Visit our extended Alaska 2000! Trip page
When I was a Scout, I never had the opportunity to take part in any high adventure trips. I had heard many wide-eyed stories about excursions to far off places, exciting adventures and spectacular scenery. As a matter of fact, a neighboring troop periodically showed a Super 8mm movie of their backpacking trip in the Smoky Mountains. Even though they had taken this trip several years ago and hadn't done any since, they bragged of it often. I made myself a promise that if I ever had a troop, we would take part in yearly high adventure trips of our own. I became Scoutmaster in 1981 and two years later began our troop's high adventure program with a backpacking trip to the Smoky Mountains. Instead of sitting on our laurels, we continued to plan and execute yearly high adventure outings. Some years we even did two!
Therefore, for our troop's 25th anniversary year I knew we needed an extra special trip. I spent a lot of time thinking about the possibilities and finally turned to the Internet for help. Visiting many of the troop web sites throughout the United States brought in a wealth of ideas. The one that really caught my eye was a Texas troop driving to Alaska and back. However, instead of driving we would fly into Anchorage so we could spend more time "inside". I pitched the idea to the troop and the vote was almost unanimous. Thus, our eighteenth year of high adventure would be a fabulous journey to the great state of Alaska!
I contacted almost fifty Alaskans and asked them what they thought were the ten best things to do in their state. I narrowed down their huge list to only the most frequently ones suggested. I presented this list to the troop and asked them to choose their favorites. With great enthusiasm, they replied "We want to do it all!" I informed the group that this would make the trip pretty expensive and very busy. They responded with, "We might never be back so we better do everything." You gotta love these guys!
So, we began our trip preparations. To get our bodies in shape, we backpacked at Woodland Trails, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Red River Gorge and Zaleski State Park. To get our minds in shape, we gave informational Alaska speeches at the Riancho"s pre-trip party, read trip newsletters and attended various training meetings. To get our billfolds in shape, we took part in a wide variety of fund raising efforts including a submarine sandwich sale where we sold over 2,000 sandwiches. Now our group of 31 were ready!
Once our plane landed in Anchorage, many of our members got a real education. They didn't find any igloos, snow drifts or Eskimos. What they did find was a magical wonderland that provided a lifetime of awesome memories: John stopping us from boarding the plane in Cincinnati and thus preventing its departure until the attendant ensured our large amount of baggage would not be put on the next flight; our mile-a-minute snow slide ride down from Flattop Mountain; watching the sun set after midnight; our first sight of a moose and her two calves beside the road; the buffet at Fort Richardson; seeing a huge grizzly carry off a road kill just as we arrived at Denali National Park; the puppies at Ramy Brooks' dog kennels; breathing in the awesome river/mountain scenery on the Alaska Railroad; everyone taking turns jumping the fence at Exit Glacier; sleeping with the sea lions and puffins at the Sealife Center; viewing sea otters, whales and orcas on the Kenai Fjords boat cruise; camping on an ocean beach at Clam Gulch; watching the natural talent of champion clam digger John Laycox; getting an exciting close up view of black bear cubs at Camp Gorsuch; the fantastic farewell seafood dinner; David Sloan losing his airline ticket on the way home. The only bad part of the trip was when it finally had to come to an end.
A successful trip such as this is the result of the work of the many individuals who gave of their time, talents, and resources. Special thanks goes to:
And finally, a well deserved thanks goes to my wife Terry for helping with the avalanche of pre-trip tasks that always seem to overwhelm me.
John Combs (me!) for spending almost 500 hours planning the trip Rick Eppley who served as trail advisor on our preparation backpacking trips Becky Reed for arranging our required training and writing thank you notes Kenny and Alice Riancho for having the great pre- and post-trip Alaska parties all the parents who drove us to and picked us up from the airport Andrew Smith for serving as trip Crew Chief Joe Moore for providing tents, stoves, water jugs, coolers and cooking gear Fort Richard and Elmendorf Air Force Base for cheap food and lodging Tri-Valley School in Healy for providing free lodging Troop 669 for free camping, clam digging, meals and an awesome beach party Greg Temple for shipping stoves, loading vans and keeping spirits high all the adults who provided supervision and went grocery shopping on the trip all those who helped in some way, but were not mentioned here
Many of us will not realize the magnitude of our trip until many years from now. We have had the opportunity to do what most people only dream about. We left our quiet little neighborhoods, stepped outside of our comfort zones and ventured into a world of excitement, adventure, and intrigue. We have learned a great deal about the land of the midnight sun and ourselves.
