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A 42 Day Odyssey into the Wilderness of Alaska -A Series for the Adventurer

Updated: Jan 4

   Part 1 - My journey into writing was an unexpected one.  It actually started with a simple lunch conversation with a teaching mentor of mine.  Rob was nearing retirement and had a lifetime of experiences.  He had taught and had moved several times in his career, serving as a teacher, principal, and eventually a superintendent of a small school in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  But more importantly than serving as a teaching mentor, he served as a “dad mentor” for me.  His kids were older and out of the house, and I think he enjoyed sharing pieces of wisdom and little tidbits about things that worked for him as a dad when his kids were younger. Because I had such high respect for Rob, I was a sponge when it came to his parenting tips.  

     One of the tips that he passed along to me was to keep a journal of our camping and hiking trips that we were taking.  He shared that one of his kids’ favorite things to do when they came home for the holidays was to pull out their family journals and read their family adventure stories.  His journal had become a family history of sorts, but it led to lots of laughs and inside jokes as everyone reminisced about their adventures together.

     And that’s all it took.  I started to journal our family adventures - day by day, trip by trip.  One day, someone got a hold of the journals as they visited our house, read through some of the entries,  and suggested that the stories were so fun that they should be shared publicly.  Well, that was what got the ball rolling.

     Today, I’d like to begin sharing a journal series that I hope you enjoy.  In 2017, we had the opportunity to travel to Alaska for six weeks of pure wilderness exploration with three of our four kids.  It’s a trip that none of us will ever forget - traveling over 12,000 miles together in the cab  of a truck together, hiking glaciers near Valdez, boating along the shore of Ketchimak Bay, watching a grizzly eat a caribou, rafting the white water of the Nenana River near Mt. Denali, fishing salmon in grizzly infested territory in the Kenai Peninsula, breaking down with our camper in the middle of absolutely nowhere in the Yukon.  These are just a quick few of the recollections from this trip.  

     As we navigate the slower months of winter with perhaps a little more time than normal to read and ponder, I invite you to join my family on this 42 day Wilderness Journal into “The Last Frontier” of Alaska.  Light the fire, grab a cup of hot cocoa, and enjoy the recollections of an unforgettable trip.  


Scouting Alaska - The Last Frontier 

(Part One - Jumping Right In)

Michigan to the Canadian Rockies    

 As we start our journey to Alaska, this is an accumulation of hundreds of hours of preparation….reading, researching, talking with others who have visited or lived in the state, and putting together our own plan of how to see and experience the state. 

     We have six weeks to work with, but we have to get there first, which is no small feat.  We’ll be traveling with 5 of us in the cab of  my trusty Silverado (Jen, Caleb (20), Tara (17), Karli (15), and myself), while pulling a 1970’s orange and brown pop-up camper for the duration. The first leg of the journey takes us from Alpena, Michigan to Canmore, Alberta - 45 minutes west of Calgary.  We didn’t want to waste time on the road, so we’re trying to get to Alaska as quickly as possible.  To get to Anchorage, we’re looking at about 60 hours of drive time and about 6,000 miles.  I just got an oil change before we left, and I’ll be getting one as soon as we get to Anchorage. Most people drive about 10-12 hours a day, so it takes about  a week to get there.  So, with all that said, Canmore (near Banff) is about half-way to Alaska, and what a great place to stop and rest a bit.

     …June 23, Friday

     Today was simply a wonderful day! I was up at 7:30 by myself for a couple of hours.  Did some reading, made coffee, and eventually everyone started getting out of bed at about 9:30.  We had tons of rearranging to do with our gear and food tubs, but eventually Jen threw together a first class breakfast - ham, bacon, eggs, rolls, and coffee.  It was devoured in no time.  It did take us awhile to get on the road, but eventually we headed south into the Kananaskis Valley.  It is a superb drive!  Initially, we ran into both flocks of mountain sheep and mountain goats on the road with “little babies”. It was a nice way to kick things off.  We spent a bit of time at an information center when we finally decided to do a trail that led up to King’s Creek Ridge.  The kids hopped right in and starting conquering!  We had packed our bear sprays and had air horns with us as well, for any of the critters we might encounter along the way.  Jen and I brought up the rear, visiting.  Eventually, we all made it to the top of the ridge and took a bunch of pics with our newly gained elevation.  It was a stunning overlook into the valley below. Going down was precarious, but it didn’t require the energy that it takes to climb up.  While we were on the ridge looking across the valley, we saw two lakes side by side - one being an upper lake that we wanted to have dinner at.

