ATV trail led down to Caribou Creek, we knew it was time to start bushwhacking. As a group, we decided to choose a category for bear calls every day, reserving the word “bear” for an actual sighting or encounter. Day 4 was our favorite category: all things Italian! So, to avoid encounters as we climbed through thick bushes, we shouted phrases like “Parmesiano Reggiano”, “Bertoli!” and “Fettuccini”. We were really just shouting Italian foods. Our LODs Lauren and Hadley kept us positive throughout the day. Hadley brought out her notorious Avocado (just a rock that looks like an Avocado cut in half). Whenever she brings it out, she leads us in the Guacamole song, lovely harmonies provided by Hannah. Right before the confluence of Glass Creek and Caribou Creek, we fueled up for lunch. After lunch, we would be descending to the confluence and crossing glass creek, splitting the two. We kept Glass Creek on our left as we climbed up through our last bit of brush. To keep our minds off of tired legs, we played a game of switchback categories. Before we knew it, we were there! We’d made it to the TUNDRA! We reveled in the beautiful scenery and sang our remix to “Thunder”. TUNDRA, oooaahhoooahhh ahhh ahhhh, TUNDRA! We camped next to two glassy ponds that reflected the mountains above. Definitely a favorite campsite. As cook crew got to work, the rest of the group explored the area. Meredith, Lauren, and Will Garvin found a great view, which inspired meaningful conversation. Soon it was dinner time! You know the rest.
The next morning, we woke the kiddos up to a surprise pancake feast! In the early morning hours, there was a bit of fog and some clouds that the sun quickly burned off. We took advantage of the warmth and baked in the sun before setting our sights on the next campsite. It’s in these moments that we truly appreciate simple gifts like the sun to warm our bones. Day 5 was a shorter day, meant to set us up for our big pass day to come. We got moving under the leadership of Ellie Del and Will Gamson, our chosen LODs. Before we began, they looked over the maps together without our guidance. They really had a handle on the navigation for the day. Ellie led the group on an excellent path and with a steady pace. After going up and down rolling hills, the pass—our summit for the following day—came into view. There’s something to say for being able to visualize exactly what you must overcome. We settled in for a chilly night of rest, keeping our sights on our goal for the next day.
After hiking for 5 days in the Alaskan wilderness, you tend to forget about mileage. Mileage is in no way the obstacle we overcome when in the backcountry. It’s all about terrain. For example, on Day 6, we went up and over a mountain pass in the Talkeetnas. To do so successfully, we had to determine which pass was ours to summit and how to get there. We scouted the previous day and had a plan ready, but as it goes, we met some adversity in the form of weather. The decision was made to delay our start and hope for the weather to break. Indeed, after a couple hours of extra rest, the fog cleared to reveal a fresh smattering of snow melt on the peaks above. This made it possible to see the pass once more. We geared up like warriors and prepared to make the pass—our highest point of the backpacking trip! Our LODs were Russel and Ruby. These two were well equipped for the job and played a huge role in the success of the day. Before setting off, Russel told us all it was our day to become legendary. With that bit of motivation, we were on our way. Going up, we held a steady pace and evaluated our path. We hit some patches of recent snow melt, adding another obstacle. These patches are softer mud and rock that sink when you step on them. With quick feet, we got past them as a team. The kids really took leadership of themselves and their peers in this moment. Slowly but surely we made it up, and soon we were looking out at a completely new mountain range. It was a beautiful sight , and we basked in our summit moment. The kids chose this as their highest high moment. They celebrated this by opening the secret dragon egg, reserved for highest highs or lowest lows. After opening it, they saw the candy we taped up for them. They scarfed down the sugar and braved the windy pass for a good while. We had lunch at the top, took loads of pictures, and planned our descent. Going down was the more tricky half of the day. We went slowly and planned each foot fall. As we descended, we were all in communication with one another, ensuring that each teammate got down safely. On the way, we saw all the elements! White blankets of snow, “couscous” snow, rain, wind and, finally, SUNSHINE! When we got down to more level terrain, we saw an opportunity to do a monk walk, where we all walk in solitude and reflection. It was a beautiful moment enjoyed by all. At the end, we had arrived at camp! It was quite a scene. Dasha took off into a snow pile and others followed for snow angels and snowball fights! Once we had settled, we rewarded ourselves with a warm meal and a good night’s sleep. Out there, it’s the simple things that bring us joy.
Our seventh day of backpacking was the longest and most challenging of the whole trip. We filled ourselves with hot oatmeal and layered up for a chilly descent to start the day. Downward we walked from our campsite into the headwaters of an unnamed drainage alongside which we would be walking for most of the day. As we crossed the headwaters, we looked up and marveled at the magnificent cirque looming above. Not a lot of people get to experience the majesty of the Talkeetnas like that. For the next 6 hours or so, we ambled up and down the south side of the drainage valley, crossing fields of tundra moss, scree and snow. Fuller and Dasha really stepped up to the plate as LODs, scouting the way and frequently managing the group dynamic. We lost track of how many times the weather changed suddenly and dramatically. It was a grueling traverse, but before too long we were descending towards the Chickaloon River. After that, we counted drainages to reach the “30-mile Landing Strip” campsite. All said and done, it was a 12-hour day of hiking! Ellie treated us to her famous Jambalaya, and we ended the long day, as always, with a Moonup. Meredith and Will Garvin were chosen as LODs. Meredith for her calming yet powerful presence, and Will for his constant fun attitude. We collapsed into our tents with smiles on our faces.
