July 10, 2019
After a car ride along the Alaskan highways, we returned to our starting point of Anchorage and settled in for our last night together. We set up tents and unpacked bags before enjoying luxurious showers to scrub away the dirt, not the memories, of the past two weeks.
Before falling asleep for the last time together under the midnight sun, we shared our final Moonup and reflected on our favorite parts of the trip and what we learned from our experiences in the backcountry of Alaska. As LODs, Hayes and Sarah facilitated a thoughtful and meaningful reflection of our two weeks together and we all opened up about the special bonds we created as a group and how Moondance has impacted our lives in such a short period of time.
Max shared his gratitude for the group’s dynamics, and Frannie raved about all the trip’s activities and beautiful scenery we saw. Tears started to flow as we realized this would be the last time we would be together for Moonup, and we ended the night with a giant group hug.
This morning started off with a pleasant surprise: sleeping in and eating some Krispy Kreme doughnuts to celebrate Gaits’s 16th birthday! Everyone jumped out of their tents to come eat and sing for the birthday boy’s special day. While everyone was still waking up, Henry, Loren, and Jane Ivey started an impressively silent game of ultimate frisbee that got the whole gang involved.
Once we finished our breakfast and wrote letters to ourselves, the group packed all of their belongings up and headed to a great local pizzeria for the final banquet meal. We split up into teams of two and ordered a pizza for each group. Kayla and Frannie absolutely devoured their pizza before anyone else!
During lunch we passed around pieces of paper to write thoughtful notes to each person in our crew. We continued on with our downtown trek and checked out different local gift shops to pick up knick knacks for friends and family back home. Jem found a super cool sweatshirt that he rocked for the rest of our time together!
As we headed back to our campsite, we passed by a local ice creamery where we each picked up a scoop of handmade dessert in a freshly rolled waffle cone. We walked back to pack up our things into the bus and took a final ride through Anchorage to the airport. The goodbyes were tough. It has been an absolute joy to lead these ten amazing kids. We have each learned so much from them and are so grateful they were a part of our trip. It’s hard to believe that by the time the group reads this update, they’ll be hundreds of miles away. Thank you each for an incredible two weeks of unforgettable memories!
Kayla: We’re going to miss your smile, keen sense of humor, and kind heart. Thank you for always being ready to cheer anyone up and help anyone out.
Max: We’re going to miss your genuine heart and strong leadership presence. Thank you for always making us laugh and caring about the entire group’s wellbeing.
Hayes: We’re going to miss the way you led the group and brought everyone together so naturally. Thank you for always being reliable and selfless.
Frannie: We’re going to miss your beautiful words and how you always had everyone’s back. Thank you for being down to earth, honest, and spunky.
Loren: We’re going to miss your energy and your natural ability to bring the best out in all of us. Thank you for always supporting the group and maintaining positive group morale.
Gaits: We’re going to miss your loving nature and constant focus on how to help the group. Thank you for being our solid rock and loving all of us fiercely.
Sarah: We’re going to miss your creativity, natural outdoor skills, and compassion for others. Thank you for your genuine interest in people and constant optimism.
Jem: We’re going to miss your sense of adventure and love for experiencing new things. Thank you for always bringing spontaneity into our lives and dropping nuggets of knowledge.
Jane Ivey: We’re going to miss your fearlessness and altruism. Thank you for always putting the group before yourself WITH the biggest smile on your face.
Henry: We’re going to miss your humor and your confidence to let yourself shine. Thank you for always lifting everyone’s spirits and letting your genuine self always show.
All of MID 2/Oakapeet: You each are so special and incredible. Thank you for the best Moondance ever!!
Max, Olivia, and Liza
July 9, 2019
After our amazing backpacking accomplishment, it was time for a little relaxation on the river! After a drive on the famous and historic McCarthy Road, which is only one of two roads that can take you to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, we continued on our way to our rafting put in on the Copper River. After last minute water refills and sunscreen application, we hit the water.
