July 7, 2021
We woke up on the river for the last time on Monday morning. After a quick breakfast of fruit, yogurt, cream cheese and bagels, we packed up the four rafts and hit the river one final time. The morning started off warm and sunny, and as we floated down the river, we stretched out in the sun to chat and laugh a little more. The weather turned to a little chillier and very windy, but we all stayed warm enough, enjoyed each other’s company and the beautiful scenery, and soon enough we made it to the takeout. There, we broke down the boats, exploded and then reorganized our belongings, then said goodbye to our lovely guides and hit the road toward Anchorage.
As we embarked on our final stretch of the trip, a surreal feeling fell upon the entirety of the van. Knowing the clock was making leaps towards our final 24 hours together, continuous chatter and infectious singing filled the atmosphere. Old school Brittany Spears, new school hip tunes, whatever song was playing, we were belting it out. The drive went by at a blistering pace, but before we knew it our Anchorage campground was before us. Having said this, it’s fair and just by all means to describe our drive as a euphoric 5 hours that also included some humbling reflection. Reflecting on how our team had just lived in the backcountry for 12 days, slept in a tent for 12 days, didn’t shower for 12 days, 12 days learning how to let go and be present, 12 days of stomachache caliber laughter, 12 days of cultivating a self-empowered mindset, all of which euphoric in a sense. Synchronously, our team had also just bushwhacked, climbed, crawled, hiked, sweat on, stepped on, and slept on the largest U.S. National Park. The landscapes in the Wrangell Mountains are so massive, it is hard to understand that you are crossing a massive and powerful glacier, sleeping in the shadow of 16,000+ ft mountains, and rafting a river draining an area the size of West Virginia. It is an amazing and humbling feeling.
Back on the grid, we set up our tents and prepared our final dinner together. Lest we forget the glizzy eating contest that ensued following the main course of cheeseburgers & mac and cheese. Glizzies were flying everywhere, they almost blocked out the sun at one point. A big time was had at our final dinner to say the least. The feast was followed by a sentimental Moonup and then bedtime. Our final morning together commenced with the smell of bacon and pancakes, a combination most dream of. Flapjacks were flying off the table, this being the remedy to shake off morning sluggishness swiftly. We packed up our tents and duffles one last time, then headed into Anchorage for a delicious meal at the Lucky Wishbone, a jaunt around downtown, and some souvenir shopping. We sauntered back to camp, gathered our belongings, and then headed toward the airport. We sat around on the duffle bags in a quiet area of the ticketing office, and had a final Moonup, savoring our last moments together. After exchanging information, final laughs and talks, and eventually hugs, the crew was off to behind the terminal.
This was truly a fantastic group of young adults — we enjoyed every moment of this grand adventure with them. Thanks for it all.
Ellie and Bishop
July 6, 2021
Greetings from The Last Frontier!
Ellie and Bishop checking in yet again. Just a few hours after we sent our last update, we were enjoying a great Moonup in McCarthy. This was no ordinary Moonup though, as it was interrupted by a moose! Sulli and Jordyn spotted her browsing across the river, and as we were all vying for a better view, we were shocked to see her wade into the deep and rushing water and cross with ease. Next thing we know, she was standing in our campsite and towering above our tents as we watched from a safe distance. What an exciting (and uniquely Alaskan) Moonup experience!!
The next morning, as the midnight sun persevered through the overcast conditions, our family of 12 awoke from our slumber eager to find out what the Copper River had in store for us. The Alaskan morning dew blanketed the tents, McCarthy Creek sang it’s ever-present soothing song, and all of us stretched out our tired backcountry bodies. We were told a rumor regarding the possibility of flapjacks for breakfast, with this in mind there was a rapid breakdown of camp. There was definitely a record setting pace set by Edge and Witt. After everyone had packed up their belongings in dry bags necessary for the upcoming river voyage, pancakes were served, and joyous celebrations commenced. Fed and rested up, our crew hit the road en route to the McCarthy airstrip. Sanders led the charge onto the bush planes as he was determined to sit shotgun in order to ensure a safe flight for all. Emma, still dead set on spotting a Dall sheep had her eyes peeled the entire flight. Speaking of which, one of the bush planes was lucky enough to see 3 Dall Sheep and a Moose! What a treat that was! Bishop had to take an earlier flight due to space limitations on the bush planes, so upon arrival we were greeted with our missing member. Loading into our 15-passenger van we all knew there was only one leg left of our journey to the river which included an epic jam sesh. In the van, our singing capabilities were far and away superior compared to when we were hiking. Not needing to rely on our feet for transportation we were able to pour all available energy into our singing and boy do we have some pipes in this group. Ryan entertained us with some of his chorus skills to the tune of “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” by Toby Keith. Once at the river we were met with a beauty of a lunch spread, sandwich bar accompanied by fresh veggies, fruit, and some lemonade. Once we were all fed, it was time to get fitted for our PFDs, listen to a safety briefing, and load up into our vessels. Right