July 6, 2021
After a bright and early wake up call, all the kids hoisted their packs onto their backs for the first of many times to come. Within our backpacks were all the supplies we would need for the next eight days; food, clothes, tents, and gear. And just like that, we were off on our backpacking trip, following the trail marked down on our map.
The first day was full of muddy ATV trails, which the kids unsurprisingly enjoyed. Mills especially was a big fan of the mud, never attempting to avoid the deep mud puddles but rather go through them instead. Everyone’s gaiters helped keep the mud off their legs and the water out of their boots. Despite the rainy weather, there were nothing but laughs and smiles painted across everyone’s faces! Even when Jack spilled half of his trail mix onto the ground a few hours into our hike, he laughed it off and happily ate the m&ms and other snacks off the ground trying his best to follow the Leave No Trace principles taught to him the day before.
We finally set up shop in a misty and marshy valley and everyone scarfed down some delicious pad Thai noodles for dinner. The first day definitely wiped everyone out, we had no problems falling asleep that night. Today’s weather proved more favorable with the sun poking through the clouds every now and then. At one point during the middle of the day right before lunch, the clouds and mist faded away, revealing to us gorgeous 360 degree views of the cascading Talkeetna mountains towering over us. It was definitely a very surreal moment for everyone and definitely one that will stick with us for a long time. We continued our trekking through the trails and there were no shortages of slipping and sliding with Maggie being the main culprit. Despite a few stumbles, Maggie was loving every second of backpacking and definitely helping keep the group morale high with her cheerful smile and encouraging words. Another big boost to group morale was the constant chatter and jokes being shouted out by Benji, he has certainly learned how to make everyone in the group laugh regardless of how tired they might be.
After about 8 miles of hiking, we arrived at our campsite. That night we had some BBQ chicken rice for dinner that Thad and Hailey cooked all by themselves on the whisper light camping stoves. We all grew closer that night with a very moving Moonup to finish off a good day. The next morning we geared up for what would be a long and important day, this day was important for two main reasons, the first being that it was THAD’S BIRTHDAY! The second reason being that this was the day that we would either cross Chitna Creek and continue onto the preplanned route or be turned around and forced to retrace our steps (should the water level be too high to cross). Along the way we stopped for many breath taking photo-ops, having Kendal act as our professional photographer with the nice camera she brought with her. After a few “light” miles of hiking, we saw it, Chitna Creek!! We approached it with an intense curiosity, would we have to turn around? Or would we be able to cross it? Travis and George scoped out the water levels, crossing the river by themselves, making sure it would be safe and not too deep for the kids to be able to cross. Luckily, everyone would be able to cross! Before we crossed, George taught all the kids the safest way to cross rivers and Travis got into position further down the river just in case anyone’s pack should fall off while crossing. The kids then linked their arms together in proper formation and shuffled their way across Chitna.
Everyone was super excited because we were the first group that has been able to cross the creek the entire summer (the water levels were too high for the previous groups)!! We finished off a fantastic day with a big ole back country pizza party for Thad’s birthday. We then prepared a nice brookie for dessert (brownie cookie mix). Before serving everyone a slice, we sang happy birthday and gave a card with personal notes from everyone on it to Thad. Thad also very generously shared his personal tub of vanilla icing he had got for his birthday with everyone. All in all, today was a very big success and we went to bed excited for our big pass day tomorrow. The next day was our longest and most challenging of the backpacking section. Starting that morning there were no more established trails, we would follow game trails and use our map and compass to navigate. As we walked we saw eagles soar ahead, a family of mountain goats scale a mountain, lots of animal prints and even antlers and bones.
As we got higher in the pass we got to cross through a few snow patches as well! Mills was excited as it was his first time ever having a snowball fight. As we continued walking we realized we had followed up the wrong pass for a short bit but this scenic detour turned out to be perhaps the most beautiful part of our trip. We were surrounded by massive mountains, lush deep valleys, waterfalls, and epic cliff sides. We decided to camp in this stunning place and even got to see our first sunset here (which was of course beautiful). The next morning we woke up early to backtrack a bit and finish making our way through Chitna pass. Once we were up the pass we had a steep descent down to the riverbed below. Richard bravely conquered his fear of heights as he carefully made his way down the mountain side, cracking jokes here and there to help keep the mood light. Jane was also quick to chime in during our mountain decent, singing and chanting all sorts of things making sure everyone had a smile on their face. The beauty and challenge of the descent made for one of those mornings we will all never forget. Once we made it down we bushwhacked a bit until we got to Boulder creek.
