We said goodbye to Denali and the interior, and headed south toward the Kenai Peninsula. The Kenai bills itself as Alaska’s Playground due to the myriad rivers offering salmon fishing, the gorgeous coastal scenery, and a wealth of recreational activities. You must pass through Anchorage to reach the Kenai, and we happened to arrive in time to help Dan of Mali Mish celebrate his birthday at The Moose’s Tooth (ranked 3rd best pizza in the country and I believe it!). One of the best things about traveling so far has been the opportunity to finally meet people in person after following their adventures on line, and it was great to finally meet Dan, Marlene and their 3 great kids. Also at Dan’s party were Dave & Ann and their girls (Adv-O-Dna), Tim of Van-Tramp.com and his partner Kerri, and we met Brad and Oksana of Perky Mog. We were invited to camp with the group and got to enjoy Dan’s birthday cakes and some fine ukulele strumming by Dan & Dave. The next morning we got a tour of Perky Mog (I have lifting roof envy now and want one!) and headed out to resupply. After weeks of having limited shopping choices, Anchorage was a bit overwhelming, but in a nice way. Shopping all done, tanks all handled & propane topped up, we headed south to Seward.
The drive south is beautiful, taking you first through the Chugach State Park along the shores of Turnagain Arm. The highway and railroad are sandwiched between the majestic Chugach Mountains on one side and the shallow waters of Turnagain Arm on the other. You might see Dall sheep or the deep blue and gold of an Alaska Railway train on its way to Whittier or Seward. Unfortunately, it’s also a very dangerous highway, much like U.S. 1 in the Florida Keys: people have just come off the 4-lane highway in Anchorage (or Miami) and are in too much of a hurry to get to their weekend fun, so they pass recklessly and accidents are all too frequent. Fortunately there are frequent turnouts where you can enjoy the scenery and take a break from the traffic. We made it to Seward without incident, and went to check out the waterfront campgrounds that the City offers. Unfortunately, we arrived on a Saturday and found the campgrounds (just gravel parking lots really) were stuffed with RV’s like sardines in a tin. Our trusty Milepost came to the rescue again, informing us that on the road to Exit Glacier just a mile or so out of town, there were numerous turnouts where people camped for free. Almost immediately, we found a site that remains one of our favorites from Alaska. Right on the bank of the Resurrection River, the site offered views of the mountains near Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. And it was free!
Over the next few days enjoyed walking along the river in the rain, checking out the local watering holes, and we hiked up to Exit Glacier. Exit is the only glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park that you can reach by car and foot, and we did just that. After visiting the Glacier we walked down to the toe of the glacier and found chunks of ice floating in the river. We also saw an adorable red-backed vole snuffling in the leaves by the trail on our way out.
Our good friends the Snowmads were also in Steward and we got to spend a little time with them. In preparation for their trip to Seward, Kristin and Jason had been corresponding with Ben & Rebecca of His & Hers Alaska who are year-round residents, and they offered to take us out for a closer inspection of some glaciers and a little fishing to boot if we could round up enough people to pay for the gas. Boy was that a mistake on their part! The call went out and our friends drove down. We moved over to Spring Creek Campground so we could be closer to our friends, and ended up camped next to Ardent Campers Josh & Marie, the Learning Banks Beth & Taylor, and Lynn & Clark in the Mutiny. Also in town but staying with family on the other side of Resurrection Bay were Jason & Nikki aka Gone with the Wynns. A slight conflict of interest developed between those who wanted a serious fishing trip, and those who wanted a little fishing on their trip but mostly sight-seeing. In the end, Ben and Rebecca very graciously gave up two of their days so that everyone could be happy and domestic squabbles were avoided. Having lived in the Florida Keys we know all too well what it’s like to have a load of company or back-to-back visitors needing to be entertained, and we seriously can’t thank Ben & Rebecca enough! The first trip was for fishing, and a great time was had by all. The guys caught some salmon and limited out on halibut, with Eric catching this whopping guy, about 75 pounds. That is a serious wheelbarrow full of fish!
Each of the guys ended up bringing home over 25 pounds of halibut & salmon fillets. Have you ever seen the freezer of an regular motorhome fridge? It was never gonna happen, so we happily took the gang out to the Apollo Restaurant where they’ll cook your catch for you. We all ate until we couldn’t eat anymore, came home with leftovers, and still have a freezer stuffed full of fish! It is seriously fantastic eating.
Two days later we reported back to the dock for the sightseeing tour. We did a little fishing and everyone who did fish managed to limit out on halibut (although no huge ones this time). The search for fish took us along some beautiful coastline, shrouded in cloud & mist. We saw eagles, horned and tufted puffins, a common murre and Ancient murrelets.
Rods stowed away, we headed off toward Aialik Bay for lunch by a glacier, but before we could get there – a humpback whale! This little guy (or girl) entertained us for quite a while – breaching 7 or 8 times, giving us tons of fin slaps, and even a tail wave or two. It was really magical and one of my Alaska trip highlights for sure!
The Harding Icefield covers over 700 square miles and spawns over 40 glaciers which together comprise the Kenai Fjords National Park, but only a fraction of the Park is viewable by boat. With the humpback show finally over, we headed down Aialik Bay, passing Holgate and Pedersen Glaciers along the way. As we got closer, Ben maneuvered us through the ice (larger patches covered with seals and sea lions!) to anchor maybe 3/4 of a mile from the toe of Aialik Glacier. Aialik is fairly stable and doesn’t often calve in big chunks so it would have been safe to get much closer, but it gets noticeably colder the closer you get (duh!) and we had all added our extra layers & didn’t really want to get much closer anyway! Even from that distance you can hear the ice pop, creak and groan as it is being inexorably pushed into the sea.
It was difficult for my mind to take in the scale of the glacier. Where it meets the water it is about a mile wide and 300′ high. It always helps if you have a familiar object in the picture for comparison. Can you spot the boat in the last picture above? No? It’s a big tour boat – probably 60′ long and a double-decker, on the right-hand side of the picture. Once you’ve searched for it you can scroll down for the zoom but don’t cheat yet!
It was getting late in the afternoon and we still had fish and a boat to clean, so we pulled anchor & headed home. As we approached the mouth of Aialik Bay, two Dall’s porpoise played in our wake for a bit. Dall’s are black & white and look like tiny killer whales, but they’re so fast that I didn’t get a good picture. Ah well, you can’t have everything but this trip came darned close! And just to prove the point, Ben took us by sea lion rock on the way home. What a way to end the day! We left Seward with happy hearts, a full freezer, and full memory cards too. We’ll be back Seward, we’ll be back.