off the bat we were admiring soaring bald eagles, one after another they were everywhere! Sulli and Julia could not have been more shocked to see so many, we all agreed that it was something we most likely won’t ever see again. Overcast conditions did not hold us back from enjoying our time on the water, more singing, great conversations, and some napping added up to a word class day of rafting. Before we knew it, we heard our captains yelling “Land ho!” which was followed by an abrupt left turn and then a smooth approach into our river-bar campsite. Shortly thereafter we executed a flawless fire line unloading all gear from the 4 rafts, with Jordyn in charge there was absolutely no mistakes. Due to the wind speeds we had to refrain from setting up tents just yet, at one point before we made this decision Margaret’s tent got picked up by the wind! Luckily she was there to grab it and was quickly assisted by some of her tent mates. Our guides prepared hot juicy cheeseburgers and hot dogs for us while we snacked on fresh veggies, chips, and hummus. Dinner was served and all was how it should be, silence amongst the crowd, lost in the flavor of such an outstanding meal. In order to kill time so that the wind could die down, LODs Witt and Margaret led two teams in a head-to-head fort building competition. Using driftwood, sand, and rocks the teams both made amazing forts big enough to house six people. We were both shocked by how amazing the forts were given just a short amount of time and the resources provided by the river bar — we certainly have some future architects and engineers in this crew. We rounded out the night with an awesome Moonup and a tooth brushing party held under the pseudo Alaskan sunset and in the shadow of three hugely impressive mountains — Mt. Drum, Mt. Sanford, and Mt. Wrangell.
Rising to the smell of pancakes and bacon wafting through the crisp Fourth of July morning air had everyone chipper as could be. Looking forward to our day full of sunshine and relaxation on the water resulted in a rapid breakdown of camp and a flawlessly executed fire line of gear onto the rafts. Once on the Copper River, the eagle sightings continued as did the epic views and captivating conversations. After another delicious sandwich lunch, chaos was in the air as Bishop and Walker warned of a large possibility for getting soaked in the afternoon. We boarded our rafts and just as we were beginning to get comfortable, the sound of paddles smacking the water broke the silence and we instantly knew we were in for trouble. Buckets upon buckets of water were thrown onto others, and laughter and screams filled the air as everyone got thoroughly soaked in what will certainly go down in history as “The Great Copper River Water War”. Jake sprung into action and grabbed a bucket to defend his raft, heaving silty water with a mixture of orange peels onto his enemies (don’t worry, it was still in line with LNT practices). Somehow, Kate managed to stay mostly dry, but when her raft mates realized this, a little bit of friendly fire ensued. After everyone was entirely soaked to the bone, we stretched out again to dry off under the Alaskan sun. Before we knew it, we arrived at another river bar campsite and set up our tents. Activities that evening included Kubb, playing in the mud, napping in the sun, burritos for dinner, and s’mores around a campfire to finish it off before Moonup. All in all, it was a fantastic last full day of activities. The next day, we got off the river and headed back towards Anchorage where our trip will sadly come to a close.
More to come in our next update!
Talk again soon.
Ellie and Bishop
July 2, 2021
Greetings again from the 49th state!
Following ice climbing, we had a huge day. We were finally really getting into our backpacking section, and today we would cross the Root Glacier and head into Donohoe Basin, where we would spend the next several days. We woke up and had a quick breakfast of granola with hot milk and dried fruit, then we packed up our backpacks and headed down towards the margin of the glacier. We all strapped on our crampons and hit the ice! The Root Glacier is about a mile across, but due to hazards and obstacles, you can’t walk a straight line across it. We quickly crossed the east finger of the glacier, and took a break on the marginal moraine, which is a ridge of ice and rock in the middle. We had lunch on the moraine and also took a few minutes to check out an awesome ice cave! When we were all fueled up, we strapped our packs back on and went on to conquer the west finger of the Root Glacier.
A little rain couldn’t hold us back as we marched on towards our campsite in the Basin. As we reached the end of the glacier, we faced our next obstacle — a massive muddy slope. Ryan and Edge had a great time conducting scientific research by throwing rocks onto the slope in attempts to create a massive mudslide. Their successful experiments were met by cheers but also the realization that we would soon be trudging through that. A little mud never hurt anyone though, and this crew was happy to get dirty (thank goodness for gaiters and rain pants though!). When we reached the top of the muddy slope, we all took a moment to sit atop the ridge and take a gander at all the territory we had covered. We could see the red buildings in historic Kennecott off in the distance, and it was hard to believe we had begun there a few days before and crossed the whole glacier that day. Although it was rainy as we set up our tents, the weather gods smiled down upon us as they cleared up the rain in time for dinner and Moonup. We even got to see a “rain clump” as Margaret called the square block of rainbow we saw shining on the Chugach Mountains off to the south. We all certainly slept warm and well in our cozy dry sleeping bags that night.