We followed down the creek bed walking in and out of the water for about another 5 hours. All this river crossing prompted us to switch into our river shoes, which gave everyone’s feet a much needed wash after being trapped in boots for so long. This flat shrub-less terrain felt easy compared to our previous day and spirits soared as we walked and chatted. We all knew we could accomplish anything now. We set up camp on a gravel bar in the creek bed, with panoramic views of the mountains surrounding the massive valley, it truly looked like something out of the movie Jurassic Park. After a dinner of Moroccan couscous (a smashing hit with everyone!) we got a goodnight sleep. The next morning we woke up and continued trekking through the creek bed after a hearty breakfast of hash browns with bacon bits. Eventually the river began to get deeper (too deep for us to cross) so we headed up to a ridge where we bushwhacked and found a trail (a nice sight after a few days of bushwhacking and game trails)! We followed the trail around the ridge and then set up camp by a small lake that Thad even jumped in!
The next morning was the Fourth of July. To celebrate George and Lauren woke up early to start making cinnamon buns for everyone. We let the crew sleep in and then surprised them to a fun morning by waking them up with a portable speaker and blasting USA themed music! We spent the morning eating and hanging out. Hannah painted everyone’s faces red white and blue and we also all put on Fourth of July themed temporary tattoos. Kate also painted her hand red white and blue, giving everyone patriotic handprints! After we all took a quick and exhilarating dip in the cold mountain lake, we set back out on the trail.
We hiked about 7 miles with a newly visible range of snow and ice covered mountains in view all the while jamming out to music. Once we got to camp, Ben and Maggie made Annie’s Mac and cheese and more Brookies to celebrate the fourth. We had a meaningful Moonup in which we discussed the challenges and accomplishments of our backpacking trip. The next morning was our final morning of backpacking. We got picked up at the trailhead and after organizing our gear set off for Denali for rafting and zip lining. We can’t wait for the adventures to come in our final few days!
Maggie – Hey family!! This place is incredible and I love it. Love and miss you, can’t wait to see you!
Thad – Hey everyone! I’m missing home a lot but this place is amazing everywhere you look in Alaska you see something natural and untouched it’s so refreshing. I couldn’t have asked for a better summer. I love you mom and dad and I can wait to see you again. PS – Give cloud some extra treats from me!
Kate – Hey mom and dad, I’m having a great time here and I miss y’all. Also happy birthday William, see you soon! P.S. Hey Ellie 🙂
Jack – Hey family! Only a few days left, and I’m trying to savor them. This trip has flown by, but I love and miss y’all and can’t wait to see you again soon!
Kendal – Hey mom, dad, and Brooke, Alaska is beautiful and I’m having the best time. Love and miss y’all! See you soon!
Jane – Hey fam! Alaska is so cool, and I’m having an amazing time! I can’t wait to see y’all in a couple days, love and miss y’all!
Richard – Hello family. Alaska is amazing. Can’t wait to show the photos and to see y’all in a few days. Love y’all
Hannah – Hey mom, dad, and Henry, I have had a great trip and miss y’all. Heading to Denali National Park to raft and then heading home. Can’t wait to tell y’all all about it and show you the amazing photos. See you soon, love you! P.S Hey Kirk and Talley- miss you both!
Mills – Hello family. This trip was very fun and rewarding. My group is great. I’ll see y’all In a few days, love you.
Benjamin – Hello MDAJ, Alaska has been awesome and I am excited to see you guys soon!
Hailey – Hey mom, dad, and Harrison! I’m having the best time and miss y’all and Honey and Cali so much. We just finished 8 days of backpacking. Love y’all and see y’all soon!
June 28, 2021
We are a little more than a week in and we just wrapped up ice climbing with a “glacier cookie” from the local restaurant. We are getting ready for our 8 day backpacking trip in the Talkeetna starting tomorrow and reflecting on our epic two days on the glacier!
The day after sea kayaking, we prepped for the next 11 days with a huge grocery shop and some much needed laundry. While all the students got to go to costco and Walmart with Lauren and George to pick out their favorite snacks for backpacking, Ben and Maggie stayed behind with Travis to do everyone’s wet and dirty laundry from the kayaking. That day we arrived at our beautiful campsite for the next few nights, a grassy field by a roaring glacial river surrounded by snowy mountains. We played whiffle ball and even spotted a moose near our campsite the first night!
The next morning (on the day of our first ice climbing session) we fueled up with some mouth watering breakfast sandwiches made by Thad and Hailey. We met our guides and got geared up with harnesses, helmets, and crampons (spikes for your boots!) So we could safely navigate the glacier. After a hike into the glacier we set up lines and began ice climbing. Mills, Ben, and Hannah were the first to give climbing a shot! Kate trusted one of us group leaders, Travis, to belay her up the ice wall (and she absolutely killed it!). Everyone got to the top on their first tries by swinging their two ice axes and kicking their crampons hard into the ice wall. After an adrenaline pumping day on the glacier we had a surprise ice cream stop at a local shop where Richard and Travis faced off in a game of horseshoe. That night we sorted and prepped all 336 of our meals for backpacking as well as hefty snack bags for everyone. Finally we celebrated with a dance party before bed.
