July 2, 2023
On the morning of the 26th, NLT-A awoke and bid a final farewell to NOVA’s Chickaloon outpost and boarded a bus to Whittier, Alaska. On the path to its damp, soggy sojourn in the Southern border of the state, the bus stopped in Anchorage, where the LODs (Mae and Ollie) joined the trip leaders on an expedition into the urban wilderness to procure provisions for its last great excursion: sea kayaking in the Prince William Sound.
The journey to Whittier was surreal: tucked in a small bay within Chugach National Forest, Whittier is a small town of roughly 272 year-round residents connected to the broader Alaskan Portage Highway system via the Anton Anderson Memorial tunnel — a 2.5 mile tunnel through Maynard Mountain constructed in 2000 — and the ‘wettest’ city in the United States, receiving some 197 inches of rain per year. The gang looked out the windows of its passenger bus in awe of its surroundings until it reached a small campsite tucked behind the town’s primary place of residence — the Begich Towers condominium that houses nearly the entire population of this soggy little landmark. Following our arrival, the group met with Peter of Alaskan Sea Kayakers to be outfitted with rain gear and dry bags, and the leaders set to cooking dinner — and what a dinner it was: a massive Mediterranean feast to celebrate Ollie’s eighteenth birthday topped off with a cake hand-picked by the newly dubbed man, himself, at the illustrious Anchorage Walmart. After a dinner that tested the ‘Cavernous Maws’ (as coined by Foster Hudson) of our most able eaters, we danced (literally, danced) in the light rain at the foot of our campsite kitchen to ABBA and Rihanna, respectively, and rested before the final leg of our trip.
The team awoke to a low ceiling along with — you guessed it — rain and boarded its charter boat which carried the company into deeper reaches of the sound. At this stage, your ever-diligent scribe would wax poetic about the wondrous landscape, but, at this point, our surroundings were perpetually suffused in a deep, occlusive cloud that afforded little in the way of observation: In short, it was foggy. Nevertheless, the suffusive cloud-cover conferred a certain mystique to our passage which, in conjunction with the constant rain, granted a sense of austerity to the voyage ahead. However, as Parker so aptly put it, the gang was formed of ‘tough cookies,’ and we disembarked with general, if somewhat uncertain, enthusiasm to begin a short, four-mile paddle to our outpost for the next two nights. Charlie and Mills, the intrepid LODs, led the pack, working directly with our Outfitter to navigate the coastline. Our arrival at camp reinforced an already understood fact of camping: comfort is relative. The team unpacked its laden kayaks and jumped to the task of setting camp, constructing a series of tarp shelters to act as kitchen, depot, and assembly for the group — a task for which Julian was particularly prepared, instructing Foster in the methodology and theory of ‘tarping.’ Camping being laid, Sarah and Charlie helped cook a mean pasta dinner and a no-bake Oreo cake for Clara, the birthday girl!!! We feasted under a big net to the constant patter of rain atop our tarps and were reminded that cold and discomfort are nothing in the face of love and laughter.
The following morning, the pack awoke to, still, more rain. But that’s okay! Far from dour or despondent, the team was all about it — they grew to more explicitly understand that discomfort does not equate misery and, furthermore, the practical necessity of action and direction in such situations: our peace and shelter was purchased in exchange for wet sleeves and the sting of p-cord rubbing against cold, damp fingers — nothing came free. However, the morning brought small consolations: specifically, hash browns, cheese, and sautéed summer sausage. After breakfast, the team loaded up and boarded their kayaks, and the LODs, working with our outfitter, led the two mile paddle towards Beloit Glacier. The glacier was magnificent: surrounded on all sides by cascading waterfalls, Beloit Glacier is tucked between two jutting points so that it could only be viewed head-on; after arrival, we hiked to the foot of the glacier and then lunched in front of our kayaks before returning to camp. The leader team, again, with the help of Sarah cooked a feast of quinoa that was as delicious as if was abundant — and it was extremely abundant, so abundant, in fact, that even Julian ‘SumpMaster J’ Beck struggled to finish (but, of course, he did (he makes us so proud )). We were wiped and, knowing that we’d need to rest well for the return voyage, we quickly finished our evening tasks and sunk into our slightly soggy sacks for such much-needed shut-eye.
