July 26, 2023
We arrived in Whittier to something of an anomaly: blue skies – an uncommon sight in a town infamous for its inclimate weather. As their leaders stood in awe of their good fortune, the students unpacked their bags and set up tents; afterwards, the gang walked down to its kayaking Outfitter’s office for a quick orientation and gear issue.
Our guide, Calvin, distributed dry sacks, rain gear, and ‘Wag Bags’ (look it up) for labeling, and gave the students a basic overview of our upcoming travels. We anticipated an early morning, so the leaders made dinner and, meanwhile, pushed the students to prep their clothes and gear in advance. However, our early departure was not to be – howling winds battered the bay all night and into the next morning, dashing our hopes for a quick exit. per usual, NLT-2A adapted to the circumstances and managed to make a good time of it. The leaders prepared breakfast and allowed the students a few hours extra sleep. As they awoke, the students helped themselves to breakfast burritos and, afterwards, eagerly seized the abundant free time by the horns. After several rounds of death sack (elimination hacky-sack in which competing players seize the sack after the third kick and attempt to throw it at one their opponents – the circle is gradually pared down, ultimately resulting in a climactic showdown), the gang split into two years for ultimate frisbee: on team one, Sage, Charlie, and Ellie; on two, Carolyn, Asher, and Bibs. The game was hard fought, but team one emerged victorious. Soon after, the group met its guide, Calvin, at the outfitter’s office and, from there, walked to a boat ramp for its afternoon ride into the sound. Calvin convinced our captain to drop us off a few miles further to save us a short paddle; thus, after a forty-minute ride, the gang disembarked on a small isthmus joining Willard island to the mainland – our home for the next few days. As we assembled on the beach, a bald Eagle swooped close over the group and back to its nest in a nearby tree too an ‘auspicious’ portent for our time in the sound. We unpacked, set camp around the island, and – amid a pristine, blue-bird day in the Prince William Sound – waded into the frigid water and dried ourselves on the rocky shore. Charlie and Asher tried their hand (and backsides) on some nearby crags, and the leaders cooked Mac and cheese before the team seized some shut eye.
On the morning of our second day, Asher (our birthday boy!) awoke to a chorus of girls singing happy birthday. His gift? Another day of sunshine in what is, generally, the wettest region of the country. Alaska smiled upon Asher and NLT-2A, and we enjoyed a leisurely morning before striking off into the sound. The leaders cooked hashbrowns and summer sausage, and the gang embarked on a grand voyage to inner reaches of the sound in search of glacier, seals, friendship, and, Neptune willing, plunder. The LODS, Carolyn and Elizabeth, worked with Calvin to deliver our fleet to Blackstone glacier where we disembarked on a nearby beach to care for a friend in need. I’ll allow the students, themselves, to divulge this particular anecdote, but rest assured, they performed beautifully: Jackson, Lizzie, and Ellie, rather than succumbing to stress, held the hand of our fallen sister and, in doing so, modeled strength and courage that rippled through the group. Once the crisis passed, we paddled back to Willard for dinner and, albeit diffuse, swims. We ate Pesto Cous Cous and laughed into the night. Time stood still for a moment on that beach (a phenomenon assisted by the fact that the sun has, still, yet to set), and I think that we all left feeling a little closer and a little more grateful than when we arrived.
In consideration of our friend and the beautiful weather we’d enjoyed, we decided to forgo the long paddle home and, instead, spend another day on Willard Island. So, after another leisurely morning, we ate oatmeal and struck off, again, into the sound for another expedition. The LODs, Asher and Sage (two veritable giants of kayaking (although, perhaps, more figuratively for one than the other)), led the pack by a solid quarter mile, goading our wolf pack to power through strong winds up to the foot of Beloit Glacier. Once there, we marveled at the sights and the occasional visits of local seals before turning our kayaks northwards towards Lawrence Glacier. We paddled for a little under two hours before reaching a beach at the foot of the glacier; once ashore, we made a short hike up to a small glacial lake and, after Calvin’s example, jumped in for a dip. Melina, Charlie, and Asher took it one further, swimming a short way across the pool in what was the coldest water that your dutiful scribe has ever encountered – it was inspiring. We dried and baked ourselves on the rocks and, once finished, marched back down to our boats to begin the paddle home. Upon arrival, we ate burrito bowls lovingly crafted by our hero, Bibs. We reflected upon our little island sojourn, our outstanding blessings, and the time we’d spent together. We knew our time was coming to a close and that the following morning would carry us from the paradise to which we’d all grown so attached.
