July 26, 2019
It’s hard to believe we’re already sending in our final update. As the group headed back through the doors of the Anchorage airport earlier today, it felt like it was only moments ago that we were exiting these very same doors with a group of 12 strangers. Now, two weeks have flown by, twenty miles have been trekked, eighty miles have been floated, and countless memories have been made. 12 strangers no more!
After we arrived back to our starting point of Anchorage last night, we set up camp one final time and had our final Moonup. We all sat in the grass and reflected on what it means to truly live in the moment, something we all feel like we’ve mastered. We reminisced on our favorite moments of the trip, ice climbing, our rest and bonding day at Upper Donoho Lakes, seeing the bear during backpacking, our funny raft guides, and all our random inside jokes. Diving a little deeper, we each shared a moment during the trip that was a growth point. We all experienced the same trip, but all took away something special and unique. Our backpacking adventure presented its own challenges, and our group overcame them with strength and teamwork. It was powerful to hear everyone reflect on their personal journey and support one another in our growth and achievement.
Today (our last day), we slept in a little before completing some end of trip tasks like cleaning gear and eating the rest of our food! We had time for more reflection before our town day, so we wrote letters to ourselves and thought about things we want to achieve in our future. Our morning worked up an appetite, so we headed to downtown Anchorage for our final banquet lunch. We dined at an incredible wood-fired pizza spot where we chowed down a variety of pies. Then, we explored a few gift shops for souvenirs before topping it all off with delicious and local ice cream. Time was going by too quickly and before we knew it, we were piling into the bus to head to the airport to say our farewells and split off in many different directions. Parents, thank you so much for sharing your kids with us for these past two weeks. It has been a true blessing adventuring around Alaska with the twelve of them. They each bring something amazing and special to the table, and we learned so much from them by watching them overcome challenges, form inseparable bonds, and step up as leaders. Kids, we miss you so much already! It’s weird that you’ll be at home or well on your way there by the time you read this. Thank you for being a great group to end the summer on. You guys brought so much life and fun to the group, and we’ll miss all of your giggling and shenanigans. It’s never goodbye, so see ya later!
Liza and Max
July 25, 2019
Hello everyone! We’ve just made it off the Copper River and have lots to share! Our river journey started just a few days ago when we said “see ya later” (never goodbye!) to Kennecott, Mt. Blackburn, Donoho, and McCarthy. We loaded into the van and hit McCarthy Road, a 59-mile gravel road that is one of two entrances into the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. After a few bumps on the road, we made it to our river put-in where our guides and boats were waiting for us. The ride was short that day, but filled with adventure, including an arctic fox sighting! Cooper, Walker, Harrigan, and Millie were the lucky few to see this amazing animal before it scurried off into the woods. BUT everyone was lucky enough to see another cool wildlife moment – a bald eagle with a bright orangish-pink salmon at its talons! Classic Alaska. We got to camp that night and dined on hamburgers and hotdogs while we lounged by the river.
Our second day of rafting was complete with sunny weather, polar plunges, rowing lessons, and good food. Since Alaska hasn’t had a lot of rain this month, the air is hotter and the water is warmer, meaning that a quick dip in the river is warranted and refreshing. After Mack, Mille, Harrigan, and Meg all tried rowing the boat with the huge oars, it was time to play around in the water. Harrigan yet again led the charge to jump in the glacially fed water, followed soon by Walker and Cooper. The three of them had a blast jumping in and pulling each other back out only to jump in all over again. The splashing wasn’t over yet because soon enough everyone was in the middle of an all-our splash war. One boat with Mack, Meg, Winn, and Elizabeth came charging forth to splash attack Walker, Cooper, Harrigan, and Millie. It was a fair battle until the gear boat with guides Ty and Cody completely drenched both boats. Everyone retreated from the scene and quickly dried out in the sun.
Our campsite for the night was beautiful and right along a majestic river bend. We concluded pasta night dinner with good ole fashioned s’mores! As many of you know, building s’mores is an art. We had some pretty amazing golden brown marshmallows followed by a few charred ones! All were delicious. Many of the boys were less concerned about the roasting of their mallow and more conceded about finding the biggest and longest stick to roast from. It was a funny sight to see. We had a great Moonup, led by Cooper and Elizabeth, where we discussed which time period we would want to live in and why and what our job would be. It was fun to hear everyone’s answers – lots of people wanted to experience the 90s and what it was like to see the new millennium. Winn’s answer was the biggest outlier, as he wanted to live in the 1400s to be a pirate!
