Alaskan Day Hiker Adventure 7/20/01 - 7/29/01


We wanted to plan a trip to Alaska to coincide with our third wedding anniversary. We thought that the best of both worlds would be to hike to see the interior of Alaska, and to follow that up with a cruise to see the coast. We found a womderful company called Adventure Alaska which offered an Alaskan Day Hiker Adventure. They drive to various destinations and do day hikes. Accommodation alternated between camping in tents and staying in lodges.

We would follow up the physical portion of the trip with a relaxing cruise. I had never been on a large cruise ship before. Craig had been on one in the Caribbean years before we met. We discussed the pros and cons of small ship vs. large ship cruises, and ultimately decided on a large ship, since I had never experienced that before. We booked a Princess cruise from Seward to Vancouver. We sprung for a room with a balcony, as we knew we would want to spend time looking at the glaciers as we cruised through the inside passage. Our anniversary would fall during the cruise portion of the trip.

Friday 7/20/01 - Arrival

I worked half a day and Craig took the whole day off. Our flight left Logan Airport at 2:45 p.m., and we had a stopover in Denver. We watched Spy Kids on the flight, and arrived in Anchorage at 9:15 p.m.

There is a four hour time difference from the East coast. We took a cab (which cost $18) to Susitna Place bed and breakfast. The scenery was beautiful on the ride. The juxtaposition of mountains, ocean, and city was just breathtaking. It was still daylight, and we saw dads and young kids on the swings at the playground at 9:30 p.m.

We met Linda, the proprietress of Susitna Place, and she showed us around. Our room had a balcony and private bath. The common areas were, dining room, living room, porch overlooking Mt. Susitna, and a den filled with Alaska reference books, magazines, and videos, as well as novels and games.

We went to bed around 10:30. I was glad that I had brought eye masks, as I woke up at 1 a.m. and it was still fully light outside! I woke up again at 3:00, and it was finally dark.

Saturday 7/21/01 - Saturday Market and Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

We awoke at 6 a.m., and it was already light outside. We showered and went downstairs. Linda was serving a full continental breakfast, and we fixed plates and headed out onto the porch. We had a gorgeous view of Mt. Susitna, and the air was pleasantly cool (in the 50's).

We met Lia (from Washington, D.C.), who would be joining us on our Day Hiker Adventure the next day, as well as some other folks from Minnesota and San Francisco. It was very nice chatting with everyone at breakfast.

We walked downtown and it started to lightly rain. I have collected Russian nesting dolls since I was around 5 years old. We browsed in a Russian shop and I found a matryoshka that I liked. We purchased it and had it shipped home so that we wouldn't have to worry about keeping it safe for the duration of the trip.

We then went to the Saturday Market, which sets up in downtown Anchorage near the water every Saturday during the summer. There were booths with crafts, food, and music. It was a festive atmosphere, and there were clowns, jugglers, and balloon artists. We ate funnel cakes with berries for lunch (like a fried dough but more of a lacey texture). We then saw an Ecuadorian band (Alma Andina) performing Andean-style music. There was a boy selling their two CD's, one which was "upbeat", and one which was "relaxing." We bought the upbeat one. They were very good, and as Craig and I have an interest in visiting South America someday, it was very interesting to us.

After the market, we went to Downtown Bicycle Rental to rent bikes for the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The bike rental shop had a mural of Fenway's Green Monster, and lots of Red Sox memorabilia inside, which we found very amusing.

We donned our raingear and set off on the trail at around 1:30. It is normally pretty crowded, from what we understand, but I think the rain kept some people away. It was a gorgeous trail, which winds for 11 miles, starting in downtown Anchorage, winding out past the airport, and follows the coast to Kincaid Park.

It is a bit hilly on the way out. We saw one female moose on the way out. She was about our height, and was eating vegetation to the side of the trail. She was not interested in us at all.

We rested for a while in Kincaid Park, and on the way back we saw 5 moose! One was a male, eating off to the right hand side of the trail. I got off of my bike and stood on the other side of the trail from him, for Craig to get a picture. He started walking toward me, and ended up about a foot in front of me. I stood very still and eventually he moved toward the bikes. Craig put the bikes between himself and the moose, and the moose sniffed the bike tires. We waited for him to move before continuing on. It was a bit too close for comfort! Luckily, we didn't know just how dangerous moose were at the time that this happened, our we may have panicked.

We finished the trail at 5:30 p.m., and we returned the bikes and called Duane (a local meteorologist whom we had met in Trois-Rivieres Quebec at Rick Wakeman's "Return to the Centre of the Earth" concert). We made a date to meet for dinner the following weekend.

Every restaurant was packed, and we were starving. We had wanted to eat at the brewery, but we would have had to wait for over an hour and a half. So we ate at the Solstice Cafe. It wasn't very crowded, but the atmosphere was nice. For an appetizer we had battered halibut nuggets and fries. Craig had salmon chowder and salmon with rice. I had a deliciously spicy buffalo (as in the animal, not the sauce) meat loaf with mashed potatoes. For dessert we had a chocolate baby bundt cake with chocolate sauce and ice cream.

We walked back to Susitna Place, arriving at around 9:00. We unwound a bit in the room and then went to bed.

