We are very curious about Alaska. On the one hand, it has all the ingredients for the perfect overlander adventure: spectacular landscapes, solitude and seclusion, wild animals. On the other hand, we have heard several times that those areas where the great Alaska photo shots were taken can only be reached with outrageously expensive charter planes or boat tours and that the destinations that can be reached on the few roads are significantly less spectacular and above all – because of the few roads and the short travel season – are very touristy.
After our fresh groceries are well hidden in Shujaa this time, the re-entry into the U.S.A. goes without any problems for us… even proof of assets to make sure that we can afford the Alaskan adventure is not required this time – although given the price level in Alaska this would certainly have been more appropriate than when we arrived at San Francisco Airport 6 weeks ago. But maybe the presence of Shujaa helps this time 😉.
The journey to our first destination, Wrangell-St. Elias N.P. near McCarthy is impressive: deeply glaciated 4000m high mountains form together with the Kluane N.P. on the Canadian side the world’s largest ice field outside the polar regions. The last 150 km are a nice gravel road where Shujaa can have some fun again. During the hike to the abandoned Kennicot copper mine and the nearby glacier, the weather is still kind to us. But the bad weather front comes in in the evening, so unfortunately our planned flight over the glacier doesn’t work out.
On the return trip, we can watch the locals fishing with large nets from land or boat on the Copper River at Chetina (one of Alaska’s two hot spots for salmon fishing) – fascinating as the salmon swim upstream by the dozens! Only the locals are allowed to use the fishing nets, tourists have to struggle with the fishing rod. We look so impressed and Karin asks the locals so many questions that we get a beautiful living salmon as a present. We live with the fact that the salmon would most likely also have died without us, and we get him professionally gutted. It’s so fresh that it still twitches when it’s cut, which scares Karin. The subsequent dinner with a great wine is of course a real highlight! The difference (both in appearance and taste) to the Alaskan salmon sold in Europe is of course huge and we’re probably spoiled for good now.
On the way to Anchorage, we have our first real rain in six weeks…nothing to complain about, even though we’re in such a unique part of the world. Anchorage itself gets our “World’s Ugliest City” award along with Sao Paulo, but you can get everything you need locally (a Starlink Satellite dish, a barber, a new camping chair) and driving around with Shujaa goes as easy as with a Mini in a European city.
Although we are in Alaska in mid/end of June before the actual high season, the Kenai Peninsula is getting already crowded: the Americans come from the “Lower 48” (that’s what the U.S. states south of the 48th degree of latitude are called here… i.e. all states below Alaska) with their huge campers and trailers here to catch salmon. Luckily, they all socialize in tight campgrounds and don’t really get in our way. Unfortunately, our hike to the Exit Glacier near Seward takes place in dense fog and drizzle, so that there is no possibility of a glacier flight there either.
On the west side of the Kenai peninsula there are fewer mountains and more sun. In the sweet village of Homer in the very south of the peninsula we eat excellent fish and at the Kenai River (the second salmon hot spot in Alaska) we see the U.S. tourists standing in a row next to each other, this time with a fishing rod, trying to catch a Salmon. It looks a bit bizarre to us when hundreds of people in their fishing gear all stand three meters apart in the river and cast out their rods again and again. But the yield can be huge. The fish are still in the water, half alive, strung on a line to keep them from being swept away and to keep the nearby bears from smelling the treat. The fine salmon is also gutted on the spot, on tables that stand in the water, and the “waste” is immediately returned to the river. Interesting, but quite a big difference to our encounter with the locals at the Copper River a few days ago, where the whole scenario was much more authentic and not so touristy.
The Denali N.P. with the highest mountain in North America – Mt. Denali – is the ultimate travel destination in Alaska, but it is supposedly also quite touristy. We are lucky and at the end of June it is not yet that crowded, so that we can book our shuttle bus into the park without any problems (you are only allowed to drive the first 15 km with your own vehicle). The weather is also playing along this time, even if Mt. Denali does not want to show itself to us. The effects of global warming with the consequences on permafrost and road construction can be seen here again: from mile 45 the road through the N.P. is closed due to a landslide since summer 2021 and probably will not reopen before 2026, because a complex bridge construction has to be built.
The drive back east on the very lonely, gravel Denali Highway is our highlight in Alaska: lonely, great views of the mountains and glaciers of the majestic Alaska Range, fantastic pitches… everything we like! During a trip with our quad to a glacier – for the first time on our trip around the world – Shujoo also reaches its limits: while crossing a river, the current gets stronger and stronger, the water gets deeper and the stones lying on the ground get bigger, so that at some point the unavoidable happens: Shujoo and his passengers get stuck. But the advantage of Shujoo compared to Shujaa is that we can still rescue him in such situations by ourselves, however with the consequence of wet hiking boots and pants in the ice-cold glacial river! Another adventure!
The Richardson Highway then leads us across the Alaska Range to central Alaska and the temperatures quickly rise to 30 degrees!
We really liked Alaska even without the planned glacier flight and boat tour. In contrast to many areas of northern Canada, however, you have to be prepared to be no longer the only traveler!