Day 5 started out with sunny skies and a home run breakfast consisting of hash browns, eggs, and bacon. It was the all American breakfast that everyone had been craving and the second the first bite hit our taste buds silence fell amongst the crowd as we grubbed. After a quick breakdown of camp and a thorough group stretch and morning huddle, we heaved our hiking packs on and got ready for game time. Our first bushwhacking hike was about to begin, and we were all ready to show the Alaskan bush what we this group of southerners is made of. Fiercely led by our LOD’s Sanders and Jordyn, there was no doubt victory would be ours. Gaiters strapped on, Nalgenes full of water, and chins held high, we set out on the trail. A sense of childlike curiosity took hold of our family as we were trying to comprehend the pure beauty that was surrounding us. Everywhere you would gaze, there would be another feature or fixture of nature begging for your attention and admiration. Bushwhacking is a rite of passage, quite literally the path less traveled, you plow and maneuver through dense vegetation, sweating, smiling, laughing, and slapping mosquitos the entire time. A sense of accomplishment was growing within all involved as we approached our final push, everyone hooting and hollering any kind of hooplah, which is a good practice in bear territory, and helped keep us distracted as we bush pushed our way towards camp.Finally, we spotted a sign for food storage and knew our camp must be soon. As we hopped from rock to rock up a dry riverbed, I could hear gasps of excitement as our home for the next two days was revealed from behind the gravelly ridgeline. The first sight we got was truly special — a lake with deep blue teal hybrid colored water, which was just begging to be swam in. Everyone was at a loss for words when realization came upon them that we would have this view for a full 48 hours.
Once we set up camp and changed into some comfortable camp clothes, the smell of rich, cheesy, liquid gold covered macaroni noodles wafted through our campsite and drew everyone to the cook tent. The perfect meal for the ending of such a strenuous day, some people would argue it is a childlike meal, we counter argue that they are wrong. Emma and Walker were ecstatic when they laid eyes on their bowl full of such decadent Kraft easy Mac. Following our meal we brushed our chompers and started our Moonup. We hiked up to a beautiful lookout, and watched the Alaskan pseudo “sunset” smear colors across the sky behind the beautiful Mt. Blackburn and the two glaciers we could see. The next day was a rest day, so we went to bed happy knowing we could sleep in.
The next morning, we were able to snooze until we woke up naturally — what a treat!! For breakfast, Sulli, Kate and a few others helped cook up some Denali breakfast sandwich, a favorite in McCarthy shown to us by our wonderful guides. We were lucky enough to have our rest day coincide with absolutely gorgeous weather, so the day was mostly spent laying around in the sun, tossing disc, and generally enjoying the beautiful Wrangell Mountains and basking in the amazing feeling of getting somewhere so remote using only your two feet. After lunch, Jake and Walker entertained us all with a riveting rock throwing contest, while Witt braved the chilly Alaskan waters and went for a swim. Our LODs Edge and Julia did a great job of keeping everyone amused, while not wearing us out before our big day ahead. After dinner and a great Moonup, we were all ready to hit the sack and rest up.
We rose early the next day in preparation for our hike all the way back to Kennecott. After a quick breakfast and packing session, we did a quick group stretch and hit the trail. We were moving lightning fast and were back at the margin of the glacier before we knew it. As we traversed the glacier for a final time, we were all amazed thinking about all the territory we’ve crossed, and all the beautiful things we saw over the past several days. EB was flying around left and right, as shouts of encouragement ran up and down the line of hikers.
Once the glacial traverse was complete, we trudged up one final hill then quickly sped down the flat stretch into Kennecott. As we walked through the historic mining town, we proudly wore our smelly shirts and packs, and grinned from ear to ear when other tourists asked how long we had been “out there”. We could not be more proud of these students for absolutely smashing the backpacking section, and keeping positive attitudes through the rain and long days. Upon arrival to McCarthy, we promptly went to the local ice cream spot to celebrate, and then hit a local favorite, The Potato, for dinner. We were all smiles afterwards as we packed up our bags for rafting and prepared for a few relaxing days on the Copper River.
Can’t wait to update y’all when we return!
Ellie and Bishop
June 29, 2021
Hello from the land of the midnight sun!
This is Ellie and Bishop checking in from the beautiful Wrangell – St. Elias National Park. Our Alaskan odyssey began in the city of Anchorage. After meeting up with our crew in the airport and enjoying some pizza, we headed over to our campsite for the night. After a great introductory Moonup, we hit the hay, exhausted from a long travel day and ready for another big day coming up.