Sunday 7/22/01 - Adventure Alaska Day Hiker Adventure - Thunderbird Falls, Wasilla,Talkeetna, Jack River

We woke up at 6:00 a.m., showered, and finished packing. Linda graciously offered to store our cruise luggage while we were on the hiking trip, so we needed to make sure everything was in the appropriate bag.

We ate breakfast inside (because it was raining) with Ruth (from Illinois) and Lia, who would both be on our trip. There was also a couple from Philadelphia at breakfast.

Our tour guide Joe from Adventure Alaska picked us up in a van promptly at 8:00, and we went to pick up Scott and Debby, the remainder of our group.

We drove to Thunderbird Falls and did a one mile hike. There is a nice wooden bridge and lookout point at the falls. Joe told us about flora and fauna, saying that moose are probably more of a threat to hikers than bears. He told a story of a student who got stomped to death right outside of a building on the university campus. We were glad we did not know this during our previous moose encounter! It turns out that Craig had handled it perfectly, though. Joe told us that the best thing to do is to put something (in our case, the bikes) in between the moose and yourself. Even if the moose can still see you, it isn't smart enough to realize that it can still easily get to you. It is put off and will eventually go away.

After the short falls hike, we stopped at a grocery store and liquor store to get some final supplies. We then drove to Wasilla (about an hour out of Anchorage), the home of the Iditarod re-start. We went to the Iditarod Headquarters, and watched a film about dogs and the "Father of the Iditarod", the late Joe Redington, Sr.

Joe told us that Redington had died a couple years before, and since the trail goes right past his house, all of the mushers laid a rose at the end of his driveway during the race which followed his passing.

After the short film, we went outside where there were some tiny husky puppies cavorting around. One was asleep in a dogsled. Another was playing with a strap on the back of the sled, and in the process, kept hitting the sleeping one in the head. He kept waking up, looking confused. It was so cute! I got to hold a puppy.

Then Raymie Redington (Joe, Sr.'s son) gave us a dogseld ride. There is a circular gravel track, and they put wheels on the back of the sleds for summertime rides. You get a real sense for how much power the dogs have, and how well they respond to vocal commands.

We then drove to Talkeetna (the place from which people fly out to climb Denali, a.k.a. Mt. McKinley). It looked more like a campground than a town. There is a town green where we had a picnic lunch (turkey and pepperjack sandwiches, carrots, Pringles, cookies, juice, etc). It really hit the spot! We explored the town's shops, etc, and just as we met Joe back at the visitors center it started to pour.

From there we drove toward Denali National Park. Joe played his "Alaska Hit Singles" tape on the ride, and we were instantly hooked ("Spawn, spawn, spawn, 'til you die, baby").

We set up camp in a beautiful spot along the Jack River. It rained while we set up our tents, but it stopped soon after, and we went for a hike. We climbed up a ridge and then down the other side toward some little lakes. We saw a moose off in the distance. We learned that bears, like humans, have their own "personal space", and that the human voice is the best deterrant.

Joe provided us with snacks to eat along the way (Fruitios rule!) We saw and sampled wild blueberries. We also saw dogwood flowers and mew gulls. The weather was gorgeous and there was a nice breeze. We hiked in short sleeves, jeans, and rainpants, as a lot of the vegetation was still wet. Joe lent us head nets for mosquito protection, and they worked quite nicely. We bushwhacked along the tundra, which was very spongy and required a bit of energy to hike though.

After about three hours we got back to camp. Joe made us a nice dinner of crackers and cheese, pasta, and garlic toast. Joe started a campfire. We ate s'mores and chatted until around 11:30, at which time we went to bed.

We needed to take all things which might attract bears out of our tent for the night. We knew the most obvious (food) but we had never thought of things like deodorant and toothpaste. We needed to put any scented items into the van for safekeeping while we slept in the tents.

It rained off and on all night, but the tent kept us nice and dry!

Monday 7/23/01 - Denali

We woke up at 6:30 a.m., packed up the campsite, and ate a breakfast of coffee, yogurt, muffins, juice, etc.

We left the campsite at 8:30 and drove to the Denali Visitor's Center for our 10 a.m. bus tour of Denali National Park. Joe had the morning to himself, but he recommended for us to sit on the driver's side of the bus, which proved to be an excellent bit of advice.

The bus is an 8-hour round-trip to Eielson and stops for about 10 minutes every hour. It isn't like the Grand Canyon where you get on and off shuttle buses at will. It is a schoolbus, so it isn't the most comfortable thing. But others vehicles aren't allowed in the park, and unless you are backpacking, this is pretty much the only way to do it. It's very popular, and Adventure Alaska had to buy our bus tickets way in advance.

On the way out to Eielson we saw a line of Dall sheep way up on the crest of a mountain. A caribou ran toward the bus and crossed the road behind it. We saw a blonde grizzly bear off in the distance, and then a mom and a cub about 100 yards from the road. The bus stopped and we were aloud to silently watch/take pictures. The reason for the silence is so that the bears do not become accustomed to the human voice (as the human voice is our best defense against bears, we don't want them to realize that they usually have the upper hand.) The bears were eating vegetation on a hillside. The mother was blonde with darker limbs and had a dark stripe down the middle of her back. We then saw an arctic red fox camouflaged in a bed of gravel.

