Day 18 – We got up and did a short run around the town and out the other side – walking it takes a bit of time but running you cover the distance a lot quicker. We did around 5 miles and then we were back to the apartment for a shower and some breakfast. I got my gear ready and headed down to the meeting place for the 09:00 start. We were there with plenty of time and relaxed then for a bit before the crew came to collect us for the boat ride for the day. Our captain today was going to be Tanya and we were heading out on a wildlife excursion around the area. We booked online for the trip and it cost us 200$ per person for the full day trip. There are other boat trips out there and excursions that one can do but I did some research and this one is nicely limited to smaller numbers and focuses on the photography aspect a bit more – or so I was told online at least. Lunch was also included in the price for the day so that helped. Details on their website state the following :
Our full day Small Group Whale Watching, Wildlife, Natural History, and Glacier Tour ventures deep into Kenai Fjords National Park. With over 25 years experience, we will show you the Fjords’ best kept secrets. This is a photographer’s paradise where you will see the Harding Icefield, calving glaciers, seals, Steller sea lions, porpoises, and sea otters. We will stop for lunch in front of a calving glacier, giving us ample time to witness and photograph the face of the glacier as mammoth pieces of ice thunder into the sea. A majority of the time we see whales on these wildlife and glacier tours.
During spring we are likely to spot grey whales on their annual migration to the arctic. In the summer we often encounter humpbacks, minke, and fin whales which have traveled thousands of miles to feed in the rich waters of the fjords. Orcas, also known as “killer whales”, are present in our waters throughout the year.
Most tour operators conduct their wildlife and glacier tours with groups of 100 or even 200 or more passengers. We are more interested in quality than quantity and therefore limit our group size to 15 or fewer and can arrange for tours with as few as 2 people. With smaller groups we can position the boat so everyone gets a perfect view. We take extra effort so you will never miss that photo opportunity of a lifetime.
I have to say that the crew were professional and detailed in their jobs. .There were books on the boat in case you wanted to read up on what sort of wildlife you would see out there as well as framed prints of whales and other animals. The tour was really good and not too long – even though we started just after 09:00 and did not get back till close to 17:00 that evening. When we were out there, the guys went above and beyond the call of duty to get us a view of something different – going so far as to even head out to sea in order to view male, female and baby Orca whale… – very impressive. We saw Sea Otter, Humpbacks, Daal porpices flying along in front of the boat and on the way back into the harbour, the sun came out and we caught sight of a humpback breaching. You can see some more about that here and here. It was really cool and a great high to finish off the day on. We disembarked shortly after 17:00 and headed back up to the apartment. We went and got something to eat then in the supermarket and cooked back in the apartment. In the morning we were doing a similar excursion except that this time we were going fishing. We re-packed our bags as we were heading off to Anchorage tomorrow evening and had to check out in the morning before we left on the trip.
Day 19 – We got up and did another short run before we headed out to the harbour again. We loaded up the car and checked out in the reception before going down to go fishing for the day. There was a slight fog out when we left with our new Captain – Chris – who is from San Francisco originally. We were salmon fishing today and had bought our licenses before we got on the boat. This was something that we had to do first before we left in order to cover the cost of fishing in the area and be covered in case we were boarded and inspected by the rangers in the area when we were out there. According to the website the trip was something along the following lines.
This package combines the Full Day Tour with a saltwater fishing experience. There are several places along our route where a short stop guarantees catching fish. Whales, salmon, halibut, bass, along with puffins and other auklets congregate in the same area to feed on herring and needle fish. It is not unusual to have whales circling our boat and to see puffins diving while we catch fish. This package is a favorite for visitors who are interested in seeing the Kenai Fjords’ wildlife and glaciers and would also like a taste of Alaska’s famous saltwater fishing.
They were not wrong – we had a humpback circling up in one of the sheltered bay areas and there were a lot of puffins in another location on the way back in after the day. We caught several Salmon and our quota of Black SeaBass. Several people who come over to solely fish the waters have them filletted and dry frozen and shipped home when they are leaving. There are some companies that offer this service as well as others that ship it for you – but it can be expensive so be willing to pay for it. All in all it would be worth it – I think that it was working out at 250$ to ship 50lbs of fish back to Ireland – but that would be a lot of fish and flash frozen as well so it would keep for several days on the journey home.