We met the next morning’s rain as we might the playful jabs of an old, wearisome friend: with determination and an enthusiasm that was, perhaps, more feigned than genuine — but we met it, nonetheless. Regardless, a warm breakfast of oatmeal and cookie butter (sweet, sweet cookie butter) dispelled any misgivings. Julian, Clara, Mills, Charlie, Parker, and Foster’s helping hands made short work of our numerous tarps and, with camp broken, we set off on the penultimate leg our our journey: a thirteen mile paddle to squirrel cove. The first eight miles flew by, and the wolf pack lunched on a rocky beach before its crossing — a notorious feature of any serious sea-kayaking expedition, requiring patience, endurance, and coordination: per usual, the students excelled. However, the next turn brought greater trials: tree sweeping winds and three-foot swells that, hitting the group at a perpendicular angle, dampened our progress and tested our mettle: despite it all (and, mind you, three-swells are no-joke — especially without the security of a dry-suit), Julian and Clara paddled on, visibly undaunted by the conditions, appearing almost zen in the face of strong winds and rain. Your scribe was mighty impressed. After rounding a couple points, we passed the worst of it, and our outfitter informed us that our campsite was a mere mile ahead. Unfortunately, it was taken, and the group ended up paddling two additional miles to Shotgun Cove to lay camp, but no one complained. Eva Rose particularly demonstrated the meaning of tolerance for adversity, laughing, and conversing her way through the, ultimately, fifteen mile paddle and keeping everyone around her in good spirits. We arrived at camp in the early evening and took to setting tents and preparing dinner. The leader team produced a delicious fajita bowl, and our little family settled down for its last night in the Alaskan backcountry.
And lo there was sun — sweet, scalding sun. We awoke to a bright, shiny morning in the Prince William Sound — an actual miracle as far as we, your dauntless leaders, are concerned. Our grit and determination was relayed in mild sunburns, and we couldn’t have been happier. We ate a quick breakfast that largely consisted of our remaining food and snacks, and immediately boarded kayaks to finish the final, seven-mile leg to Whittier. The paddle flew by, and as we made it back to the ramp from which we embarked on this soggy sojourn (if you’ll forgive my repeated use of the phrase), we each understood that we’d made it. The group made it. We’d faced and surmounted every obstacle in our path and emerged stronger and surer than when we’d begun: we had grit, tenacity, courage and, as lame as it may sound, we had each other. We discovered among ourselves a bond forged from trial and tribulation — from sore muscles, wet socks, cold fingers, and fears faced; from belly laughs, affirming glances, and loving embraces seasoned with uncertainty for which they tasted all the sweeter. We’d lost ourselves in the effort and found each other. And as the group boarded its bus to Talkeetna, we slept, again, with the firm conviction that we broke no promises — we did exactly what we set out to do. The time was short, the talk was invaluable. Thus, we showered, and we marched from our RV park campsite to the Denali Brew Pub and ate, and ate, and ate. There was no talk of seconds that night — no appetite unmet. Post-dining at our final Moonup, Aubree voiced a feeling shared by all the team (something she has a natural gift for): we are capable of so much more that we imagined—with a little bit of grit, and plastic bags over our blisters, there’s nothing we can’t tackle. Following Moonup, we retired to our tent — the mega tent — and the sorry sons and daughters of NLT1-A talked and laughed into the night (and, for some, the morning) and reveled in each others’ presence.
The next morning began early — a short breakfast, followed by a brisk walk, carried us to a small airstrip just outside Talkeetna, where the gang split and boarded planes for a flight up and around Denali. It was genuinely spectacular — far beyond the humble faculties of this observer, but suffice it to say that we, again, recognized the severity of this place and its grandeur.