The next morning, we ate a big breakfast of salmon, bagels, and cream cheese, packed some sandwiches for lunch, and began the journey towards the National Park. Unfortunately, Jordyn and Julia had a tough time getting to Alaska, so our family wasn’t quite complete, and Ellie stayed back to greet them in Anchorage. Bishop and the rest of the crew hit the road, bound for the Wrangell Mountains.
With Jake and Kate as our first leaders of the day (LOD’s) we knew we were in good hands. Everyone was very thrilled for our day of travel via our own two feet, a 16 passenger van toting a trailer full of gear, and a few bush planes. Our van ride was full of laughter and smiles as we swapped stories and jokes, a cohesive unit already, with our sights on the Chitna airport. Once arrived, we loaded into our bush planes and listened to the engines hum louder and louder as we put on our headsets and strapped up our seatbelts. Our jaws dropped in astonishment as we peered through the plexiglass windows, gazing at the Chugach and Wrangell Mountain range.
Realizing how small we really are as we size up behemoth landmarks such as Mt.Blackburn. Emma was deeply intrigued when the captain told her the odds were in our favor to see some Dall’s Sheep or moose on such a bluebird day. Although we never spotted any such animal, Emma is determined to spot either on our next flight.
Upon landing in McCarthy, everyone was jacked up for our next adventure, and we headed towards Kennicott for a tour of the historic copper mill. During our mill tour, we learned how the town of Kennicott has evolved into the quaint adventure capital it is today. Back in it’s prime, the Kennicott Copper Mill processed over $300 million worth of copper mined from the surrounding Wrangell Mtns. Once we finished our tour we were full steam ahead, excited to set up our tents on our riverbank campsite and then eat some dinner. Only two nights in and Edge, Witt, and Walker set up their tents faster than I could, they showed great promise for the backcountry off the bat.
Our backpacking guides Rachael and Gus crafted up some A+ Spaghetti for our dinner. This amazing meal hit the spot, bellies full and smiles wide we enjoyed a Moonup by the river and then got to bed. Day 3 started with some world class pancakes, fueled up and itching to get into the backcountry, we broke down camp and started our hiking expedition. Everyone was especially excited for our remaining family members to join the party later that day. Margaret and Witt were our LOD’S and they set a perfect pace for us as we were all adjusting to hiking with big packs on and once they led us to our first campsite, collectively we all dropped our packs and sat down, faces showing signs of relief and accomplishment in between sips of water from our nalgenes.
After we enjoyed a filling lunch of tortillas, cabbage, cheese, and salami we setup up tents and begun our first game of rock rock, it would certainly not be our last as it was a big hit. Mid game, Jordyn, Julia and Ellie arrived to our campsite and were embraced with big hugs and shouts of excitement and welcome. Our whole fam was finally together! Everyone was super excited for the following day of ice climbing and even more so to have our whole clan together at last. Shocked at how good backcountry dining can be, everyone was at a loss for words when or guides filled our bowls with spaghetti and Parma Rosa sauce, and that’s not all, we enjoyed thin mint pudding for dessert, what a treat!
After dinner we all circled up for Moonup, giddy with excitement and relief about how well we all get along, a mutual feeling amongst us all of how it seems we have been friends for much longer than a mere 4 days.
Yesterday, we woke up to perfect weather — blue skies with just a few clouds. As we packed our backpacks with just the essentials, the excitement about our big day of ice climbing was tangible. After eating a big breakfast, we hiked down to the edge of the glacier for the first time. We all took a moment and appreciated the massive scale of this beautiful river of ice, and then took a seat on a few comfortable rocks and strapped on our mountaineering boots and crampons. As we hiked towards our ice climbing destination with Sulli and Walker leading the way as LOD’s we all quickly got the hang of walking with crampons, and the enthusiasm and excitement was only building.
Finally, we reached a massive wall of blue ice with two ropes hanging from it and smiling guides there to greet us — we knew instantly that we had reached our destination for the day. After a thorough safety briefing, we were ready to grab some ice tools and get after it. Jake and Ryan bravely donned harnesses and helmets first and showed us all how it was done. They both absolutely crushed it! One wall had an overhang for the top third, and the guides seemed confident that no one could conquer it. Sanders, however, took this as a challenge, and to everyone’s disbelief, he climbed that overhanging wall with seeming ease! We were all super impressed, and he was greeted with tons of high fives after he returned to flat ice.
After a full day of climbing and learning about ice tools and gear, we returned back to our camp feeling triumphant. After an amazing dinner and a great Moonup overlooking the Root Glacier, our new favorite playground, we all were ready to climb into our cozy sleeping bags. As we begin our backcountry backpacking section, we are excited to see this group accomplish some amazing things and grow even closer!
Bishop and Ellie
June 26, 2021
Hello Midnight Sun 2 Families!
The group has arrived safely in Alaska, with the final two students arriving late last night. They are off on their adventure and excited to welcome the last two students in the Wrangells later today! 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!