We awoke with a leap, wolfing down a cereal breakfast and packing our ‘yaks with all our gear for our voyage to ’13 mile beach’ – our exit point and the official end of our backcountry expeditions. The paddle was short and placid – though overcast, the weather held, and we enjoyed a small taste of the sound’s mystique: a low cloud ceiling, diffuse fog, and calm waters. We arrived on 13 mile with time to spare, and the gang enjoyed the time as they chose: lounging, skipping rocks, human bowling, and admirable attempts at salmon fishing. Come noon, we loaded and boarded the boat back to Whittier, standing upon the bow deck, faces to the wind, in quiet, resolute composure. We disembarked and, thus, completed our voyage. We stopped for pizza and ice cream as we waited for our bus to arrive and basked in the triumph of time well spent.
Here’s to Northern Lights 2A! We will miss your kiddos dearly.
Bibs, Kate, and Daniel
July 21, 2023
On the morning of the 18th, NLT-2A woke to a feast of chocolate-chip pancakes and began to pack their bags for an overnight rafting trip on the Matanuska. The crew – fresh from its foray into the Talkeetnas – relished their first front country breakfast in eight days and, afterwards, marched to NOVA’s office to be outfitted with dry-suits and helmets for their morning match with the rapids. Once geared-up, the gang boarded a bus which delivered them to an outlet on the Caribou River from which they embarked. The team was chomping at the bit, with Elizabeth & Lizzie and Carolyn & Stretch, respectively, manning the bows of the two boats. (It should be mentioned that the two leaders in boat 1 (lovingly dubbed the SS Zuber ZaZa (much to our guide’s confusion) refrained from mentioning to either Elizabeth or Lizzie that the bow, in fact, receives the brunt of the impact from rapids (their resulting facial expressions upon receiving this info were priceless). After braving a series of small waves, Lizzie looked back and said, ‘this is as bad as it will get, right?’ The guide, in response, laughed. The initial twenty five minutes on the Caribou were long and quiet enough for a false sense of security to suffuse the boat crews – an illusion that was washed away (ah?) once the students met the acquaintance of their first rapid: ‘Pop Quiz.’ From there, the gang had the distinct pleasure of meeting the whole family: ‘Greg’s hole,’ ‘Jumanji,’ ‘Last Chance,’ and many more. After braving the roughest stretch, Melina, Jakson, Lizzie, and Elizabeth jumped into the frigid water before mounting the bow of the raft and ‘riding the bull,’ as it were. In the late morning, the team arrived back from whence it came, and, after a brief interlude for hot chocolate and lunch, NLT-2A began the float trip to its campsite for the night.
Some few hours later, the team disembarked on a thin gravel bank, shuffled gear onto shore, and set up tents amid a light drizzle; however, determined to enjoy their beach day, the students proved undaunted by the weather and readily filled their soggy spare time with games – among them, ‘moo off’: an ancient test of lung capacity and bovine bravado, from which your vigilant reporter, after commendable efforts from Charlie, Asher, Stretch, and Lizzie, emerged victorious. Meanwhile, casting a glance along the stretch of land revealed Bibs and Ellie, again, practicing their choreography on the rocky shore. Later, Stretch and company discussed the comparative morality of various American heroes (a conversation sparked by mention of the musical ‘Hamilton’), and the gang stretched out to read in the emerging sunlight. Sometime later, the raft guides announced that dinner was served, and the lot shuffled up to the proverbial trough to the sight of one it’s best meals yet: enchilada casserole. As we ate, the boys, Asher and Charlie, stoked and fueled the fire and, just as we all supposed dinner to be finished, the guides brought out a chocolate cake. We felt pampered, and, to return the favor, a group of students volunteered to clean their dishes. That night (a phrase I mean more figuratively than not, considering the fact that the sun never quite sets), we sat in a circle and reflected on home, individuality, and our appreciation of one another.
The next morning, we awoke to a massive breakfast of eggs and sausage over English muffins, and the gang ate until they were about ready to burst (this phrase, however, I mean more literally than you might suppose). Afterwards, we packed our gear and embarked on the final stretch of our float – a relatively uneventful trip punctuated by a definite exclamation point: the ‘King Wave’: just as we rebounded the bend of our final half-mile stretch of river, the 6-man boat veered head-on into the last major rapid of the trip: a decision that the guide played off as mere misfortune/happenstance but which I, the discerning observer, feel certain was a deliberate detour – a final farewell from NOVA to NLT-2A for which the group was thankful, if a little damp. Once on shore, the group, again, unloaded gear and set up camp at NOVA’s Chickaloon creek outpost. The team ate family-style Italian that night and tucked in to prepare for its travel to Whittier for its final section: Sea-Kayaking in the Prince William Sound.
Check in soon!
