A year ago this week, Spencer and I were about as far away from South Africa as geographically possible. We were 10,000 miles away in Alaska, experiencing a wilderness totally unlike Africa.
We travelled to Alaska to visit my brother Peter, who had just spent the summer at sea on a salmon fishing boat. He had fallen in love with the rugged state, and his enthusiasm for it was infectious. The place is absolutely stunning – before we even touched down in Anchorage, we could see the beauty of the glaciers cutting through the mountains.
Our first stop was south of Anchorage, the small town of Seward on the Kenai Penensula. Seward is tucked in the crook of a bay, and surrounded on all sides by a national park. We slept in a yurt and explored all that coastal Alaska had to offer. We went kayaking in the bay, spotting seals and dolphins and a mama otter floating with a baby on her belly. At a stop-off along the way, we watched gnarly, spawned-out salmon make their way up a creek, fighting to stay alive long enough to reach the place they were born to lay their own eggs. We hiked to the top of Mt. Marathon, overlooking the whole bay. Up on the rocky mountain, surrounded by emerald green and shrouded in cloud, it looked an awful lot like Scotland.
We also took a cruise along the edge of Kenai National Park. At the edge of a glacier, we watched as it calved giant hunks of ice into the water. Along the way we spotted at least four different types of whale.
We hiked up to Exit Glacier. Glaciers are massive and beautiful when seen from a distance, but have an extra special magic up close. They appear to have a glow from deep inside, and seem to be almost alive.
This glacier is part of the range of glaciers that stretch down along the Alaskan coast and into Canada to form the Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek UNESCO World Heritage Site. Aside from the sheer beauty of this giant, ever-changing sheet of ice, it was eye-opening to see just how much the glacier has retreated in the last 50 years due to global warming.
Next, we met up with my parents back in Anchorage and headed further north to Willow, the home of a number of Iditarod Sled Dog Mushers. Before his stint as a salmon fisherman, Peter spent a winter in Willow as a dog-handler for an Iditarod musher, Dee-Dee Jonrowe. He took us to visit the dogs, who each were tied to their own house in a big yard. It was so cool to meet these powerful and energetic animals, who will run more miles this winter than I have in my whole life. They clearly live for nothing but the joy of the run.
In Willow, we stayed in a log cabin in the woods, set on a peaceful pond. We spotted moose and black bear on the roadside, made log fires in the evening and canoed on the pond.
From Willow, we took winding mountain roads to Independence Gold Mine. Independance is an abandoned ghost town that, aside from the completely different scenery, was very similar to Kolmanskop Ghost Town in Namibia.
A hike from there up through Hatcher Pass took us to a picturesque mountain lake, where braver souls than me took a frigid swim.
Another day we spent fly-fishing on the River. I have never been a big fan of fishing, but the fly fishing was actually a blast. The more casts we did, the better we got. It didn’t hurt that so many salmon were swimming up the river that it was hard not to catch anything. We got some red salmon, silver salmon and rainbow trout and grilled it all up for dinner that night. A meal tastes so much better when you worked for it like that!
North of Willow we went on a horseback ride at the foot of the mountains, taking in the stunning scenery. Alaska is just so BIG, and so empty. It is a true wilderness.
Further north still is Denali National Park, where Mt. Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) rises above the clouds. It is the highest point in the U.S., and a geological masterpiece.
Those two weeks I spent in Alaska are some of my favorite travel memories of all time. I will never forget the summer nights when the sun never set, the unearthly blue of the glaciers, the stunning mountain ranges and the endless, epic wilderness.