At 2:00 we arrived at the Eielson Visitors Center, where we ate the bag lunches we had packed earlier that morning at camp. On a clear day, you can see Denali (Mt. McKinley), but we couldn't. They gave a stat that only around 30% of visitors to the park get to see it, because it is so tall that it creates its own weather systems.

After 30 minutes, we reboarded our bus for the trip back. We saw the mother grizzly, this time with two cubs. We also saw a caribou, two Dall sheep, and a lame arctic red fox that ran beside the bus.

We arrived back at 6 p.m., where Joe met us and took us to the Salmon Bake restaurant for dinner. It was an interesting set-up, where you order at the counter (inside) and then pick up at the kitchen (outside) and eat at picnic tables (inside). I had halibut nuggets with fries and cole slaw, and Craig had salmon with fries and cole slaw.

After dinner, we settled into the McKinley Creekside Cabins. Craig and I had number 16, which was right next to the creek.

We (minus Ruth, who seemed understandably to be wiped out by the all-day bus ride) went on a hike starting at 8 p.m. It started out through some mud, where we saw wolf, caribou, and moose tracks, and Joe showed us how to identify them. We hiked up some hills to view ponds and lakes, and saw a moose and beaver lodge in the distance. It was a very nice hike. It started lightly raining at one point, but it felt more refreshing than anything else. We finished the hike at 11 p.m., and it was still fully light out.

We went back to the cabins, had a beer, a shower, and then bed soon after midnight.

Tuesday 7/24/01 - Denali Highway, Tangle Lakes, Gulkana Glacier

We awoke at 6:00 a.m., and met at 7 for breakfast at the cabin restaurant. Craig had a Creekside omelette with biscuit, mini cranberry muffin, hashbrowns, and reindeer sausage. I had French toast, hashbrowns, and reindeer sausage. It was all delicious. The reindeer sausage tasted like a spicy kielbasa. Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" was playing on te restaurant stereo.

We hit the road at 8:30 for the Denali Highway. It is a gravel road only open in summer, which supports a max speed of 40-45 mph. We stopped at the Gracious House roadhouse for coffee and restrooms, and browsed in their gift shop. Credit cards are only accepted for orders over $40, since they need to use radio phone lines.

The weather was cooler but partly sunny. The highway wound through kettle lakes and there were gorgeous mountain views. We saw a moose in the road but it fled as we approached.

We ate a picnic lunch at an overlook in the Tangle Lakes Archeological District (salami and pepperjack sandwiches, Pringles, etc) and then hiked the Osar Lakes Trail starting at 1:00. It was a nice trail with gentle ups and downs. We saw a ptarmigan and chicks (the real Alaska state bird, as opposed to the mosquito, the "unofficial" state bird) running along the side of the trail. They have feathers everywhere (including on their feet) and they turn all white (feet and all) in the wintertime. We saw lots of kettle lakes (including some that had nothing but rocks left in them).

The weather was gorgeous - sunny with a nice breeze. On the way back we saw a porcupine waddling around the trail. We finished the hike around 3:15 and then headed further along the Denali Highway.

After finishing our ride on the Denali Highway, we saw a moose in Summit Lake. Joe pulled over and we climbed on top of the van to get a better view. She was dunking her head in the water and making vocal noises as she walked. It was a great moose sighting. She eventually crossed the road and climbed a ridge out of sight.

We drove down a gravel road to the former site of Isabelle, a pipeline town. When the pipeline was built, a lot of towns sprung up in various places. These towns had airstrips, houses, hospitals, shops, etc. The pipeline was built in sections which eventually met up, and the deal was that the towns could exist during the contstruction, but had to leave no trace afterwards. You could see where roads and the airstrip had been in Isabelle, but that was it.

A friend of my family had been involved in the pipeline project back in the day, and I imagined him living in this now-invisible boom-town, though I have no idea exactly where he was located.

We camped at the end of the gravel road, below the Gulkana Glacier. We set up camp right along the Gulkana River (fed by glacial runoff). Joe made a nice dinner of pasta in a garlic, bean, spinach, onion, and pepper mixture, with garlic toast and salad.

At 7:45 p.m. we began a hike to the glacier in the pouring rain. It was very rocky and you had to watch your step for fear of twisting an ankle, but other than that it was a pretty casual hike. At the start of the hike we had to cross a 150-foot Indiana Jones-style bridge, with steel cable "ropes" and classic wooden slats. Getting onto and off of it was a challenge, as it was pouring and the near-vertical wooden slats were quite slippery. Once on the bridge, it sways which each person's footsteps. When you look down between the slats, you can see the water rushing below you. It was unbelievably exhilirating. As we walked toward the glacier, lateral moraines towered on either side of us.

When we got to the glacier, there were amazing ice bridges at the terminal moraine, where the actual glacial runoff begins. We touched the water, which was silty and very cold. We crawled into some corners between ice chunks for some photos. It was lots of fun, and it had stopped raining by then.

After some more fun at the glacier, we hiked back to camp. Three hours had elapsed. Though we got our boots full of water, our socks worked well and our feet still managed to stay warm.

At camp we had beers with Joe and stayed up chatting until 12:30, just Craig, Joe, and I. It was a lot of fun. A little field mouse kept checking us out.