We were on the boat with a family from Hawaii that were up for a few days to do a bit of fishing – you could tell that they were comfortable with the water, rods, gear etc. We learned pretty quick though 🙂 We had a packed lunch with us for today’s trip and ate that when we were hungry later on. We traveled around to several different locations depending on how the fish were biting and then around 16:00 we headed back to the harbour and Chris kindly offered to fillet some fish for us. He told us of a nice restaurant down town where they would cook it for us if we wanted. We decided to take him up on his offer and took in some salmon and sea bass and got it cooked for us. It took around 30 minutes for us to get our meal that day but it was lovely – and we had caught it ourselves. We then started to drive back towards Anchorage as we were staying there that night.
We stopped off about 30 minutes outside of Anchorage and took some photos of kite surfers on the water – I spotted them from a ways away and the sun was nice and low in the sky and I needed some fresh air to wake up from the driving. You can see some of the images here and here in other article that I wrote. After this, we got back into the car and headed to Anchorage. We got in and found our hotel for the night – the Ramada Inn. There was a nice Scottish fella working behind the counter when we got there – Ken – and we had a good chat with him before we checked in. We got a map of the place and got our bearings before we got something to eat and walked around the main streets for a bit of air and window shopping. We headed back to the hotel and watched some tv and went to bed then as we were heading to Denali the following morning.
Day 20 – We got up early and headed out for a run – there was a bike trail near the hotel called the Tony Knowles Coastal Bike Trail and we got down onto that and headed up to the lake and bore left back towards downtown. We returned to the hotel and grabbed a shower and got something to eat before we headed down to the Saturday Market. It was just starting and we were in no mad rush so we looked around a little before we left. There were some nice stalls here with trinkets and little knick knacks and other touristy pieces. There was also an aerial display on this morning that a lot of people were heading to so the market was a bit quieter than normal. We bought some stuff for a few friends at home and then we got into the car and started to drive towards Denali. We could see the long traffic tail backs of people going to the air show as we headed North. We did not get stuck in any traffic really as we were heading along. We stopped at the Mt. McKinley viewpoint further on up the road but the cloud was covering the peaks and there was nothing there to see really. Besides there were some mosquitoes about the area so we did not stick around for too long. We headed up to Denali NP or close to it – we were staying at Carlo Creek lodge for the few nights so they were located at mile marker 224 on the highway. We stayed there back in 2006 and it was a nice place. We checked in and dropped our bags and relaxed for a little while before we headed out and down towards Denali visitor centre. We got something to eat in here and looked around the display area before we headed North towards Healy and where we were going to do some Horse Back Riding. We got up there at 16:00 hours and headed out on horse back with Alana for a few hours – and Matzo the dog. He was there to warn us of bears that might be in the area. The whole area is a coal mining area or based around that – there are some exhausted mines and some that are still active. We rode to a small cabin in the woods and had a break there and a small snack and a chat. It was nice and quiet and very relaxing – and thankfully not a lot of mosquitos. We headed back towards Carlo Creek and stopped off on the way to look in some shops and buy some souvenirs. We got something to eat and then went back to the accommodation. We stopped off a beaver lake on the way – from 2006 – but there was no activity there when we had out dinner so we headed into the cabin and chilled out. We saw a Goshawk outside alright that evening before we went to bed but there was no other activity that we could hear or see. We went to bed and got ready for the Heli Hike the following day.