After some solid sleep, the kids awoke the next morning to the sound of our river guide singing that it was time for breakfast! It was chillier this morning so we were sure to load up on French toast and hot chocolate. The clouds looked full of drizzle, so we bundled up in layers and rain gear and set out for another full day of rafting. We continued to see lots of bald eagles, some of which flew right above our rafts! Boats braved the cold by doing some extra paddling or by huddling up close in the front of the boat!
We arrived to our river island campsite a little damp from the Alaskan rain and wind, so we quickly set up camp and had tent time to warm up and relax. Some took naps. Others, like Justin and Pope, played a unique and addicting card game called Exploding Kittens! Helen cruised through her book and couldn’t get enough of it! Parents, you will be excited to know that several of your kiddos are reading (or have FINISHED!) their summer reading! Dinner was accompanied by a roaring fire (even though its July!) and incredible burritos and apple cinnamon cake.
Today was our last day of rafting 🙁 and our “see ya later” to the Wrangells altogether. We soaked up every minute and every ray of sunshine we could on the last stretch of the Copper River. Josephine, Elizabeth, and Millie were sure to document our whole trip, recording fun moments on their GoPros, and that didn’t stop today. We all gave different messages to the camera with huge mountains as our background. This same boat, along with Cooper, also had the great fortune of seeing another black bear! He was only visible for a moment before he ran off (probably to find soap berries to eat). Soon enough, we got to our takeout, and our rafting expedition was complete!
We’re now on our way back to Anchorage for our final moments together. It’s been a wild ride, and we can’t believe our time in the Last Frontier is coming to an end.
We know you’ll be with your kids soon, but here are shoutouts from the group!
Max and Liza
Pope: Hey Mom, Dad, and Hal! Can’t wait to see you and get to sleep in a real bed. I’ve had so much fun!
Harrigan: Hey Mom and Dad + family! I really miss you guys. I’ll see you in less than 48 hours and can’t wait to see y’all!
Millie: Hey Mom and Dad! I’ve had such a great time on this trip. Thanks for sending me. Can’t wait to see y’all!
Walker: Miss you guys! Thank you for letting me go on this trip. See you soon!
Cooper: Hi parents! Thank you for sending me on this trip. I’ve had a lot of fun!
Meg: Hi Mom and Dad! Love y’all so much. Miss you. Thank you so much for sending me on this trip. When I get back we’re going to Olexa’s because I’ve been craving it this entire time!
Elizabeth: Hey Mom and Dad! Miss y’all and I’m having a great time. See you soon!! Love y’all!
Mack: Hi mom and dad! I’ve had fun on my trip! I’m excited to see you.
Winn: Hey family! I’ve had such a fun trip. Shoutout to ground bear and my parents. See you soon miss you!
Helen: Hi mom and dad! Thanks for letting me have this opportunity to go on this trip. I’ve been having so much fun. I miss you guys and I can’t wait to see you and dogs soon!
Justin: Hi family! I’ve been having a great time in Alaska going rafting and backpacking. Thank you for sending me! See you soon!!
Josephine: Hi everybody! I’m having so much fun in Alaska. Thank you for sending me on this trip. Love y’all!
July 21, 2019
Before we began diving even deeper into the backcountry, we had an incredible day exploring the Root Glacier and trying our hand (and feet) at ice climbing. The group was eager to get on the ice and put crampons on quickly! The views were incredible, and we were lucky enough to see Mt. Blackburn and the Stairway Icefall, clearly and crisply! This is a rare occasion because there is usually lots of fog or clouds covering one or both.
Once we trekked over to our climbing site, people were eager to tie in to climb and belay! After a safety briefing, Millie was the first to try a route (and the hardest one at that), while Harrigan was ready to belay Pope on the other route! Both Pope and Millie cruised up the ice and could have easily passed for longtime professional climbers. And when they weren’t climbing, they were encouraging the rest of the group, giving suggestions on climbing techniques. Josephine conquered climbing for the first time AND belaying! It was cool to see her experience and master those two new skills in only a matter of minutes. Helen also looked like a professional and was always ready for a picture because of her constant smile and happy face!
