June 21, 2021
Hope all is well in the lower 48! Tired and content, our family of 14 hit the road headed to Anchorage. Dozing in and out of sleep our team took almost the exact same route we drove 10 days prior. However, this time everyone had a newfound appreciation for the rugged cliffs, the overwhelmingly large glaciers, and the deep green spruce trees lining the valleys. It was apparent to all that one develops a deeper connection with nature once you hike, climb, and sleep on it while covered in dirt, silt, and sweat, smiling with chapped lips through it all. Arrival to the campground was quickly followed by a cannonball of duffel bags, hiking bags, and tent gear into our new campsite for our final evening together, it was tough not to be sappy as we set up our tents one last time. Once home base was established, everyone’s attitude rose with excitement. Finally, the opportunity to wash the remnants of the backcountry off of them as they took their first shower in two weeks. The team could not have been more complimentary of the hot water and the water pressure, once again proving their ability to appreciate the little things in life. It’s quite a treat being awarded the opportunity to watch these young adults learn and grow as their souls become enriched with the true beauty and joy that nature boasts for those bold enough to dive in. As we dined on cheeseburgers and Mac and cheese we recounted some of our favorite memories from the trip. Everyone simultaneously holding on as tight as possible to the bond we have formed, knowing good and well the following day we would be parting. A Moonup was enjoyed to the fullest extent, and in true Alaskan fashion as background noise was being orchestrated by geese and seagulls recounting their days. Departure day ran smoothly, true to form we enjoyed Oreo and blueberry pancakes for breakfast. Quickly followed by a stroll through anchorage, the whole group moving, talking, and laughing faster than normal, in attempt to squeeze the most memories out of the day as possible. A burger and fried chicken lunch in the park accompanied by some frisbee and volleyball, wrapped up with our final Moonup as the anchorage midday drizzle was falling on the tin roof of the park gazebo. This Moonup was one you never forget. Sending our last update makes us feel down in the dumps knowing what’s about to occur. As we sit in the airport we watch our family of 14 disband and go separate ways. The heaviness of the situation sets in, and at the same time we are reminded of a quote that resonates deeply. Winnie the Pooh once said “how lucky am I, to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
Ellie and Bishop
June 20, 2021
As we rose from our peaceful slumber with bellies full of decadent fuel from The Potato on day 9, we were ecstatic to get rafting underway. At this point, everyone is such an expert at breaking down tents. So much so in fact that Ellie and I looked up about halfway through breaking down our tent and every single tent group was already done, very impressive progress to say the least. Emma and Elizabeth decided to be MVP’s and cook up some of their famous pancakes for the whole team, a carb full breakfast to boost us through our travel day ahead.
We started with a quick putt over to the McCarthy airstrip, then loaded up onto three separate bush planes. Unfortunately, this was also when we had to part ways with one of our guides Rachael, who was a great friend to all of us. Once airborne, we all experienced a rush of dopamine as we observed the rugged terrain that we had just conquered together. As we exited the planes and embraced a stiff cold Chitna breeze, eagerness was in the air as we could not wait to arrive in Gulkana and begin our rafting expedition.
Shortly after our landing, we loaded up into a van driven by our guide Michael, and then embarked on the trek. Halfway through our drive we enjoyed a brief pit stop for gas and snacks and then before we knew it, we were on a riverbank loading up our rafts and cracking jokes with our rafting guides.
Lunch on the riverbank prepared by our guides set the tone for what our culinary experience was about to be while on the Copper River. Fresh cut avocado, deli meat, tomato, onions, lettuce and cheese. Fresh cut oranges, apples, and some cookies accompanied by lemonade. We set out on the copper River with high hopes and wide eyes as the sharp cold air pushed us downstream alongside the ripping current. Not long after we pushed off the bank, we started seeing eagles everywhere! Harris was absolutely amazed once she spotted his first one.
Once our four rafts had traveled 20 miles at an average of about 7 miles an hour, we pulled onto the riverbank to set up camp and get our feast prepared. Some chips and cheese to tee off the evening, followed up by some cheeseburgers and hotdogs. Whilst chowing down on some burgers and dogs, Andrew and Lucas exclaimed loudly “everyone look at that bear!” We all jumped up and gazed across the River where we spotted a massive grizzly bear who was gazing at us, smelling our freshly grilled meats. Everyone stood in awe as we passed the binoculars around to get a close in perspective of the big teddy bear. After the bear cruised up the opposite bank for about 40 yards he went back into the woods and went about his business. What a treat it was to witness such a gorgeous animal in his natural habitat.