Until next year...
The following is a journal of the adventure filled days we spent on our trip. Individuals attending were Ryan and Steve Adams, Brian Alexander, Jon Bauer, Mike Burge, John, Terry, Laura, Annie and John M. Combs, Rick Eppley, Jeff Gardner, Jake Green, Brad and Fred Hock, Jason Hunt, John Laycox, Mike McFall, Matt Petroziello, Mattson and Becky Reed, Kenny, Alice and Allen Riancho, Luis and Pat Riancho, David Sloan and Greg Temple, Andrew and Judy Smith and Greg Tilton
Saturday, June 10
We met at the Combs' house at an brain splitting 5:30 a.m. We had loaded our baggage into the troop trailer the night before and so only needed to bid good-bye before departing for Cincinnati airport. We left early, knowing there was highway construction on I-75 both south of Dayton and north of the airport. It took six vehicles (including the troop van and trailer) to get 30 of us down the road. We encountered an accident just outside of Cincinnati. A car had hit the concrete divider, scrunching up the fenders and setting off the air bags. The accident didn't slow traffic much and we soon arrived at the airport. We unloaded our baggage and headed to the check-in desk where John handed us our airline tickets. John was informed by one of the workers that all the baggage might not fit on the plane and thus would come on a later flight arriving in Anchorage three hours after we did. After going through security, the group headed down to the gate and waited to board the plane. When boarding was announced, John told the Scouts not to board the plane. John told the attendant that the group would not board the plane until we were guaranteed that our baggage was on board. After several minutes we were assured that our luggage would make the plane, and so, we proceeded to board the small puddle jumper of a plane. Our flight was thankfully uneventful. We journeyed two hours, 10 minutes and 24 seconds (according to Brian Alexander) and then landed in Houston, Texas. Upon arrival we were greeted by Lou, a Continental Airline representative, who escorted us to our own private courtesy room. The enormous room had over a dozen couches and several table/chairs sets. Lou gave each of us $8.00 in food court vouchers to help compensate for our seven hour layover. People bought food, walked around the airport, played cards, threw a football, slept and planned their trip menus. At 4:45 p.m. we went to catch our flight to Anchorage. Unfortunately, we had a gate change that forced us to walk to the other end of the terminal. We made our connection and found our seats on the Boeing 757. The flight to Seattle was packed full, but had a decent dinner of chicken sandwiches, chips, green apples and chocolate. The plane stopped for a short time in Seattle and then proceeded to Anchorage. We arrived in Anchorage at 11:25 p.m. and proceeded to the baggage claim area. John and Terry took a cab to Alaska Car and Van Rental while Rick and Gregg got the seven passenger van (with all seats removed) at Payless at the airport. Kenny had the guys round up all our bags (which were marked with green colored strips). John, Terry, Rick and Gregg returned with their vans, and the loading process began. We left the airport at 12:35 a.m. and headed to Elmendorf Air Force Base. We got first hand experience on how light it was at night during an Alaskan summer. It gave us some great views of the mountains and surrounding scenery. Several of the Scouts seemed surprised that Anchorage looked a lot like many other major cities. No igloos here! The Welcome Center at Elmendorf Air Force Base, 3,065 miles from Englewood, was closed, but the guard eventually let us on base anyway. After a little searching, we found the North Star Inn at 1:20 a.m. It took Airman Gepford 40 minutes to issue three rooms and then informed John there were no more rooms available. John protested that we had advanced reservations, but the best the clerk could do was suggested we stay at the Holiday Inn in Anchorage. John had the clerk call his supervisor who in turn got the crew rooms in the lodge next door. One by one the guys got their rooms. John and Terry were the last to get their room key which they received at 3:02 a.m.