Wednesday 7/25/01 - Liberty Falls, McCarthy

We awoke at 7 a.m., ate breakfast, and broke down the camp. We were on the road by 9 a.m. We stopped to view some salmon in a stream, and then stopped at a little store in Paxson. The sun was shining, and it was a nice day.

We stopped at Liberty Falls, and Craig, Joe, and Lia made the steep ascent up to the falls. We ate lunch at a rest area near the beginning of the McCarthy Road. It was very windy there, which made picnicking a bit tricky.

We drove to McCarthy on a gravel road which was originally the site of the railroad from Cordova to McCarthy. The last train out left in 1938, when the mine was shut down and the towns were deserted. During the world wars, the iron from the rails was salvaged, and since then gravel has been placed over the railroad ties and spikes, and as the freshly grate the road, spikes become visible. Joe got a spike for Scott on our trip down McCarthy Road.

The road is 60 miles long and supports a much slower speed than the Denali Highway. We had feared motion sickness on this drive, but the road was actually in good shape; much better than we had expected. It took us three hours to get to McCarthy on this road.

Kennicott was the company town (copper mining), and McCarthy sprung up four miles away, with saloons, brothels, etc. Once you get to the end of the McCarthy Road, you need to park your vehicle, grab what you need for the night, and carry it across the footbridge into town. Up until several years ago, the footbridge had not been constructed yet, and there was a hand-tram instead. Joe told us that the creek freezes in winter, and folks can drive across it. But once the thaw comes, your vehicle is either on one side or the other until the next freeze. In the mining days, there was a footbridge which would wash out every year in the late July time frame, due to glacial activity. The residents learned how to predict it, and every year the bridge would wash out and they would rebuild it. But in 1938 when the mine shut down, it was washed out and never rebuilt.

Once across the footbridge, it was a short walk to Ma Johnson's Hotel. Across from that was a lodge/saloon and a gift shop, and a bit further down the road was the museum. McCarthy is a very small town with around 10 year-round residents. The hotel was very nice. We were in room 8 (on the second floor) and there were shared bathrooms. We got settled into our room, and there was soon a knock at the door. It was Joe, bearing a beer and a hard lemonade which he had carried across from the van, saying that he had been thinking of us. Thanks, Joe!

After finishing our drinks, we walked over to the museum and browsed around for a while. There were lots of things that were left behind when the towns were deserted in 1938, including sewing machines, mining/milling equipment, mercantile records, and photographs of the railroad and mill being built. It was very interesting, and we could have spent much more time there.

We met at 7 p.m. for the one seating dinner at the lodge. When we had arrived we had to put in our order for either lasagna or beef stroganoff. Craig and I both chose the lasagna. It was delicious. Betty, the owner, had cooked that night. We also had salad, and blueberry cobbler with ice cream. The meal was fantastic by its own merits, but it was especially impressive when we learned how much time and effort went in to simply getting the supplies to McCarthy! Every week two people from the staff drive all the way down the McCarthy Road and then on to Anchorage to buy supplies. They stay overnight and load the supplies, and then drive back to McCarthy. Once there they have to unload the vehicles and transport all of the goods over to the footbridge, reload them onto a vehicle on the other side, and then drive them to the lodge and unload them again. The whole town is run off of generators, and their drinking water comes from streams.

During dinner, Joe told us a Shining-esque story of the McCarthy Massacre, which had occurred in the winter of 1983. One of the few residents of Kennicott had shot his neighbor Chris Richards in the face, pursued him and shot him in the arm, thought he was in the Kennicott Lodge and burned down the lodge. He also killed five other residents. He was apprehended and the police learned he had a plan to blow up the pipeline! Chris Richards survived and now runs the McCarthy-Kennicott Wilderness Guides outfit. Joe said that we might run into him. I was quite intrigued by the story.

After dinner we went for an hour-long walk by the river, looking at tracks and flowers. We would have walked further, but the mosquitoes were relentless.

When we got back, everyone was ready for bed, but Craig and I offered to buy Joe a beer and the three of us went into the lodge. I was amazed that a place like McCarthy would stock a hard lemonade drink, but they did (Glacier Bay vodka lemonade, no less), so I was happy.

We talked with a guy who had entered the mines (even though it is not allowed) and he told us some amazing stories. We had some drinks and played cutthroat pool.

Chris Richards, the survivor of the McCarthy Massacre, arrived wearing a lampshade-shaped hat and a machete sheathed in his back pocket, and we would never have known of his ordeal if Joe had not told us.

As a couple guys rode up on their 4-wheelers, everyone rejoiced that Larry had arrived. Larry looked rather like Willie Nelson, with a long braided white beard, and he was just incredibly happy. He played pool against Joe, and Craig and I just sat and soaked up the atmosphere.

After a while, the party moved out onto the porch, and Craig, Joe, and I went out as well. The locals started really talking to us. I was a little tipsy and I sat on one end of a bench, which immediately turned into a see-saw. Larry ran to my rescue and sat on the other end.