Now they’re all home safe and sound, and we could not be more grateful to have shared three amazing weeks with them in this wild land!
All the best,
Daniel, Kate, and Elizabeth
June 26, 2023
NLT-A awoke the morning of the 24th replete and ready for its next challenge: rafting on the Matanuska River. The leader team made a mess of pancakes for the crew, and the students packed day-bags for their overnight excursion on the river.
At about 9:30 AM, the gang walked over to the NOVA office to be outfitted with helmets, dry suits, and dry bags, and, then, boarded a bus to its ‘put in’ on Caribou Creek. Spirits were high, and the team was goaded on to their rafts to the tune of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Fortunate Son.’
At the launch, the team was split into two boats and began its morning venture out on the rushing waters of the Matanuska. Recent weather meant that the waters were higher than usual, lending the rapids — with foreboding titles such as ‘Entrance Exam,’ ‘Jumanji,’ and ‘Last Chance’ — greater force and vigor than previously seen this season. I personally witnessed Ollie, holding strong at the bow, eat a dozen waves (and about a half-gallon of water) with a wide grin and without a word of complaint; later, Parker and Charlie — hungry for more — hopped in the river, itself; meanwhile, Sarah and Eva Rose rode the bow like a bull through choppy waters, weathering the boats bucks with the grace a (albeit amateur) cowpoke. We disembarked back at the NOVA office and, after a quick lunch, boarded, once again, to float down the Matanuska to our night’s campsite.
In stark contrast to the morning’s excitement, the afternoon’s float was pleasantly placid — the, now, three different boat groups chatted idly as the guides nudged our vessels down River, and the gang arrived to its beachside camp in the early afternoon. After laying camp, the students fulfilled a long-awaited game of capture the flag: Ollie and Foster put it all out on the field, and Aubree, in a decisive blow, won the day for her team in a final, last-ditch capture. Their energy expended, the group took to more-leisurely pastimes: skipping and stacking rocks, bantering, and watching Clara backbend-walk along the shore. In the early evening, the NOVA guides announced that dinner was ready, and the whole team, propped against logs on the black sands, enjoyed their best dinner in weeks. (They can cook AND deliver you from the cold, white embrace of a watery grave? AND they’re single?!)
The team retired full and content and awoke the next morning to yet another spectacular meal — again, courtesy of the boys at NOVA. As the boys had cleaned the evening prior, the girls, spearheaded by Mae, washed the dishes, and the group boarded their respective boats for the final stretch of their rafting trip.
The ride, again, was relatively quiet, and the boat crews rode the calm waters through a valley marked (in what has rapidly become a sort of cliche in these reports) by sheer cliffs and towering peaks. By noon, the group arrived at NOVA’s Chickaloon outpost and, after a bit of logistical maintenance, began to explore their home for the night. Julian happened upon an old bike, removed the back tire, and rode up and down the gravel path of the camp like an Emperor In triumph. Parker went all-out in a game of ultimate frisbee — globules of sweat running down from his hair, eyes fixed in determination.
As the day wound to a close, the team marched up a nearby hill for their nightly reflection to the tune of Mills’ stirring take on Mulan’s ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’. Foster and Eva posed deep questions for the group, and we bonded, once again, amidst the rolling foothills of the Matanunska valley.
We’re now heading to Whittier where we will embark on the final leg of our Alaskan adventures: sea kayaking the Prince William Sound. Today is a big day because it’s Ollie’s 18th birthday! And what’s tomorrow, you wonder? Clara’s 18th birthday! There’s lots to celebrate over here. To the Koons and the Fogartys, thank you for letting us celebrate Ollie and Clara in true Moondance fashion: loads of homemade comfort food (and a healthy amount of sweet treats…), and a whole lot of fun under the midnight sun with stellar people.
Daniel, Kate, Elizabeth
June 25, 2023
On the morning of the 15th, NLT1-A began its backpacking trip into the Talkeetna mountains. The team awoke and quickly took to the task of instructing the students on the basics of packing for an eight day trip into the backcountry. Following a scramble to prepare and dispense gear among the fourteen companions, the group took a van to its entry point and bid farewell to civilized comforts.
