Note: sorry for the long wait between blogs – we ran into a bit of car trouble and have been spending time with that.
So we spent a few more days in Seward and Jer hit the Lost Lake trail one more time. We also hiked a bit of the northern end of the trail and saw hundreds of strange mushrooms. Then we took the Seward Highway north back to Anchorage.
As with our last time through Anchorage we didn't do much sightseeing other than Hood Lake. The interesting thing about Anchorage is that you can look in the sky at any point and see large commercial planes, fighter jets and single engine planes. At Hood Lake there is hundreds of sea planes docked around the lake and a full airport just beside the lake as well. Definitely a must see if you're in Anchorage.
Being from Ontario we were skeptical when we heard that the fall colours are just as good in Alaska. We were lucky enough to be there just as the leaves and tundra were changing and I have to say that it was incredible. There's nothing quite like seeing snow capped peaks, yellow leaves and red tundra.
Driving to Valdez along the Richardson Highway you pass the Wrangell Range and Worthington Glacier, but I’ll get back to those later. We arrived in Valdez and Jer caught up on some work. We met a retired couple from Australia that sold their home, built a custom off road car, and were driving it all around the world. What we found interesting was that they said the most beautiful place they visited was Iran. While talking with them we mentioned we drove the Dempster Highway and noted that we couldn’t find an NWT sticker for the bus while we were there. The funny thing is they just happened to have two so we now have an NWT sticker for Buster! Funny how these things work out. Anyway, we toured around Valdez for a bit, drove up to the Valdez Alaska Pipeline Terminal where the oil gets loaded on to ships, and decided to head back north to find a spot to camp for the night.
We ended up spending the night at the base of Worthington Glacier. The next morning bright and early we hiked up and around the glacier. We found an ice cave and listened to it crack and pop as rocks would fall off and plummet to the ground. After posing for a few pictures we continued on. We hiked around for a few hours and found all kinds of interesting stuff. It was wild to listen to the dripping water and cracking ice while the glacier slowly moved and twisted down the mountain.
When we finished exploring Worthington Glacier we made breakfast and headed to the town of McCarthy in Wrangell St. Elias National Park. The road in is paved as far as Chitina, which is the last chance to get fuel before entering the park. From Chitina on it’s nothing but nature. Wrangell St. Elias is truly a wilderness park. It has nine of the tallest sixteen peaks in North America and covers an area larger than Switzerland. There are no established campsites and only a few marked trails. The McCarthy Road and one other road into the north end of the park are the only entrance points. A lot of the locals in McCarthy have their own planes and that’s generally how most of them seem to get around.
We got to the outskirts of the town and discovered that our back tire was loosing air. We were really lucky that a tire repair guy just happened to be right across the road. Thirty minutes and $20 later we had a large nail in hand and our tire once again full of air.
Where to start with McCarthy - I guess the only down side to McCarthy is that there is no water, no gas, no propane, no garbage disposal and the outhouse showers cost $10 per person. Other then that McCarthy is pretty close to perfect. You can’t drive into the town. To get there you have to park your vehicle and walk, bike or take a $5 shuttle bus ride. We ended up walking in to town. We checked out prices for backcountry camping flights and decided against it because it was the long weekend and the few free backcountry cabins scattered in the area were most likely full and are not reserveable. After sleeping on the cold ground in Denali we’d had enough of the tent for a while.
The following day we biked 5.8 miles on an old wagon road leading to the Kennicott Mine site near McCarthy. Prospectors back in the early 1900’s spotted what looked like a patch of green grass and it turned out to be the richest deposits of copper ever found. By 1908 the town had formed and mining began. The old railroad through the mining town moved over 200 million dollars worth of copper ore. The mine was closed in 1938 due to declining copper prices. We did a self-guided biking tour around the town and Jer decided to bike half way up to one of the mine sites known as Bonanza mine. To finish off our ride we stopped for a drink at The New Golden Saloon in McCarthy. We met a guy that had spent the past five months in the bush panning for gold and listened to his wild stories. When we eventually made our way back to the bus we met a couple from Anchorage named John and Jekkah. They just moved to Anchorage from Chicago this summer and this was going to be there first winter in Alaska. We made our way back into McCarthy later that night to check out a local band playing at the Saloon.
The next morning we talked to a local alpine guide and got some great tips on where to bike in Oregon and Cali and then hit the road back to Tok. It was a long day of driving, we decided that while we happened to hit a few beautiful days in McCarthy, for the most part the weather was beginning to feel more and more like winter. Time to head south! In Tok we rejoin the Alaska Highway southeast back into the Yukon. This stretch of the Alaska Highway has some of the world's largest frost heaves and although most of them weren't marked as "Bumps" they were still monstrous! Driving past Kluane National Park we looked intently for a glimpse of Mt. Logan, Canada’s tallest peak (19,524 feet high). When we got to the Kluane visitor centre we were told that the mountain was not visible from the road.
Along the second half of our Alaska adventure we noticed that the engine temperature in the bus was higher than it should be. We tried a few fixes on the road and eventually decided that we needed a new radiator. Back in Whitehorse we got in touch with Ian whom we had met the first time through and he was able to get us into an empty bay in the garage where he works (thanks again Ian for letting us crash at your place on a particularly cold night and for getting us into a bay at your work). We ordered a new rad from a local shop for a premium and installed it that weekend. Problem fixed.
After fixing the rad and saying goodbye to Ian we headed south out of the Yukon. The Cassiar Highway (37), which starts just west of Watson Lake YK, takes you south into BC past a few small towns and many emerald green lakes. We passed a mudslide still in the process of being cleaned up. Aside from a few construction sites the highway for the most part is a good road. At the 37A junction we headed west to Stewart BC and the town of Hyder Alaska which is at the southern end of Alaska. Hyder is a great little town filled with really friendly people. We went to the famous bear viewing area at Fish Creek but there were no bears in sight. So we decided to drive up to Salmon Glacier. The Salmon Glacier is one of those "You have to be there to understand it" kind of places. Photos could never accurately portray the scale of this massive glacier.
Our next stop was Hazelton BC where we went to the 'Ksan Historical Village and Musuem. I checked out the gift shop and we walked around the village and did a short self-guided tour. Lots of interesting totem poles to check out but all the buildings were closed to tourists.
Note: We are currently in Revelstoke where we are once again fixing the bus - this time a wee suspension problem. Check back soon for updates.