The water looks like light chocolate milk because of all of the silt from the glaciers which everyone thought was so cool! We rafted only a short bit before getting to our river campsite for the night. We all set up camp and threw the football around. Gaits and Max were sure to help everyone perfect their football throw. We kept practicing until it was time for dinner which was burgers and hot dogs!
We ate our dinner family style (like always) and watched the “Alaskan sunset” in awe. Before Moonup, we were lucky enough to have s’mores as a delightful dessert. Our LODs Jane Ivey and Hayes led a fun Moonup where we shared our favorite songs and picked moments in our lives we wanted to relive. We continue to grow closer, and it’s still so amazing to watch this group come together.
We woke up to the smell of bacon sizzling on the griddle and after stepping out of our tents, were greeted by our lovely rafting guides handing out freshly made French toast and a variety of fruit. We devoured the food in no time, eager to start our first full day on the river! We packed up our dry bags and loaded the boats and before we knew it, we were riding the rapids of the Copper River.
Max R.’s boat spent the first half of the day jamming out to tunes and discussing favorite artists and concerts they’ve attended. Henry was a wiz at song recognition and had a long list of all of his go-to music. Liza’s boat a.k.a. “the chill boat” got their tans on and took leisurely naps in the warm Alaskan sun. During the rapid sections, though, Loren hopped in the back and led the team in synchronized paddling strokes to swerve through obstacles. Olivia’s boat sang karaoke and collected a prized stick from the side of the river which Sarah used to declare everyone a wizard. Frannie also led the our crew by being the first to dunk in the chilly river and swim alongside the boat.
We took a quick stop at a sandbar for lunch and had delicious sandwiches with plenty of toppings. Right before we were about to depart, one of our guides spotted a baby bird that we all watched successfully swim across a stream to reach its mamma. Once back on the water, we continued with games on our individual rafts but also had a few splash wars using paddles. Jem was an expert at pointing out specific water features and educated everyone on his boat with his great knowledge. On our way to our campsite for the night, one boat stopped to collect some water from a nearby creek and was the fastest to fill up multiple jugs.
After reaching our final destination for the night, everyone lined up in a fire line to unload the gear and we immediately began cooking dinner and setting up tents. Dinner was scrumptious burritos that we all topped with a variety of hot sauces. Gaits and Frannie led us in an interesting Moonup where we learned each other’s hidden talents and shared plenty of laughs. Exhausted from the full day in the sun, we crawled in our tents and fell asleep to the sound of the babbling river.
Our third day of rafting began with another smashing breakfast consisting of pancakes and syrup, bacon, and more hot chocolate and cider. After we packed our bags back into the rafts and loaded our groups into each boat, we hit the water for a nice morning float. The water was flowing at quite a fast pace, and we covered 20 miles until lunch! There were tons of bald eagles flying all around us and the guides were great at answering questions and teaching us about the Alaskan wildlife. We used our lunch break to hang out and eat on a small island in the middle of the river. Kayla, Loren, Jane Ivey, Frannie, and Sarah all turned the mud from the ground into cleansing face masks with Olivia! It was a hilarious sight. In the meantime, Jem and Henry managed to get their feet so stuck in the mud that they couldn’t budge. Regardless, both scenes made for great photo-ops.
The afternoon portion of the day brought splash wars, swimming, and tons of laughter. As soon as he heard the news that the water was warm enough to swim, Jane Ivey immediately jumped in, and so did the rest of us! With the sun beating down on us all day, it was refreshing to get into water that wasn’t completely freezing cold. When we arrived at our campsite, which was on an extensive island with small streams flowing through, Gaits, Loren, Max, and Henry quickly set up our spikeball net and got a few games going. Max and Henry also taught a few people how to play spikeball, including Kayla and Hayes. It was an awesome way to wrap up the afternoon. Just before dinner, Hayes, Jem, and the rest of the boys discovered a nice little swimming area on the backside of the island, and the whole gang joined for an awesome cooling session. Dinner was a delicious Italian meal followed by some warm banana pudding.
