June 30, 2021
One last greeting from Alaska, family and friends of the Glacier Pilots!
We’re writing to you from the bittersweet place of airport day and final goodbyes. In the last 24 hours our NLT 1A crew has experienced the magic that only happens during Moondance summers; 14 strangers coming together for 21 days to become a family that sheds many a tear on departure day. During our final Moonup last night, each of us reflected on the fact that amidst rainy conditions, challenging terrain, and loud laughter, we’ve grown to love one another as siblings. This, of course, makes saying goodbye that much harder!
Today’s Banquet in downtown Anchorage allowed us the opportunity to reflect on the friendships that we’ve formed over the course of our trip. With Claire, Martha, Emma, and Mae all starting college next year, we threw a Graduation Party-themed Banquet for the Glacier Pilots. Of course, no grad party would be complete without Superlatives. So, we voted on a number of them. James was selected as “Most likely to be president,” Eliza as “Most upbeat attitude,” Harrison as “Most athletic,” and Katherine as “Most likely to succeed.”
We enjoyed a delicious meal of burgers, fish tacos, and pizza (the latter of which made Runyon pretty ecstatic). And just around the corner from our Banquet restaurant? Anchorage’s hottest ice cream spot. Bowen and Julian indulged in a waffle cone, and Joe, Lily, and I would argue it’s the best ice cream we’ve ever eaten. After shopping around downtown Anchorage (and one of the oldest fur stores in the USA), we made our way back to our campsite to do a final camp sweep and pack up for the airport.
As we hopped on the coach bus, I said a brief prayer of gratitude – I’m so, so thankful that Joe, Lily, and I had the chance to spend the past few weeks with each one of your children. We laughed, we cried; but, most importantly, we got a glimpse into the way nature and a sense of adventure unites people in a way the “frontcountry” doesn’t often allow. Distraction-free living is hard to come by these days, but it’s such a blessing when we’re able to experience it!
Now that your students are safely in the air, we hope your reunions with your Moondancers are sweet. They certainly have many a story to share! In the meantime, we’re sending you gratitude for sharing them with us this summer.
Over and out from AK,
Mary, Joe, and Lily
June 29, 2021
After a much-needed resupply day in Anchorage and a reentry into the “frontcountry” with a student trip into Walmart, we made the beautiful bus trip to Whittier, Alaska with our friendly bus driver Dana. The drive was filled with wide-open views, before we arrived at the much-anticipated tunnel that gives access to Whittier. This tunnel is the longest manmade, reverse traveled tunnel in North America at 2.5 miles long and only accessible on a timed schedule each day.
Our group arrived in Whittier at 4pm and set up tents in rapid fashion. The group functioned wonderfully as Bowen, Martha, Claire, and Harrison all held tarps up while each tent group set up tents with protection from the elements. Eighty percent of the 300 year-round residents in Whittier live in the same building, a strange multi-colored apartment complex that was abandoned by the army after the cold war. Everyone was perplexed by this town and was curious to explore more. The journey from our campsite to the Alaska Sea Kayakers base building was unique, as there is an underground pedestrian tunnel that is burrowed beneath train tracks and sheltered from the harsh Whittier elements. A rainy orientation for Sea Kayaking gave way to hungry bellies, and after this cold and intimidating meeting, our resident Grill Master Julian teamed up with Runyon to chef up some mighty tasty burgers and baked beans for the group!
Our original plan was a three-night, four-day sea kayaking trip, but after hearing our students out and understanding their concerns, we decided to try to alter these plans to better fit the desires of the students and the comfort of the group. Fortunately, our wonderful guides Emmy and the man behind Alaska Sea Kayakers, Peter, were able to meet our request and give us a much-needed rest day on Friday where we were able to dry our belongings and explore the strange town of Whittier. Bowen, James, Julian, Runyon and Harrison all accompanied Joe to the laundromat to utilize their industrial dryers. The other half of our group traveled down to the harbor to explore the strange nooks and shops it offered, and located a particularly tasty and comfortable coffee shop: The Lazy Otter. The first dose of caffeine on this trip was a much needed boost for the group, and we continued our exploration by entering the residential building of Whittier and examining the historical pictures and information they have on display. Following our tour, the leaders surprised the students with a dinner out, where we ate at and enjoyed wonderful plates of fried haddock sandwiches, chicken tenders, and fries. Not cleaning dishes or making dinner was a wonderful and much needed change of pace, and allowed for both the students and the leaders to get a long night’s sleep before a busy Saturday.
