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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Alaskan Adventure

 Miniature painting took a back seat last month, as we had our son Connor's graduation from Rose-Hulman with a degree in electrical engineering to celebrate, and then a thirtieth anniversary trip with the whole family to Alaska.  In true vacation style of my spouse's family, we had to suffer in order to earn our vacation, so the order for the trip was backpacking in the wilds of Denali National Park and then a guided kayak camping trip in the Kenai Fjords National Park.  I managed to sneak in some pretty sweet luxuries on occasion though!

 The obligatory tourist shot with the totem pole as we prepared to board the train for Denali.

 The train ride was definitely one of the luxuries I snuck into our itinerary.  With a dome car and a pretty nice private dining room below we were nicely spoiled!

 Off we go!

 "Suffering" through a nice breakfast with beautiful scenery rushing by.  Even our vegan daughter found a suitable breakfast on the menu - I ate Rudolph rolled into a sausage, much to the chagrin of our daughter.

Views along the way.

 Snow capped mountains were our constant companion along the whole way,

 as were rushing glacier fed rivers.

 Our first night in Denali was spent at a nearby park campground.  "Carla" the moose decided to camp out with us, and it was some time before we could get to our packs and unpack to cook dinner.  Very inconsiderate of our moosey friend, who was perfectly happy to eat her dinner of salad while making us wait.  In case you were wondering, moose are huge!

 Finally on the trail into the park.  We chose to hike in a zone near the visitor center so that we could hike into the park rather than ride the park bus to more remote zones.  Once about five miles in though, the trail disappeared and we were on our own to find our way.  This is typical of Denali as it is a wilderness without trails.

 We camped all three nights back down in the valley at various locations near Riley Creek, careful to always eat down wind at least a hundred yards from our tents, and store food in a portable bear can which we would store at least a hundred yards from the tents in the opposite direction.  We saw lots of evidence of animals; moose, brown and black bears, probably a lynx, but never had any actual sightings, which was a relief.

 Day two was a mad scramble up a ridiculously steep mountain side to gain the ridge.  This trail-less hike was perhaps the hardest thing I have ever done.  There was definitely an element of danger and extreme physical exertion, as well as mental challenges as we sought to navigate our way out of the scrub and up onto the ridge.

The views from the ridge made it absolutely worthwhile!

Day three was what we hoped would be a leisurely hike along the riverbed, but even it was not without challenge.  Beavers had damned a large section of the river, forcing us up onto the bank in an area where the creek was rushing by just feet below us.  A slip here would have been very bad!

There were areas of the bank that were very steep, and the whole time we were pushing our way through Black Spruce trees that love to claw at you as well as low lying Alder and Birch shrubs.  It was great to see the family working together to get across the calm frigid water of the spillway from the beaver dam and up onto the bank, shuttling backpacks and then pushing our way through! 

 We found this print of a brown bear (grizzly) on the bank.  Glad we didn't see one out there!

 The kids managed to wake up in time to see the sunrise around 4 AM one morning.  The sun would set for about four to five hours every day, but it never really got dark, just settled into a kind of twilight.

 Day four was our hike back out along the trail leading in (for the most part).  The views were incredible, but I must admit by this time I was coming down with a cold and was exhausted.


 Words can hardly describe the joy we felt at having an actual trail to hike on the final day.  So much easier to walk when not pushing your way through brush and difficult terrain.

Saying a final goodbye to Riley Creek.

 We hiked out and caught a bus to Talketna, where we spent the evening in an AB&B.  Our host Jeffrey joined us for dinner at a local brewpub, which turned out to be one of our best meals the whole trip.  Jeffrey was typical of the folks we met in Alaska, always willing to go the extra mile to help us out and just full of great stories.

 Another day of travel and we were ready to head out on a three day guided Kayak excursion through the Kenai Fjords National Park.  Saul was one of the boat hands, and he hung out with me on the back of the boat as I am a bit prone to sea-sickness.

 On the way back we saw a pod of Orcas at play.  I was too busy watching them in amazement to really get any photos, but it was magnificent to see.

 Connor and Carolyn on the bank of our new "home".

What a privilege to camp in this pristine place.  Along the cliff we counted at least fourteen waterfalls!

 All  the amenities of home.  And yes, you pack out everything!

 Our Guide Danny planned an incredible trip for us, complete with meals that he and our other guide in training Kyle, prepared for us.  They spoiled us at every occasion with fresh cooked salmon one night, a smoked salmon salad one day, vegan chili, and a breakfast hash that was to die for.

 Our first day out we kayaked to the Aialik Glacier, a massive mile wide bastion of ice.  We slept to the thunder of ice calving off the glacier and was an experience I will never forget.

We kept our distance from the glacier as it was calving every few minutes.

Carolyn immediately saw the T-Rex in this small iceberg.

 Harbor seals come into Aialik bay to rest on the ice for protection from the orcas.  You can see a few resting on the ice in this picture.  We saw lots of seals and even a few moms with their babys, which I have to say, are very cute!

Scale and proportion is so hard to judge in Alaska because of the immense size of things.  In this shot the glacier looks fairly modest in size, but it is at least half a mile away!  The trip back to our base camp was a difficult one, as shortly after we took this picture we had a three mile crossing out in the open water of the bay.  A head wind came up and made the water quite choppy, though fortunately we were able to kayak perpendicular to the waves which is far safer.  I was thoroughly whipped by the time we made it back to shore.

After three days of Kayaking (our guides made us earn our extravagant meals, as they were full days kayaking around eight or so miles a day), we said goodbye to Kenai Fjords and traveled back to Seward for a sit down meal (our best of the whole trip at the Cookery), and then a couple of days in Girdwood for day hiking.  Then back to Anchorage and the flight to Nashville.  We could not have asked for a better trip!


  1. True, but glad to be bag home and getting back to the painting desk!

  2. Got to say, that's the best and most impressive holiday write up I have ever seen and read. Absolutely fascinating and the most stunning scenery. Thanks for showing.
    kind regards

  3. Thanks Mike! It's hard to go wrong in a place like that.

  4. Glad you got to experience our beautiful state. We are surrounded by breath-taking views. You've seen and done more in your short visit than I have in the 30+ years I've lived here. Of course, even in Anchorage, we have random sightings of moose, black bears, bald eagles, beavers, wolves, etc. Endless trails for hiking and biking, And the sunsets and sunrises are amazing! You definitely chose rhe best time to visit! Belated Welcome and hope y'all make it back up some day!

  5. We certainly did pack a lot into a couple of weeks and had the best weather for our time imaginable. Don't envy you the winter months, but absolutely understand what keeps you there!

  6. Jaw droppingly beautiful-how much better the world looks with more trees than buildings!

    1. Jaw dropping is right Matt. I was unprepared for the sheer vastness of Alaska, but what a joy to have experienced it!

  7. Wow! With all that physical effort exerted by you Crenshaws, your beautiful views and delicious meals that you describe here were certainly well-earned! Not a trip that I could manage—wimp that I am— but more power to y’all!
    LOVE all the pictures! And it was wonderful that all 4 of you could manage to get away and enjoy this trip together. I know that we 4 Cobles relish any times that we can be together on vacation together!

  8. Elizabeth, I love that you were able to take a look at our goings on. It brings to mind the days when Connor would come home singing "need more Coble"! Best to you and yours.