Country number: 32
Territory number: 34
When? June 2011
How? Mini bus
Who? Group Tour
‘The youth of America is their oldest tradition. It has been going on now for three hundred years. To hear them talk one would imagine they were in their first childhood. As far as civilisation goes they are in their second.’
Alaska is so gorgeous I’m almost lost for words. The weather is beautiful, most of the time, except when it comes to trying to spot elusive Denali (Mount McKinley). There’s that chill in the air when you get up that is invigorating and round every corner is something amazing. What has to be the best boat trip in the world into the Kenai Fjords National Park: orcas and humpbacks putting on a display (especially the mother and calf- come and look at the strange humans dear), puffins, crested and otherwise bobbing, seals, multiple other bird life, sea otters floating on their backs waving happily and sparkling blue glaciers calving. What a performance. A ferry across the sound to Valdez via Portage Glacier and Whittier is almost a disappointment after all that excitement, as seals and more otter glide past on ice floes.
McCarthy is chilly enough to call for hot water bottles at night, but here the semi derelict mine buildings are astonishingly dark crimson against the sky and the dirty glacier peaks stretching across the valley spectacular in their own way. Wrangell St Elias National Park is the largest park in the USA and contains several of the highest mountains in Alaska and therefore in North America. I could see some of the peaks poking through the clouds when I flew in. I also see my first bear on the road as we are ferried back from our scramble up the glacier.
A small plane ride up the gigantic Kennicott Glacier, an easy aerial lesson on glacier features. Then, along the Denali Highway to Tangle Lakes, where the views of the mountains reflecting in the snowy lakes framed by taiga are utterly sublime. Moose, deer squirrels and chipmunks all participate in turn. In Denali National Park itself the famous mountain refuses to put in much of an appearance, but more bear (mother and cub gambolling) wolves and Ramshorn sheep do.
The finale is a husky sled ride on another glacier near Talkeetna – this time the transport is a helicopter. It’s a little murky today, but this just adds to the atmospheres up top, as the chained up dogs howl mournfully and vie to be chosen for the ride. They are selected in strict rotation, with pegs used to denote who has had their turn. One of the most rewarding trips – ever.