A morning of packing and organizing put us on time for our 3pm boat charter out of the harbor before we arrived at our unloading location. We enjoyed a tasty lunch on the beach while Emmy passed around some of the homemade smoked salmon she brought to eat. Everyone tried the fish, and liked it, with Mae, Bowen, and Eliza all taking second offerings. Emmy then gave us safety briefings and packing instructions before we got busy and tetris-ed all of our gear into our fiberglass and our plastic kayaks. Martha and James were the first boats out onto the water, but they had to wait for quite some time as a power team, Harrison and Eliza’s, boat had a rudder that was not responding in the appropriate and desired manner. Their tolerance for adversity was through the roof, nonetheless, and they paddled like champions despite having the task of difficult steering. A six mile kayak through Culross passage was an incredibly serene and pleasant section of our trip- we spotted five bald eagles on our first day out on the water, even with significant cloud cover. This paddle gave way to our most beautiful campsite yet, with Emma remarking how it reminded her of The Jungle Book- she was right! Beautifully hidden tent spots on a wooded peninsula were a short walking distance from a wonderful kitchen hangout area, where we enjoyed a refreshing dinner of chicken fingers and fries (Runyon’s meal) for a warm, quick, and reassuring dinner with fresh baked cinnamon rolls courtesy of Lily, Bowen, and Joe for dessert. For the first time in our trip, it felt like nighttime as the cloud cover combined with the late evening gave us darkness that made our sleeping all the more pleasant.
A slow Sunday morning gave Lily and Mary ample time to make “Davis Burritos” which are crunch wraps filled with apples, cinnamon, granola, and crunchy peanut butter. These were much needed fuel before our sizable day kayaking trip, where we circumnavigated Applegate Island and enjoyed both lunch and snacks from an amazing beach overlooking the Prince William Sound. Mae brought her camera along and took some amazing group photos with friends before we continued on. As we hugged the coastline, Emmy pointed out all of the amazing facets and crevices, including a bright purple starfish that was hanging out in the intertidal zone (the space that is in between the high tide location and the low tide location). We saw four more bald eagles this afternoon and finished the paddle with a freshwater stop on the adjacent island, a sea otter spotting, and a harbor seal spotting. Two days of kayaking really wiped everyone out, so Lily and Mary made some fantastic crunchwrap burritos for dinner, filled with beans, shredded cheese, queso, bell peppers and onions. Harrison ate four of these burritos and could have likely eaten a fifth! An earlier Moonup was a much needed opportunity for sleep and we got to bed soon after eating and enjoying a beautiful spot overlooking the Prince William Sound.
Efficient packing and expert trash pickup allowed us to be right on time for the bus picking us up in Whittier. For the first time in the trip, we took showers, at the Whittier Harbror Master’s building before having some more coffee and loading up the bus. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was the movie of choice for our bus ride home (selected by our LODs, Katherine and Julian) and we enjoyed the drive back through the tunnel and into Anchorage with some lighthearted comedy. Upon arrival at Ship’s Creek, our group trekked through Anchorage to an Anchorage Glacier Pilots game where we ate stadium dogs and burgers while cheering for the Alaskan baseball summer league. A tender final night Moonup was the most enjoyable and emotional of the trip.
We truly have a special group here and are so sad to see them go, but we’re looking forward to Banquet tomorrow!
Much love from AK,
The Glacier Pilots
June 24, 2021
Happy Solstice from the Glacier Pilots!
After a testing and adventurous eight-day trek, we emerged from the Talkeetnas on Monday afternoon and enjoyed some well-deserved rest and relaxation in the Alaskan sun.
