Before getting to Anchorage I made a few stops along the way. A hike with Pup on some trails around Thompson Pass for beautiful 360° views! Boondocking off of Soup Lake and running up some random trails just to see where it would lead me too…more amazing views
But my favorite was when I went to a spot in Eagle River. I drove from Soup lake to try and find the Pioneer Trailhead. No such luck finding it. I did see a place situated between private property signs that may have been the trail. I did not go checking into it because 99% of Alaskan have a gun. I did not feel like getting shot just to run a trail so I headed out to the next stop. I opened the iOverlander app to see if there were any good spots listed. Closest one was at the end of a street where locals watch the Aurora Lights.
Around 10:30 pm, I drive up the long windy road to the end. It’s a trailhead parking for Mt. Baldy. I park in the flattest area of where the signs direct me too. None of the signs indicate I can’t overnight park here. As Pup and I walk the trail the sun starts to make its way down out of the clouds. This is my first Alaska sunset! Or as close to an Alaskan sunset as you will get with the midnight summer sun. I walk to the van to grab my camera to capture the moment. Walking up to the edge of the road I hear some one say to me they like my stickers.
Annie and Chris are two young local badass trail runners. They stopped to walk Chris’ cute corgi puppy up the short, but steep 1,200 ft gain, one mile trail to the summit of Mt. Baldy. We talked for 45 minutes before they headed up the trail. With the midnight sun still hanging above the horizon, and the inspiring talks of the Mt. Marathon race, I laced up my shoes to run. It probably was not the smartest thing to go for a solo run at 11:30pm but I knew the youngsters were up there to scare away the bear if there were any. Man, did that straight up hurt but the view of the sunset at the top was worth it!
The next morning I rolled toward Anchorage. I pretty much b-lined it through the city to head to the next trail. I made a quick stop at the highly talked about Flattop Trail to find the parking lot slam packed full…no thanks I’ll find a less popular spot.
Did some bird watching at Potters Marsh, hiked with Pup at McHugh Creek Falls and then finding a spot for the night in Chugach National Forest.
As expected the rain was on and off as I got to the main highway from McCarthy. But as I drove up to Worthington Glacier there was a break. Hike a Pup to a glacier time!
Worthington isn’t my first glacier but it is the first most accessible one that I could hike old man Pup. I chose to take a path with Pup that didn’t involve crossing the water. It didn’t get me close to the glowing blue I hoped for but it was still a nice hike to a view on a mound. You better believe Pup got plenty of fresh glacier water drinks along the way too!
After getting back to the van it started to sprinkle but I decided to run quickly to the base. I got lucky on the path I took with Pup. The glacier silt was almost like quicksand in some spots.
Once I got up to the base I had the glacier all to myself. When I touched the blue glowing ice I felt a little like superman. It’s possible the double waterfall on the side made it feel unrealistic.
Well worth being covered in glacier silt by the end!
There’s a long 60 mile drive on a gravel road to the town of McCarthy, AK. But only a short 3/4 mile walk, crossing a foot bridge, gets you to the town.
Pup and I walked into McCarthy from the free parking area around 8pm. As usual my planning was way off. I thought this is where the historic Kennecott Mill was located but it’s another 5 miles. The sun stays up long but rain clouds begin to roll in as we make it to town. I decided to head back to the van and reassess my last idea.
Not sure how rain will change the condition of the road into town I check the weather. Turns out rain is in the forecast for the next couple days. I decide I better get my non-4wd van back to a paved road…hhaa.
I found a great spot to boondock for the night on the edge of Moose Lake. I didn’t see any moose on the lake but I did see one just off the road nibbling on some trees. Also got to hit Liberty Falls which is on the way. Kind of bummed I didn’t make it to the mill but time to keep rolling.
My original idea was to ferry from Skagway to Juneau and then Juneau to Haines. That changed after finding out it would cost $300+ to ferry the van back and forth. A more feasible option, at $90, was to ferry from Skagway to Haines. Either way I was planning on driving down to Haines so this option would save me the gas money it would take to drive to both cities.
I went to the ticket office to book my one way trip to Haines. There was only standby left for the 3pm boat and check in was at 1:45pm. I didn’t feel like wasting my day waiting around not knowing if I’d get on that day so I booked the next day boat at 8pm. This gave me more time to check out Skagway and Dyea.
I got into Haines around 9:30pm. I didn’t want to blaze through Haines in the dark so found a spot just down from the ferry terminal off the highway. Next morning I drove around the small town, stopped at a park to walk with Pup and decided to roll out. Well, apparently I was on the wrong road out. I came to a dead end which would lead to a trail head for Chilkat State Park. Signs, Signs everywhere a sign…haha. Let’s hike!