Joe was dubbed "the English teacher," as that was what he cited as his profession. We were told of how the McCarthy/Kennicott area is a self-regulating community, and it seemed that most residents maintained a subsistence lifestyle. Larry told an epic story about trapping a wolverine, and a local guide told stories of the old hand-tram into town (after nights of drinking they would pass out in the tram and wake up halfway across the river). Everyone was very congenial and were happy to tell their stories to us. There were jokes of deet-flavored tequila shots, and by the end of the night Larry was offering to buy us drinks. Joe said that he meets Larry "for the first time" every week in McCarthy, as Larry never remembers him. Joe said to Larry that it wasn't the first time they had met, and Larry said, "You look familiar; where do I know you from?" I said, "Wasn't he your English teacher?" and Larry broke down into hysterics. He accidentally poked me with a pool cue later on, and instantly apologized. I put an arm around him and joked with him. He was such an endearing character!

We finally staggered across the path to the hotel at around 1:00 a.m., and after quick showers we went to bed, having had one of the most fun experiences of the trip mixing it up with Joe and the locals.

Thursday 7/26/01 - McCarthy, Kennicott, Root Glacier, Copper River

We woke up at 6:30 a.m. and ate a breakfast buffet of local fresh eggs, ham, yogurt, etc. in the lodge. At 8:00 we caught a private shuttle up the four mile road to Kennicott. The road was better suited to ATV's than to cars, as there had been some washouts and it was all gravel anyway.

Once there, Lia opted for the historical tour of the 14 story mill building, run by Chris Richard's McCarthy-Kennicott Guide service. We wished there was time to do both, but we opted for the glacier hike instead.

The rest of us hiked along a well-maintained trail to the Root Glacier. This was my favorite hike of the trip. The glacier was gorgeous. We hiked on its terminal moraine in just our hiking boots, as there was enough silt to give us traction. It was good to have waterproof pants on though, as the easiest way down at one point was on my rear end, and that way I didn't get wet (our hiking boots had a bit less traction than we would have liked, but we still did fine). Lightweight polypro gloves are a good idea as well, so that you can touch the ice when necessary and not get scratched or wet. Joe was always willing to lend a hand in some slippery spots, and to help people safely pass over some crevasses. He tossed a large stone down a deep moulin, and you could hear it echo a long way down, and you could even feel the ice vibrating a bit. It was wild! There were small streams flowing on the face of the glacier, and the color revealed was a beautiful turquoise.

On the hike back we veered off of our original trail to head down Silk Stocking Row. Only mine managers were allowed to bring wives to Kennicott, and the road where the managers had their nice cabins was called Silk Stocking Row, as that was where the only women in town lived. The cabins up there have been restored, and one is a charming bed and breakfast. There was a cute little stand set up by the schoolchildren where you could buy a copper nugget or an animal skull on the honor system. We bought a small copper nugget for $1.

The views of the mill buildings from this section of the trail were magnificent, and we took lots of photos. This day was sunny and warm, so it was just heavenly all around.

The four hour hike ended at the Kennicott Lodge, and we met up with Lia and ate a picnic lunch on their grounds at 12:30. Joe had carried the lunch on our hike, and we had smoked salmon, bagels, reindeer jerky, string cheese, etc. After lunch we sat in Adirondack chairs and soaked up the sunshine, and saw Chris Richards playing chess with a friend in the guide office below the hill.

Our shuttle picked us up and on our drive back to McCarthy we saw Larry and his friend Tim from the previous night riding their four wheelers. They gave a big wave.

In McCarthy, I stopped in the gift shop, and Craig talked to Erin who had checked us in and brought our food at the lodge. Before we got into the shuttle, the bartender ran out and thanked us and said goodbye. What a nice guy! The shuttle dropped us at the footbridge and we walked over and piled into the van.

On the McCarthy Road, Joe found us a railroad spike. We stopped to see the fish wheels (like a small paddle wheel that captures fish and drops them into a sluice box) and spoke to one of the fisherman. Permits for these wheels are strictly regulated, and are usually granted to subsistence fisherman, and there are quotas for the max number of fish they can catch.

Our trip on the McCarthy Road only took two hours today, and we stopped at a liquor store in Chitina to buy some beer. There was a cat and an adorable kitten which we played with in the store, and the proprietor tried to convince us to take it with us.

After that, we stopped at a place where the pipeline was accessible from the road. We got out of the van and walked over to it. We touched the galvanized sheet metal which covers the 48 inch pipe. It was quite interesting.

We then drove through Glenallen, stopping at the Hub of Alaska for supplies. While stuck in construction traffic on a bridge, we saw a bald eagle.

We drove to campsites owned by Todd and Barb (the owners of Adventure Alaska) overlooking the Copper River. The campsites were great. There was a firepit, a covered cooking area, an outhouse, and nice cleared sites for tents right on the ledge above the river.

Joe made tacos for dinner. He also showed us how to make a wonderful dessert by slicing a peeled banana lengthwise (but not cutting all the way through), stuffing chocolate chips, buutterscotch chips, and mini marshmallows inside, wrapping in tin foil, and cooking extensively in the coals of the campfire. It was delicious!

Most people went to bed soon after dinner, but this was our last night with Joe (who was going to be starting another trip the following day while we continued on with Barb and Todd), so Craig and I stayed up chatting with Joe at the campfire until around midnight.

We were saddened to learn that Chris Richards passed away after a house fire later that same year. We found the following tribute online, posted on January 3, 2002.
Survivor of McCarthy massacre killed in fatal fire remembered as hero
Anchorage Daily News, An AP Member Exchange

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Chris Richards, the self-proclaimed mayor of the ghost town of Kennicott who died in a cabin fire one week before Christmas, was remembered by friends and relatives over the holidays as a rough-edged Alaskan who cared deeply about his neighbors, his dog and the fate of his historic Wrangell Mountain hometown.