After lunch and warm hot chocolate and apple cider, we headed over to a moulin for some more climbing! We all got to lower ourselves down into the moulin and then ice climb back out! The kids thoroughly enjoyed it and recognized that not many people their age can say they’ve done the same thing! After a very successful day of climbing (everyone in the group made it to the top multiple times!), we retreated back to our campsite to cook backcountry pad Thai and to get a good night’s rest before our big day of backpacking to Upper Donoho Lakes.
We awoke fresh and ready for the long journey ahead. Elizabeth and Helen were gracious enough to fill up everyone’s water bottle before we headed out to cross the glacier once again in order to get to Donoho. Packs on backs and we were off!
Justin led the pack, setting the group’s pace. Although crossing the glacier and lateral moraine was challenging, the group constantly kept up the positive attitudes and support. We had a lovely Greek lunch after successfully crossing the entire Root Glacier and began making our way through the Alaskan bush to Upper Donoho. The hike was very different from the glacier. We were stomping with boots instead of crampons, passing verdant bushes instead of white ice, and feeling low basin breezes instead of glacial AC. We continued to get further and further into the Donoho Basin with views of Mt. Blackburn, the Gaits Glacier, and the Kennecott Glacier getting closer and closer.
Alpine lake after alpine lake, we finally make it to our campsite, the fourth lake, feeling proud and tired. Cooper and Elizabeth were rockstars and volunteered for cook crew after our long night and prepared delicious fajitas for the group. Once we ate, somehow still with energy, Justin and Winn entertained us with their martial arts and gymnastics skills. Justin impressed us all with a roundhouse kick. He tried teaching us, but we just couldn’t get the hang of it. He makes it look so easy! Winn showed us some sweet gymnastics moves, none of which we tried 😉
To correctly abide by bear protocol and safety, a small group went to a nearby food storage locker to lock up pots and pans that had traces of our fajitas! Mack led the charge and was great about keeping the noise up to alert any wildlife that we were around so not to startle them.After a reflective Moonup on our hard work, we fell asleep quickly to the sounds of the lake lapping against the shore and our dogs barking.
What better way to start off our rest day than with extra rest!! We let everyone sleep in and prepared brunch with Josephine and Millie. This dynamic duo helped us flip flapjacks filled with crispy M&Ms until the batter was empty and the rest of the group was hungry and anxiously awaiting our surprise meal! It definitely hit the spot and we continued our rest day by bringing our sleeping bags outside to nap, read, and chat.
To energize the group, Harrigan led two different polar plunges into our beloved and beautiful (and glacially cold!) lake. Cooper, Walker, Justin, Mack, Josephine, Helen, and Millie all nervously joined and shrieked at first touch of the chilly water, but they all plunged and came out smiling and laughing. Elizabeth filmed the whole event, while Winn, Meg, and Pope stayed dry and cheered the group on, laughing along with them.
Once everyone was dry, the group dined on appetizers while we (Max and Liza) gave cook crew a night off to make pita pizzas, which were a huge hit! Our Moonup spot was iconic, up on the highest ridge we could get to that was close by, overlooking our favorite mountains and glaciers. We ended Moonup with a moment of silence so we could truly take in the beauty around us.
Our next day was another big push out of Donoho and across the Root Glacier (once again!), and the group was ready to conquer once more. Helen was a shining light for us all as she was beaming with smiles and uplifting pep talks! We said goodbye to the Upper Lakes and hit the trail.
The trail was populated by Alaskan bush and our group’s conversations. Mille and Walker talked about restaurants back home and shared their favorite hometown delicacies. Meg educated us on American literature and shared her favorite books. Our chats and pace got us to our lunch spot quickly and thank goodness it did because we saw a bear! Although cinnamon colored, this young fellow was a black bear. The entire group followed our bear protocol by quietly and respectfully observing the bear from a safe distance. We watched him graze for a good while until we finally headed on to graze on lunch ourselves. And once we were wrapping up our lunch, our bear friend came into sight again so we could watch him eat even more soap berries! This time we continued to watch him until he crossed the Root Glacier himself! We all agreed that we wanted the crampons he had! This bear siting was truly moving, as it was the most perfect way to see a wild Alaskan bear – grazing in his natural habitat at a safe distance from us. Don’t worry, we were able to get some great photos!