The beautiful trail meanders a long and finally opens up to the bay. Pup takes the lead and goes all the way down to the opening. That’s when I meet Shaun from Colorado! Pup does his normal routine of going up to people with assumptions they want him to or not. Shaun and I begin to talk about Alaska and where we are from. As we talk I see a spout of water come up from the bay just behind Shaun. Is that a whale? Sure enough it was! We hopped the rocks down to the bay to watch for the whale. We continue to talk about our travels as we both sit with our cameras out waiting for the whale to put on a show.
Shaun is from technically from Colorado but he also travels and lives in a Toyota Dolphin. He’s looking at maybe getting a seasonal job up here in Alaska. This is his first visit up north so the location is still undetermined. Hanging out with him has made me contemplating how to prolong my own travels with odd jobs.
First official Alaska sign!
No thanks Soapy, I mean Jefferson, I don’t want to send a telegram back home to my family!
Visited my first National Park in Alaska, hiked to Dewey Lakes with Pup, Ran to AB Mountain, boondocked in an amazing spot in Dyea and took the van on its first Ferry ride out of Skagway!
I took a Ranger led walk through Klondike Gold Rush National Historical builds of downtown Skagway. The Jefferson “Soapy” Smith story was probably my favorite. Jefferson was a con man of his day. He grew up in a well to do home in Georgia but some how he became one of the greatest criminal bosses of his time. This guy got his nickname Soapy for his scheme of selling bars soap. He would supposedly wrapped a select few bars with money ranging from $1 to $100 and sell each for an insane amount of money for the late 1870s. Of course people would actually buy a bar of soap with cash wrapped around it but it was his buddies. Another scandal Soapy ran was the telegrams. He’d charge the stampeders to send telegrams but the only thing was the “line” only went to the bay and no farther. The Park Rangers tell the stories better then I can write it but I’ll leave a link if you want check it out (https://www.nps.gov/klgo/learn/historyculture/jeffsmithsparlor.htm).
Crazy to think that all those people were coming through Skagway for good that was another 800+ miles away in the Yukon. They had to hike supplies up Chilkoot Pass, over glaciers and snow fields. If I were coming for the Klondike Gold Rush I would have stayed right in Skagway and enjoyed the views…and that’s exactly what I did!
The Signpost Forest in Watson Lake, Yukon.
I don’t plan anything really. Maybe a few things here and there but generally I look at a map and drive. Along the way I stop when I see something that looks like fun. So to my surprise I find Signpost Forest in Watson Lake. A famous stop along the Alcan/Alaskan Highway where people from all over the world bring a sign to hang from their home town.
The tradition was started by an Army of Engineers Private that was injured while working on the highway. He was commanded to repair and repaint the directional sign outside of Watson Lake. During this repair he placed a sign of his own from his hometown in Illinois which began the start of Signpost Forest. Around 72,000+ signs are scattered throughout more than two acres and I didn’t bring anything!?
I met a couple from Nevada that were doing a three month retirement/anniversary trip to Alaska. Her parents have a sign up somewhere in the masses that she couldn’t find. As we talked I watched them hang their own sign to commemorate their trip.
Dang it, I wish I had a sign to hang! I roamed the rows and rows with Pup looking at signs. Then it hit me…I have a sign!
I open the back door of the van and dig through my bins. Yep there it is…Jayden St! Heck yeah! I find a spot that has an opening to fit the small street sign shaped plaque. At least Pup will have his own sign hanging up to carry out his fluffball legacy in the World Famous Signpost Forest!
Do you or someone you know have a sign up at Signpost Forest?
Hold on to your baby floats! It’s gonna be a fun ride!
As I get to the border of Hyder, Alaska I pull over to get a picture (it is officially State 50 but that’s another story!). It is strange that there is no customs to enter this small town of about 80 people. After exploring the area I decided to try and find a spot for the night. I noticed a little road just outside of town that might be a great boondocking spot. As I start down the narrow road that was semi over grown with bushes I began to regret this decision because it’s next to the river. I generally walk roads like this so I know if there is a turn around or if there is even a good spot at the end. But, on the drive into Hyder I saw my first Grizzly Bears! That made me hesitant to walk into a bush covered road.
I finally get to an open area where I can turn around. I park and walk in a little ways. The road just seems to go on forever. My fear is that I get to a sandy spot along the river and get stuck. As I begin to maneuver to turn around I see a white van with a yellow canoe coming. The driver rolls down his window, “you looking for a spot?” “Yep, just not sure what’s that way and don’t want to get stuck. You too?”, I replied. “I’m just cruising, checking out the river conditions. You might get a few scratches but you’ll make it. It’s the best spot, just follow me!”, he says. I follow him down the bush hugging road with the sound of branches scrap the side of the van. The path ends with an amazing view of mountains and river
Meet Dallas…30 year old from the Midwest. A town in Iowa not far from my hometown in South Dakota actually. Vanlifer for around five months. He has traveled to quite a few states. Decided to go on a trip to Alaska in the van. His first stop was Hyder…and he never left.