     We drove across the valley, and about a half hour later, we were at Upper Lake, warming up barbequed chicken with watermelon, potatoes, and salad. The view overlooking the lake was to die for - still water with snow-capped peaks in the horizon reflecting off the water in front of us!  It was picture perfect, and the sun warmed things up to about 65 degrees.  It’s been running 54ish - last night, we ran the heater a couple of times to warm up. At the Upper Lake we ate until we were full. But, the real allure to Kananaskis is the wildlife.

      We packed up our picnic, and as we headed out, we weren’t a half mile down the road when we saw a cow moose and her calf drinking in a stream.  We stopped for a bit - the baby calf was adorable.  We took a different road back to Canmore that was all gravel.  It took us on the other side of the mountains.  We saw three elk just off the road, a mule deer, a 300 pound black bear, another black bear ambling across the road, and we watched a bull elk in a swamp bound away, but the best view of the night was watching a bull moose swim across a perfectly calm lake.  He swam right towards us.  When he got to the shallows, he shook the water off his coat.  It was silent!  Perfectly still. And the sun was going down as this happened.  It was simply a magical moment.

     All of these sightings occurred under the grandeur of the mountains that hovered over top of us as we snaked our way through the valley below.  It was an incredible day of beauty, laughter, and fun!  I honestly don’t know how a day could be any better:)  The freedom of being out here is refreshing and wonderful!  I look forward to what this trip will bring!

…June 24th

     Since we wanted to get an early start to drive up to Parker’s Ridge on the Icefield Parkway Drive, we made our percolated coffee and had cereal with biscuits and got on the road at about 10am.  It was a 2 ½ hour drive through breathtaking views…snaking our way through the mountains…often driving by the side of a river.  It is interesting how different it is this time from the last time we were here.  There’s a lot more snow on the peaks, so we put winter hats and gloves in our packs and layered up for the hike. Much of the trail to the top, we were hiking in snow - postholing our way along. Caleb and the girls went ahead of Jen and I as we took our time going up the switchbacks - it took an hour or so to get to the top,but the ridge is nothing short of spectacular.  As we got up on the saddle between two mountain peaks, we hiked to the right and saw the Athabascan glacier with its toe meandering it’s way down into the valley below us.  The glacier was melting and had a river run from it down to a teal colored lake at the other end of the valley.  We then hiked to the left to the end of our trail with more incredible overlooks.

     Jenny decided to head down the mountain, and I went on ahead looking for the kids.  The expanse of the ridge is immense with rock piles scattered along the way up to the peaks for people to take shelter in when the wind is whipping through.  The ridge, itself, was easy to walk, but just as I was about to have to ascend the ridge to head up towards the mountain peak where I thought the kids went, I heard some girls’ voices.  As I looked to the top of the mountain, I could see 3 dots - yep, my kids.   As I hiked towards them, every once in a while I could hear them.  Eventually, the wind was strong enough that I decided to duck down into one of the rock shelters and just wait for them to descend to me.  They started out miles away from me, but as they neared, I could see them sliding and rolling in the snow.  To my right, a gal who had hiked up the mountain with her skis was now skiing down the side of the mountain to the base.  It was beautiful to see on this snow covered mountain at the end of June:)

     Once the kids got to me, we descended the rest of the way together down our snowy and sloppy muddy trail - all the while, each one sharing about their adventures up on Parker Ridge. 

     After two days in a row of mountain climbing and hiking, we were spent!  We crashed on the blacktop of the parking lot (30 degrees warmer down at the base) and laid on the warm pavement.  Eventually, we drove back to Lake Louise through gorgeous scenery to have dinner, shower up, and have a "post hike binge-eating (ice cream) and drinking anything that was cold" session.  We ended up going into a campground to shower the first time since we left on the trip.  We needed to degrime - big time! It was wonderful!

     We headed back to camp as the sun went down behind the mountains.  Another great day in the books…

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