Sunday, June 11
John C. had set his alarm for 7:45 a.m. so he could meet Joe Moore (adult leader with our brother Troop 325) at 8:00 a.m. Unfortunately the alarm did not go off and Steve Adams had to wake John up. Joe Moore had brought coolers, stoves, water jugs, cook kits and backpacking stoves (which we had sent to him two weeks before) plus a breakfast of sweet rolls, juice and milk. Joe and the group talked for awhile about various aspects of Alaskan life. John C. presented Joe with a Troop 325 hat, Troop 325 25th anniversary T-shirt, Miami Valley council strip and O.A. lodge flap. John C. then went to the inn lobby to ensure that arrangements for our other four nights at Elmendorf were arranged. Some of the rooms were still being cleaned, so John was told to return at 1:00 p.m. The group then had a meeting (with the Chugach Mountains in the background) to discuss the day's events. At this point, everyone went in different directions. Luis Riancho headed to the airport to pick up Judy Smith, part of the group went to buy groceries while the rest of the group relaxed. At 1:00 p.m. John went to the lobby and got the rest of the room keys. By 3:30 the group had returned with the groceries and started preparing dinner. Two of the groups cooked stir fry while one of the groups fried hamburgers. After cleanup, the group stopped and got their vehicle passes for the next three days. Next, we headed to Ship Creek where the groups either watched fishermen or trains. Matt Petroziello had several birds dive bomb his head. Next stop was Flattop Mountain, the most hiked mountain in Alaska. The winding drive up into the mountains provided beautiful views of Anchorage and Cook Inlet. After a dozen group pictures in the parking lot , the group began the long upward climb. Several people commented how crazy it was to start a hike at 9:08 p.m. and with it being bright as day. At one section, the group had to negotiate a very steep snowfield. This made for some very slow going. About a half dozen of the adults stopped at this point and just enjoyed the incredible view of snow covered mountains and lush green valleys. Those that went on had a very steep climb to the top with many steep snow covered switchbacks. The half dozen adults who had stopped half way began their slow descent back to the parking lot. Gregg Temple chose the easy (and fun) way down the snow field by sliding on his rain jacket, hooting and hollering all the way. Judy Smith followed his example, laughing hysterically all the way down. However, she slid down on her pants and they became thoroughly soaked. In the meantime, the rest of the group finished the difficult ascent and took a steeper slide down a much longer snowfield. The Scouts enjoyed this immensely. Everyone returned to the vans by 11:30 p.m. and headed for home. Jon Bauer happened to look down a small lane and see a moose. The vehicles screeched to a halt and jockeyed for a better viewing position. It turned out to be a female moose and two baby calves who were nursing eagerly. After a few hundred snapshots the vans continued down the road. We arrived at the inn at 12:30 a.m. John held a short meeting that was also attended by dozens of hungry mosquitoes. Next, people packed their belongings, and some grabbed a quick sandwich. Becky and Terry started a few loads of laundry. Most everyone was in bed by 1:30 a.m.
Monday, June 12
Our alarms went off at a brain-shattering 6:00 a.m. People scurried around showering, packing, and loading gear, or putting excess gear in the storage room. We also discovered Mike McFall had vomited three times during the night. He seemed to be feeling better, but Andrew was now sick at his stomach. Gregg Temple got on the roof rack of one of the vans and strapped in the coolers. Everyone was supposed to be at the vans by 6:45 a.m. However, several members of the group crawled in late, the latest of which was Dave Sloan at 7:15 a.m. We drove to Fort Richardson for an all-you-can-eat breakfast for a $1.20 per person. The extensive buffet included made to order omelets, hash browns, rolls, toast, bacon, sausage, cereal, French toast, pancakes, fresh fruit, fruit cocktail, yogurt, milk and juices. The Rianchos arrived and shared stories of moose sightings and the bed and breakfast they stayed in. John and Rick paid for the meals and got our box lunches. Unfortunately, it took the kitchen manager 45 minutes to finally get us these lunches. John feared this, plus the Scouts arriving at the van late, might keep us from getting to our night's lodging before the staff left at 3:00 p.m. The crew finally got on the road at 9:41 a.m. The drive was beautiful, full of sparkling streams and snow covered mountains. The group was even fortunate enough to see three different Alaska Railroad trains. We stopped for lunch at Byers Lake. We feasted on our box lunches of chicken sandwiches, chips, Oreos, and lemonade while the mosquitoes feasted on us. John told Gregg and Rick to go on ahead with the equipment van so as to get to our lodging before 3:00 p.m. Continuing on, the group encountered a very brief, light shower that soon broke way to a beautiful partly cloudy sky. The crews stopped at the Denali National Park entrance sign for fourteen different group pictures. Later in the drive we saw cars stopped along both sides of the road. Sensing there might be wildlife nearby, we pulled the vans off the road. The Scouts soon discovered there was a Toklat grizzly bear in the bushes. Everyone watched in fascination as the bear lumbered through the brush, across the road and back into the brush. All the Scouts got close enough for some good photos amidst the screams of Alice for her son to get away from the bear. The group continued on to Healy and drove to the night's lodging, Tri-Valley school. Rick and Gregg had arrived at 2:50 p.m. and thus had been able to secure our lodging. We were given two classrooms to sleep in, one for the men and the other for the ladies. Since 21 males in a classroom was very crowded, the adults agreed to sleep in the hall. The group was also given access to the restrooms, gym, showers and kitchen, all at no charge! After the vans were unloaded, the Scouts played basketball or just plain relaxed. John held a group meeting, passing on all the information for the next couple of days. Next, the groups cooked dinner while some of the Scouts played basketball. Mike McFall developed a fever and Nurse Judy took care of him. Dinner were fantastic! One group had spaghetti, Texas toast, and salad. The other group had macaroni and cheese and rice. Everyone pitched in and helped cook and clean up. We then headed for the musher demonstration and lecture at the home of Ramy Brooks. Cathy Brooks began the talk because Ramy was not home. He was running late from giving another talk to a different group. She first showed us around their property. They have lived there for only two years and have constructed various structures for special purposes. They have no electricity, no running water, and no telephone. The demo was fascinating. Ramy eventually showed up and concluded the lecture. Wow! What an interesting evening! We then headed back to the school at Healy and turned in for the evening.