I tell him I am jealous of his canoe cause there is always sweet spots to kayak or canoe as I travel. He asked if I want to go out on the river tomorrow? Heck yeah I do!
The next morning I meet him at his place to find a spot for Pup while we go for the ride. His current set up is pretty rad! He bought a lot on the main strip of Hyder next to the library/community center/forest service building. Got a big yellow school bus and lives in that. Moving here just before winter last year the wood burning stove he added inside keeps him toasty warm. He claims the winters are nice compared to our Midwest winters where it gets below zero. Surrounded by mountains and glaciers I would have to live there to believe it…haha.
We get to the spot where we are going to drop in at the river. He hands me an orange life vest and tells me it’s all he has. The river isn’t deep but it’s ripping fast in some sections so you’ll want it. I try to suck it in and connect the straps. I know I’m out of shape but I can’t get around me. He hands me some rope and we make shift a knot to strap it tightly around me. This is going to be an adventure.
Dallas is fairly new to canoeing on white waters but he takes a moment to tell me a few things to know. Before jumping in we pull the canoe into a calm section of the water. Not Long into paddling down we come to our first decision. The river is ripping really fast. In this section there is also a tree. Dallas says we should walk to canoe through that first section. I ask, “what’s the worst that could happen?” He replies, “we could die!” I start to laugh Way too hard because he didn’t hesitate for that response. After walking past that section we jump back into the canoe. We came to a few other spots that were flowing really fast! We managed to draw ourselves into good positions leading through the rest of the ride. Along the way we stopped at few sand bar stops for a beer, Honey Stinger Waffles and soak in the beautiful 360° views!
As we safely made it back to town we passed by a few of Dallas’s friends. He tells his friend Dick to stop by because he’s going to make dinner. While Dallas is cooking up a chicken stir fry, Dick busts out his guitar to play a few songs.
When you tell people you have been to Hyder the first thing they ask you is, were you Hyderized while you were there (apparently it’s when you drink a 100 proof shot at the bar)? Not knowing what that means I tell them yes. Hyderized on the white water waves! Thanks for the hospitality Dallas! What a way to bring in State 50!
I pull into the Nairn Falls Provincial Park parking lot outside of Whistler, B.C. and go to the end that is shaded. As I park I see a young scraggly bearded kid sitting at a picnic table eating. Leaning on the table is an older red road bicycle loaded with what looks like everything he owns.
What’s his story?
The path through the picnic area leads to the short 1.5K trail to the falls. Pup being Pup, runs up to the kid thinking he will get butt pets or food. I apologize for Pups pushiness and ask if he is riding cross the country? He replied that he started in Las Vegas and was only going as far as Whitehorse, Yukon right now. He put a lid on his rice, grabbed an apple and banana and asked if he could hike with us (us being me and the Pup).
Our story swapping led us to the waterfall before we officially introduced ourselves. His name is Jesse. Being from Wisconsin his lust for living simple was just that, simple. At the age of 22 he has biked a lot of the lower United States. Returns home, saves up some money, regroups and hits the road on his bike. Sure wish when I was his age I wasn’t driven by money and material things.
We say our safe travels farewell and I take off for Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. I enjoy a crazy snow packed trail run/hike to upper Joffre Lake and Mt. Matier Glacier. After bombing the snowy down hill, with intermittent ski sessions, back to the van I hear someone say my name. It’s none other then Jesse!
“Dang kid! I was just thinking of where you were…how did you make it this far so fast!”, I yelled at him. The drive is only 22 miles from where we met but the whole way is straight up (13% grade)! We were both going to setup camp at the trailhead for the night. Jesse though, he was sleeping under the night sky in a sleeping bag on the lower lake view point. Total dirtbag!
I wake up to Jesse’s bike leaning up against the front of my van. I see him drying out his sleeping bag from the morning dew in the sun. He is usually up extremely early in the mornings. Sleeping under the night sky comes with the early morning sun waking you up. We exchange contact info before saying farewells again. I have a strong feeling our paths may cross again!
Pictures don’t do Joffre Lakes any justice.
There was a semi narrow snow packed trail leading the way, but do not step off the path or you’ll sink waist deep. I learned this quickly when I stepped off to let a couple pass in only the first 100 meters to the lower lake view point. I decided then to run the short distance back to the van to get my slip on cleats. The trail is a short 5K/3.1 miles to the upper lake with 1300+ feet of climbing, 10K round trip hike.
I’ve never tried to run up a mountain on a super narrow trail with snow and ice. Some parts of the trail were also slushy so coming down was almost like skiing. I’ve seen some glacier in the Lower 48 as I traveled but nothing like the one like Mt. Matier’s with the beautiful light blue glow in the middle. I have video of the run/hike too so I’ll post that once I get it clipped together.
Between the middle lake and upper lake there is an amazing waterfall. This cascade made the pain of climbing much more worth it! So hard to show the true experience in photographs but it’s always worth a try!