He was also remembered as a man haunted by the 1983 mass murders in nearby McCarthy, which took the lives of six of his neighbors and friends. Richards, wounded in that attack by killer Lou Hastings, was the only local resident to survive, though he remained tormented by guilt and depression ever after.

When his cabin went up in flames Dec. 19 with Richards inside, more than one person who knew him said Hastings had finally claimed a seventh life.

"People told Chris he'd been a hero that day and saved lives, but he said he couldn't get there in his mind," said Sally Gibert, an Anchorage friend with long ties to the McCarthy area. "At his heart Chris was very generous and sweet, but Hastings injected this anger and poison in him that he never could work out."

With his broomstraw beard, Richards was a fixture in the small community at the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

"It's like if I woke up one morning and somebody told me the Kennicott Glacier was gone," said a neighbor, Rick Jurick.

Only a few people spend winters in Kennicott.

Richards, 48, lived alone in a small red millworker's house at the Kennicott mill site. His cabin looked out on the immense Kennicott Glacier.

In summer, when tourists visited the spectacular site, Richards had a higher profile. A vivid storyteller, he guided tourists through the historic buildings -- sometimes including, free of charge, acid lectures about tourist misbehavior and what he saw as overzealous park regulators.

"He could go on a rant. He was not politically correct," said Dianne Milliard, who took over the tours in recent years as Richards grew more erratic. "Sometimes people didn't know how to take him. But Chris was a quintessential Alaskan -- rough around the edges with a heart of gold."

The fire that burned his cabin to the ground remains a mystery. A neighbor living on the mountainside above was making an outhouse visit when he noticed an orange glow. By the time half a dozen people had rushed to Richards' cabin, it was too late.

"Flames were coming out where the windows used to be," Jurick said.

Richards' faithful white husky mix, Rudy, was outside the cabin, so everyone knew Richards was inside. All the Alaska State Troopers found later in the ruins was a handful of bone fragments.

"Everyone told me Chris had been leading a tormented life," said trooper Sgt. Carl Erickson, who found no evidence of foul play. His last day had been especially bad, Erickson said. Richards had become a problem drinker since the murders. Now he was trying to give up alcohol and was hallucinating and having delusional conversations.

"Chris deteriorated over the last few years but never lost his love of friends, his willingness to help people in need or to tell a story to some wayward tourist. I would like for him to be remembered for that," said his brother, Duston Richards, a financial consultant in Berkeley, Calif.

Chris Richards grew up in Ohio and moved to Alaska in 1974, his brother said. After a divorce, he settled in the abandoned mining community of Kennicott in the late 1970s, working seasonally on road construction gangs. He declared himself mayor one winter when he was the only person living in Kennicott.

He had mixed feelings about the national park that surrounded the McCarthy-Kennicott area after 1980.

Though he didn't like the hordes of tourists drawn to the park, he recognized that federal help was necessary to keep the historic buildings from collapsing into complete ruin.

The mine facility has since been purchased by the federal government in a deal promoted by a nonprofit group that had Richards on its board of directors.

On March 1, 1983, only two people were living at Kennicott: Richards and a quiet computer programmer named Lou Hastings, a recent arrival who kept to himself.

"I didn't really like the guy, personally," Richards said in an interview later that year. "But I was trying to get along with him because I figured I was stuck with him as a neighbor."

On the night before the murders, Hastings and Richards played the board game Risk by lamplight at Richards' cabin and made plans for the next day to go down to McCarthy, four miles away, to meet the weekly mail plane.

The next morning, Richards saw the spectacles and bushy beard of his neighbor peering in his door. Richards called for him to come in and reached for his coffee pot as Hastings entered, firing a pistol with a silencer. A bullet lodged in Richards' cheekbone. They struggled.

"Look, you're already dead," Hastings told him. "If you just quit fighting, I'll make it easy for you."

Richards shoved a kitchen knife into Hastings' leg and ran into the snow in his stocking feet with Hastings firing after him. Descending a ravine through waist-deep snow, he reached the cabin of Tim and Amy Nash. They took him to the McCarthy runway. A local pilot grabbed wounded Richards and took off to warn away the mail plane and summon troopers.

The Nashes stayed behind and were shot on the runway. Two others who came to meet the mail plane were also killed by Hastings, along with an elderly couple whose McCarthy home served as a gathering place. An eighth victim, a visitor Hastings wounded, escaped by covering herself with snow.

Hastings was later nabbed by a trooper helicopter as he rode a stolen snowmachine away from McCarthy.

The killer's effort to plead mental illness was rejected in court. He pleaded no contest and was never tried. Hastings is serving multiple life sentences at a federal penitentiary in Florence, Colo., according to the state Department of Corrections.

Richards was left with double vision and a plastic eye socket and unanswerable questions.

"Why would you put a silencer on to kill the only other person in a ghost town?" he said in an interview the following summer.

"I feel like I've been violated," he said. "Like he took a little bit of his insanity and pushed it into my brain."