We began our hiking on the 14th with a beautiful but testing two-thousand-foot ascent through a luscious forest that plopped us into the wide-open tundra. While the uphill was difficult, we relied on Bowen and Mae’s acapella skills to lead us in song up the saddle. We were utterly impressed by the group’s morale and how high they kept spirits even while trekking through the rolling muddy hills! After a team effort of assisting each other through the stickier mud, we arrived at our first campsite down in a valley with 360 views of mountains all around us. This campsite required a tax, however, of walking through a bog in order to go to the bathroom. With wet feet and high spirits, we enjoyed our first Moonup in the backcountry, away from all noise pollution or civilization, along with a warm and hearty meal of Pad Thai Noodles. Despite never having backpacked before, Katherine was at the top of the list for high morale and shared how much she was enjoying our trip and the challenges it has brought.
Our second day of backpacking required little uphill movement, but we spent plenty of time navigating the paths of least resistance through the mud. Harrison and Julian made sure all of their peers were making it through the swampier section, and Julian christened those colorful orange and blue gaiters of his with some friendly Alaskan mud. Lunch at Hick’s lake was a well-earned break and the hearty summer sausage, tortillas, cheese, and salsa were the fuel we needed before heading down Divide creek and towards our campsite. An early evening rest stop on some soft (and dry!!) moss was a blissful break as the sun shined down on the group giving everyone well-deserved vitamin D. The group trekked through the evening golden hour(s) and down towards Caribou creek for a final mile before camp. Ten minutes before reaching camp, however, a moose ran across the trail fifty yards ahead of us and stopped to graze on the greenery next to the trail. A tense thirty minutes hoping she moved turned into a reroute, where we bushwhacked our way down to Caribou creek to take the calmer path next to the river. Emma, Martha, and Claire made their voices especially heard as we traveled through this final section, ensuring that any wildlife knew of our arrival and departed the area prior. A warm pot of spaghetti, marinara, and summer sausage filled everyone’s bellies and sent us into a nice slumber.
The third day of this section was the introductory test to the group’s tolerance for adversity, as we had to trek the muddy ATV trail, cross a freezing creek, and then endure freezing rain on steep game trails across the hills of Alaska. After finding a wooded, steep, break on the trail to eat lunch while shielded from the rain, we heard familiar voices yelling in the distance. After Runyon yelled, “Moondance???” we heard in reply, “is that group A???” Alas, another Moondance group was near. The leaders convened with the NLT C group leaders to discover the reasoning for their having turned around, as their group was originally two days ahead of ours on the Talkeetna trek. To our dismay, the other leaders informed us they had spent the two days prior scouting a location to cross the daring Chitna Creek. While one of their leaders was able to cross the river and return, he did not feel comfortable taking the kids across and felt that it was out of our safety zone and not in our best interest. Thus, we dared back into the freezing rain and backtracked towards the abandoned mining site/bush plane airfield to set up camp and get warm. Everyone in the group stepped up to make sure that our coldest friends got into their tents first, and we assembled all of our tents in record time, just beating out the wind and rain that continued for the next few hours. With a warm cup of hot chocolate and some chocolate&caramel snacks to boost morale, the kids were all in their tents laughing and cracking jokes, protected from the elements. Eliza and Emma suggested that all of the girls cram into one tent to hang out (and stay especially warm.) Despite our original backpacking plans being derailed, the kids were incredibly flexible and kept their attitudes high with a warm dinner of red beans and rice before getting back in our dry tents.
Day Four was a much-needed rest day that brought clear skies and high morale. The views from the newly named “Moondance Mining Lodge” were spectacular, and we spent the day napping, playing “Death Sack” with the hacky sack, and hours of (M)Uno, Uno, but with Mae’s special rules to add some spice to the mix. The kids had a day of group bonding with lots of questions and answers about lives back home and where they want to be in the future. A NOLS group who was also deterred by the high water crossed through our Mining Lodge, informing us that they had a plane resupply coming the following day, and that we would get to see the bush plane!! Rice bowls and sun made for a perfect evening dinner and Moonup, and another night at the Moondance Mining Lodge.
