July 2, 2019
We write this from the Anchorage Airport with tears of love as we watch the last group of students, James, Sawyer, Sarah, Ally, and Sammy, walk through the gates to head home leaving the three of us leaders alone. We feel like parents watching our kids go off to college, leaving us as empty nesters without a clue as to what to do with ourselves. This trip was as Kyle would say “epic”, “in-tents”, and ultimately completely indescribable. The past ten days we have been in the backcountry, which was without a doubt the most powerful leg of our Moondance Adventure.
Since our last update we have laughed, smiled, sweat, bled, and cried. It started when the Nova guides dropped us off in an old school bus on the side of the Alaskan Highway at our trailhead over a week ago. Immediately, Sawyer took the lead and guided us down an old ATV trail that we would follow for the next four days. The weather was spectacular, but with eight days of food on our backs, our packs were heavy, and we were sweaty. Not more than one hundred yards into our hike we spotted a moose peacefully crossing the trail… very cool! After a few miles of gentle uphill, the muddy trail got extremely steep. All the students impressed us with their brisk pace and willingness to climb the mountain without complaint. Very special shoutout to Sammy. This was her first time ever backpacking and she embraced the newness of a heavy pack with grace. Despite all her obstacles she pushed on and proved herself as a leader who was able to overcome all challenges thrown her way. Finally, we got to the top of one of the hardest climbs any of us have endured and overlooked a beautiful alpine valley which we would call home for the night. After a 5-mile day, Sawyer and Sammy picked out a spot, cooked us some pesto pasta, and we settled in for the night after a rewarding day on trail. Some hunters passed by and mentioned a grizzly bear in the area so we made sure to be both loud and careful this night.
The next day Kyle and Grant got the group going with an oatmeal breakfast and Grant impressed us with his natural leadership abilities as he talked the group through the day and showed us where we would be traveling on the map. Students laughed and shared stories as we followed the ATV trail to Hicks Lake where we stopped for lunch. James introduced what would become one of the group’s favorite jokes – “this is a funny looking Arby’s” – as Kyle made us perfect pepperoni pesto pita pizzas (say that 5 times fast!). We continued on through a brief afternoon rainstorm, and then crossed paths with the other Northern Lights Moondance group who was headed out of the backcountry. The rain combined with the many river crossings made for wet feet, but eventually we made it to a campsite beside Chitna Creek where Grant and Kyle cooked up some wonderful cheese quesadillas and tomato soup. Chuck, who was overseeing the logistics of our trip, surprised us by flying overhead in his baby blue bush plane giving us all a feeling of comfort as we went to sleep.
The third day of backpacking began with gooey cinnamon rolls cooked by Sarah and Katherine who lead us further along the muddy ATV trail. For lunch the group decided to take a side trail up to a gorgeous panoramic view of the snowcapped Talkeetnas overlooking the Chitna Creek valley. We got to check out an old excavator that has been sitting here for decades, left behind by miners who used to dig gold out of these creeks. We then crossed the raging Chitna Creek which was a big accomplishment for the group, and climbed a steep ascent before getting to our campsite. This campsite was our best yet, a big grassy field on the creek bank in a gorgeous valley. There was an awesome vintage military Jeep at the campsite also left behind by miners that the group got to explore. Sarah and Katherine lead a wonderful Moonup this night asking us “if you could eat a meal with anyone who would it be and what would you eat?”
We woke up the next day to more hot sunshine. We have all agreed that Kyle does in fact have a superpower in controlling the weather. The ATV trail continued for another few miles, then Hayden and Ally lead us off the train and into the Alaskan bush where we bushwhacked our way along the Chitna. Bushwhacking was an entirely new challenge which tested all of our navigation skills. Hayden wisely lead us out of the bush as we discovered a more effective path along the riverbank. Eventually we stopped for lunch on the creek before crossing to begin what we thought was our ascent to the tundra where we would camp for the night. After close to 1500 feet of elevation gain, Grant pointed out that our path did not match up with the route shown on the map. As we looked across Caribou Creek we discovered that we had climbed the wrong mountain… OH NOOO! While in the moment this felt like a failure on our part it turned out to be a very valuable teaching moment that we are all able to look back and laugh at. We climbed back down the mountain and spent this night on the Caribou Creek river bank where Ally and Hayden cooked us all Mac n’ Cheese. After another long day, we drifted off to sleep beside the calming sound of the creek.
