July 1, 2022
With some sad goodbyes, Mitch, Chris, and I sit here writing the final trip update for Northern Lights 1B. This group has been a family unit for the past three weeks, and it feels strange “breaking the band” of Moondancers up. We are so proud of them for going out of their comfort zones and throwing themselves into this trip to laugh with each other and cherish everyone in the group.
Jumping back to two days ago, we have some final stories to share with all of you following along. We started our whitewater rafting section on the Matanuska River with class III and IV rapids. If anyone wasn’t awake that morning, dipping their hands in the chilling glacier water would change that! With our funny-looking attire of dry suits, helmets, and PFDs, we hopped in three rafts and started off with some practice paddle strokes and commands. Once we all had the hang of those, we paddled downstream to the whitewater section surrounded by rocks of all types and fir trees young and old. The rapids were a blast. It was Emma’s first time rafting and she got the chance to feel out the waters quite literally after she plopped in the water. I was quick to pull her in and she had a smile on her face as soon as she was back in the raft—ready to paddle more as the next rapids approached. Lili was quick to come up with a name for her raft and crew: The Spicy Tigers. The name had everyone laughing from the start, and I don’t think we ever stopped laughing that day after each paddle high five. Sam led his boat in celebrations after each rapid with monkey noises. The other boats definitely got a kick out of that.
After making it through the more technical part of the river, our awesome guides said that the brave ones could “ride the bull.” This means that you can sit on the front of the raft and hold the rope through the lighter rapids. Claire gave riding the bull a shot and fell in the water. The best part was that she had a smile on her face the entire time, even after the glacier water river dip. Mike also gave it a shot and was also a champ for pulling Mitch into the raft after he fell out. We all stopped for lunch back at the outfitter’s base camp. Everyone was excited for the change to sandwiches after our tortilla lunches from backpacking. We traded our dry suits for Helly Hansen rain gear and PFDs and we were back on the river to get to our campsite on the river bank for the night. That night, Georgia invited our guides to join us for Moonup after a delicious enchilada bake dinner with carrot cake for dessert. Georgia gave the Leaders of the Day the idea to ask everyone about the influence their sibling(s) have had on their lives. It was great hearing about everyone’s special bonds with their brothers and sisters. Miles tried to make a fire from sticks and string with friction on a rock. Although it didn’t work, he was quick to make a fire for the group which we did Moonup around. Everyone loved gathering around the campfire.
The next day, we had a delicious hashbrown and egg breakfast on the bank of the river. Our guides were eager to teach us all about reading the river and oar-paddling the rafts. Max steered the boat really well and pulled Chris aboard the boat when he fell from riding the bull. He was composed even when the current picked up. Ember also practiced steering the boat. It was neat to see them both pick it up so quickly. After we completed the whitewater, we traveled to our final campsite. Emma Cate and Sam led a great last Moonup the night before the group said goodbye putting everyone on the hot seat for a “honey roast” (where you say what you admire about that person.) This group has definitely grown to love and respect each other. The honey roast was even more proof of that fact.
Thank you, parents, family members, and friends for following along and trusting us with your amazing kids. We are sad to see them leave Alaska (and us!) but can’t wait for them to keep us in the loop about their adventures near and far in the future.
Not a goodbye, but a see you later—
Ruth, Mitch, and Chris
June 27, 2022
Hi to those following along!
It’s one thing to see the mountains from the plane ride into Anchorage, then to drive past them, then to see them from a kayak, but it’s another thing to take the road less traveled and walk them. This strong group of 10 students blew us away these past 8-days in the Talkeetna Mountains. For some, it was their first-time backpacking, and for others it was their first time with a pack that big for hiking, but they all crushed it.
Day one started at the trailhead and soon became a steady ascent up into the mountains. The hills kept coming, but so did their energy to get up them. Georgia was intimidated by the hills at first, but by day two she was front of the pack and taking in all the scenery and even saying she could do this for weeks! On day two, we started transitioning from the boggy mud to the tundra. Emma stayed near the back and helped cheer on those who were having a harder time up the ascent. We later named the mountain ascent blueberry hill after the wild blueberry bushes covering the sides of the trail. Emma always kept morale up, even on the tougher days with her positive and bubbly personality. That evening, we settled at an epic campsite with nearly a 360° view of the surrounding mountains even beyond the Talkeetnas. We even saw the sky turn a little pink and orange which made for some awesome pictures.
On day three, we started the day playing one of Lili’s favorite songs, “Shampoo Bottles” by Peach Pit to start celebrating her 16th birthday. We made some delicious Funfetti pancakes and began our day of hiking. With a lot of up and down, came some amazing views and then began our ascent to our two-night campsite. Claire took steps out of her comfort zone during this backpacking section, but by day three, she was confident in the Alaska Wilderness. She even mastered some backcountry cooking on a Whisperlite stove and helped us whip up a chocolate mud pie pudding on night 6. Once at our campsite, we set up tents (which they’re pros at now,) and started cooking “piggy mac” (pulled pork mac and cheese with BBQ sauce). While some of us cooked dinner, others were journaling. Miles, Mitch, and Max started throwing the frisbee with a stunning backdrop of the tundra and snowcapped mountains behind them. We were able to freeze an Oreo pie in some leftover snow patches for a final celebration of Lili’s birthday. Everyone wished that they had a summer birthday too! That night, Ember brought her positivity after a long day asking during Moonup what’s the happiest moment you’ve had in your life. This was awesome to hear about so many happy times and the loved ones that were included in those memories.