Day Five greeted us with sunshine and clear skies as we packed up the mining lodge and planned to make our way back to our second night’s camp, The Hunter’s Camp. We soon discovered, however, that we were not alone in the nights and that a few of our furry Marmot Friends had gnawed their way through our bear burrito tarp, enjoying some gorp, pasta, and silicone bowls before leaving. We laughed at the slight misfortune and made sure to deter them from rejoining us as we cooked breakfast of hash browns and summer sausage before the plane landed! Mike, the tenured Talkeetna bush pilot, touched down just after 9:30 am to drop off a NOLS food run and to evacuate one of their students who was having jaw discomfort. We chatted with Mike, and he offered to fly all of our trash out of the mountains for free! This was a friendly morale boost and a nice weight taken off of our packs. Similarly, we were all pleased that despite the fact that none of us smelled great, we smelled NOWHERE nearly as bad as the NOLS folk that we encountered… A pleasant stroll back to Hunter’s Camp was broken up with James’ well-timed and ever-so-clever wit that continues to energize the group. Fajita bowls and Moonup in the forest could not have been timed better, as once we all entered our tents, we were met with the lullaby of rain drops dropping and rolling off of our tents’ rain flies.
While we were not planning on a late morning for day six, the liquid sunshine did not disappear before our awakening, so we let the kids sleep in and enjoy some rest in their dry, warm sleeping bags. The leaders hopped out early to make pancakes for everyone underneath our cooking tarp; the students then emerged from their tents when the rain subsided with a warm and sweet surprise to start the day. With lighter packs and high spirits, we cruised through the seven miles back to our camp in the valley, with an energizing lunch break back at our favorite lake and some vibrant trail tunes to motivate us for the final push. We were blessed with another clear evening of 360-degree views and enjoyed possibly our best dinner yet, of spinach and cheese ravioli with pesto sauce and sun-dried tomatoes, followed by a wonderful surprise from Lily of an Oreo cake for dessert. The bog took another toll of wet feet, but as Claire continued to emphasize, wet feet were no big deal for us anymore.
Day 7 greeted us just as day 6 had, with ample rain and some cloudy skies. Claire summed up everyone in our group’s emotions after poking her head out and saying, “Alaska, can you just chill out, please!?” After a few hours of napping and playing games in our tents, we left on an early evening hike to head to our final campsite of the section on top of the first saddle we climbed, with spectacular views of the Chugach Mountain Range. We cruised this final muddy section in no time and set up our tents overlooking the valley and the mountains. A final dinner of Orzo with Marinara and spiced chicken was an excellent and warm way to finish a testing section. It was so rewarding to hear the kids share how challenging this section had been for all of them, yet how happy they were to have pushed through to the other side and endured all of the adversity, rain, and mud with their newfound best friends. The love was strong that night, as was the excitement to be picked up at the trailhead the following day.
In a fitting conclusion to the backpacking section, we awoke amid clouds and fog, blocking all of our views and further incentivizing our departure. A final breakfast of grits and summer sausage provided the fuel we needed before making our final descent. The clouds cleared, and a wonderful alpine lake came into view, and we cruised the final stretch, rejoicing upon reaching the trailhead and enjoying some much-needed vitamin D as the sun came into view. A relaxing afternoon back at the NOVA River Guides Rafting base allowed for the kids to take “Nalgene Showers” and remove some of the grime that had accumulated the past eight days. The night concluded with a unicorn-themed summer solstice party, filled with sprinkle pancakes, party hats, music, and a unicorn piñata filled with candy. The smiles were the biggest we had seen to date, and the excitement for rafting was palpable- no more walking and two days without cooking!