Day 21 – So we got up this morning and went into the Visitor centre to look around and do some shopping. We were heading off in the afternoon for a heli hike trip up the mountains. We trekked through the wild Alaskan backcountry with an experienced local naturalist at our side. We got to explore remote areas that are normally a full day’s hike away. We were flown in via helicopter and then the four hour tour began with a helicopter flight that took us to a ridge overlooking the Yanert and Moody river valleys where spectacular vistas of the Alaska Range dominate the landscape. On our hike down the ridge, Mt. McKinley towered on the western horizon and Mt. Deborah provided an impressive backdrop to the east. Our naturalist-guide paused frequently to explain the flora and fauna and teach us how to track animals. There were three of us in the group. You can see a variety of wildlife including Dall sheep, caribou, moose and bear, as well as hoary marmots, pikas, and birds. We saw golden plovers, ptarmigan, pika, hoary marmots and of course the ever trusty Caribou. Our guide used his tripod as a set of antlers to try to trick the Caribou into thinking that we were a herd of Caribou and come closer to us – unfortunately that did not work out too well and all we saw of the Caribou was them heading in the opposite direction. We saw a golden eagle on the ridge line also and it took off and soared overhead. I spotted a hawk owl off in the distance also, quartering the land in search of food – but it was too far away for any decent shots. We walked around to a new ridge line and sat down and had a nice cup of hot chocolate and some homemade cookies that wife had made. The helicopter came to get us around 19:45 and we were back down around 20:00 and heading to the cabin for an early night after grabbing a subway.
Day 22 – We were up early this morning and finished packing our bags before we were collected for our Jeep Safari tour. Details from their website state the following:
You and your fellow adventurers will take the wheel of 4-WD Jeep Wranglers and follow your guide on a spectacular off-road journey into Denali’s backcountry. Your adventure begins near the entrance to Denali National Park where you meet your guide, receive your orientation and Jeep assignment, then head North a short distance on the George Parks Highway toward the town of Healy. Your destination is the Stampede Road. Once called the Stampede Trail, and not shown on most Alaska maps, this road was carved out of the wilderness by early miners working the area’s Kantishna gold fields and antimony mine. The Stampede Road gained notoriety recently in the motion picture, Into The Wild, directed by Sean Penn. This is the very same road that young Christopher McCandless, subject of the book, took to enter the wild. The first few miles of the Stampede Road are paved, but beyond this point your guide will lead you along some very primitive roadway providing you with plenty of bumps and dips and sways. Your Jeep Wrangler® carries four guests, and there will be ample opportunity to switch drivers so everyone can enjoy the thrill of maneuvering along this Wilderness Road. Interactive two-way radios allow your guide to explain the area’s rich history, point out interesting sights along the way, plus provide tips on the condition of the road ahead! Throughout the trip, you’ll be able to ask the guide questions and share the experience with your fellow drivers.
At the start of the trip we were lucky enough to come across a moose in the undergrowth. Our guide was not the best at stopping or allowing us to take pictures of the moose – we literally had to tell her to stop and let us get out and take the images. It was nice to see though and the area was safe. We got back into the jeeps and continued on on our journey. We got to the camp where we had a cup of coffee and some cookies and chatted with a company chef who was working there for the week. There were a lot of mosquitos around when we got there – there was a lot of tree cover for them. We stayed here for 20 minutes and then headed back the way we came. I stopped and got out of the lead jeep at Bobblehead Canyon – where the road was pretty bumpy. I captured some video footage of the other drives as they came through this war zone as well as further up the road at a river crossing. Click on the links before or email me if you want to get your hands on them 🙂 We got back to the cabin at 11:45 – a bit later than predicted as we were supposed to check out at 11:00. We had a quick shower and change and then checked out and left for Anchorage. It took close to 5 hours to get back down to Anchorage and we stopped for fuel along the way as well as one or two view points. We were staying in the same hotel as the other night so we knew where we were going. We checked in and decided to go for a walk. We got directions to a TGI – it was only about an hours walk away 🙂 – but the night was nice and warm and we needed some fresh air after the car ride down that day. We got some food and walked back to downtown and did some window shopping and then headed upstairs to our upgraded room – we got a suite instead of the standard room that we had originally booked – fair play Ken. There was a great sunset this night as we looked out across the train station and docks.
Day 23 – We got another run in this morning on the bike trail – a bit longer than the last day. We were back to the hotel within the hour and got a shower and some breakfast before we checked out. We had to have the car back to the airport before 10:30 so that we did not have to pay an additional charge. Our flight was delayed by approximately 30 minutes so we had plenty of time at the airport to relax. We saw a lot of tourists with flash frozen boxes that were full of salmon and other fish heading home also – the fruits of their labour for the week. We checked in and went through security and then headed to the gate and go on our plane to Vancouver, British Columbia. The flight time was around 3 hours so it would not take too long for us to get there in the end. And so end this leg of the journey… and the next one begins…. in Canada!