September 10, 2011

Patrick's Wild Alaska- Part III

This is the last of the Adventures Patrick and I had on his visit to Alaska. After I finished up my classes for the week we packed up my new car and hit the road, looking to see more of Wild Alaska. I have been spoiled over the years having a garage full of top of the line camping equipment ready to throw in the trunk. Without that at my disposal up here, we had to get a bit creative and do a little more traditional car camping. Luckily, I bought a car just big enough for the two of us to sleep in the back, which is great in Alaska because 1. It rains A LOT here and 2. while bears do break into cars, it is far less likely than a bear getting into a tent. When we started driving, it was of course, raining in Anchorage. Hoping for the best, we headed south on the Kenai Peninsula to Seward (home of Mt. Marathon and 4th of July festivities). Our first stop was the Exit Glacier and Harding Icefiend in Kenai National Park. My friend and former teammate Eric Packer took me here over the 4th so if you are an avid reader, you have read about this place before. The National park is interesting because the Exit Glacier is about the only part of it that is accessible by road. It basically encompasses all of the Harding Icefield (500 square miles of ice) and its associated glaciers, which cover most of the southern part of the Kenai Peninsula. The sun actually came out for a bit during our hike up to the icefield so we were able to get some good views and pick up a little much needed vitamin D!
On the way up, looking over the Exit Glacier
A couple of marmots were getting fat for winter and completely unfazed by humans.
At the top! Looking over all 500 square miles of ice, about 3000ft deep! The cloud did arrive by the time we got to the top so the light for a picture was less than ideal.... On our way back down, we had some excitement! A group on their way up stopped to tell us that there was bear down there so we should keep our eyes open. Typical to hiking in Alaska, this group was not scared of a bear as they were all packing some heat. With the number of cars in the parking lot when we arrived, I didn't even consider bringing my bear bell or bear spray so I began to get a little worried as all I had was my own 2 feet, 2 feet that are much slower than Patrick's. We continued down the trail making noise and being loud. As we rounded a switchback, the bushes started to shake, we had found bear. The bushes are dense in Alaska and big enough that you can't see what direction the bear is going, what color it is, how big it is, if it looks angry, nothing. Which is what makes it so frightening. Scared, we started making more noise and backed up a switchback hoping the bear would show itself. A couple from the Netherlands caught us so we decided that a pack of 4 was better than 2 and surely I could out run them if it came down to that. We slowly walked back down, whooping and calling. The bushes started moving again so we paused and made some calls. Finally, this little black bear walks out of the bushes. He was a cute little guy, minding his own business, munching berries on the side of the trail. He could have cared less that we were trying to pass or scared of him, he was just standing in the trail munching away. Eventually, he continued on his way up the mountain, following the berry bushes and we were able to pass. Unsure if he was just a small bear or a cub with a protective mama nearby, we continued to chatter loudly as descended the mountain. Luckily, we made it down without any trouble. We stopped in at the visitors center and viewed some of their good documentation of the glacial retreat that is ocurring. they have signs along the entrance road marking the year the glacier once extended to that point. It is amazing and shocking the amount the glacier had shrunk. Being geography and Environmental studies majors, we were both pleased about the information they had available as I figure most people come to Alaska and think, "wow, its cold here and there is 500 square miles of ice, certainly global climate change is a joke."
Our Friend! Alaska is interesting because there are so few roads so camping is a little more urban than you would expect for a place as big and wild as Alaska. We camped on the beach in Seward below the infamous Mt. Marathon, but we were basically in someone's backyard.....During the night a bigger than big cruise ship pulled into port. When this happens, I think the population of the town about quadruples as hoards of tourists rush to all the attractions. We met some interesting people from North Carolina that when hearing about our areas of study in school asked us if we were doing that "Al Gore thing, that global warming stuff." They were also very critical of our life choices post-college and of Patrick's "long" hair. Must have been Palin followers, checking out her homeland.
I love sea animals and always have thanks to my frequent visits to Cape Cod so the two us set out to the Sea Life Center. This is an aquarium and research center that appeared to do quite a bit in the area. When my dad traveled for work when Charlie and I were little, he often brought us back a present from where ever he was. I got a book and stuffed animal puffin, Polly Puffin, that I loved and still remember quite well. As a result, I really wanted to see a Puffin in real life. In order to see them in their natural habitat you have to get away from the town via boat which was much too expensive for us so I had to settled for the Puffin exhibit they had at the center. They are really neat bird with distinct markings and can dive down into the water up to about 600 ft to catch fish. We could watch them doing this at the exhibit so that was really neat.
Polly Puffin
There was a hands on station in which you could check out sea anemones, star fish, and sea cucumbers.
The ever ironic world in which BP sponsors the global climate change exhibit. This is a frequent occurrence in Alaska. I think in all the museums we visited, an oil company sponsored an exhibit. Exxon is a common one, trying to make up for their big mistake in Valdez. The rain stopped so we took advantage and checked out a neat trail. The trail goes for about 8 miles along the edge of Resurrection Bay and most of the trail is along the beach, meaning you can only travel during low tide. We did not discover the trail until that day so we were unable to coordinate with the tide so we went a couple miles on the trail before it drops down to the ocean. We ended at a river emptying into the bay where hundreds of Silver Salmon were spawning. It was almost surreal to be watching them swim up stream, make a nest for their eggs, lay them, and die. There were lots of dead ones already on the bottom and the rest were loosing their color.
Oops, end of the trail here!
I was very excited to find a jelly on the coast. Next stop:
We drove all the way around the Icefield to the other side of the Peninsula where the town of Homer sits. On the way, we went through may small towns and passed hundred of inns, B&Bs, and charter boat offerings. It seems that just about everyone in these towns hopes to make a little money off the tourists by offering anything they can out of their home or a little shack on the side of the road. We stopped to camp in this small town, called Anchor Point, just outside of Homer along the coast of the Cook Inlet. The beach on this coast is a little more beach-like with real sand, waves, and smells of ocean. Once again however, bound by the lack of roads, we were almost camping in someone's yard... The next morning we continued on to Homer. Homer is known for Halibut fishing, but offers it all including salmon and crabs. Having never been there, I wasn't sure what to expect or what to do so we did a lot of wandering around contemplating how people live in these tiny towns in the middle of nowhere. We checked out the local museum learning about the rather recent first settlers, the fishing industries, and the bears. The port is located on a spit of sand that extends a ways into the bay. Along the "spit" is many ticky tacky tourist traps offering anything and everything having to do with fishing and seeing wildlife.
At the museum, of course Patrick found the machines!
Patrick tried the 30 sec test in which one is expected to get on the ultimate life saving dry suit that is carried on ships in case it sinks. He failed badly, good thing is living in a landlocked state!
Our personal favorite of the spit, an old fishing boat that has been turned into a house, well more of a shack, but you get the idea. We had to hurry back so Patrick could catch is late night flight back east, but were greeted at our door step by the momma and baby moose that have been living around here all summer.
Hope you enjoyed the lengthly and detailed account of our adventures. Alaska is a very different place! This will probably be the last of my big adventures until ski season starts, unless Alaska provides an unexpected adventure...