The next day started with amazing M&M pancakes cooked by Sammy. Kyle then took us up the correct mountain setting a very strong pace and keeping the group energized with his natural spontaneous motivator skill set. As we climbed, the terrain changed from thick bush to open tundra with unbelievable views in every direction. At any moment of doubt or struggle we could just look up to the impeccable vistas to remind us how fortunate we are to be immersed in such natural beauty without any sign of another human in any direction. We ate lunch sitting between three majestic alpine lakes where Sammy proved herself as a Leave No Trace master as she ate an absurd amount of leftover hummus for the group. Kyle continued to lead us up in elevation to the base of the pass and we made up lost mileage from our mishap the previous day. Along the way we found two sets of Caribou antlers and had a quick photo shoot. As we gained elevation, the temperature dropped and the 6700 foot pass came into view which we would hike over the next day. Right after getting to camp at the base of the Pass, the sky opened up and it began to pour down rain. Despite the rain, Kyle and Sammy helped MC cook up a fantastic Mexican feast under a tarp for dinner. We had a quick Moonup and got a good night sleep before PASS DAY.
On Day 6, the group woke up to a Happy Birthday Song for Ally’s birthday and we all painted our face in celebration and to get hyped for our big ascent over the pass. James and Sawyer lead the way as we began climbing. We made great time up the pass and after all of our big climbs in previous days the group flew up this mountain with hardly any struggle. As we reached the top of the 6700 foot pass we were greeted with the most spectacular and majestic view of our entire trip. Jagged, scraggly, glacial-capped mountains pierced the clouds and we could see streams flowing from the springs melting snow. The weather was clear and sunny and we could see our path down through the valley. We spent a few hours eating lunch and sitting in silence to really take in the incredible view. This was our favorite moment of the entire trip. This energy of the group was higher than it had been and the fact that it was Ally’s birthday made the moment feel extra special. The group surrounded Hayden as he skillfully hucked the Frisbee for the world’s most epic throw off the mountain pass into the valley where it landed near our trail. We all cheered as it soared through the air for what felt like minutes. James then lead us down the pass, we picked up the Frisbee, and settled into a grassy meadow alongside a stream of snow melt. We ate dinner and then indulged in cookies dipped in birthday brownie batter. Sawyer and James then lead the group in two Moonups followed by a series of games; zombie tag, and a new favorite; MAFIA! A beautiful sunset capped what must have been the most magical day of the trip, and we all fell asleep with full bellies and sore muscles.
We awoke the next morning feeling determined and excited to complete our final day of backpacking. Leaving our campsite with spectacular mountain views, we descended into a river valley and, led by Grant and Katherine, hiked a particularly challenging route for the day. After refilling our water bottles from the river (shoutout to Aquamira!), we trekked across a steep scree field that left many with weak knees. With Grant as our fearless and talented navigator, we descended through thick brush and bushes to reach the Chickaloon River! The group collapsed with joy beside the sparkling, cool water as we knew our final destination was but a few miles away. That evening we reached our campsite beside the airstrip where our raft guides would fly in in the coming days. That evening we feasted on a fabulous dinner of curried veggies, rice, and Oreos for dessert.
The following day was one of wonder and magic as we would do something we had never experienced before on the trip – a rest day. We slept in until we were content, ate when we were hungry, and soaked up the never setting sun on the rocky beaches of the Chickaloon. Fun and games were to be had just as much as rest and relaxation. Will and Kyle tested their resilience in a cold-water plunge, Sawyer, James, Grant, and Hayden tried their hand at fishing, Ally stacked rocks as high and creatively as any of us have ever seen. Mid-day we saw our first plane landing as we got a visit from a father and son duo who flew down to see the river. We finished our well-deserved rest day with a thanksgiving meal complete with cornbread, mashed potatoes, and soup.