Gregg, Terry and John C. woke at 5:30 a.m. The plan was for John and Gregg to be at the visitor's center an hour before they opened at 7:00 a.m. so they could be first in line at the backcountry desk. This would help to ensure that backcountry reservations could be obtained for everyone. Unfortunately, John took a wrong turn in Denali National Park (DNP) and it cost them an additional 45 minutes plus Gregg's coffee (which got spilled). When the pair arrived at the door, they discovered no other backpackers were waiting in line. Terry returned to Tri-Valley School and unsurprisingly found everyone fed, packed and ready to go. Back at DNP, a ranger opened the door to the visitor's center and John and Gregg took a direct course to the backcountry desk. They were able to reserve four areas, one for twelve people, one for six, and two for four. As Gregg and John were making a list of topographical maps needed, the rest of the group arrived. Since half the group had a 9:15 a.m. wildlife tour, John tried to get things rolling immediately. First, the group needed to take an hour long, two part training session. The ranger had half the group watch backcountry procedures videos while the others were given a lecture on backcountry policies. Then the groups traded places and finished their required orientation. In the meantime, John handled the various administrative tasks while Rick got passes for the backpacker's bus. As soon as the training ended, the group rushed to the van and headed for the Savage River group camp. Upon arrival, everyone grabbed their day packs and meals and headed for the bus stop. Gregg and Terry parked the vans in our group site and beat it back to the bus stop, hitching a ride with another camper. An hour later, the second half of the group got on their tour bus. All ended well since both groups made the departure time for the wildlife tours. What is a wildlife tour? To begin with, DNP does not allow private vehicles to go very far on the road through the park. Instead, they use school buses to provide mass transit (wildlife tours, backpacker transportation, lodging shuttles, etc.) through the park. Once aboard the wildlife tour school bus, the driver provides commentary about all aspects of the park, but particularly the wildlife. Whenever wildlife is spotted, the driver stops the bus and permits people to take photos out of the windows. Several restroom breaks plus a longer lunch stop also takes place. The troop took the Wonder Lake tour that lasted for over nine hours. They had the opportunity to see twelve Toklat grizzly bears, moose, caribou, fox, willow ptarmigan and other wildlife. Most of the crew took naps along the way and agreed the trip was a little too long. Returning to camp, everyone fixed dinner. John held a group meeting and told the groups how to prepare for their backpacking trip tomorrow. A ranger came into camp at 11:30 p.m. and said he had complaints that the Scouts were too loud. John apologized saying that the group was not used to it being so light at that hour and had not realized how late it was. He immediately quieted the group down. The ranger also said that the group had left their coolers on top of the van thus tempting bears. John explained that the group was so afraid of missing their wildlife tour bus that they had hopped out of the van, raced to the bus stop and had not seen the notices on the picnic tables reminding them to stow all food containers and smellables. The ranger chose not to levy the $150 fine, but just wanted to remind the group to be extra careful as the area was a bear corridor. The ranger then wanted to remind the group that the site was for only 20 people, and it appeared that we had exceeded that number. John informed the ranger that eight of the people had a site in the regular camp and would be heading there soon. As the ranger left, it was realized there was 16 tents in the group site for the 27 people in it. Although two of those tents and seven of those people needed to move to the regular site as planned, John decided it was just too late at night to comply with that order. Everyone turned in by midnight for a much needed night of rest.
