July 5, 2022
“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward”
These past couple days have been absolutely incredible. Clear skies and clear minds. I write this with a full belly and a warm heart. The halfway point is upon us. Wondering if this high will wear off. Holding on for dear life.
The last time we checked in, we were camped at the toe of the root glacier getting ready for ice climbing. We slept in and had our first slow roller of a morning. We woke up to bacon and eggs, Wyatt and Wilder were so pumped. A perfect way to start a perfect day. We packed our packs with the essentials and started down the path towards the ice. Kelly and Alec, our guides, did a glacier travel lesson and taught everyone how to lace up their crampons. Once sunnies and gloves were on, we stepped out onto the ice. The cool air coming off the surface was the perfect counter to the heat of a cloudless day. We walked a couple hundred yards to a massive compression fin. A huge white and blue frozen wave. The other guides had already set up our top ropes. Wilder and Hannah were the first to attempt the climb. Both made it with flying colors. We took turns climbing and just hanging out on the ice. A glacier melt stream ran right through our little dip. Rem and Davis were freaking out about the crisp, clean glacier water. Truly some of the purest water in the world. We climbed all afternoon till no one could feel their forearms. Just when everyone was ready to head back. MC decided she wanted to try the hard route on the left side. The upper section of which bends inward past completely vertical. We all watched as she slowly crept higher and higher. She topped out and everyone went crazy below. We all couldn’t believe she still had more in the tank. After lunch on the glacier, we headed back to camp. We went to sleep early in preparation to travel across the whole glacier to reach the lower section of the Donoho Basin.
The next morning, we set out early and broke down camp in record time. Sadly, we also had to say goodbye to Fran and Lexi. Lexi had bumped her head a couple of days before so we decided she and Fran would get some much-needed rest back in McCarthy. Ella and Lexi hugged for a good long while before we finally set off. The rest of the group and I laced up our crampons and hit the glacier with much heavier packs than the day before. There was not a single cloud in the sky. Little did we know that would become somewhat of a theme for the rest of our backpacking. Kelly taught Maggie and Davis about “glacier mice” which is a type of moss that moves and is the only living thing that can survive on the glacier. So, Davis and Maggie gave the rest of the group a lecture on the travel habits of the mysterious green furries. We continued on being led by our LODs Charlie and Amelia. They took turns leading the group around massive crevasses and moulins. Treacherous cracks and holes lead to nothing but a dark cold. We winded our way keeping our distance from such places. We finally spotted what looked like a good spot for lunch. Turns out it might have been the coolest lunch spot of all time. A massive dark blue pool. One side a shallow, almost beach-like calm, the other a very very very deep hole. Quentin told us all he promised his mom that he would jump into the blue hole and that he would be the first to go. He prepared his mind and body for a chilling 32.5 degree polar plunge. He jumped in and immediately swam to the edge. He hopped out with a smile from ear to ear and others were quick to follow. Maggie, Hannah, Wyatt, and Rem would also test the waters. Davis and MC led the rest of the group cheering them on from the edge. We dried off and threw every layer we had on before saying goodbye to one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. We finally made it to the lateral moraine on the side of the glacier after another hour’s push. We had about 500 feet of elevation gain to scramble up till we reached our campsite at the top of the cliff. We crushed it in like 20 minutes. I was unbelievably impressed. We made camp and set up tents ready to settle in for the night, until out of nowhere a dark rain cloud parked itself out over the glacier we had crossed just an hour earlier. It didn’t stay long before retreating back into the south, but it left behind a complete rainbow right over all the white ice. It was a beautiful way to end the day. Warm chili in our bellies and a perfect rainbow to look at. We went to sleep proud and ready for the morning.
The following day would prove difficult yet we were determined. Ella and Quentin were our LODs and without their positivity and bright attitudes, we would have been lost. As the crow flies it is two miles from lower to upper Donoho Basin. In Alaskan miles that is four miles. Four miles of mushy marsh, biting bugs, and whacking willows. Alaskan bushwhacking is quite literally the gnarliest activity out there. This group pushed through every branch, tree, and thicket that was thrown their way. As we passed by pristine alpine lakes the group got more and more excited about what lay ahead. As you move further up the basin the lakes become bluer and bluer. Snow melt from the spring creates some of the most beautiful lakes in the world. We finally made it to our spot. It would be our campsite for two days. Base camp. Home. We were all itching at the chance to wash off the sweat of the bush. Although the lake isn’t as cold as our glacier blue pool jump, it sure didn’t feel all that much warmer. Alec, Kelly, MC, and Maggie led the charge and I followed. The rest of the boys were trying to talk themselves up to take the dip. I turned on the GoPro and that was all they needed. One by one they did their best long jump into the blue. At a certain point, your body becomes completely numb and it actually feels warm. The water feels warmer than the air. We swam around for about twenty minutes. Much much longer than any of us expected. After drying off we all gathered for a special ridgeline Moonup where we talked about the food that reminds us of home. The food that reminds us of you. Of mom and dads cooking or our family’s favorite restaurants. We have all become very comfortable with each other and with that, each Moonup has gotten better and better. We settled in for the night, truly believing we could accomplish anything together.