Our first hours on trail were strenuous but relatively smooth: beyond a short, but nonetheless strenuous, stretch of ascent, the group laid camp on soft grass overlooking a broad swath of the Alaskan wilderness. Mae and Parker acted as daily leaders for the venture, each assisting their fellows in the grueling march up to camp. A thick fog swept over the landscape before 5:00PM, and, by the time the team was huddled beneath the shelter of a rather impressively constructed tarp (if I do say so, myself (and I do)), our surroundings were submerged, rendering our waterproof assembly all the more intimate. The cook crew (Aubree, Eva Rose, and Mae) delivered a warm, comforting pesto pasta — which our troops devoured (it should be noted that Julian polished off three cans of chicken (a feat that would be repeated a dozen times before the end of our journey) — and the merry band reveled in the cold, wet Alaskan evening, singing and gorging to their hearts’ content.
For the leaders — an already seasoned crew of intrepid, no-nonsense backpackers — it became quickly evident that the Alaskan wilderness would brook no weakness, and while we were confident in the group’s fiber, we wondered at the changes that the rugged terrain and unforgiving conditions would work on the individuals under our care.
Day two brought rain, and the rain brought mud — lots of it. The LODs, Clara and Charlie, led the team in breaking camp and, afterwards, the march from our foggy campsite down a long hill, across a flat expanse of grassland along rolling ATV trails, and, ultimately, into the valley wrought by Hicks Creek. The gang was exhausted. The trails, obviously designed as much for recreation as for travel, winded through bogs punctuated by a deep, churning mud that reached into every nook and cranny of our boots, but the team plodded on, trudging through the bogs and bends with a resilience and strength of will the likes that no individual, alone, can muster. It is a testament to the group that a theme, therein, emerged — an unspoken tenet of our travels: no complaints. Never once in the course of eight days did we, the leaders, hear a single, solitary complaint — their doubts, though surely present, were dispelled by one another’s presence and the deeper, overriding desire to positively contribute to the experience, whatever it might be. However, by evening, the sun broke through the clouds, and the group camped beside the trail in a small clearing along a passing creek. Mae, Ollie, and Sarah cooked a scrumptious backcountry pizza for each member of the group, and the group retired to prepare for another day on the trail.
The next morning, the team emerged from their tents under a shining sun, ate an exceedingly popular breakfast of oatmeal (seriously, they actually love it), and began the trek up Caribou Creek. Foster led the group, helping leaders make calls on navigation and, all the while, making friendly conversation with his companions. Aubree worked to maintain the spirit of the team while Foster helped with navigation, demonstrating a natural talent for group care. It was a relatively short day of hiking — made all the more manageable by the dogged enthusiasm of our students. We lunched in view of our campsite — an old bush plane strip — and finished the hike by early-afternoon. Dinner proved exceptionally restorative: lentil curry cooked by Clara, Charlie, and Aubree. The gang reflected on a successful day in the shadow of a dilapidated mining excavator and rested before the most treacherous leg of our journey: Chitna Pass.
The team awoke with a fire. Julian and Eva Rose helped rouse their fellows and break camp and, after yet another breakfast of oats and various nut butters (again, to general acclaim), the group hiked to the foot of the Chitna for its first major River crossing. In groups of three (one leader and two students), the group negotiated the rushing waters and, following a brief interlude for route-finding, began to hike West along the Chitna and up into the pass. It was a particularly tough day — terrain was rugged and trails were subtle, at best; nevertheless, the group made it to the planned campsite just under the pass and slept upon a cushion of high-alpine moss after a dinner of mac and cheese provided by the leader team. Before bed, Ollie and Parker led the boys up a short knob overlooking the pass and the rest of the group quickly followed suit. It was sublime.