The next day, day four, we had a chill day and rested up for the rest of backpacking while the weather was a little less cooperative. Emma Cate was a steady source of good energy throughout this section of the trip. She always offered to take more gear, asked how she could help, and kept up pace. This morning, when Emma Cate and Mike woke up before everyone else, they joined Chris and Ruth on a quick walk up to the peak to gaze out at the mountains. It was a special moment. While eating our oatmeal and grits, it soon started hailing. After waiting out the rain and hail, it cleared up in time for some dinner and Moonup.
On the fifth day when we made it the saddle between two mountains. After some rocky hills and even some snow, we were all grateful to Max for taking the front of the line and putting the first footsteps in the snow. Max is always eager to learn and try new things—so much so that it is contagious. The saddle was a true testament to how hard work and perseverance pays off. The view from it was visual proof!
Miles was a man on a mission on day 6 and 7 leading the way in the front with Mitch. He was a huge help to us with setting the standard for the river crossings on East Boulder Creek. Miles also helped us spot a Moose and two baby meese from afar that same day. Sam kept us all singing and chanting to let the surrounding wildlife know we were there by sharing his favorite team’s (University of Alabama) chant. He definitely has helped keep energy up after long days of backpacking which we as leaders are so grateful for. After we came across a lake that Georgia and Claire picked out, we all hopped in for a swim. The water was so refreshing. On the way back to the trail from our detour, Mike had us on our knees laughing so hard when he trekked through the bog in his Chaco sandals, eager not to get his hiking boots wet. He has been a constant source of joy on the trip.
Once we reached our last campsite on day seven, we handed the reins over to the group to fix dinner. They decided on two meals: jambalaya and red beans & rice! We were proud of them for taking everything they’d learned and show it off to us. We made a little fire that night and shared our words that we live by around the Moonup circle. Our last morning of backpacking, we took in all the views and slowly descended toward the road for our pickup.
We are so excited about the group’s accomplishment of completing 8-days in the Alaska wilderness. They are excited for the next two days of rafting starting tomorrow morning.
Thanks for reading along!
Ruth, Chris, Mitch
June 19, 2022
Hello from Alaska!!!
Chris, Mitch, and I are so excited to watch and be a part of these friendships forming and adventures shared. It’s been a joy to see this group come together firsthand with our ice climbing section.
The night before ice climbing, we grabbed some great local pizza on our way from Whittier through Anchorage. It was a feast to say the least! At our new campsite near our ice climbing location, we were able to borrow a guitar from one of our guides and Miles was quick to strum some songs. Of course, that wasn’t without a couple requests from friends like “It Never Rains in California” from Sam and some Taylor Swift requests from Georgia.
The next day we headed to the glacier. The Matanuska Glacier in Glacier Valley, Alaska is impressive and mind boggling all at once. Our amazing guides informed us of many interesting features of the 27-mile-long and 4-mile-wide glacier settled in the Chugach Mountains. It’s even the largest glacier accessible by car in the U.S. But don’t let the car part fool you, we definitely got our crampon (the ice-specific shoe spikes) time in on the glacier walking to our climbing spots.
Sam was one of the first ones up the glacier for ice climbing day one and got everyone really excited to get their crampons on the ice. Max showed us his perfect ice climbing form (and with such speed!) too. The sun on the glacier made for some rosy cheeks and everyone was sporting their awesome shades. It was great to see each person in the group get their feet and ice tools on the ice and leave feeling pumped for day two.
Back at camp, Claire was a huge help with cooking our post ice climbing day 1 cookout of hamburgers and hotdogs. They were a huge hit! For Moonup, our nightly reflection time, Emma Cate and Mike brought the group to the next level of friendship as well as opening up by posing the question, “What is the greatest challenge you have overcome or are working to overcome in your life?” The responses from the group were significant and Chris, Mitch and I were impressed with everyone’s respectful listening and maturity.
The next morning, we hit the glacier for day two of climbing. This time, we went to the back of the glacier, about 3.5 miles in and 3.5 miles out. Georgia and Max were able to tackle the route dubbed most difficult not once, but twice. Even the guides were impressed. Ember was set on making a video montage after the trip to remember our session after the fact, so she acted as a videographer while trying out ice climbing simultaneously. Emma absolutely crushed the route with the lowering after initial struggles but was quick to get right back on the ice and ace it the second time. The whole crew was cheering on day two when Lili tackled her fear of lowering down from the top of the glacier crevasse and she went on to tackle the medium difficulty route after the fact.
We set off for our 8-day backpacking adventure after our prep day tomorrow. We can sense the group’s excitement and eagerness to get to the backcountry, and can’t wait to see them grow even closer!