Once high-fives were exchanged and everyone settled down we brought it all home with some s’mores and Moonup, then bedtime. Waking up to the sun high in the sky and the smell of sizzling bacon had everyone as chipper as could be on day 10. Complimenting the bacon was a few piles of French toast with whip cream and syrup, oh boy everyone was floored to see such a spread! Camp was broken down at a record speed as everyone was jumping to get back on the river, little did we know what was about to occur later in the day.
First and foremost we all enjoyed a group nap on the riverbank as our lunch was being prepared by our guides — what a life. Once refreshed from our nap and midday meal, we hit the river and then before you knew it, the greatest water war this side of the Mississippi began as all four rafts clashed with paddles smacking the water and buckets of water being heaved onto the nearest enemy. Henry, Max, and Charlie’s raft ended up being triple teamed and quickly became one with the Copper River silt water as they sat dripping and defeated.
Charles was the main gunner on the “Big Blue” raft as he was rapidly dishing out buckets on buckets of water to anyone brave enough to get in range. Maclean quickly learned that a cotton sweatshirt was not appropriate armor for a water battle, it was no problem though as it was sunny and 75 degrees out. Wiped out from our water war, we all enjoyed some raft relaxation before we made it to our campsite.
Dinner this evening was a big hit with a backcountry charcuterie board, then a fresh tossed salad and some spaghetti with marinara sauce that was full of peppers, ground beef, and zucchini. Dessert was banana boats filled with chocolate chips, marshmallows and peanut butter, wow was that delicious. Once we enjoyed a Moonup by the riverside we all hit the hay.
Being surprised with a bountiful breakfast full of chocolate chip pancakes, syrup, watermelon, apple cider, and hot chocolate once we woke up on day 11. Sally led her clean up crew with great power and efficiency and then we broke down camp and hit the water for our last full day of rafting. With Heath and Elizabeth as our LOD’s we knew we were going to have an epic day that ran smoothly.
As we stopped for lunch, we all agreed we should have another group nap, and wow did we ever. An hour after we all fashioned our life preservers as pillows our guides woke us up for lunch, can’t ask for much more than that. A few hours of water travel later and we had arrived at our final campsite which was a stunning island in the middle of the river boasting a perfect clearing for a group wide spikeball tournament. With everyone giving it their all there could still only be one winner. After a hard fought best of 3 game match, Andrew and Charles took home the hardware, but Lucas and I (Bishop) definitely didn’t make it easy. For a victory meal we all enjoyed some burritos and chips and salsa. Maclean claims it was one of the best burritos he has ever had, and most of us agreed.
After dinner we all devoured some more s’mores, you can never have enough. We wrapped up our second to last night with an awesome Moonup and then bedtime on our gorgeous river bar island. We woke up this morning to damp sand and tents due to a little evening shower that cooled everything off. Donning full rain gear, we loaded onto our boats for a few final hours of rafting on the Copper River. As we floated down, we sang, relaxed, and spotted our last Alaskan bald eagles. Once we got to the put out, we helped unload gear and breakdown the rafts, then enjoyed one last lunch with our awesome guides.
As we said our goodbyes to them, we also said goodbye to the beautiful Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, which has been home to all our adventures and an amazing playground for us all for the past week and a half. What an amazing experience we’ve had exploring the beautiful and wild Wrangell Mountains with this great crew!
P.S. Everyone wishes their a father a big hoorah and happy Father’s Day!
Bishop + Ellie
June 16, 2021
Hello again from the 49th state! This is Ellie and Bishop checking in once again.
We’ve had a huge couple of days since our last update. Following our big day reaching the upper campsite in Donoho Basin, we were rewarded with an epic rest day on Sunday!
Our day began with Rachel and Michael showing us a St. Elias Alpine Guides breakfast favorite — a bagel sandwich called the Denali. Then, we exercised our minds with a few riddles. From there, we played an epic two games of capture the flag. The entire playa lake that contained our campsite was turned into the playing field, and two bandanas were skillfully hidden from the other team. I thought I knew what speed looked like, but Andrew showed me I was definitely wrong. He nearly broke the sound barrier he was moving so fast! Max was such a persistent player and good teammate, once he was trying to free some folks from jail and the mud sucked a boot clean off, but he kept running anyway!
Following the games, we all relaxed in the sun, as we were lucky enough to plan our rest day to coincide with perfect weather. At one end of our campsite was a small lake fed by glacial melt, and we all decided it would be pretty epic to take a little swim. We were so excited that every single member of our group jumped in! Charlie, however, showed us all just how cool he really is by staying in the freezing lake for a solid minute or two.
After we all dried off and got warm again, we started cooking up some pesto pasta. It was Sally’s first time eating pesto, and she loved it! Lucas and Andrew showed us what expedition behavior looks like by rounding up all the water bottles and assisting with a hefty water run.
