Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Alaska - Part 5 - A drive down Richardson Highway

During our trip to Alaska one day was dedicated to a drive down Richardson Highway. Richardson Highway runs from Fairbanks to Valdez, a distance of about 350 miles. Google Maps will tell you otherwise - that Richardson Highway runs from Delta Junction to Valdez and that the section before it is Steese Highway, but the actual road signs mark it as going from Fairbanks to Valdez.

Before leaving I had done some search on the internet - there were people who claimed it to be the most scenic highway in Alaska. Plus when we started it looked like it was going to be a pleasant day. Our 2 prior days in Denali had been cloudy and rainy at times and so I was really looking forward to the drive.

Our first majestic glimpse was that of the Alaska range that started coming into view pretty much as soon as we were leaving Fairbanks. As we crossed Delta Junction and the range came closer the views kept getting better.... Plus there were long stretches of the highway when we couldn't see a car for miles around us.

The Alaska Range along Denali Highway

There are portions where the highway runs parallel to the Alaskan Oil Pipeline. S had stopped to take pictures of the pipeline when he got talking to someone travelling in the other direction. This person told him - "Summit Lake is looking beautiful today". As we drove on we came upon this pristine blue lake clearly reflecting the snowcovered mountains around. This was definitely the high point of our drive.

Summit Lake

A larger part of the day had now been spent in the car. We were getting tired and were not stopping as much as we were in the beginning of the drive. But as we approached Glenallen, the Wrangell Mountains started coming into view - Mt. Sanford, Mt. Wrangell and Mt. Drum. The excitement came rushing back.

The Wrangell Mountains

Mt. Blackburn

Mt. Wrangell

This post is getting long...moreover I am getting sleepy. Rest of Richardson Highway in the next post.

Alaska - Part 4 - The Trip Plan

A friend recently asked me what our exact trip plan for Alaska was and I forwarded her a small spreadsheet I maintain for longer trips. I thought it might be useful for other people planning a trip. Here is a snapshot of what I ended up sending to her.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Alaska - Part 3 - Grizzlies of Katmai

Sunit and I have run into bears unexpectedly twice before. The first time left us scared - we were all alone on a hike in Yosemite. The second time was jaw dropping - we saw a sow and 2 cubs crossing the road, from the safety of our car.

So it was no surprise that one of the items on our itinerary to Alaska was a visit to Katmai - home to the grizzly bear. The Katmai National Park has the largest concentration of brown bears in the world. It also provides one of the safest environs to see bears. There are viewing platforms along the mouth of Brooks river and Brooks falls and though one has to leave the safety of the platform when going from one platform to another (about a mile or more apart), this is still the best way to see grizzlies closely without any need for binoculars or zoom lens. When the salmon visit the river for spawning, about 70-80 bears congregate at the brooks falls to catch fish.

Our final day saw us making a day trip to Katmai. Our travel plans were booked through Katmailand - We had a PenAir flight to King Salmon and from there a 30 minute float plane ride to the park. While we were on a day trip I would definitely suggest that people wanting to explore should spend atleast one night at the park and preferably two. But that will require planning months if not a year in advance since lodging at the park sells out really soon (there are very few options - a campground with a 60 person limit and a lodge with a similar limit) for the months when the fish are spawning.

When we visited the park, the fish were few because of a commercial fishing day right before we came. But there were bears still coming to the falls and the river to check for fish. Atleast 2 of the bears we saw were within 10 feet from us.

Some shots of these mighty creatures ....

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cuckoo's Photo Competition - Sunrise

Cuckoo has been a regular visitor on my blog and I saw that she is hosting a photography competition on a different topic each month. Thats interesting. Now here's a reason for me to go back and look at all the pictures we take.

The topic for this month is Sunrise and here is my entry.

We were on a boat (ketuvallam) in Allepey in Kerala. At night we were docked near a paddy field. And early morning my parents woke us up to this cloudy sunrise...

Alaska - Part 2 - Wildflowers

July in Alaska is a wonderful time to see wildflowers. And we did not have to make an effort to see them - they were all around - lining the roads, along our hikes, near lakes, even the grass had a pink hue to it. Below are some of the shots of wildflowers - lupines, campunalas, irises, grass etc.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Alaska - Part 1 - Denali National Park

June 27th - finally it was time to leave for our much awaited trip to Alaska. We had booked the flights way back in February and I had spent the last month or so planning out the other stays/campsites etc.

Some last minute scrambling, packing etc. and we were on our way. We took the United flight to Anchorage where we were to sync up with a couple of our friends. Just before landing, around 11.30 at night we looked outside the window - all we could see was mountain after mountain covered with snow. And we could see it, it being summer and Alaska being close to North Pole it is hardly dark here during the summer days. We saw the view under and were all spruced up for the trip.

View from the plane

The first section of the trip (3 days) was a visit to Denali National Park. Denali is a 4 hour drive from Anchorage. The first night we drove up there and stayed outside. The drive itself was full of vast panoramic vistas, braided rivers and huge mountains. The one thing missing was blue skies - it was cloudy for the most part that day.

View along the drive upto Denali National Park

The next couple of days we planned on camping inside the park at Wonder Lake campground. Our friends who had camped in Denali before told us that if there is one place in the world you want to camp at it is Wonder Lake. This was going to be there first time at the Wonder Lake campsite too - earlier they had camped at a different location. So the following morning at 6.30 we were all packed and on the camper bus that was to take us inside the park.

It is a 6 hour bus ride from the entrance of the park to Wonder Lake (the last point where the bus goes). And no private verhicles are around inside the park after the first few miles. As we rode deeper into the park, the views became vaster and huger. It was definitely something like I had never seen before.

If you look closely, you can see the Denali peak in the background in the above picture

As we drove on, we got our first view of the peak from Stony Dome - our bus driver told us we were lucky. Being hidden in clouds for the most part, Denali or Mt. McKinley makes an appearance only once in 2-3 days for a really short time.

Denali is the highest mountain in US. At 21,000 or something feet, it is much lower than Mt. Everest (29,000 or something ft. ) but apparently is very shy and a bigger challenge for mountaineers because of its closeness to the North Pole. The elements are much harsher here. We got a much better view of the peak on the day we were travelling out of the park a couple of days later since it was a clearer day.

View of the peak on a clearer day

The 2 days in Denali were spent camping, hiking around and viewing wildlife of which there was plenty. I will make a separate post on the wildlife and wildflowers we came across. It rained both nights but our tents served us well as we had rain flys to cover the tents. The sound of the rain and hail(one night) hitting the top of the tent was a bit unnerving, but when you have tired limbs its relatively easy to fall asleep. Plus our sleeping bags were adequate and kept us warm. The one thing thing that did bother us were all the mosquitoes at Wonder Lake. Believe me when I say there were loads of them because being from India I am used to mosquitoes but this was different. We had to rub DEET and wear head nets to ward them off.

But despite the mosquitoes and the rain, all in all it was a nice camping trip inside Denali. Staying inside the park allowed us more time to explore more of the park. Alaska is wilderness at its best, and camping deep inside Denali provided the perfect remote wilderness experience.

The park was dotted with many such ponds