The gang awoke the next morning to tackle the pass and trek down into the boulder creek basin. The LODs, Sarah and Parker, were instrumental in preparing the group for departure — Sarah demonstrated particularly strong leadership, encouraging stronger members of the team to shoulder the weight of heavier gear for the sake of smaller members. The Leader team delivered a breakfast of sautéed apples and tortillas which stands as one the best breakfasts that I, your author, have ever eaten. As we crested the foothills that marked the top of the pass, the group was struck by the austere beauty of their surroundings — towering peaks lined the path to the valley, and snow-strewn paths through the pass conferred a sense of exposure and grandeur that continues to inspire us in our adventure. At no point in the course of our travels was the reality of our setting and stature more clearly centered in our minds: sweeping rain, sporadic fog, and the severity of the conditions framed the Alaskan wilderness keenly in our minds. Finally, a stunning ridge-walk down to the valley beneath the pass afforded each member the space to reflect on his or her place in this vast expanse, and we ultimately settled camp along the riverside to the tune of rushing water. The cook crew made burrito bowls for the group, and everyone rushed to bed tired but overflowing from the day behind them.
Day six saw NLT-A continue its path along Boulder Creek. Ollie and Mills, our dutiful LODs, led the team in a long, but swift, walk along the river banks. We made shockingly good time considering the route, bushwhacking our way through dense brush until we were compelled to return to an available clearing a quarter-mile from trail. There, the cooks — Mae, Julian, and Eva Rose — made a remarkable pasta with white-sauce that soothed our ruffled feathers and reminded us that good food sits at the intersection of creativity and resourcefulness. We slept exceedingly well.
Day seven was marked with trials. The group emerged from its slumber to face another bushwhack, and covered ground quickly until it was halted by the rushing waters downstream. However, once again, the group was undaunted: the leaders scouted the River banks for a viable crossing while LODs, Mae and Charlie, led the group in games to pass the time. Ultimately, the group was forced to reserve its energy for the next morning — the final Mormont of the venture. Sarah, Mills, and Aubree cooked Jambalaya for the group, and we enjoyed a long rest before our crossing the next day.
Day eight began with a bang: after brief consideration of alternatives, the leaders led the gang in a crossing of the boulder. LODs, Julian and Aubree, took charge on the other side of the boulder, and, once safely across, NLT-A marched briskly along winding ATV trails to a small clearing where we lunched on our remaining tortillas and summer sausages. Afterwards, the leaders led the team on a southward bushwhack to sweet, sweet asphalt, and the NOVA team picked us up for an ice cream cone and a ride back to camp. While the students unpacked and organized their gear, one leader went out for pizza while the others managed preparations for rafting the following morning. We feasted and reflected on our trials, tribulations, and the overwhelming weight of our, now finished, journey, looking to the future with faith and confidence in ourselves, individually and collectively.
We are so proud of your children! And our cups overflow with gratitude for their patience, tenacity, and enthusiasm. We are humbled to continue witnessing their blossom into the strong leaders they were all born to be. You’ll hear from us soon – first we must embark on our whitewater ventures!
Daniel, Kate, and Elizabeth
p.s. happy belated Father’s Day to all of you stellar dads!
June 16, 2023
In the beginning there was the word, and the word was Sack — hacky sack. The NLT-A team arrived at Ted Stevens International Airport and, as it formed, ushered the group into its new favorite pastime (The circle, though occasionally interrupted, remains unbroken). The following morning, the Leader Team cooked the group a hearty breakfast, and the group boarded a bus for a brief, but nonetheless scenic, ride to our ice climbing outfitter’s (that is, Nova’s) headquarters outside Palmer, Alaska. Despite the obvious climate of unfamiliarity, the students, undaunted, bonded immediately — general merriment and camaraderie flourished along a road bordered by towering, snow-capped peaks and plummeting valleys.