Our penultimate Moonup was filled with laughs and bonding. Our LODs, Sarah and Henry, were great in rallying up the troops for another great session. The question for the night asked what time period you’d time travel to and what your occupation in that moment would be! Everyone had a great response, ranging from being Loren’s job of being Cleopatra in ancient Egypt to Frannie’s occupation as an eye doctor in the ‘80s. Our second to last day on the river was a great one, and everyone seemed content when we went to bed.
Our last day on the river was short, but jam packed with fun. Max R.’s boat once again rocked out to music. Liza’s boat was quite energetic and played a variety of games, including a crowd favorite of veggie-offs. Henry, Loren, and Kayla were giving it their all. The whole boat was in stitches. They even challenged Max R.’s boat! Jem was a worthy competitor. Meanwhile, Olivia’s boat was playing word games, led by Sarah. In no time, we were off the river and shuffling our gear around preparing for the trek to Anchorage.
We can’t believe we only have 24 hours left with these ten amazing teenagers. We are going to continue to cherish each moment with them. Thank you all for sharing your kids with us for these two weeks. It’s been nothing short of incredible, and we feel so incredibly fortunate.
Talk again very soon!
Olivia, Max, and Liza
July 5, 2019
Howdy family and friends!
We began our glacier trek across the ice by gearing up with mountaineering boots, crampons, and warm layers! Everyone was eager to see the Root Glacier in all its glory. Our pace was steady and quick — we got to the climbing wall in no time! We dined on the ice and had the coldest water yet to wash down our delicious lunch!
Our guides set up three routes and Sarah was chomping at the bit to try one first! She absolutely crushed it, and we were all shocked that she never ice climbed or even rock climbed before. Her technique and grace took her up that ice like a true natural. Jem was also quite stoked to try every route as soon as possible. His first choice was the toughest route! It was so fun watching him turn into a complete ice monkey and tear up the ice so he could get to the top.
The entire group enjoyed these routes tremendously and everyone made it to the top of every route at least once — but many people twice! At one point, Max R. and I looked at each other, cheesing hard, and said, “Wow, they are killing it and having the time of their lives!” We looked around at everyone and only saw shiny white teeth in the biggest smiles. Everyone was filled with joy and pride, especially the two of us.
Next we headed up and around the climbing wall which brought us to an even more stunning view that included the Stairway Icefall, a 7,000 foot vertical wall of ice. Even though the landscape is right in front of us, it’s still hard to fathom the vastness and greatness of this place. While we took in the scenery and snapped a few photos, our guides set up two more routes that led us down into a moulin (a giant hole that leads deep into the glacier).
The moulin routes were especially cool because we got to lower ourselves down into it, see the blue hole, and experience significantly cooler temperatures! Gaits quickly faced his fear of falling and jumped right up to go in the first group. He ice climbed back up a few moments later beaming with accomplishment! Once again, the whole group tried the routes and absolutely loved it. I think it’s safe to say that we have a dozen new stellar ice climbers on our hands!
Once the day was over, we headed back across the ice to our campsite to start dinner and begin mentally preparing for our big hike tomorrow. Dinner was chicken pasta primavera and also a HUGE HIT. Henry impressed us with his veggie sautéing skills, while Kayla and Sarah tag teamed seasoning the noodles, chicken, and sauce.
With full bellies, we headed to our favorite Moonup spot that overlooks the glacier, icefall, and Mt. Blackburn to have an incredible conclusion to the day. Hayes and Jane Ivey helped us reflect on our huge and successful day and helped us acknowledge all that we have to look forward to on this trip.
The next day, we woke up ready for our huge trek ahead. We did stretching, pump up talks, and lots of cheering. We arrived yet again at the Root Glacier, but this time we would be crossing the entire sheet of ice! Now that we were seasoned ice climbers, everyone put their crampONs with ease. Our LODs, Henry and Sarah, led the charge and kept the morale high as we crunched through the two miles of ice, taking in the scenery along the way. Jem was always sure to spot out blue holes, unique curves in the ice, and deep moulins. Once we reached the end of the glacier, Donoho Peak was plain in sight. We climbed up a steep lateral moraine and reached our lunch spot for the day: Lower Donoho. This spot had the most incredible views of the entire Root Glacier and its glory, along with Donoho Basin, which looked like a completely to world to us — full of green shrubs. No more ice this way! (Or will there be?!)