Day 9 was a very exciting day and one we were all looking forward to. It started early as we waited for the planes to land that carried our rafts, raft guides, wet suits and all things necessary. Once all the rafts were blown up and we were suited up, we absolutely gorged on the food the raft guides prepared for us. Although it was a simple lunch of sandwiches, we felt like we were being treated as royalty. As soon as we hit the river, it was go-time. The Chickaloon is a mighty river with consistent raging rapids. To say we were impressed by our raft guides and their abilities is simply an understatement. During the middle of our first day rafting a portage a strong class 4 rapid was necessary and our raft guides handled it with pure strength and power. We have all agreed that the guides are perhaps the coolest people we have ever met. We finished with the day with enchiladas and brownies prepared by the guides as we played games of Mafia. The sound of the river quickly put us to sleep.
Our final day of rafting was our final day of adventure. We witnessed our raft guides conquer a class 5 rapid as we walked around and took naps on the beach and waited for all 4 boats to be sent down the rapid. The paradox was amusing. The second day of rafting ended in the transition from the Chickaloon to the mighty Matanuska river. The difference in wave size blew our minds. Once back on land we were picked up by the Magic bus to be taken to our final campsite in Anchorage. It’s hard to express how happy we were to see Jim, our trusty bus driver who we hoped for all week.
This morning we woke up to sunny skies and headed to town to shop at the local shops on our way to our final meal together. We ate our banquet meal at Snow City Cafe where we filled our bellies with breakfast foods. With full stomachs we headed to the airport, passing by anchorage on our way. We sat together for our last time and poured our love into each others hearts. We have no doubt that everyone feels nothing but loved for exactly who they are as they make their way home. We are infinitely grateful for the time we shared together, knowing that we will never experience anything quite the same in our lifetimes. The feeling that we created as a group is indelible and readily accessible in our hearts forever. This trip has changed our lives. If any of our students are reading this, we cannot express our love for you and look forward to crossing paths again someday.
Will, MC, Anna, and the Alaskan Family
June 21, 2019
Greetings from Hick’s Creek in Glacier View Alaska! We write to you in our crazy creek chairs as we watch the group play card games and talk over a delicious meal of cheeseburgers and veggie burgers.
The last few days have been full of fun on the Matanuska Glacier!
Mission accomplished for our resupply in Anchorage! Restocking on food can be a big challenge, but the students proved themselves as leaders in both the backcountry and front country on this leg of the trip. At Costco and Walmart students were sent out in small groups to find items and bring them back to the cart. In Costco they were given the task of going out and finding one item that would be “advantageous” to the group. While James, Grant, Sawyer, Hayden, Sammy and Ally had their minds set on food and returned with nilla wafers and veggie straws, Katherine, Kyle and Sarah returned with a badminton set. Despite their greatest efforts to convince us, we were not able to purchase the badminton set. After a successful grocery shopping, we stuffed our faces with Costco pizza as we listened to favorite songs and watched the wild Alaskan landscape unveil itself outside the bus windows.
Upon arrival to Hick’s creek we were lead by Kyle and Sawyer in a midnight Moonup during which we reflected on our proudest moments. We fell asleep with sunlight still reaching our eye lids and full stomachs.
The next two days were full of fun on the glacier! Our first day, with bright orange helmets on our heads, we were lead by our guides, Petra, Hannah, Coffey, and Arnie in a glacier hike. We learned to use our micro-spikes and crampons which would prove useful in walking on the hard and slippery glacier. The group played what seemed like dozens of games of mind-meld.
Once back at the campsite the group headed to the river and tried their hand at yoga lead by Will. And to our surprise, we spotted a large moose and two babies wondering in the nearby trees. Keeping a safe distance, we were able to snap some pictures and let our minds sit in profound wonder of these large creatures.
On the second day of ice climbing we were able to put practice into action on the glacier! Coffey and Hannah were our guides yet again along with the much-experienced David. We hiked 3 miles on the glacier to our climbing spot where we were surrounded by ice, green mountain sides, and jagged white peaks in the distance. Here atop the Matanuska Glacier, we could view the convergence of the Chugach and Talkeetna Mountain Ranges -a fitting spot to pause and reflect on our sea kayaking journey in the Chugach National Forest and prepare for our adventures ahead backpacking in the Talkeetnas.