Signing off for now—
Ruth, Chris, and Mitch
P.S. Everyone was eager to say “hey!” so we’ve included some shoutouts from everyone below:
Claire: Hi Family! I am having the best time here and I have met the best people ever. We have done so many cool things and I’m pumped to tell you about them. So much love! Happy Father’s Day, Daddy!
Ember: Hey Fam! We climbed an awesome glacier today. Love you guys! (Also, happy Father’s Day Dad!)
Emma: Hi Mum, Dad, Tate, and Poppy! I’m having so much fun in Alaska and have found out it really enjoy kayaking! I love and miss you all! Happy Father’s Day Dad!!
Emma Cate: Hey Mom, Dad, and Jack! I miss you all, but I have been having so much fun. Happy Father’s Day and have fun in Turks and Caicos!
Georgia: Hey Mom, Dad, Fran, and Anna! Alaska is fantastic. We have seen so many bald eagles! Miss you and love you! (Happy Father’s Day!)
Lili: Hi Mama, Dad, and Nin! Having tons of fun adventuring in The Last Frontier. I hope Nina’s having a lovely time in Spain! Love all y’all and Happy Father’s Day. -Lala
Max: Hey Mom and Dad, today we finished ice climbing and we are about to go backpacking in the Talkeetna Mountains. Alaska is great—see you soon! Happy Father’s Day.
Miles: Hey Mom and Dad, I just finished ice climbing and it was super fun. I hope Spain is fun Dad. Happy Father’s Day!
Mike: Hi Mom and Dad, I’m having many Fun adventures in Alaska and enjoying my time away from Memphis. Looking forward to seeing you in Michigan. Love, Mike
Sam: Hola Familia, I’m having a great time in Alaska. We climbed a glacier today which was pretty sick. Love you. Happy Father’s Day, Dad!
June 17, 2022
The adventure begins! Six days ago, ten strangers met in the Anchorage airport, and only five days later, it’s as if these students have known each other for years! Something special occurs when friendships form in the wild, and we have seen this process occurring in extraordinary fashion over the past week. We started this exhibition with unbelievable good luck; four sunny days in the Prince William Sound learning the ins and outs of sea kayaking, as well as having the opportunity to deliberately explore this otherworldly location full of magnificent landscapes, wildlife, and glaciers.
We are so proud of how well all of these students have adapted to life in the backcountry in such a short time period! From the start, Max was like the energizer bunny with a paddle in his hands; his motor didn’t stop for four straight days, and his boat partners were always very appreciative of that. Speaking of positive energy, Emma Cate had been a key component of keeping the group morale up, always having a smile on her face, even after the difficult sections; and her paddle also just kept on moving each day. Throughout this section, Miles was whipping it up in the kitchen, especially on Taco Tuesday when he showcased his skills, he’s learned from Tacoly Moly. We have loved seeing Claire embrace stepping out of her comfort zone, especially when it comes to trying new meals; just wait until she tells you about the tuna mac. Before this wonderful hot lunch, Georgia led the way on getting everyone motivated to participate in the polar plunge we took next to the Beloitte glacier in Blackstone Bay, a refreshing respite from the sun’s rays after a beautiful afternoon of day paddling. The highlight of this day paddle was pulling all our kayaks together and setting up a tarp sail to take on the high seas—and the miniature icebergs that had fallen from the glacier. Of course, our guides made sure this was a fun and safe activity, and it helped that Mike was able to hold down the sail, keep the boats together, and work the rudder to guide us; an excellent multitasker. We had some beautiful moon-ups during our time on 17-mile beach, with as much of a sunset that is possible in the Alaskan summer. Lili provided us with multiple excellent perspectives on how peaceful this trip is and the opportunity we all have to take advantage of that peace while we stay unplugged and live in this moment. When we needed some smiles, Sam was always ready with a joke; he has one of the best senses of humor any of us have ever heard. He kept us laughing throughout this section, especially on the longer paddles. His a capella covers of various songs in spoken verse mixed with that Birmingham southern charm had us all rolling out of our kayaks, in a figurative sense of course! But he wasn’t the only source of entertainment during these paddles, we had the opportunity to see over a dozen bald eagles, a buoy full of sea lions, sea urchins, star fish, and even a couple of sea otters! Of course, we weren’t silent during these paddles, and Ember got all of our brains in gear with countless rounds of 20 questions, including “a tunnel” which stumped all of us even after we exceeded the question limit. And the glue that has brought us all together has been Emma, with her poised sense of adventure and willingness to try new things with a positive mindset, an attribute that has rubbed off on her peers and is setting us all up for a successful trip full of growth and transformation.
In a more immediate sense, we are all stoked for ice climbing on the Matanuska glacier coming up in the next couple days, and then into the Talkneetna Mountains for what is shaping up to be an epic backpacking section. Signing off until then, Northern Lights B continues to chase adventure!
-Chris, Mitch, & Ruth
June 12, 2022
Hello Northern Lights Families!
We just heard from our leaders that the group has landed safely 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!