Following our dinner, cleaning crew went to go do the dishes, and Heath and Charles were kind enough to help with this slightly undesirable job even though they weren’t on the crew — awesome EB again! For Moonup that night, our awesome LODs MacLean and Emma had the great idea of hiking to the top of a ridge overlooking our camp, Mt. Blackburn, the Gates Glacier, and the Kennicott Glacier. The views were spectacular!! We are so proud of those two for showing us what LOD really means. After a legendary Moonup, we hit the hay to prepare for a big day tomorrow.
We rose early to prepare for a big day on the trail — our task was to hike all the way back through the Basin, and then to traverse the Root Glacier once again. On the hike in, we had done these in two separate days, however, with hiking legs ready and backcountry skills to boot, we set out to take it down in one day. Everyone hit their stride and we were burning rubber on the trail — it was awesome!!
Elizabeth proved to excel at route finding as she and Rachel found the path of least resistance through the Alaskan bush for our group, and Henry kept the whole group entertained with singing and rapping to keep the bears away. We ripped through the basin, crossing in just a fraction of our previous time. Then, after a classic PB&J lunch, we took on our next obstacle: the Root Glacier.
Since we were now glacier hiking professionals, this went pretty smoothly as well. It went so well in fact, that we even had time to take a dip in a “blue hole”, which are beautiful little lakes of melt water on the glacier. We were so proud AGAIN that every single student hopped in. Our guides had done this many times before, and rigged up safety lines and pads for us to jump off of and use to get back out. The frigid water was truly exhilarating and everyone was glad that they went out on a limb and took advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity. Shoutout to Andrew for jumping in first — a truly fearless move. Charlie, once again, impressed us all with his cold tolerance and stayed in the pool for probably 10 seconds. Although it was initially freezing, everyone agrees that they felt AMAZING after getting out and warming back up.
We continued our trek back across the glacier and eventually reached our campsite, tired but feeling fantastic after a long days’ work. We enjoyed a nice dinner and Moonup together, then promptly cannonballed into our sleeping bags to prep for another big day.
We rose early again the next morning and chowed down on some awesome breakfast couscous — a preparation that was new to most of us but sure was delicious. We hurried to break down camp and hit the trail as fast as possible because today was ice climbing day!
As we headed towards our old friend the Root Glacier once again, we were all tired but excited to get out there on the ice. After a safety lesson and crash course from our guides, we were ready to go! Harris showed us what she was made of as she scurried up the hardest and sheerest wall. She made it look so easy! Lucas may have a future in ice climbing, given that he absolutely smashed the climb, so much so that he decided to go twice while everyone else was too tuckered out after one go round.
After climbing, we loaded up our packs one last time for our victory walk into Kennicott. Tired and dusty, but feeling strong and confident, we strode through the historic mining town wearing our packs as badges of honor. We caught a ride back to McCarthy from our outfitter and set up camp back on the banks of the creek. As hungry and accomplished feeling as we all were, we knew a self cooked meal simply wouldn’t cut it, so we walked over to McCarthy’s best, a great little restaurant called The Potato. It definitely hit the spot!!
We finished off the night by gathering some gear for rafting, Moonup, and all retiring to our tents with the sounds of McCarthy Creek lulling us to sleep. Everything about this trip so far has been truly epic and we cannot wait to hit the water for rafting!
Talk again soon,
Ellie and Bishop
June 13, 2021
This is Bishop and Ellie checking in from the land of the midnight sun! We are currently taking in some epic views in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, which has been very good to us the past few days. The trip started flawlessly with some delicious pizza for dinner on arrival day. Charles and Andrew said it was some of the best pizza they had ever had — that’s some high praise! We enjoyed our first night of camping together right outside of Anchorage and rested up for the big day ahead.
Day 2 was an action-packed day full of traveling via bus and plane and feet. Starting with some bagels, peanut butter, cream cheese, and smoked salmon (welcome to Alaska!), we were all fueled up and ready for the drive from Anchorage towards Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, where we would hop on a bush plane to head into the heart of the Wrangell Mountains. While driving, we saw some truly amazing sights, including the Matanuska Glacier. Everywhere we looked the scenery was breathtaking. We even saw three moose! While traveling, Max informed us that he felt confident enough to fly one of the bush planes, as much as we believed him we could only promise a shotgun seat. Once we reached the airstrip, every single one of us was in absolute awe looking at the three bush planes we were about to load up into … what a treat! Once headsets were on and the safety briefing had been conducted, we buckled up and took off, in search of the best views The Last Frontier has to offer. Being that it was a blue bird day, so we could see for miles and miles. There were countless breathtaking views to admire, so there wasn’t much radio chatter happening; everyone was busy taking in the rugged and beautiful landscape! It was awesome soaring over the Root Glacier and Donaho Basin, which we would be traversing in just a few short days. As soon as we landed in McCarthy, we were greeted by our guides Rachael and Mike.
