Now here’s what I call a super super trip. Last month, Troop and Crew 140 of Buffalo Grove, Ill., spent 12 days in Alaska.
The 35-member group cruised through scenic fjords, went ice-climbing on the Matanuska Glacier and hiked through Denali National Park in the foothills of Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America.
Considering that this was a 12-day dream trip and considering that Anchorage, Alaska, is nearly 3,000 miles (as the crow flies) from Chicago, the cost — $1,800 a person — seems pretty reasonable.
Much of that cost was offset by fundraisers; Scouts and Venturers sold Christmas wreaths, flowers, chocolate and, of course, popcorn.
The trip was more than worth the effort and cost. As this Chicago Tribune story explains, the 23 Scouts and Venturers and 12 adults enjoyed 24-hour-a-day sunlight, whale-watching and unusually dry weather.
But the adventure wasn’t without at least one minor snag. Upon arrival, Troop/Crew 140 learned that because of heightened bear activity in Denali National Park it would need one can of bear spray per person. The group had a handful of cans but nowhere near 35.
“Fortunately, we ran into some helpful Alaskans, including the manager of the youth hostel we stayed at the first night in Anchorage,” Scouter Anne Kritzmire says. The hostel manager and the manager at the van-rental place “gave us several cans of bear spray, saving us a lot of money and time.”
Kritzmire and fellow Scouter Dean Maraldo were on the trip and sent me this day-by-day report with photos.
After taking separate flights, the group arrived in Anchorage. One group landed at 1:30 p.m. and the other at 8 p.m. They stayed the night at Spenard International, “a great youth hostel,” Maraldo says.
Once there, some of the Scouts/Venturers enjoyed a little Hacky Sack time.
After a stop at Anchorage Family Flea Market for lunch, the group left Anchorage for Seward, Alaska. They stayed the night at Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward for some educational programming and a lock-in.
The group took a cruise of Kenai Fjords National Park out of Seward. They saw some amazing wildlife: orcas, dolphins, puffins, sea otters, Steller sea lions, starfish, eagles and more. This was also a chance to see the unique blue color of a glacier calving into the sea.
In the evening, the group checked into the Chugach National Forest’s Trail River Campground after a quick stop at Exit Glacier — “and a bit of baby moose blocking traffic on the road,” Maraldo says.
On Day 4 the group split in two. Group 1 went canoeing in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Group 2 toured a salmon-preservation operation near Seward before hiking and fishing in the Chugach National Forest in the afternoon.
The entire group had fresh salmon for dinner, in addition to pasta and meatballs.
Groups 1 and 2 split for the next five days.
Group 1 headed off on the 6.5-hour drive to Denali National Park’s Savage River Campground. They had an orientation at Denali and packed 22 bear vaults with food and other smellables – one per person.
This far north, the official sunset was after midnight, but it never got even close to dark.
Group 2 hiked along Exit Glacier to the Harding Icefield.
Group 1 began its five-day Denali backcountry hike along the Kesugi Ridge. A van took them to the trailhead at Little Coal Creek Trail. The first day on the trail took them up to the top of the ridge. At a peak height of 3,500 feet, this was above the tree line in Alaska, so the terrain was generally tundra, and it was very windy. The group saw a black bear (fortunately, it was pretty far away, so the bear spray stayed packed away). They felt a 5.6-magnitude earthquake.
That night, Group 1 split in two groups to camp, employing low-impact camping (Leave No Trace) while maintaining enough people together for bear safety. In the evening, the clouds parted so they saw Mount McKinley “towering twice as high as anything else,” Kritzmire says.
Group 2 enjoyed a canoe trip to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Group 1 continued its Denali backcountry hike along Kesugi Ridge. This day included lots of bouldering and ended with some very windy ridge camping. One Scout didn’t take well to the tuna at lunch, so the group adjusted its plan and mileage that day. “Everyone was very team-oriented about it, though,” Kritzmire says.
Group 2 went drift-boat fishing on the Kasilof River on western side of Kenai Peninsula. They saw a forest fire on the way back to camp.
Group 1 continued its Denali backcountry hike along Kesugi Ridge. This morning was the only really rainy day. They camped above Skinny Lake.
Group 2 headed off on the long drive to Denali National Park’s Savage River Campground. They took a late-night hike along a tundra trail.
Group 1 continued its Denali backcountry hike, now going back down (and down and down) from Kesugi Ridge. They logged nearly 12 miles to exit the trail at Byers Lake to then return to Savage River Campground and rejoin with Group 2 in the late evening.
Group 2, meanwhile, hiked Denali’s Savage River Trail in the morning. They took a six-hour scenic bus ride deep into Denali National Park and took an off-trail hike to a nearby peak in the evening.
The now-reunited group took a five-hour drive to Matanuska Glacier after some “much-appreciated” showers, laundry and souvenir-buying.
The group visited Matanuska Glacier for ice-climbing and a glacier hike.
“Only a few had any previous ice-climbing experience, but with excellent coaching and equipment, everyone who tried it (31 of the 35) was successful at navigating one or more of the five top-rope opportunities,” Kritzmire says. “Some even graduated to single-pick climbing or even legs-only or arms/pick-only ascents.”
After the day’s fun, the group enjoyed pizza in the evening.
“No more freeze-dried meals!” Kritzmire says.
The group headed back to Matanuska Glacier in the morning for some zip-lining. Then it was time to drive to Anchorage International Airport in the afternoon for the trip home. The group with a later, red-eye flight caught one last taste of Alaska at an authentic Alaskan restaurant in Anchorage.