Reflections on Alaska

Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read it from the beginning.

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One last midnight sun

The last full day of our G Adventures tour around Alaska I think symbolised the Alaskan easy going attitude to life. As we packed our bags in the trailer one last time to return to Anchorage, the air was still cool but the rain and heavy cloud from the previous day had cleared. The weather changes in Alaska just as quickly as it does in the UK. On our drive out of Denali National Park, we stopped at all the viewpoints to see if we could spot the mountain. However, we were still just taking photos of cloud. The South Viewpoint was our last chance. We pulled up,expecting the same disappointment. The cloud still looked so bad that none of us even bothered to get out of the van. Our guide, Miles, went to use the bathroom and a couple of minutes later we could see him running back towards us, waving his arms in the air like a madman. I thought maybe he was being chased by a bear, but as he got closer we could hear him shouting ‘You can see Denali! You can see Denali!’. We all grabbed our cameras and ran to the lookout. The cloud around Mt McKinley/Denali only moved for a couple of minutes, but it was enough. I can say that I have seen the highest mountain in North America. The experience was typical Alaska, they’ll give you what you want eventually but you have to accept that things work on Alaskan time.

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After spending 3 weeks in Alaska, it was hard to return home to dark nights, impatient drivers and no gluten-free beer in bars (one of my favourite thing about Alaska). I really surprised myself by cramming in so much in such a short time, but I was blessed with (mostly) beautiful weather and some great people along the way. I checked off all the wildlife I wanted to see, plus more. In just three weeks I spotted (or rather, someone else spotted and then got my attention) orcas, humpback whales, porpoise, dolphins, bald eagles, puffins, sea otters, ground squirrels, marmots, moose, caribou, dahl sheep, a brown bear AND a black bear. Plus a lot of other birds and small mammals whose names escape me now.

I visited Ketchikan, Juneau (OK, only the airport and ferry port, but I’m still including it), Haines, Skagway, Anchorage, Homer, Seward, Whittier, Valdez, McCarthy, Kennecott, Tangle Lakes and Denali. It felt like so much, yet when you look at a map of Alaska even all those areas barely cover much of the state. There is so much more to see and experience in Alaska, and I want to make a promise to myself to return one day.

From initially deciding that I wanted to visit Alaska after seeing it in a travel brochure, it has taken me five years to realise that dream. In the process, I’ve proven to myself just how much I am capable of achieving and this blog helps to motivate me to do more too. Alaska is a destination that will always stay close to my heart as it gave me so much more than I ever thought it would, even if it was on Alaskan time.

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Taking Photos of Cloud at Denali National Park

Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read it from the beginning.

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They say that of all the people who visit Denali National Park, only 30% get to see Mt McKinley/Denali Mountain clearly. I would have been happy just to see 30% of the mountain.

For most of my trip I’d been blessed with great weather, so I have no right to complain that when we turned up in Denali it closely resembled a Scottish summer. It rained/drizzled constantly, and the clouds hung so low that sometimes we were above them. For the entire 2 days we were there.

After the chilled pace of life at Wrangell St Elias, it was a shock to suddenly be in a national park full of tourists. You can only drive your own vehicle 15 miles into the park, which when you look at the size of the whole park is nothing. Shuttle buses will take you between certain points of interest, and you are able to jump on and off buses should you want to do some hiking. We took the bus 66 miles up to Eielson Visitor Center (4 hours each way) where apparently you can see Mt McKinley/Denali from. I can’t confirm that, however, because all we could see was cloud. Even the mountains in front of the highest mountain in North America weren’t visible.

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Our 8 hours sat on a bus were not completely a waste of time, though, because we saw some amazing wildlife. I only had caribou and brown bears to cross off my list by this point, so I was chuffed that our driver spotted some caribou right at the start of our journey. Then, as we rounded a corner, a brown bear ran right out in front of us and narrowly missed a collision with our bus. Our driver, Jose, was brilliant. Bus drivers are not obliged to stop for photos or provide any commentary, but Jose did both exceptionally. Concerned that the bear might be being chased, he stopped the bus immediately and cut the engine. When no other animals appeared, he explained it was probably a young male who was weaning. Bear cubs stay with their mothers until they are 4 years old, then she has to chase them away to teach them to fend for themselves.

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We also saw lots more caribou that day, and some moose. On the way out of the park, I picked up a newspaper to see what Denali actually looks like.