We enjoyed “operation ham sammie” on the glacier while we waited for our guides to make anchors in the ice. Nerves were high as students decided which route they would climb. Ally was fearless in climbing one of the more difficult routes first and not only successfully completed the route once, but twice! Sammy was to follow on the same route and once successfully reaching the top, took some a well deserved mid-day glacial rest. Katherine completed two routes with pure determination on her side, finishing with flying colors. Hayden impressed us all with his ability to overcome his fear and climb twice! Sawyer chose to be lowered all the way to the bottom on his first climb and crushed the challenge with strength and endurance. Sarah proved to be a natural and after her first route, and chose a much more difficult second route. Kyle kept the group morale high with both his nervousness and excitement of the day and, like Katherine, completed two routes very successfully. Grant climbed both of the more difficult routes and surprised all with his speed and strength. Spirits were high throughout and boosted even higher as we stopped for some well-deserved ice cream on our way back to the campsite.
Today we took advantage of being able to sleep in and woke up to the sounds of eggs frying and hashbrows sizzling. We took the morning to prepare for our backpacking trip that starts tomorrow! M.C. Performed a “duffle shuffle”, teaching the group about the ABC’s of packing (accessibility, balance, & compression). Anna briefed the group in Leave No Trace Principles, sharing essential information for minimizing our environmental impacts in the backcountry. Finally, Will engaged the whole group in a leadership skill exercise through the NOLS Leadership Grid.
With our backpacks packed and our minds ready for any challenge, we are just settling down for a final night of rest in the front country before heading out into the wild. We will be deep in the Alaskan wilderness for the next 10 days, which will likely be the most challenging and transformative leg of this journey. Tomorrow we truly shake life down to the bare essentials to discover what we are capable of as students, as leaders, and as a family. We look forward to sharing more stories and we will see you on the other side.
Will, M.C., and Anna
June 18, 2019
Greetings from Alaska!!! We just got off the water after an epic sea kayaking adventure. Based on the meaningful friendships that have already blossomed, it’s hard to believe that we’ve only been together for six days.
The group of nine students (Kyle, Sawyer, James, Hayden, Grant, Ally, Sammy, Katherine, and Sarah) arrived at the airport on the evening of day one to meet their new Moondance family and three leaders Anna, MC, and myself (Will). After a pizza dinner, we rode to our campsite outside Anchorage and settled into the tents that serve as our nomadic homes for the next twenty-one days. As the leaders, we sat the students in a circle and together introduced the first Moonup, a Moondance ritual to close out every day. The LOD (leader of day) torch was passed off to Sawyer and Katherine, two veteran Moondance students who would lead us the following day. After a long day of travel, we fell asleep under the Alaskan midnight sun.
Day two was spent traveling to Whittier, a small sea town, and preparing for sea kayaking. Enormous jagged mountains with vibrant green plants surrounded us at every turn, along with half a dozen glowing blue glaciers. We spotted a Dahl sheep high up in the alpine at one of our scenic stops. The hot sunshine and blue skies were said to be rare for coastal temperate rainforest. From our campsite we could see numerous waterfalls, one of which we explored to find a closer view. We then met our fearless outfitter, Rich, who showed us the ropes, gearing us up with dry bags, rubber boots, and heavy-duty rain gear which would come in very handy the next few days. Bonds quickly started forming as students played games such as hacky sack and big booty. Ally and Sarah proved to be the big booty champions after a hysterical ticklish turnip veggie-off. In town we found a local ice-cream parlor and treated ourselves with Alaskan ice cream and later had a delicious fried rice dinner. Katherine and Sawyer lead us in Moonup to close out our first full day together.
Day three started off early with a French Toast Birthday Breakfast for Katherine’s 17th birthday! The skies gave us our first taste of Alaskan liquid sunshine (ie. rain) as we packed up and loaded our kayaks with four days worth of gear. The day’s LOD’s, Ally and James lead our fleet as we left the shore and began to paddle along the vibrant mountain coast through Prince William Sound. The students impressed us very quickly with their ability to work as a team and navigate kayaks through the sea. The wind and rain didn’t phase the group and we engaged in puzzling riddles to keep morale high. We picnicked for lunch on a rocky beach cove where a harbor seal surprised us with a visit. After lunch we pushed on into the wind keeping a strong two mile per hour pace. After a long eight miles of kayaking, we safely arrived at a majestic campsite on the tip of a rocky point where massive mossy evergreens protected us from the elements. Just as Kyle shared his desire to see a bear, Sawyer and Hayden spotted a medium sized black bear sniffing around in the distance. The bear quickly ran off after we made noise, practicing our newly learned bear protocol, and were extra careful to keep food and the kitchen away from camp in our electric bear fence. The day ended with a well-earned pasta dinner and an awesome Moonup where everyone shared the hardest thing they’ve ever done.