Friday 7/27/01 - Anchorage, Hope

We got up at 6:30 a.m., ate breakfast, and broke down the camp. It was drizzly, and the weather kind of mirrored our moods, as we were sad to be losing Joe.

We were on the road by 8:30, but traffic slowed us down a bit. We stopped to view some scenery along the way, and we stopped at a little place where we got coffee and Lia finally got the "fruits of the forest pie" she had heard so much about. When we met up with Duane after the trip, we found out that he was friends with the proprietors of this little cafe.

We stopped at Barb and Todd's gear house in Anchorage, and met them. We switched vans, and Joe took us to Harry's for lunch. Craig had a moosebreath burger with bacon and swiss. His clam chowder came after the meal. I had a delicious chicken pot pie. Half the fun at this place was that the rest of the clientele was fairly dressed up, and we were pretty grubby. I felt like I had earned my stripes in the great outdoors when a woman in the bathroom looked at me rather disdainfully.

After lunch we went for a hike at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus with Joe (he teaches outdoor education there). UAA and neighboring APU have an elaborate interlocked trail system, which is used for hiking in the summer and skiing, skijoring, and snow machine riding in the winter. It was around 75 degrees and sunny, so although the hike wasn't demanding, we weren't used to this kind of heat in Alaska.

We then went back to the gear house and said a sad goodbye to Joe. We felt we had really connected with him, and it was rather sad for us to have to lose him before the trip was over.

Barb drove us around Turnagain Arm to the first Alaska goldrush town of Hope. On the way we saw some Dall sheep on cliffs by the side of the road, and they were scurrying down very steep inclines to the road below.

We got settled in Todd and Barb's Discovery Cabins (we were in #3). They were gorgeous, and had nice large triangular windows. There were double-sized bunk beds, which we had never seen before. There was a separate building with laundry, two bathrooms, and a kitchen.

Todd and Barb took us to the Sea View Cafe for dinner. We ate on the patio, where Jim Sandy was playing keyboards and guitar. Craig and I had reindeer sausage with onions, peppers, and cheese. We also had apple pie a la mode.

Our spirits improved as we got to know Todd and Barb. They were very nice and a lot of fun. It would have been great if Joe could have shared the remainder of the trip with us, but Barb and Todd were excellent hosts and great guides as well.

After dinner, we went back to the cabins. Craig and I sat in the hot tub, and we had some gorgeous mountain views. There was actually an earthquake while we were in there (we found out from Barb later) and Craig even felt it (he thought at the time it was something weird with the motor of the hot tub). We went to bed at 1:00 a.m.

Saturday 7/28/01 - Hope, Bear Creek Trail

We woke up at 8 a.m. and went to breakfast at 8:30. Barb and Todd were serving up blueberry pancakes in the kitchen, and they were delicious.

We packed a lunch and left for the Bear Creek hike at 9:40. Barb and her black Lab Shasta guided us. The weather was sunny and warm when we started, and the beginning of the trail is a lot of steep inclines. But it soon evened out. We saw a black bear on the hillside, but it fled as soon as it caught sight of us. We crossed Bear Creek, which was about knee-deep, and we had to form a human chain to get through the rapid current of ice cold water. We saw patches of snow and eventually we bushwhacked across tundra to get to two beautiful aqua-colored lakes which reflected the nearby mountains and snow.

This was Craig's favorite hike. We all reclined in the tundra, just listening to the sounds of nature and eating wild blueberries. Shasta went for a dip in the lakes to fetch a stick, and rolled around in snowbanks to cool off. Depite the snow the temperatures were still warm. I was wearing shorts and was quite comfortable.

We got back to the cabins at 4 p.m. and had our first down-time of the trip... 2 1/2 hours before dinner! The rest of the trip had been was great, because we never had time to think about work or other responsibilities at home. If we weren't hiking or camping we were on the road to the next hiking/camping spot, and everything was so beautiful that you never wanted to let your attention wander.

So, on our first downtime we were still quite busy. We took a shower, did a load of laundry, and each called home while sitting on the porch of the building that housed the laundry and bathrooms. Barb found a hard lemonade and brought it to me!

At 6:30 we had a barbecue dinner on the deck (salmon, beans, hot dogs, burgers, potato salad, etc). We all chatted with Todd and Barb for quite a while.

Everyone retired to their cabins, but Todd and Barb took us back to the Sea View Cafe for drinks. Jim Sandy was playing keyboards and Steve Snyder was playing guitar. The second song that they played was Tom Waits' "Semi Suite"! We talked to them between sets and told them how much we likes Tom, and they promised to play another song in the next set. Steve Snyder is the Tom Waits fan. We bought their CD, entitled "Don't Panic."

We shared lots of laughs and stories with Todd and Barb, who left at around 10:15. We stayed a while longer. The band played "Warm Beer" for us. At around midnight we decided it was time to walk back to the cabins. As the summer was progressing and we were further south than before, it was actually getting dark. Although they were mid-song, Steve interrupted himself to say goodbye and thank you to us.

Although Hope is a small town and it was impossible for us to get lost even in the dark, we did overshoot the cabins a bit. We backtracked a little and arrived at 12:30 a.m., after which we promptly went to bed.