Friendly as can be and extremely knowledgeable, they quickly turned into a crowd favorite. We then drove to Kennicott Mine for a tour led by Mike and Rachael. Kennicott was a copper mine back in the early 1900s that was active 24/7, and only shut down two days of the year: Christmas and Fourth of July. This explains why they pulled out over $300 million worth of copper! After a long day of traveling and exploring, we left Kennicott and made our way to a point bar on the banks of McCarthy Creek where we would be camping for the night. Our guides made some world class spaghetti with sausage and red sauce, which hit the spot for everyone. Followed by a few lessons on backcountry safety and a Moonup, we hit the hay.
Day 3 started off with high spirits and a sense of eagerness to start hiking and embark on our backcountry adventure. Emma, Elizabeth, Sally, and Harris crafted some A+ Pancakes for the team which was a big hit. After packing up our campsite, we left for Kennicott to get our mountaineering boots for ice climbing and crampons for glacier travel. Once we were all geared up, we started our first day of hiking in the backcountry, with Heath and Elizabeth as our Leaders of the Day (LODs), we all knew we were in good hands. They led us to our campsite, which overlooks the Root Glacier and Donaho Peak, where we ate our lunch consisting of Cabbage wraps with cream cheese, peppers, salami, meat sticks, and lembis bread. Once we set up camp for the night, our LODs decided we should test out our crampons on the glacier before our traverse the next day. Following a quick 20-minute hike to the glacier, we strapped up and hit the ice. Every single one of us had the biggest smile on our face, surrounded by monstrous mountains, a stiff breeze coming from the ice fall, sun shining, blue skies, and the sound of our crampons crunching through the ice. Lucas led the pack in retrieving fresh glacier water for our Nalgenes, stating it was the best water he has ever had. Once we wrapped up our practice session, we made it back to camp and started dinner, bagel pizzas, and dirt pudding with gummy bears! Maclean showed us the true definition of Expedition Behavior (EB) by always asking if he can help out, and even offering to hike up to get water for the group! After dinner we talked some more about bear safety and then placed all smellables into the bear boxes and enjoyed our third Moonup together before going to bed.
Day 4 started off with some granola and milk and dried fruit, a healthy meal that got us fueled up to complete our first glacier crossing. After camp was broken down and we did a morning stretch and morning huddle, we shouldered our packs and began our trek. Mid crossing, we had a nice cool off when session when Charles asked if anyone wanted to dip their head in a small pool of glacier water. Once he did it, next thing we knew every single one of us had dunked our head into the refreshing glacier water. Heath, Harris, Max, and Lucas even did it a second time, it was quite a rush. Once we completed our traverse, we ate some peanut butter, Nutella, honey, and crackers to give us enough gas to do our final push to Lower Donaho Basin. This final push involved some steep inclines and muddy terrain, but everyone crushed it — proud is an understatement! At Lower Donaho Basin, Sally, Henry, Lucas, and Max whipped up some outstanding mac and cheese that helped us all recover from the big day. The LODs Max and Emma, informed all of us that we had a considerable distance to cover the following day involving some bushwhacking, so we all went to bed shortly after our Moonup to rest up for the big day.
Day 5 consisted of a lot of laughter, hiking, sweat, and smiles, lots of smiles. Breakfast filled us up and put everyone in great moods, hashbrowns, bacon, and eggs — what not to love!? With Harris and Charles as our LODs, we made great time bushwhacking though the Basin. After a quick lunch break of hummus tortilla wraps with peppers and cheese, we made our final push towards our campsite. Success had been reached as we made it to our beautiful camp, overlooking lakes, glaciers, and ice falls. Upon arrival, every one of us laid down immediately, feeling accomplished and tired, with big smiles on our faces. After setting up tents and throwing the football, playing hackysack, reading books, and playing tips, dinner crew began making some chili. And MAN did it hit the spot! Charlie was on cloud nine eating that chili, Harris mentioned how it reminded her of being home. Worn out and full stomachs has everyone excited to sleep in tomorrow.
Can’t wait to fill y’all in again soon! Until then,
Bishop and Ellie
June 9, 2021
Hello Midnight Sun Families!
The whole group arrived safely in Anchorage last night, with the final few arriving late last night and they are off on their adventure! We have heard from our leaders that the trip is off to a great start, and we cannot wait to hear more stories from their adventure.
Please remember our leaders and students will be unplugged during their trips but we will be posting up to three trip updates throughout the next couple of weeks! This will allow you to follow along with the trip and the students will also give a special shout out mid-way through! You can also follow us on Instagram, @moondanceadventures, to see more of what we are up to this summer!
– Moondance HQ