Sarah and Hayden got everyone up and moving as LOD’s on day four which started with delicious breakfast burritos. The group enjoyed a silent, meditative kayak along the coastline where we took in incredible views of the Chugach National Forest. Waterfalls and wildlife were abundant and kept us dazzled by the scenery around us – we even encountered a sea otter floating in the waves near our kayaks! That evening we parked our tents in a forested shoreline beneath a large eagle’s nest – this campsite was accurately named the Eagle’s Nest! We dined on Anna’s famous Mac n Cheese. Tired and content from a full day of kayaking, we bundled up in our sleeping bags and drifted to sleep with the thunderous sound of glaciers calving (ie. ice breaking off) in the distant.
Happy Father’s Day five was an adventure-packed day lead by Sammy and Grant that the entire group will likely remember for years to come. Despite cold and wet conditions, our group was determined and excited to further explore Blackstone Bay within Prince William Sound. When presented with the options of exploring a bird rookery and hiking to a glacier, our group decided to take on the entire 12-mile kayaking expedition. With Rich as our guide, we kayaked a quarter-mile from the base of a glacier and watched in awe as it calved before our eyes. Huge chunks of ice fell from the glacier followed by delayed, thunderous booms. We then paddled alongside hundreds of nesting black-legged kittiwake birds that flew above our heads. A cold glacial breeze blew off the face of the glacier as we ventured around the bay, popping in and out of caves, and discovering uncountable glacial-fed waterfalls. Words, pictures, and even the memories will never capture the magic of this pristine and wild experience.
After another beach picnic we continued to paddle by another equally picturesque glacier. We then loaded our kayaks onto a beach to hike to the Lawrence Glacier, our third glacier of the day. Our group was blown away by this sheer mass of ice as well as the spectrum of blue colors created by the glacial freeze. We finished our action packed day by crushing a three mile paddle back to camp where we discover two giant bald eagles perched atop a spruce overlooking our tents, as if to protect our home from unwanted critters. The group agreed that this was perhaps the most remote place any of us had ever camped. As we all worked together to prepare a sweet potato, rice, and veggie sir fry dinner, students laughed and reflected on the days’ adventure. Sammy and Grant read a wonderful quote on enduring challenges, facilitated a meaningful conversation, and asked us to share our most embarrassing stories which lead to deep-belly laughter and heartwarming smiles.
On our final day of sea kayaking, we were thrilled to wake up to clear skies and a view of the Chugach Mountains that many students thought had to be a green screen because of its sheer beauty. We enjoyed a breakfast of Dinosaur egg oatmeal while feeling accomplished and excited for our journey back to Whittier. Before departing, Anna lead us in a memorable exercise where we each had a moment of solitude to let the beauty of this wild place sink in. We all took a mental picture of the mountains and sea so as to keep it in our minds forever. After paddling our final few miles, a ferry picked the group up and whisked us back to Whittier. During the ride, we got to pass our campsites from the previous nights and revel in how far our bodies and kayaks had carried us.
Once back in Whittier, we unloaded our gear and our LODs, Kyle and Sawyer surprised the group with Alaskan postcards to send home. We are now resupplying on food in Anchorage before heading back into the wilderness to ice climb yet another glacier.
Spirits are high and again, it’s unbelievable to think that the students making up this loving family were complete strangers a week ago. As leaders, we now have complete confidence in this group to overcome any and all challenges that Alaska may throw our way with determination and grace. To all the parents reading this I cannot put into words my gratitude for sending your precious children on such a life-changing experience and allowing us to be a part of this Moondance Adventure. Wish us luck as we embark on the next leg of our Alaskan journey and we look forward to sharing all the memories that we will create over the next few days.
The Northern Lights Family
June 13, 2019
Hi Northern Lights families,
We heard from our amazing Northern Lights 1B leader team that everyone has arrived safe and sound in Anchorage, and they are ready to start their big adventure. Now they are off to get ready for sea kayaking, and we can’t wait to hear about it next!