Thursday, July 10, 2014

Denali State Park to Seward

A post and a few photos from the past week.

The weather was still clear when I left Denali National Park. I knew of a hike nearby, in Denali State Park, that was along a 4000ft ridge and supposed to have epic views of the Alaskan Range in clear weather, so I made the stop. A State Park up here in Alaska would probably be a national park anywhere else.

The 17 miles along the Kesugi Ridge from Little Coal Creek to Ermine Hills was quite possibly the finest ridge top hike I've ever done. I really enjoy being above treeline with panoramic views in every direction. I got to see the south side of Denali and found a well perched campsite.

Views like this the whole way!
One of my best campsites!
Sunrise comes early in Alaska. I got up at 4:00 for this shot. 
Being a thru-hike, I tried my hand at hitchhiking back to my truck when I finished the overnight trip. It didn't go so well at first; I walked about 5 miles before I got picked up by some nice young ladies who themselves were going to trail run along the ridge and wanted to build karma for their hitchhike later that afternoon. 

I give the Kesugi Ridge my highest recommendation for any future Alaska adventurers out there. It's a well marked trail in the state park, so none of that annoying route finding or permit battling that I had in the national park. Just show up and do it. And if the weather is clear, it's a must do.

Upon the suggestion of a friend, I detoured into Talkeetna on my way south for my first "town day" in a long time. Talkeetna is a funky little town (pop 900) with a great rafting/climbing/brewery vibe. I ran into the same ladies that gave me a ride (Kasey and Michelle) and we hung out over dinner, drinks, and live music. Because of their surplus of karma, they got picked up immediately!

After camping in town, I enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the Talkeetna Roadhouse. I spent two hours talking with a fellow solo traveller from San Diego about life on the road before parting ways and continuing south.

The Kenai Peninsula is spectacular, like Alaska in miniature. Whitewater rivers, lakes, glaciers, mountains, forests, and coastline made for a very pretty drive to Seward (pop 2500) on the southern end of the Kenai and home to Kenai Fjords National Park. Between all my bush flights, the rafting trip, and 500 highway miles, I have completed a full north-to-south tour of Alaska, from the Beaufort Sea to the Gulf of Alaska. I feel an east-to-west Alaskan traverse from the Yukon thru the Aleutian Islands brewing in my mind for a future trip!

Seward has a historic downtown and a great municipal park system. I could camp with my truck overlooking the water and have a 3 minute walk to the shops and restaurants of downtown. My first night in town I met a ton of cool folks and ended up closing down the Yukon Bar after a night of karaoke with new friends.

Seward wake up
With the sunny weather the following day I decided to hike in the national park to see the Harding Icefield. The Icefield was amazing! It's the largest ice field in the US with over 1,000 square miles of ice! MUCH bigger than any glacier, in fact, the Icefield produces over forty glaciers. Mountain peaks were buried up to their summits in ice, like islands in an ocean of white.

Harding Icefield and Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park

While ogling the views I met a number of hikers. I had a rock throwing contest with a crew of sea kayaking guides, trying to see who could break off the largest cornices in the gullies below the trail. Matt and Jules from San Francisco invited me to join them for drinks around the campfire, which I did later that night. It's been so great to meet and befriend fellow travelers. I've had a lot of unique and inspiring interactions in the past week and appreciate all the friendliness and hospitality.

A rainy front settled in, which makes for lazy town days. I'm all caught up on laundry and email and ready to head to Anchorage to meet my guides for the final adventure: 2 weeks of mountain climbing in Wrangell/St Elias National Park. Once I return from that I'll be making the long drive thru Canada back to Seattle in time for other commitments with friends.

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