Daniel, Kate, and Elizabeth
July 20, 2023
NLT-2A began its backpacking trip into the Talkeetna mountains. The Leaders 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 nine students, 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, grueling ascent, the trail flattened out, and the gang grew to more intimately associate themselves with the task at hand. Lizzie, in the midst of her own effort, consistently reached deeper to lift up her companions, and Jakson, seeing a friend in need, stopped on trail to wipe Melina’s brow and soothe her spirits. We marched for five miles until the trail descended and fell in line alongside Hicks Creek where the team laid camp for its first night in the backcountry. Jakson, Lizzie, and Asher cooked a nice, hearty pasta with red-sauce, and the team huddled under the tarp amidst an Alaskan drizzle before turning in for the evening. The team learned valuable lessons: tarps are rad, camping is hard, Ellie’s laugh is wildly infectious, and jumping raises body temperature (and, notably, inhibits tooth brushing).
While the rain snuck off in the early morning, it left behind its trusty companion: mud – a whole lot of it. The LODs, Carolyn and Elizabeth, led the group by example, trudging through the mud and smiling all the way. Upon reaching Hicks Lake, the team stopped and ate a multi ethnic, lakeside lunch (by which I mean tortillas filled with cheddar cheese and summer sausage and slathered in strawberry jelly). We filled our stomachs and laughed, restocking our fires and mustering the courage to take on the last few miles to camp. We arrived at a small clearing roughly a half mile before the confluence of Divide Creek and Caribou Creek, quickly set camp, and the cook crew – staffed by Charlie, Melina, and Ellie – made personal pizzas for each member of the company. We huddled under our tarp and talked as the cooks worked their magic, and the team tucked into bed to prepare for another day of travel.
Day three led the band along Caribou creek and, then, up a winding ATV trail to an abandoned airstrip overlooking the valley. We ate oatmeal for breakfast and packed our tents to prepare for the day’s hike. Lizzie, Sage, Ellie, and Carolyn powered through the toughest portion of the hike and, per usual, expended their remaining energy supporting their friends. We reached the airstrip by early afternoon, ate lunch, and seized the opportunity for some much-needed rest. The gang lounged about, playing cards, talking, and journaling. Later, one of the leaders, Bibbs, instructed the students in a long yoga class (Your dutiful scribe watched from the sidelines after quickly finding that the movements disagreed with his joints). That evening, the leaders cooked a lentil curry while the students played cards, and the team tucked in to prepare for its next venture.
On the fourth day, Taking the team’s spirit into consideration and the strong desire among the group to explore the surrounding area, we stayed another night at the airstrip and set out on a day hike into the valley. We followed an ATV trail West along the hills overlooking Caribou Creek and bushwhacked through a gorgeous gorge (ask your kids about it (use this exact phrase)) until we reached another, steeper gorge which afforded no passage. There, we began a half-summit up a foothill where we enjoyed a long few hours of play and, then, marched back down to eat lunch before beginning the track back to camp. Upon arrival, Elizabeth, Sage, and Carolyn made Mac and Cheese, and the gang ate in the shadow of a dilapidated excavator before turning in for the night.
The next morning, we packed up camp and began the march back to the trailhead. It was a relatively short day, and the team arrived back at its campsite with plenty of time to spare – enough time to begin plotting. See, the other section of the NLT trip was beginning its backpacking trip the next day and, unbeknownst to them, we were returning the way we came. A plot was hatched – a devious plot – and, in a vain effort to divert the devious attentions of these would-be marauders, the leaders brought willing members of the troop up an overlooking foothill. They remained set. So, while the Cooks – Jakson, Asher, and Lizzie – prepared burrito bowls for the company, the rest of the team huddled next to them under the tarp and schemed. We hopped into our bags with a budding fire in our bellies and a lust for blind, irrational mischief.
We met them on the road in the late afternoon of our sixth day. Hearing the cheerful cries of their counterparts echoing through the surrounding hills, NLT-2A scrambled into the dense brush on either side of the narrow road leading to Hicks Lake. While their counselors were occupied, Charlie and Asher led the team, tossing packs off the road and out of sight. Their footfalls grew closer and closer, and the gang of miscreants barely suppressed the near-intoxicating urge to descend upon their quarry like a pack of wild, half-starved dogs (they have, in fact, eaten quite well, but I feel the phrase confers a certain panache). Asher furtively prayed as the cavalcade rolled by, invoking gods of mischief and deceit to deliver this effort from discovery. His appeal was obviously received, for the B-team marched on, unwary of the furious band of maniacs observing their passage.
Once their unsuspecting victims crested the hill above, the highwaymen set to strategy and settled upon a time for its long-awaited strike. A forward operating base was made along the eastern edge of the road, and the team took to tasks and pastimes, wishing to settle the nerves and dispel the fitful spurts of energy that always punctuate the preceding hours of a great assault. Melina, Charlie, and Ellie produced a large pasta with white sauce to steel the group for its coming caper, and the gang tucked in early.