Day 8 was a glorious and much-needed rest day spent reading, relaxing and stuffing our faces by the glacial torrents of the Chickaloon. We also shared games and stories. It was a great day of getting to know each other even better and coming together as a group, especially on the heels of such an epic day of hiking. We sealed it off with some hearty soup and a deep Moonup.
We woke up early the following day to prep for our first day of rafting! It was so cool seeing the bush planes zoom in right above us to drop our guides and gear. There was much work to be done before actually getting on the river. We inflated and mounted boats, shuffled gear, and went over safety protocol with our guides, Peter, John, Jonny, and Gareth. After a delectable lunch, we hopped in our boats and set off on the braided channels of the Chickaloon. That morning’s sun gave way to some cold, windy and wet weather, but we didn’t let it get us down! We were hooting and hollering joyously all the while. We made camp that night on a gorgeous rocky beach and gorged ourselves on enchiladas. It was a good day…
As all prime time days do, our second day of rafting began with glorious breakfast burritos and dancing. The group impressed the guides with their readiness and we were on the water quickly. In the first few minutes on the water, Will Garvin took a little swim after the boat bumped a rock, only to be quickly and safely pulled back into the boat by his buddy Will Gamson. There was even more whitewater this day than the first, and perhaps even more singing. Needless to say it was a fantastic end to our time in the Talkeetnas. We unloaded boats and settled into the Nova Base at Chickaloon for some more R&R. The guides bade us farewell after preparing us one last meal. The sun was a’shining and we took advantage of the fine weather by drying out all of our gear. This is the backcountry equivalent of a spa day, and we soaked it up. Russel even pioneered a new healing modality of “Falling Rock Massage”. That night, we had access to a kitchen and fixed up a wonderful stir fry feast. We closed it out with a great Moonup and retreated to our tents. And now, all of the sudden, we’re heading to Whittier to begin the final leg of our trip—sea kayaking! Time flies when you’re having fun. We’ll let you know how it all shakes out!
Ellie, Allie and Davis
July 19, 2018
*We apologize for the delay with this update. The group has not had access to service until now!*
Greetings, friends and loved ones! As is always the case, our trip is already flying by with the first activity complete. After our first few nights, we could tell we had another great crew on our hands. The first few days were spent ice climbing and preparing for backpacking—a great combination for us to get ourselves ready and establish a strong group dynamic. Meredith and Ellie Del were our first LODs, having been active leaders right off the bat, getting games going and engaging the group.
Ice climbing on the Matanuska Glacier was breathtaking. On our first day, we got a good intro to the glacier itself and to the thrilling sport of ice climbing. There is a lot to learn when it comes to exploring a glacier. Our guides Petra, Pat, and David showed us the ins and outs of walking on ice as they guided us to our first climb site. We stood at a large, curving wall beside a glacial pool. Across from us were massive gnarled ice chunks and ice falls. It’s was a beautiful and humbling sight to say the least. Eager to try out her first ice climb, Ellie Del quickly volunteered to go first. Turns out we have a group full of natural ice climbers. We can attribute this to their “go-getter” attitudes and physical capabilities. The guides were impressed with our skills and decided to pick more challenging, unique climbs the next day. That night we feasted on delicious curry prepared by a lively cook crew of Fuller, Ruby, Ellie Del, and Dasha. While cook crew was rolling, the others were playing cards together and laughing. Lauren has displayed a particular proficiency in making us all laugh with her hilarious stories. We’re sure this will prove as great trail entertainment.
Day 2 of ice climbing was spectacular. Our LODs had us inspired all day between Will Gar.’s words of encouragement and Dasha’s amazing affirmation cards. We had an amazing breakfast and set out on our way. Pat set up a route for us down a CREVASSE! He would lower us down into the crevasse then we would climb back out. It was so impressive seeing everyone go for it. David and Petra set up climbs as well. They would also lower us down but into the pool we stood beside the first day. These climbs were longer and gave us a closer view of the gnarled ice from the day before. Hannah, admittedly afraid of heights, was the first to go! She bravely crushed it all day. Anyone not climbing was dancing joyously to keep warm on the breezy glacier. There was one moment we looked around and saw Hadley just blissing out, dancing with a big ole smile plastered on her face. It was a great day filled with achievement, lightheartedness, adventure, and opportune timing. For example, when David was lowering Russel down an ice face over water, we heard a massive sound by the gnarled ice. It was a huge calving in the glacier! Don’t worry, Russel caught it all on his GoPro. (And we were completely safe). Will Gam. also got some good GoPro footage. The day before, he’d forgotten to turn it on, so we all reminded him as he dropped down into the crevasse. What a sight that was. Ruby impressed the guides with her agile climbing capabilities, kicking her way up the climbs. Must be all that soccer! Rebecca graciously found herself the first one to receive some nicknames. So far, we’ve tried out Reba, Rebel and a name she earned on her Moondance trip last year, Savage Rebecca. She’s a tough one. We’ll let you know which one sticks…
Throughout our time at Nova, we have been teaching the group lessons about backpacking to get them ready for our 8-day journey through the Talkeetnas—the meat of the trip. Tomorrow, we begin. We are ready to hit the trail and grow as a unit. YEEEHAWWW!
Also, we realize this will not get to you until after we have started backpacking. We can’t apologize enough for keeping you waiting but rest assured that we are having an absolute blast.
July 6, 2018
Hello Northern Lights Families!
We heard from Ellie, Davis and Allie – All students arrived safely in Anchorage last night, and the trip is off to a great start. Stay tuned for more news from their adventures.