On the second day of ice climbing, Jane and Richard whipped up some veggie (spinach peppers, mushrooms) and cheese scrambled eggs for breakfast with sausages. Then we geared up again and were off to the glacier. We traveled much further in this day, going 2.5 miles before stopping to set up ropes for climbing. To climb, we had to be lowered into crevasses over a glacial stream and then climbed back up through what was essentially a narrow ice canyon. One of the climbing ropes today even had an overhang, which Mills was the first to successfully tackle. Ben, Thad , Kate and Jack also made it up this route which was the toughest route out of all four. We filled up our water bottles with pristine, icy cold glacial water and Kendal even stuck her head right down to the glacier to drink it straight from the source!
On our trek back down from the glacier we jammed out to music with many of the song suggestions coming from Jack!! After a long day of climbing, everyone had built up a big appetite and all the kids were ready to whip up some food when we got to back to camp, but instead we surprised them with a delicious local food stop at a local joint where everyone chowed down on burgers, chicken fingers, tacos, and a delicious cookie skillet to finish it off. Needless to say everyone was in great spirits after that meal and went to bed with full day happy stomachs. These students are still blowing us away on how they face these challenges. Not everyone was super comfortable with heights or even being belayed into a large crack of ice, but everyone made it out of their comfort zone to make the climb.
All the kids are having a blast and we can’t wait to let y’all know all about the fun times and the gorgeous views and wildlife we will see when we get back from backpacking!
June 26, 2021
Northern Lights 3 reporting in, and we are all happy and healthy! The trip got off to a great start as we showed all the kids how to set up their tents to keep them nice and dry. Mills, Benjamin, Thad, Jack, and Richard became fast friends after they created their own frisbee golf course at our campsite (most of them were par for the course). Hannah, Jack, and Maggie whipped up excellent breakfast burritos for our first breakfast together.
We then all piled into our nice big bus and had a smooth ride to a rainy little coastal town called Whittier. The kids put up their tents before we all headed into town to stop in a local coffee shop where everyone got a nice hot chocolate to warm them up. After an exciting briefing from our rad Alaskan Sea Kayaker guide, Luke, we did Moonup and headed to bed early to be well rested for our big first day of sea kayaking. In the morning everyone suited up in their heavy-duty rain gear given to us by the Sea Kayaking outfitter. Everyone looked very stylish (or steezy as we now say) as though they were true Alaskan deep-sea fishermen. Richard and Hannah lead the way as our leaders of the day, and they absolutely killed it on the open seas. We got a real treat on our first day of kayaking as the rain clouds parted ways for a bright and sunny day in the usually rainy Nellie Juan glacier sea. The views were nothing short of jaw dropping as the massive snowcapped mountains towered over us on either side of the sea. We paddled by dozens of waterfalls rushing with glacier melt. After a relaxed 9-mile kayak, we arrived at our first campsite located on the shores of Shady Cove beach. There, Thad and Travis took a polar plunge (or chilly dip) into the ice-cold water and immediately came running back out to dry in the sun. Hailey cooked us up some incredible burrito bowls on the back country camping stoves and everyone ate until they were stuffed.
The next day was rainy, but that didn’t stop anybody from bursting out into song as we paddled our way across the glacier waters. It was a long 12-mile day, filled with unbelievable beauty. Kate, Jane, and Kendal constantly pointed out seals to us that kept popping up out of the water to see what we were up to. The kids also spotted a few sea otters and a handful of bald eagles, it truly felt like the last frontier. The last mile everyone was exhausted but Hailey and Hannah stepped up to the front of the pack and lead us into the beach. After a long day at sea in which everyone was able to challenge themselves, we set up camp at Apple Gate island. Thad helped get a warm fire going where we were able to dry off and share a very intimate and heartfelt Moonup.
We woke up the next day to wind and rain, but nothing we couldn’t handle. We hunkered down at our campsite for the day, taking a much-needed rest day. For breakfast we had delicious “mooch-cakes” (named by Maggie) which are essentially fluffy pancakes with craisins and chocolate chips in them, they were a big hit with all the kids! A few people came up with their own miniature designs that they gave to our sea kayaking guide who said at the end of the summer he would pick the best submission and get it tattooed on his arm! For dinner Kate and Kendal made some mouthwatering Hawaiian barbecue chicken quesadillas. We finished off the day with some great back country skillet brownies and a Moonup filled with lots of laughter!
The next day was our last day on the water and six miles of paddling felt easy by now. As we waited for our charter boat to pick us up, we played games and did dances to warm up. Everyone napped on the boat ride back to Whittier where we explored the town more and met some other Moondance groups.
This group showed a lot of toughness, resilience, and grit. Day two kayaking was not an easy day physically or mentally with the rough seas and rain. We were definitely tested and pushed to our limits, but these kids overcame that adversity and kept the spirits and morale very high despite being cold and wet. We are super proud of them and can’t wait to see how they do with these next challenging activities.
Now, we are off to ice climbing!
From the leaders,
George, Lauren and Travis
June 20, 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