The next morning was the slowest of rollers. We woke up super late to breakfast bagels and bacon prepared by our wonderful guides. I led a morning meditation lakeside with the whole group. As most of you probably know, living in the moment is a very important part of Moondance. We learned about how sometimes just sitting down and just being is all you need to reset. Not trying to not think or think of nothing, but just be. Experiencing the experience. We learned how thoughts and feelings do not define self. Both good and bad will pass. Nothing is constant. Everything everywhere is in motion all the time and sometimes all we need to do is sit and just be for a second. We all sat for a good long time in complete silence just staring at the mountains in the distance. We left that ridgeline feeling a little calmer, safer, and in touch with the world around us.
The rest of the day was filled with various activities. Day hikes to distant ridgelines and glaciers, swimming, and the doing of absolutely nothing. Baking away under the sun, without a care in the world. We had Thanksgiving dinner (stuffing and mashed potatoes) for dinner before calling it an early night. The next day would be our true final test. We had to travel the entire way back. All the way back to McCarthy in one day. Everyone was slightly nervous but ready to get started.
We woke up early, ate some breakfast and hit the road. We were all business. Even with lighter packs (less food), the bush would be tough. We were making our way back and got a bit lost and had to backtrack. A normal group would have complained and had bad attitudes. That was not the case. We made it back to our previous campsite and ate lunch. With a view of our final destination in sight we laced up crampons and stepped out on the ice for the last time. We crossed as straight as possible. The wind was at our backs. Towards the end of the root, we found a massive moulin and we’re able to look down into it. Super scary. We made our way up the steep banks of the other side and hit the flat straight away back towards the Kennecott Mine. We were moving so fast we were almost running. After a short somewhat smelly van ride we were back in McCarthy. Which meant the much-needed reunion with Lexi and Fran. Everyone was sooo happy to see them. We shuffled all our gear around for rafting. After one of the craziest duffle shuffles ever, we finally made our way into town for some food. We are at the famous “Potato.” Live music and 4th of July festivities were in full swing. We ate well, very well. Real good. First soda after a 6-day backpacking trip is a wild thing. We nestled in for the night. Eyes were closed immediately after hitting pillows. We slept like we never had before.
This group is simply amazing. I’m at a loss of words. We have become a family in less than a week. Big and wild Alaska sure does funny things to us little people. I cannot wait for rafting and I’m certainly not alone in that. We will check back in the next couple days.
Until then be well! We love and miss you all!!
Frankie and Fran
June 29, 2022
HI FRIENDS AND FAMILY,
Frankie and Fran here writing from our cozy sleeping bags, peeking out of our tent that’s overlooking the root glacier. We couldn’t imagine a better start to a trip than the one we’ve had. It’s been an absolute blast!
The night everyone arrived in Anchorage, we ordered pizza to the airport before boarding a bus to our campsite. Our tent was eagerly awaiting our arrival. We had our first moon up where we discussed the multitude of reasons, we want to be a part of moondance and why we chose to travel to the last frontier state. Then it was time to get some shut eye.
On our first full day, we munched on a breakfast of fresh berries and pancakes. We broke camp and departed for Chitna. Our wonderful friends at St Elias Alpine Guides (SEAGS) drove us in their van. Although our car ride was long, it was a great time to bond and bump to some tunes. Ella and Lexie started a great queue for us to enjoy. After a couple bathroom stops and some peanuts butter and jelly sandwiches, we made it to our next destination. Then we decided it was time to change up our mode of transportation, it was time for the bush plane ride! Maggie and Wyatt rode as co-pilots in their respective planes and asked many engaging questions. Our pilots were so knowledgeable and answered them all. They pointed out Mt Blackburn, Bona, and Wrangell as well as Castle Mountain. We even got a glimpse of our backpacking route from the air. Our guides picked us up from the airport and drove us to Kennecott. We toured the hundreds of years old Kennecott mine. Charlie helped our guide, Kelly, demonstrate how the machinery operated. After a long, hot day, we got ice cream from the McCarthy Mercantile. MC and Hannah were super excited for this sugary pick-me-up. They decided to be super adventurous and order the bubblegum flavor. Then We headed to camp at a beautiful river bar next to where the SEAG guides live. Our guides Kelly and Alec cooked us a scrumptious spaghetti dinner. We had moon up next to the river led by our LODs MC and Davis then Frankie brought out his guitar. We hung out under the midnight sun before catching some Zss.
Today was also a BIG day! We woke up to breakfast prepared by our guides—pancakes and oranges! Then it was time to prepare for backpacking. We learned so many valuable skills, what and how to pack and how to fit our packs to our bodies. Then we drove to Kennecott to start our trek. We grabbed ice boots and crampons from the SEAG office before hitting the trail. It took a little while to adjust to walking with a load on our backs, but we eventually settled in. There were beautiful wildflowers surrounding the trail and multiple outcropping that gave us a view of the mountains and the glacier. We crossed amazon creek, where we took a break to splash some cool water on our faces to help us beat the heat. Once we arrived at camp, we had a few chores to do before we could fully relax. Quentin and Rem assisted our guide Alec with a water run. Amelia was super helpful with knot tying when we set up the cook tent. We enjoyed lovely pizza burritos for dinner and topped it off with s’mores for dessert. We circled up for moon up where our LODS asked us to pick a day in our lives that we would want to relive (without changing anything). Wilder had a crowd pleaser answer, he said he would go back to the day he was born! We ended the night listening to music while looking out over the mountains.
We will write soon to tell you about our upcoming adventures on the glacier!
Fran and Frankie
June 27, 2022
Hello Midnight Sun Families!
We just heard from our leaders that the group landed safely last night in Anchorage. 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!