After a crowd favorite lunch of summer sausage, cheese, peanut butter, and Nutella, we began making our way through the true Alaskan bush. The air was different than the cool, icy glacial breeze we were used to. Instead it was warm and the air was thick. We kept close and were sure to chat and sing our way through the trail so we could alert all wildlife that a group of rambunctious teens were coming through! Less than 50 people make their way to the Donoho area each year, which makes this land incredibly pristine and virtually untouched. All of your kids are true Alaskan bushwackers now! Frannie pointed out that we were practically all Indiana Jones! And Loren took the liberty to creatively name our group the Oakapeet tribe that we have fully embraced!
Although we didn’t see the most iconic Alaska wildlife (a bear — which we leaders were totally okay with), we did run into a small family of grouses which was quite the sight to see. The momma grouse led us away to protect her babies and was quite fierce with her puffing and squawking! We all had mad respect for her since she was a small fraction of our size and very outnumbered.
We passed two lakes before reaching our final destination: Upper Donoho Lakes. The air tasted crisp and the campsite was inviting. Exhausted from the day, we made camp as quickly as possible so we could start dinner and head to bed for a well deserved night’s sleep. Hayes, Loren, and Frannie whipped up a delicious dinner of fajitas with all the fixins. We enjoyed our cooking and conversations with, of course, and incredible view, this time of the magnificent Donoho Peak, Upper Donoho Lake, and the Gates Glacier (that we have obviously renamed the Gaits Glacer). Moonup was fun and energetic even though we all were wiped out from be day. Everyone shared their B+ super power which is always entertaining.
What’s better to do after a day of long hiking a bushwhacking? A rest day! Everyone slept in which was quite delightful. Max R. and I were ready to get out surprise pancake and peanut butter M&Ms brunch going when Henry popped his head into our cooking tent. Gaits was there soon after. They volunteered for our cook crew, and we were so grateful. The two boys quickly became pancake masters and make the most incredible breakfast yet! The rest of the group was stoked and surprised to have such a delight in the backcountry.
The rest of the day was spent lounging, playing cards, talking, throwing frisbee, and trading snacks. Surprisingly, the free market worked well for everyone, and each person wound up with exactly the snacks they were searching for. Max was especially happy to have grown his fruit leather inventory.
Later in the afternoon, we made our way to the edge of the lake to enjoy the scenery together. The girls and guys were a bit spread apart, but still managed to fully interact by doing a makeshift riff off, led by Frannie, Sarah, and Jane Ivey. Pretty sure the girls won 😉 Smiles never left our faces. Upper Donoho was our clubhouse, and we had a blast.
Since the kids have been working so hard hiking, packing and setting up camp, cooking and cleaning, Max R. and I decided we would give them all the night off for dinner and cooked them pita pizzas (or what I like to call backcountry calzones). They were a huge success! It’s not delivery; it’s not DiGorno’s; it’s moonpizza!
Kayla and Gaits led an INCREDIBLE Moonup up on a ridge that overlooked BOTH the Kennecott Glacier and the Gaits (hehe) Glacier. This group doesn’t stop laughing and loving each other. They are amazing. Kayla and Gaits asked us, “If you could give to one charity, what would it be and why?” Each person had the most thoughtful and genuine answers. To think that these kids are hardly at the beginning of their high school careers and already recognize the change the world needs to see and what they can do to help is inspiring. We ended Moonup by a moment of silent meditation (which we had done a couple of times already) so we could truly soak in the environment around us. We’re in the middle of everywhere.