Sunday 7/29/01 - Panning for Gold, Girdwood, Anchorage

We got up at 7 a.m. and packed, then had continental breakfast at around 8. We left the cabins at 9 and went to do some gold panning with Gold Rush Peck outside of the Sea View Cafe. It was great fun. He taught us panning technique (shake and rake at first, and then shake and dip in the water). We each ended up with some gold flecks which we put into a small vial of water for safekeeping.

Hope is a small town, and this was a Sunday morning, and Barb called Peck and some other residents to have them open up just for us. We went to a couple of gift shops, and when we were done in there one of the proprietors then walked over to the Hope Sunrise Historical Museum to open that up especially for us. The same woman also runs a bed and breakfast in town.

We drove to Girdwood, a ski resort town 30 minutes out of Anchorage, and ate at The Bake Shop at the Aleyeska Ski Resort. There was a nice patio with lots of gorgeous flowers. Craig and I had roast beef and havarti sandwiches, with beef barley soup.

After lunch, we hiked the Winner Creek Trail. It was a very well-developed trail, with boardwalks over portions of mud, etc. It was very woodsy, and gave me the feeling of hiking back home. It was warm this day as well, and I was wishing I had worn shorts. The footing was a bit difficult at times due to roots and things, but it wasn't a difficult hike.

The trail led to a beautiful gorge. We hiked past the gorge to a new hand-tram. Craig, Lia, and I used the tram to get across the creek and back. It was wild! It was really high up and you had to pull a rope to propel yourself on the pulley system. Craig did most of the pulling, but Lia and I helped out as well. We then hiked back. The entire hike took about 2 1/2 hours.

We stopped near the junior high school in Girdwood to see a beaver lodge and dam. Then it was back to Anchorage.

We got to Susitna Place, and Linda had put us into a different room, with a huge bathtub, two shower heads, and two bathroom sinks. We each took relaxing baths and then called Duane. We made plans to meet him at Humpy's. We made plans to meet Lia and her high school friend Jim there as well.

We had dinner and drinks together. I had a halibut burger and Craig had ribs. We had lots of laughs with stories of our adventures. We then moved into a different room to listen to Jim's friend Lisa Ballard playing guitar and singing. Duane left first, as he had to work the next day. Lia left a while later, and we ended up hanging out with Jim until around midnight. We walked back to Susitna Place, laughing at Jitters Coffee Shop as we passed it.

The next day we would embark on our Princess Cruise, and we were a bit sad that this part of the trip was over. It was amazing. We met so many great people. Joe had been a great guide, and Barb and Todd were wonderful as well. We would miss them all.

The itinerary they had given us for this trip was spot-on, with a few minor weather-induced variations, and we were amazed that a trip that encompassed 1200 miles of driving and 40 miles of hiking could go off so smoothly. We always felt safe, and the hiking was very empowering. We feel that we truly saw the real Alaska, and we felt almost guilty to now be embarking on such a cushy and touristy way to see Alaska (the cruise).

We highly recommend Adventure Alaska to anyone considering a trip to Alaska. They have an itinerary to suit pretty much anyone's needs. Their adventure trips (such as this one) involve hiking and camping, but if you prefer to stay in hotels or cabins all the time and don't care to hike, they also offer tours which cover pretty much the same ground.
Moose along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Moose along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail



Joe and the sled dog puppies Iditarod Headquarters

Joe and the sled dog puppies Iditarod Headquarters

Steph holding a puppy at Iditarod Headquarters

Steph holding a puppy at Iditarod Headquarters

Raymie Redington gives us a dogseld ride

Raymie Redington gives us a dogseld ride

Jack River campsite

Jack River campsite

Jack River hike

Jack River hike



Blonde grizzly and cubs, Denali

Blonde grizzly and cubs, Denali

Denali Hike

Denali Hike

Joe on the Tangle Lakes hike

Joe on the Tangle Lakes hike

Moose near the Gulkana River

Moose near the Gulkana River

Gulkana River campsite

Gulkana River campsite

Hike to Gulkana Glacier

Hike to Gulkana Glacier

Joe at Gulkana Glacier

Joe at Gulkana Glacier

Ma Johnson's Hotel, McCarthy

Ma Johnson's Hotel, McCarthy

McCarthy Lodge

McCarthy Lodge

Kennicott Mine

Kennicott Mine

Root Glacier

Root Glacier

Steph & Craig at Root Glacier

Steph & Craig at Root Glacier

Hiking on Root Glacier

Hiking on Root Glacier

Joe on Root Glacier

Joe on Root Glacier

Fireweed amd Kennicott Mine

Fireweed amd Kennicott Mine

Chris Richards (middle), Kennicott-McCarthy Wilderness Guides

Chris Richards (middle), Kennicott-McCarthy Wilderness Guides

Steph, Joe, and Craig at the Copper River campsite

Steph, Joe, and Craig at the Copper River campsite

Shasta and Craig, Bear Creek hike

Shasta and Craig, Bear Creek hike

Bear Creek hike

Bear Creek hike

Bear Creek hike

Bear Creek hike

Steph panning for gold

Steph panning for gold

Crossing Winner Creek in a hand tram: Craig, Steph, and Lia

Crossing Winner Creek in a hand tram: Craig, Steph, and Lia

Dinner at Humpy's: Duane, Jim, Lia, Craig, and Steph

Dinner at Humpy's: Duane, Jim, Lia, Craig, and Steph

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