North to Alaska!

Denali in all its glory

Just back from a couple weeks in Alaska, partly by land and partly by sea, traveling with good friends. A first time for all of us, and not really high on our lists of places to visit. But why not, we thought; let’s go see.

We started with a flight from Seattle to Fairbanks and then worked our way south by train to Seward, where we took a boat that stopped in towns along the panhandle ending in Vancouver. We spent several days in Denali, where it was sunny every day. We saw the mountain three days in a row, after many people had warned us that we’d probably not see it at all: it’s wrapped in clouds over 330 days of the year.

Spawning salmon near Mendenhall Glacier

Here are some of the memories I took away from the trip. Bottom line, it’s worth a visit!

Alaskan natives are the only indigenous tribes (they use the word clan) which never signed any treaties with the US that put them on reservations. The clans comprise roughly five major groupings, with very different languages and cultures which are well-represented throughout the state.

The Klondike gold rush was terrible! It actually happened in Canada, not Alaska, although a major route to the panning fields was through Alaska. It was a horrible journey by foot across mountains and snowfields and each person was required to carry in two thousand pounds of equipment and food, requiring multiple trips, or else the Canadian authorities wouldn’t let you in (because they knew you’d die if you didn’t have food or shelter and there wasn’t any there, so you had to bring it yourself). The rush was actually fairly short—barely two years. Most of course never struck it rich; but many of them said that in the end it didn’t matter—the adventure was the thing. I think it was really all about testosterone.

Gulf of Alaska: high wind and waves

On our very small sample, we found the Alaskan people generally friendly, eccentric, eclectic in their knowledge, and opinionated. Perhaps that’s the result of a lot of winter downtime. Every little town we visited from Fairbanks down to Ketchikan had a quilting/fabric/knitting store, so needlework must be a popular way to while away the long dark winters. I bought some lovely soft yarn spun from dog hair.

We had a little downtime ourselves. I read three books on this trip: My Soul Looks Back by Jessica Harris, Ghost Stories by Edith Wharton, and Icebreaker by Horatio Clare. I recommend them all.

Leave a Comment