The cock cried havoc, and dawn let slip the dogs of war (and to think they told me my English major wasn’t good for anything). The pack bounced towards their prize in fits of laughter and yawps of pride – with the spirited swagger of backwoods buccaneers. Jakson and Melina were the first to spot our unwitting victims. The leaders each led three students, anointing their faces with mud after the style of Cherokee warriors of old, and surrounded the camp with scarcely suppressed zeal. bedded down between creek and hill at the foot of Hicks Lake, our victims lay like so many deer – huddled together in vain hope of sanctuary. At the whistle, our cries echoed through the (back) countryside until the sorry suckers stirred from their slumber and emerged from their tents bleary-eyed and confused. At that point, the budding brigands marched down to the clearing – Moondance shirts waving – to the tune of ‘Silent Night’ (don’t ask me how exactly we settled on the song) and greeted their groggy compatriots in the early morning light. It was a grand success, and the team marched back to camp triumphant. From there, we hiked a short way up to our final campsite and cooked quesadillas for lunch. After a short day hike up a nearby foothill, the leaders made jambalaya and the team sat about an unlit campfire talking and reflecting.
We awoke the next morning, ate oatmeal, and marched out – quietly confident that we had achieved all that we’d set out to achieve. We reached the trailhead around noon where we were transported to an ice cream stop for a little treat. We returned to NOVA’s Hick’s creek campsite where the leaders made grilled cheese and the students set to washing their clothes in a nearby stream. We’d done it. In celebration, Ellie and Bibs performed a number of choreographed dances and, then, interpretive dances as the gang watched. As the day winded to a close, it dawned on the group that we had reached the second half of our trip. Time slips between our fingers like so many grains of sand, and each member of our group looked fondly at one another, savoring the moments as they passed.
We continue to be amazed by these students. Their enthusiasm, gratitude, helping hands, words of encouragement, and abundant laughs warm our hearts and blow our minds. To our parents, thank you for letting us spend this special time with your nearest and dearest! They sure are good company.
Daniel, Kate, and Elizabeth
July 10, 2023
The students arrived to Ted Stevens International on the evening of the 6th and quickly took to one another’s company. Their leaders – seasoned veterans of previous campaigns in the Alaskan wild – watched with glee as the guys and gals of NLT2 gradually formed a new, but nevertheless familiar, group. The little gang feasted on pizza as they boarded a bus and drove to their first campsite for the night. That evening, the leaders led the group in a short reflection, promoting the students to express their goals and outlooks moving into the trip. However, as everyone was visibly exhausted from a long day of travel, we quickly fell into our sleeping bags and prepared to take on the next day.
The next morning, the group awoke to a large breakfast of eggs and hashbrowns, and boarded its bus to NOVA’s office to prepare for Ice Climbing the following day. Upon arrival, the gang disembarked and set up camp in a small space tucked In the woods behind the office. There, the leaders afforded Jackson, Lizzie, and Asher an opportunity to dazzle the group with dinner, and they delivered, producing a delicious quesadilla for every member. Again, the team retired early in hopes of preparing themselves for the start of activities the next day.
On the morning of our third day, the leaders cooked another incredible breakfast of hashbrowns and eggs and the group met its Ice climbing guides for its day on 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 In length. After a brisk hike, we arrived to our climbing site and, while the guides set anchors for belaying, ate the sandwiches we had made earlier that morning. Once ready, the students jumped to the task. Ellie and Elizabeth absolutely rocked their climbs, and Charlie attacked every wall with gusto. After finishing one section of the ice wall, Carolyn sat down next to her peers and confidently said “this is, like, the coolest thing I’ve ever done.” It was, indeed, pretty rad. The team hiked out and arrived to camp exhausted, but their spirits were lifted by a delicious Mediterranean quinoa cooked by Melina, Charlie, and Ellie. We ate and slept well.
The following morning, the gang ate a hearty breakfast of English muffins and eggs, grabbed its gear, and hopped in vans for their final day on the glacier. This time, the team boarded a raft for a short river crossing and then marched to the southern edge of the glacier for its second round of climbing. 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/border the Matanunska Glacier, our students began their next climb. Again, they eagerly took on the challenge: Melina tore up the wall and strutted back to group-wide praise and Charlie, again, climbed every section he could. The team hiked back for one last dinner – Mediterranean bowls cooked by Carolyn, Sage, and Melina – before a long rest in preparation for its first day of backpacking. We can’t wait! You’ll hear from us again in 8 short days.
Daniel, Kate, and Elizabeth
July 7, 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!