Letting the current do the traveling for us was a welcomed alternative to backpacking! We began the rafting section on Tuesday morning after being fitted for dry suits and booties to keep us dry and warm during our river trip. The morning was filled with rapids, smiles, and a lot of water! Bowen, Harrison, and Runyon had a blast “riding the bull” and sitting at the front end of the raft for a few spicy rapids. Harrison was the only one who went for a swim, the first dip of the trip! As we snaked through the Matanuska Valley, we passed unbelievable rockfall, eroded hillsides, fallen trees, and aggressive alpine landscapes. Our morning finished back at the NOVA Rafting Guides base, where we ate a delicious sandwich lunch and packed our dry bags for our overnight river adventure. We spent two hours in the afternoon floating down the river with our guides, learning all about the Matanuska river and soaking in all of the views. As we passed an aggressively steep rocky hillside, we saw multiple sheep moving across the rocks hundreds of feet up, staying far away from predators. Camp for the night was on a rock and sand creekbed located directly in the middle of the Matanuska River. 360-degree views provided possibly our coolest campsite yet, and everyone enjoyed a nice nap in the afternoon under the beautiful clouds. Our raft guides provided the biggest luxury of our trip yet, as they cooked us a massive enchilada dinner in the iron dutch ovens. We feasted next to the river and played a fun post-dinner game courtesy of the raft guides, “Don’t Touch my Rock!” Julian and Mae were our reigning champs! This was followed by a wonderful Moonup and a warm chocolate cake courtesy of our guides, continuing to spoil us after many days of cooking on our small whisperlite stoves. A campfire and some two-person human wheelbarrow races in the sand finished out our night on the river before a well-deserved rest back in our tents.
The guides treated us to another stellar meal of sausage, English muffins, hash browns, and eggs before we got back on our rafts and floated more of the Matanuska. Within twenty minutes of our departure, two baby moose were spotted on the river bed and displayed their speed as they ran parallel to the water- this spotting of wildlife was a real treat and a highlight of the trip for all of the kids. We arrived back at the NOVA Base in Chickaloon, Alaska and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon at the base, filled with chicken salad a la our raft guides, a trip to the post office to send postcards, the ice cream shop, and a neat antique shop run by a really nice man named Jeff. Tomorrow we are heading to Anchorage for a well-deserved resupply and local food stop before we head to our final activity destination of Whittier, Alaska. We will be traveling through the longest highway tunnel in North America before arriving in the strange, one-building town. We will be spending Friday-Monday Sea kayaking! The kids are thrilled for this final section and our group dynamics are stronger than ever. It has been such a treat to watch the group grow together and flourish. Mary put it very well last night in saying that it is very rare for a Moondance leader to feel like they are amongst a group of friends when they are with their students- and that is exactly what we have unlocked on this trip. We are so excited for the next six days with this amazing group of students and can’t wait to see how our group finishes.
Harrison: hey mom, dad, Taylor and Whitney. Miss and love y’all. See y’all soon. I have yet to shower.
James: Hey family. I’m doing swell. Hope Jack and Katie had a good birthday and a good Father’s Day dad. Hope everyone is doing good. See yall soon. And be prepared to make steak!
Julian: Hope you guys have been having fun without me! We’ve been having a great time but I can’t wait to see guys. Love y’all!
Runyon: Everything is going great here in Alaska! Hope everyone is well back home and I can’t wait to see y’all next week! P.S. Happy Father’s Day Dad!
Mae: Hi mom, dad, friends, and Ira! Im having a blast here in Alaska- it’s beautiful 🙂 I’ve seen a baby moose and a bald eagle- neat! Happy Father’s Day dad hope it was a funky time lol and happy bday Clara WOOOOO! I miss and love y’all so much, can’t wait to see everyone in warm weather with my new Alaskan look
Emma: Hi mother, dad, Jeffrey, Mary, Anna, and of course, clementine!! Miss you all immensely and think about y’all all the time. We get to go shopping in Anchorage so I’ll bring each of you back a cool souvenir. Tell my friends I miss them! See everyone soon…hopefully I’ll come back changed by the great Alaska:) (I might have to start using the bathroom in the backyard since im so accustomed to it now!) LOVE YALL
Claire: Hi family!! Alaska is so cool. We have backpacked, ice climbed, and rafted so far…Im having so much fun!! Can’t wait to show y’all my photos and tell y’all all about it. Look out for a post card in the mail:) love and miss y’all so much!
Eliza: Hey Mom and Dad! I am having the greatest time. I love my group and leaders and I can’t wait to tell y’all about all the fun things we have done. We haven’t showered since we left home. Love y’all and see you soon!
