Back on the road again, we retraced our journey up the Sterling Highway and stopped off again at Soldotna. We'd already had a couple of Kaladi Brothers coffees (fresh roasted in Alaska) and decided to buy a French press (known to us as a cafetiere) and a bag of their freshly ground best coffee. An added bonus was that for the price of the French press, the Kaladi's filled up the pot for free. Another interesting point was a painting hanging up in the Kaladi Brothers cafe that showed a lovely topless young woman - and that young woman was serving behind the counter!
After Soldotna, the weather continued to improve and it highlighted the wonderful scenery as we made our way back to CooperLanding (where we had stayed the first night).Cooper Landing deserves a better write up in the travel books but for a place that thrives on fishing - it is on the world famous Kenai River - it was sad to learn that the river at Cooper Landing had been closed to fishing just 2 days earlier. This could be a 'normal' thing and designed to regulate fish stocks especially as this is the season when Pacific salmon are returning up the many rivers to spawn.But equally perhaps it may be a sign that the salmon stock is decreasing.
Soon after we were on a new section of road - the Seward Highway - heading toward Seward nonetheless! The scenery here was even more dramatic and our campsite - Miller's Landing - nearly 3 miles beyond the end of the surfaced highway was set right on the shores of Resurrection Bay.To be fair, the campsite is a bit scruffy but it was in a great setting which is to our taste. It is certainly much colder here than in Homer and sitting outside watching a few pairs of sea otters and bald eagles we needed to be well wrapped up. However, we managed our first BBQ (we'd bought a wee portable one and a bag of charcoal) and the steak and grilled vegetables were better than expected - actually very good in fact.We've stocked up the fridge/freezer ready for more BBQs to come.
Day 2 at Miller's Landing saw us still watching the otters out in the bay and still feeling the fresher weather here in Seward. After a hearty breakfast it was then off to do a bit of dog-sledding.We'd considered doing this on snow but as this would cost about $500 each to helicopter us up to the Godwin Glacier, we opted for the low level version just outside town. Now, as many of you who watch a lot of telly will know, dog-sledding, or mushing as it is called here, is a serious activity/sport. Races across the frozen countryside in winter are often over 2 weeks long and 1,000 miles in distance.One of the most famous is the Iditatrod Trail that runs from this part of Alaska to the coast on the Bering Strait across from Russia. The winner of one of the races owns husky kennels in Seward and he operates a tourist attraction which is also a serious training facility. We took one of their conducted tours which included a husky sled ride on gravel tracks. The Alaskan Huskies here are the real deal and include some Iditatrod winners.They are much thinner and wirier than those you see in the movies, but obviously have great strength and endurance.They are such active dogs and as soon as they scent a sled they start jumping, pulling at their leads and barking like mad - they just want to see some action and love pulling sleds. We had 16 Alaskan Huskies pulling our sled (carrying 8 people) and it is amazing the power they possess. In real races they can pull for 6 hours without a stop.
As we were out of town we took a short ride up to Exit Glacier where we were booked in to do a glacier hike the following day. Near the foot of the glacier there is a National Parks Service centre and we were interested/ alarmed/concerned to read a sign about bears.This read: if a bear looks aggressive speak to it, if it attacks you do not struggle, if it begins to eat you fight back! Now that is enough to keep you off the hills!
At breakfast that morning we'd noticed the people in the next door van setting their towels out on the picnic tables at the front of their van - "Oh" quipped E, "I see we have German neighbours today".That evening, as we were sitting outside, our neighbours were cooking their BBQ and we heard them talking - and yes you've guessed it, they really were German! So the towel thing is not a myth! Soon afterwards a van that pulled in on the other side of us contained three guys from Israel - so a very international bunch we were.
Our glacier trek was fantastic and truly what we'd come to Alaska to do. We were bussed up the NPS centre where we trekked several miles and 1,400ft up through native forests to and beyond the snowline where we had a fleeting glimpse of a marmot. At the highest point we donned our warm clothing, sunspecs and helmets and part walked part slid on our bums (deliberately) down to the shoulder of the glacier. There we put on our crampons and were led by Brendan (the joint owner of this business) up and across the glacier past crevasses, waterfalls, icy blue pools, and the rest - wonderful and probably better than our glacier walk in New Zealand. E managed to break one of his crampons so our trainee guide (Trevor) had to sacrifice his. On our way back down - after we'd had to climb back up off the glacier's shoulder - E spotted another marmot (see Seward photo album) and luckily, we bumped into a couple from Colorado who were watching a black bear in the distance and a herd of wild goats high up on the slopes. This whetted our appetite for more and whilst keeping a lookout for wildlife as we descended, while Brendan was busy chatting to another couple in our group, E spotted a black bear right on the track about 15 yards ahead of us. We approached closer and spent about 15 minutes - we couldn't advance even if we wanted to - watching the bear feed on grass. It was a wonderful experience. See photos on the Seward Photo album.
With sea otters, bald eagles, marmots, goats, and bears, Seward certainly had its wildlife on show for us. Next stop Valdez and more glaciers. But one thing we should mention is the number of locals who are still 'Old Believer' Russians (from the time Alaska was part of Russia) and you can see them about town and in shops dressed in very traditional Russian clothing - unfortunately they are not for photographing.
E & M xx