The bear gave us the momentum and energy we needed to get across the glacier and we cruised into camp just in time to set up camp before we got a light Alaskan drizzle.
Today (our last day of backpacking) was fueled by crispy and smothered hashbrowns. Our hike was quick, as we were seasoned hikers with lighter packs! We rolled into town, smelly and strong. To reward ourselves, we took the group to a great local spot in McCarthy and chowed down on burgers, fries, and s’mores cheesecakes! It was an amazing conclusion to our past six days in the backcountry.
We’ve had a blast so far and the group is close and strong. We are all thrilled to be relaxing on the river these next few days so our bond can grow even stronger!
We’ll meet again soon once we are off the river!
Max and Liza
July 16, 2019
Although we just arrived 48 hours ago, it feels like we’ve been here for a week! Our amazing adventure started in the Anchorage airport where slowly by surely our entire group of 12 arrived. The group hit it off right away, chatting with each other and starting to get to know one another. We headed to our campsite for the night, had our first Moonup, and went to bed!The next day was a travel day to get all the way to McCarthy, Alaska, home of only about 30 people in the winter. McCarthy is at the edge of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest national park in the U.S., and is also quite remote and hard to get to. Our group piled in a van and drove all the way to Chitina, Alaska, specifically the “airport” which is simply a gravel landing strip! Everyone was really excited, and Helen was sure to call “shotgun” and wound up right next to the pilot in the cockpit! I think she may become a pilot one day! Everyone got to experience the Wrangells (well, some of them) from above, which is quite the unforgettable site. Cooper was able to spot a moose from over 5,000 feet in the air!Once we landed, our guides picked us up and took us to the nearby town of Kennecott, which used to be an old copper mind back in the early 20th century. We were able to go into the real copper mill which is 14 stories high! Our guide, Anna, taught us all about the way copper was mined and processed. Hardhats and all, we were transported to a different time, as we navigated each story of the mill.Our tour worked up quite the appetite, so the group dined on a lovely appetizer, while Winn, Josephine, and Millie Claire prepared incredibly delicious cheeseburgers with an awesome assortment of toppings. They might be starting their own diner when they return! Our Leaders of the Day (LODs), Winn and Elizabeth took us to a great Moonup spot right by McCarthy Creek, where we reflected on our day and looked ahead to our backpacking adventure through the mist beautifully rugged land. Today we started our day by waking up to some bagels with cream cheese, smoked ALASKAN salmon, and some fruit. After breakfast, we quickly got into gear and started organizing ourselves for the backpacking and ice climbing excursion ahead! We first learned the “duffel shuffle” where we emptied our bags and learned what to bring and what not to bring in the backcountry (minimalism is key!). Afterwards we learned how to pack and properly fit our big backpacks, so that it’s a little more manageable to carry the food we need to feed 14 people! Walker was one of the first ones to finish packing his backpack and to say goodbye to his duffel. The whole group was very efficient in sorting their belongings, and in no time we were off to Kennecott to get fitted for our ice climbing gear!After we were fitted for the ice climbing boots and harnesses, we set out with our guides and headed to our campsite at the gates of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Amazon Creek! It’s a short hike, but the packs are heavy. Meg likely won the award for heaviest pack, but kept a great attitude the entire time. Our group did a great job in keeping the morale high and supporting each other with good spirits! Backpacking is also a wonderful way to get close with one another, and the group continues to open up.Once we arrived at the campsite we spread out our tents and began to prep for dinner and sleep! Our dinner tonight was “backcountry pad Thai,” cooked up by our cooking crew. It consisted of sautéed vegetables cooked by Pope, well-seasoned chicken made by Harrigan, and a nice peanut sauce cheffed by Mack. After dinner, Justin was eager to volunteer to go fetch water from the nearby Amazon Creek for the group which was greatly appreciated. Once we cleaned our dishes and stored the food in our bear bin, we headed to a ridge with an incredible view of the Chugach Mountains, the Root Glacier, and everything in store for the rest of our trip! We can’t wait to ice climb tomorrow, and the group is excited to try something new and eventually get deeper into the backcountry!
Until next time,
Max and Liza
July 14, 2019
Hello Midnight Sun Families!
We heard from our leaders last night that all students arrived safely in Anchorage, and enjoyed some well-deserved rest at their first campsite. We can’t wait to hear more stories from their adventures. Stay tuned!