Our last full day of backpacking was yet again impressive. The group collectively decided to push it all the way back to our first campsite, Amazon Creek. This was quite the feat considering we were all a little bit sore and beaten down, but nothing could break our spirits! We were ready to conquer both the Alaskan bush and Root Glacier once more!! And that is exactly what we did — in record time!
When we got to Amazon Creek, we celebrated together, recognizing that we were wiped. Everyone hung out until dinner, napping, talking, and snacking, until Henry and Hayes volunteering for southwest chicken quesadilla cook crew. Be prepared for these kiddos to come home and whip you up something nice! Dinner was a hit, and we all moseyed our way over to a new Moonup spot where Loren and Max led a fantastic hour together. We each shared something we learned from backpacking and ended in silent meditation (the group’s new favorite activity).
Today, our final morning in the backcountry began with waking up he group with two great American songs: “Born in the USA” and “Party in the USA” which everyone sang along to sleepily. Happy 4th! Once the group was up and moving, we started to chow down on hashbrowns (not quite scattered, smothered, and covered, but close!). Max R. and I wanted to commemorate everyone’s hard work throughout backpacking, so we picked trail names for everyone that we thought represented their character and unique piece to the group. Here are everyone’s trail names!
Max: Sargent Leather
Jane Ivey: Sump Queen
Jem: Ice Monkey
Sarah: Trail Bird
Gaits: Sir Glacier
Kayla: Sweet Potato
Hayes: Mt. Drom
Our hike out of the backcountry was a breeze! Trail conversations quickly turned into singing the National Anthem as well as other American songs. Henry and Kayla started chatting about rafting and how excited they were to be on the river relaxing. We joked that it was a vacation on our vacation.
Once we got back to the trailhead, we piled in the van to our good ole campsite in a McCarthy meadow. We set up camp AND WERE REUNITED WITH OLIVIA! Whose ankle is feeling much better! Then we rewarded ourselves by taking a refreshing dip in the nearby creek. Alaskan glacier water never felt so good! Since we were slightly cleaner, we were ready for town! We dined at the only restaurant in McCarthy called the Potato. We were lucky enough to snag a table outside and watched local live music while we ate delicious meals. It was only fitting to top this meal off with ice cream at the local creamery. Yum!
Moonup was once again beautiful and meaningful. The group continues to grow closer to one another through challenges, laughter, vulnerability, and genuine care for each other. We love these kids so much! Here are some shoutouts from them! And Happy 4th!!
Jem: I’m having a great time! Alaska is beautiful and my group is amazing!
Frannie: Hey Mom! I hope you’re having fun at home. I’m having tons!!! See you in August!
Sarah: Hi family! I’m having so much fun and I love my group. Miss you and love you guys so much.
Henry: Dear Mom, thank you so much for letting me have this opportunity to go on this amazing trip to Alaska. Everybody in my group and my leaders are all amazing!
Max: Hey everyone! I’m having such a blast!! Thanks for sending me on this trip — everyone is awesome. My leader Max has a really cool shirt.
Kayla: Hey Family! I’m having a great time! I love my group and miss you guys!
Jane Ivey: Hey! Thank you guys so much for sending me on this trip. I’m having so much fun and everything is amazing!
Gaits: Hey family! I’m having a great time. My group and leaders are amazing. Thank y’all for letting me come on this trip. Miss you love you!
Hayes: Hey guys! I’m having so much fun here. I can’t wait to come back here with you!
Loren: Hey fam! I’m having so much fun! I can’t wait to see you. I love you and I miss you.
Olivia: Hey! I am consistently taken aback by the beauty of my surroundings and I’m grateful to be here. Miss you!
Liza: Hi friends and family! It’s been incredible so far! Truly beautiful and this group of kids is amazing. They are all rockstars. Miss you all!!
Max R. Hello everyone!
We head out to raft tomorrow morning and are super pumped!
Talk again soon,
Max, Liza, and Olivia
June 30, 2019
Greetings from the Last Frontier and the largest national park in the U.S.!
Our Alaskan adventure began just a few days ago in the Anchorage airport where 10 strangers from five different states and one other country came together, excited and nervous to explore the wilderness for the next two weeks.
