Ice and Diamonds!

The first stop on our south bound tour was Fairbanks. After almost 1,000 miles on a gravel road, the camper tires were well over due for a changing, the car needed yet another oil change, and a strong pressure wash to get the thick coating of mud and dust off. We, however, had no problem spending a couple days tending to the car, and enjoying McDonald's for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

While in Valdez we decided that instead of driving the length of Canada, once again, to make it to Seattle we were going to cheat a little. We booked a ferry for the end of June from Haines to Prince Rupert, Canada which would put us about 15 hours outside of Seattle. This not only knocked out a nice chuck of the Canadian drive we didn't care too much about seeing again, but also gave us a day that we had to leave Alaska. 
We had about 2 weeks left until we needed to be in Haines and decided to spend the majority of that time on the glaciers of Alaska. For our first stop, we met up with one of the guys from the Worthington Glacier to check out the Maclaren River Lodge.

If you're planning a trip to Alaska, this is a stop you do not want to miss. The lodge is located on mile 42 of the Denali Highway near the base of the Maclaren Glacier. From the lodge they offer jet boat rides to get you within a 5 mile hike from the glacier and then leave you a canoe to paddle down the river back to the lodge. It sounded like a trip we couldn't pass up!

Before we left on the boat we ate a dinner and breakfast at the lodge. Neither of us are big food people, but let's just say that the burgers were delicious and the French toast...well we stayed an extra day when we got back from the glacier just to eat the French toast again.

After breakfast round one, we packed up the boat and sped off for the glacier. We spent the day crossing braided rivers and weaving through the brush to reach our camping spot. After making our way to the glacier, we spent the rest of the day searching for moulins to explore. 

The next morning we woke up early to hike back out to our canoes. A 5 mile hike, and a 10 mile paddle later, we had made it back to our tiny home, ready for another dinner at the lodge. 

Our original plan after the lodge was to drive down the road to get up on the Castner glacier, but after some research and recommendations, we decided to head further south for the town of McCarthy in the Wrangell- St. Elias National Park. The town came highly recommended by multiple Alaskans and the weather looked perfect so we figured why not! 
If you're interested in some back story, the town of McCarthy sits about 5 miles away from the old mining town of Kennicott. You can drive close to McCarthy and then walk about a half mile or so to the town and then either walk or take a shuttle up to Kennicott, which had hiking trails to the two large glaciers near by: the Root and Kennicott glacier. At the top of these glaciers, sits Mount Blackburn, standing 16,391 feet tall. to add to the fun facts, the town is also featured on the Discovery Channel show, "Edge of Alaska".

The afternoon we arrived we decided to take a walk into McCarthy to get some information on the glaciers. We walked into the Wrangell Air building and figured we would check out flight costs just for fun. As it turned out, we could take a flight onto the Kennicott glacier and then hike about 12 miles back...for only 200 bucks, consider it booked!

We booked a flight for the next afternoon and retreated to the camper to pack our bags for 3 days on the glaciers! We arrived at Wrangell Air the next afternoon surprised to see that our pilot would be Gary Green, who was the pilot on the show "Edge of Alaska". The day just got a little cooler. 

We packed our bags into the tiny 3 seater plane and strapped in for take off. The plane took off straight towards Mount Blackburn with the glacier trailing beneath us. After about a 15 minute flight we made our landing at the Fosse, a small grassy patch on the left side of a large moraine, which is like a small mountain of tiny rocks. We grabbed our bags and waved goodbye to our pilot as he took off.

With the plane gone, it was time to set up camp and get on the glacier! Our first steps on the glacier were a taste of what was to come later on, we just had no idea. To cross onto the clear ice we had to make out way across huge humps of ice that were covered in small rocks. 


Every step was a balancing act that usually resulted in sliding back down the humps. We finally made it to the clear ice and decided to make our way further up the glacier to some big ice pillars. The ice pillars were incredible to climb. Fun and fluid as you made your way up one, down climbed the back side of it, and went on up the next one.
Now for those of you who already follow us on Facebook or Instagram, you already know the Kennicott Glacier is a special place to us. As we climbed to the top of one of the pillars, Chris made his way up first and planted his ice axes into the ground. I made my way up behind him, to find him down on one knee in the shadow of Mount Blackburn, asking me to marry him. I, of course, said heck yes!!!

After calls to our families to share the exciting news and a couple hours of climbing we made our way back to camp.
After packing up camp the next morning we made our way back to the glacier, on the search for moulins. We found a few deep ones and spent our afternoon playing around in them.

We then made a decision, which as it turned out, was one of the worst we made in the back country in a long time. From where we stood we could easily see the town of Kennicott, where we were headed. Since we had already hiked about 6 miles, we figured in the morning we could just head straight towards the town and make our way over the scree humps in the distance. As it turns out those scree humps were icy humps covered in tiny rocks. Arguably some of the toughest terrain we had ever crossed. 
The next morning we woke up, still unaware of what the day had in store for us. We decided to climb a couple of pitches of ice next to our camp before leaving. After a couple hundred feet of climbing we set out for a very, very long day.

Icy, scree covered hump after icy, scree covered hump. For hours and hours. Tripping constantly, bruised knees, cut up hands. It was endless. And the humps never seemed to disappear. We could see the far side was where we wanted to be, but we couldn't find a route to get there. The scree humps, usually ended in a vertical icy cliff that was too rock covered to place a tool or screw to repel off of. So we just kept on hiking. Before we knew it, it was midnight and we still had what seemed like an endless amount of icy scree humps in between us and the town. Low on food and energy we decided to make it a little further and set up camp. 

We finally found an icy cliff free of rocks, which lead to the far end of the scree piles, exactly where we wanted to be. Chris lead the pitch up the wall and made sure the route kept going. 
Finally we had made it to an actual scree pile. Not the horrible icy scree we had been falling down on for the last 14 hours. We found a flat spot, pitched the tent, and passed out around 2 am. All I can say is, we're lucky the sun never goes down here!
First thing in the morning we woke up, exhausted, hungry, and tired of walking with these heavy packs. As Chris packed up camp I tried to force down the only food we had left, a pack of instant potatoes. Apparently my body was too tired to even attempt digesting food, because about 5 minutes later the potatoes came back up. My body was officially toast. 
Unfortunately we still weren't sure how far we had to go, but we had made it to the far side of the glacier which was a pretty good sign that we were not too far from Kennicott. After some very slow hiking we finally made it back to Kennicott within the hour! Time to down a Gatorade and devour a bacon cheese burger from the Potato!

 

--Coming up: Our last Alaskan towns, Haines and Juneau!--