Bowen: hello parents amd sister. I love yall this trip is so awesome. I haven’t changed underwear for 8 days. I love you lilly bell. you are a big reason that I’m on this trip. Tell Reece that I can’t wait to talk to him about Alaska. Oh and tell him that I’m bringing him back a marmot.
Katherine: Hey Family, I am having so much fun in Alaska. We have done so many fun things like ice climbing, hiking, and rafting. We start sea kayaking tomorrow. Love y’all and miss y’all so much. See everybody soon.
Martha: Hi Mom Dad and VA! I’m having a great time in Alaska! Despite the fact that I haven’t showered in 13 days, this has been the best trip ever. I’ve been telling everyone about the murder mystery, and I can’t wait to get an update when I’m back to my phone. I love and miss y’all and can’t wait to see you!
June 14, 2021
Howdy hey, friends and family!
Greetings from the land where the summer sun never fades! Our crew just finished Moonup and I’m writing this update from our tent as birds are chirping all around and students are drifting off to sleep after a delicious backcountry dinner (be sure to ask your kids to prepare Frito Pie with all the fixin’s once they’re home).
We’ve just spent the past couple of days climbing the icy caverns of the Matanuska Glacier, and everything from Bowen’s MoonTalk (the Moondance version of a TEDTalk we’ve created) to the stunning views had me thinking about the blessing of this trip. It is a gift to be in Alaska with 11 phenomenal students while feeling a sense of our country returning to normalcy after the unprecedented 2020/2021 we’ve all experienced. We are all feeling a deep sense of gratitude to be outside together, laughing, and exploring the wilderness of Alaska without masks!
After students’ arrival to the Anchorage airport, we made our way to our campsite for our first night under the midnight sun. A classic “Pizza on the First Night” Moondance dinner had Julian feeling good about the time he’d spend in the Last Frontier. Runyon and Claire were chosen as our first Leaders of the Day (LOD’s) and our group felt ready to explore by the time we woke up.
We then transferred to our campsite north of Anchorage on our second day, and we’ve spent three nights up here. With the careful guidance of our outfitter, the Glacier Pilots (aka the NLT 1A crew) have become the world’s newest ice climbing enthusiasts! Our two days on the Matanuska Glacier were EPIC. James climbed just about every route that he could get his crampons into, Emma and Martha demonstrated incredible teamwork on the challenging terrain on the glacier, and Mae had us all laughing with her very specific sweet tooth cravings (the ice had her dreaming about ice cream). This ice climbing section of our trip proved to be the perfect avenue for our group to get our feet wet in Alaska and cultivate unity and friendship. There are *great group vibes*, as the students wanted me to assure you, and we’ve had a lot of fun along the way.
Just tonight we had our first rain shower. It was a light rain, but all the students huddled together under a tarp, sharing ghost stories and laughing. We were all cracking up as Harrison was standing halfway under the tarp and halfway outside it (trying to clean his curly locks). During this moment I had the thought that I always have during Moondance summers — “this is something special.” It’s rare that a group of strangers is able to bond so quickly and feel like we’re one giant outdoor adventure family. Eliza embodied this tonight when she responded to the Moonup question of “What would you spend $100 on right now?” with “buying treats for this group” (and a fur hat for dad back home). We’re out here, in the Last Frontier, getting to live out the magic of teamwork and dwelling together in unity. What a gift!
And we have so much more to look forward to — backpacking, rafting, sea kayaking, and many more lasting memories to be made! We’ll keep you updated as the trip goes along, and we hope you all are well back home. The students wanted me to include a note to say “they’re having a ton of fun, the food is good, and they miss you all!”
So, friends and family, we’re having fun! The food is good. And we miss you all in the Lower 48!
Here’s to a fun-filled ~10 days in the backcountry! Katherine, our Cleaning Crew Queen, and Bowen will lead us as LODs for our first day of backpacking tomorrow. We’re looking forward to telling you all about it once we’ve returned from backpacking!
Much love from the Glacier Pilots,
Mary, Joe, Lily, and the whole NLT 1A crew
June 11, 2021
Hello Northern Lights Families!
The whole group arrived safely in Anchorage 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