Upon our arrival, the group met with Jack, and the leaders of the day (LODs), Julian B and Sarah S, chose a secluded campsite tucked into the treeline behind Nova’s main office. The leaders, then, capitalized on available free time, teaching the students how to set up their tents and tarp. Despite the relatively slow pace, the group had little trouble entertaining itself: Clara, noticing an abundance of dandelions, quickly set to fashioning wreaths/coronets from the wildflowers and, with equal grace, instructed other members of the group in the art — Foster demonstrated a particular aptitude for the craft — and, later, hung the tokens about trees around camp. Afterwards, Mills led the group in a game, placing unwitting/clueless members of the group within a circle of their compatriots, whose task it was to devise a particular pattern of response to questions posed by the individual in the center, guessing at the key, as it were, until the answer was found. That evening, the cook crew — Foster, Mills, and Mae — learned the subtle art of quesadillas, producing a borderline bounty for which we remain indebted.
The next morning, the group awoke, cooked breakfast, and walked over to the Nova office for gear issue; afterwards, our Nova guides loaded the gang into a bus and drove us to the foot of the Matanunska glacier —an expansive mass of glacier that began formation some 22,000 years ago and currently stretches four miles wide and twenty-two miles long. A brisk hike in micro-spikes led us to our first chance at ice-climbing, and the group met the challenge with aplomb! Charlie W, though initially hesitant, led the charge, attacking a thirty-foot expanse of ice like a pro; followed by Ollie and Parker who, in like fashion, demonstrated a confidence and ease in unfamiliar terrain that inspired hesitant members of the group to test their mettle against our cold, blue quarry. The guides were particularly impressed with our students, and the merry band of budding adventurers trekked upwards and out of the glacier to the march of such classics as Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA” — led by Parker, who achieves an impressive tenor for his age and stature. Spirits soared as the group boarded its van home and peaked following a Mediterranean dinner cooked by Clara, Sarah, and Ollie. As another Alaskan evening ended (albeit, one notably lacking in any sort of sunset), the group rested in the confidence of a day well-lived and the quiet, unspoken thirst for greater achievements ahead.
Thursday began our second, and final, day of ice-climbing. The climbing guides, impressed with the group’s poise and determination, decided to test a freshly scouted route on the team, ferrying our students across a section of river into the deeper reaches of the glacier. They absolutely killed it, once again, demonstrating a tolerance for adversity that humbled this dutiful reporter. Following a rugged three-mile hike to the glacier’s edge, the guides led our students up to a flat ‘roof’ of ice. The team trekked along the surface of the glacier until we reached a steep slope upon which we would climb. The guides placed anchors at the foot of the slope and, following a quick lunch in the shadows of the Chugach and Talkeetna mountain ranges that flank the Matanunska Glacier, our students began their next climb. Sarah led the group, and her quiet confidence —punctuated by a grin as she crested the slope at the acme of her ascent — echoed through the crowd. Later, Julian, who, with a grace that could only flow from years spent among ice and snow, tackled the steepest pitch with aplomb. The task was grand, and the group of students showed out, lifting one another (figuratively) to the effort of ascent (literally). Though unaware that she was observed, your vigilant chaperones witnessed Aubree nail a section of glacier and, touchingly, lift the spirits of a young man struck by a fleeting bout of self-doubt, ensuring him that he was neither alone in his trepidation nor pathetic in his attempt.
I do not wish to strike a negative chord with this anecdote — this is a difficult section of a difficult trip — but to indicate that this family cohered in the face of tribulation, and its members have developed a strong will to rally one another to a common cause: the pursuit of growth, grit, and community. We cannot overstate their performance, and we feel it in our bones that each of the students will exceed their highest expectations of themselves. We finished the day with pad Thai cooked by Parker, Eva Rose, Charlie, and Aubree, and retired to bed with emotional and physical confirmation of another day well-lived. We begin our backpacking trip in the morning! The mountains call, and NLT-A will answer with a roar — coats upturned against the wind — to meet their gaze.
Daniel, Kate, and Elizabeth
June 13, 2023
Hello Northern Lights Families!
We heard from our leaders overnight and the group has landed safely in Anchorage with all of their luggage! 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!