Slowly but surely everyone arrived, and when most of us got in we played a fun game of baloney sandwich (BS), which Jem sneakily won! We had some great local pizza before heading to our campsite on the other side of Anchorage. Everyone slept really well before our big day of traveling to McCarthy the next day.
We started Day 2 with a beautiful and scenic drive to Chitina, Alaska. We all piled our gear into a trailer and ourselves into the van. The drive was stunning with views of the Chugach Mountain Range, alpine trees and lakes, several glimmering rivers, and one huge blue sky. We all were taken aback by each view, gasping in awe in unison. The smooth roads and gradual curves put some people into a slight slumber, while others, like Frannie, Loren, and Sarah started making friendship bracelets. The rest of the crew starting prepping for backpacking by brainstorming different trail games to play during hikes and camp time.
After much anticipation, we finally arrived at the Chitina Airport to take our flight to McCarthy. This flight replaces the 2.5 hour drive on McCarthy Road which is still gravel! The group was pretty surprised to see only a gravel landing strip instead of a building with check in counters, multiple gates, and security. The thirteen of us split into three Alaskan bush planes — a new experience for everyone! We took off a few moments later and began navigating our way through the Wrangell Mountains. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the window as our pilot pointed out wildlife (some saw a moose!), braided glacial ricers, and different mountains like Mt. Blackburn (the fifth tallest mountain in North America), Mt. Drum, and Donoho Peak (a mountain we will soon be very familiar with).
As we landed on the McCarthy airstrip, our guides for the next several days, Brendan and Maxfield, greeted us with warm smiles and an eagerness to get started! We jumped in the van to head to Kennecott, a very small town with a huge history, to take a tour of the Kennecott Mine. The mine is the tallest freestanding building in the county, sitting at 14 stories tall, with all the original structures. We learned a ton, and Max was keen on keeping track of all the fun facts and impressed us all when he remembered them until the very end and could answer Brendan’s trivia questions.
The mine tour and all of that learning sure worked up an appetite, so we all were stoked to get to our campsite and start cooking delicious and juicy hamburgers. We ended the night with a beautiful Moonup lit up by our very own midnight sun!
Today marked our first day of backpacking into the backcountry! We woke up bright and early and did a quick duffel shuffle to sort out or clothes to bring for our next 6 days (minimalism is key!). We learned what to bring and not to bring, as well as how to properly pack our backpacks. Hayes was the first of us to get his backpack into tip top condition. Unfortunately, there was no getting around the heavy weight of our food, even when it’s split 12 different ways… but that seemed to be no problem for Gaits, who carried our heaviest bear bin!
We had great weather for the day, and everyone seemed to be super excited to finally get moving. After a quick stop in Kennecott to get our crampons and ice climbing boots fitted, we hit the trail and made it to our first campsite in no time! Along with Loren, Max was one of our Leaders of the Day (LODs) today, and they helped us facilitate setting up our tents at the campsite and organizing group gear. Kayla led the charge to get water for everyone, which was just a short walk to an icy cold creek.
The campsite has a wonderful view of the Wrangell and Chugach mountain ranges as well as a sweet sneak peak of the Root Glacier, which we will be hitting tomorrow! After we settled in, the cook crew prepared a nice “backcountry pad Thai” with instant ramen noodles, chicken, sautéed vegetables, egg, and a specially crafted peanut sauce made by Jane Ivey! It was a wonderful dinner. We wrapped up the day with an excellent Moonup and game of “psychiatrist” led by Henry. It was a great day, and everyone is incredibly excited for the ice climbing adventure tomorrow.
After that, we’re headed deeper into the backcountry over the next few days and couldn’t be more excited to walk on massive glaciers, climb on stunning ice, and hike on beautiful trails!
Until then, happy trails!
June 28, 2019
Hello Midnight Sun families!
All students have arrived safely in Anchorage, and are already back at their campsite getting rested and ready for their big adventure. We can’t wait to hear about their first activities!