Eppley's backpacking group walked out of camp at 6:45 a.m. to catch the backpacker's bus at the entrance to the campground. The other three groups slept in. John woke the last of the sleepers at 9:00 a.m. Everyone ate breakfast, took down camp and loaded the vans under a light drizzle. Next, they drove to the visitor's center to get specific directions on where to start their trails. The Adams and Bauer groups started at Hines Creek. After a group picture, they were off into the heavy underbrush. The Combs group was just about to leave the park when they noticed a large crowd of people waiting at the train depot. Most everyone agreed to pull into the depot and watch for the arrival of the train. An Alaska Railroad passenger train arrived at 12:10 p.m. The locomotives were the brand new SD70MACs that the railroad had received a few months earlier. Throngs of passengers were everywhere as forklifts buzzed around carrying their luggage. The Combs group then headed to the Triple Lakes Trail. After a brief ballet of backpacking preparation, they too entered the underbrush.
The following are the journals for each of the groups:
Eppley's Group - Area 5 (Eppley, A. Smith, Laycox, B. Hock, F. Hock, Tilton)
Our backpacking group walked out of camp at 6:45 a.m. to catch the backpacker's bus at the entrance to the campground. We waited for about 15 minutes for the camper's bus and it finally came for us. We rode the bus for about 30 minutes. We were dropped off right past the bridge. We entered the pine forest and started to bushwhack. We followed the Sanctuary River for about 1.5 miles. On the way, we found a Dall sheep carcass. Andrew found a back leg and the rib cage, while Rick found the head. Next, we went inward and walked up a small ridge and set up camp. We all took a small nap and then ate lunch. We ate peanut butter and jelly and started our 5 hour explorer hike. We followed the river until we noticed some snow on a ridge and decided to head towards it. On the way, Andrew found half a moose antler and we all took pictures of each other wearing it. Once we were on top of the ridge, we soaked in the view and then noticed a higher ridge. We all decided to hike up to the top of that and Rick found a femur of a rather large animal. We looked for the rest of the body but had no luck. We started to hike back when it started to rain. We used the GPS system to find the exact location of our campsite. We ate noodles and Pringles for dinner and fell asleep around 10:30 p.m.
Bauer's Group - Area 25 (Bauer, Green, Sloan, Petroziello)
The Adams and Bauer groups started at Hines Creek. After a group picture, they were off into the heavy underbrush. John Combs bet our two groups a small Dairy Queen Blizzard to anyone who made it the top of the mountain. What looked like grassy fields from afar, soon turned out to be three foot bushes and higher. After about a half hour, the two groups split up and looked for a spot to camp. We found our campsite in the middle of a woody field. After we set up camp, we went up to the base of the mountain and waited for the other group (slackers). Our group sat down and started to eat lunch while Jake started up the mountain. The rest of the group played around and took their time coming up the mountain. In the end, Jacob Green was the only one who made it to the top. Our group then went back to the Adam's group's campsite and had dinner. Then we went back to our camp and went to sleep.
Adams's Group - Area 24 (S. Adams, R. Adams, Burge, Hunt)
The Adams and Bauer groups started at Hines Creek. After a group picture, they were off into the heavy underbrush. What looked like grassy fields from afar, soon turned out to be three foot bushes and higher. After about a half hour, the two groups split up and looked for a spot to camp. We stopped to eat a lunch of Pop Tarts and continued looking for a sizable spot for two tents. We eventually set up camp and met John Bauer's group to climb the mountain in our area. After trudging through thick bushes we finally met and began our ascent. It took most of the day and no one from our group made it completely to the top due to time, but Mike Burge and Dave Sloan made it the furthest. As we made our descent, we slid down any snow patches we ran across getting it where we really didn't want it but had fun anyway. When we arrived back at camp, both groups stayed there and fixed dinner. No one has ever eaten macaroni and cheese faster than Jason Hunt, plus two PB & J sandwiches and anything else he could find. Afterward, they went back to their campsite and we went to bed.
Combs's Group - Area 1 - (T. Combs, Temple, J. Smith, B. Reed, M. Reed, McFall, Gardner, Alexander, Riancho, L. Combs, A. Combs, J. M. Combs)
The group arrived at the Triple Lakes Trailhead. After a brief ballet of backpacking preparation, they entered the underbrush. John C. decided to hike along for a half hour or so and then return to the van. The trail was a thick, black goo meandering uphill through dense scrub and stubby pine trees. Soon they found themselves at train tracks and could not determine to go left or right. After studying the topographical map, John felt they should go left. The group took the left branch and began another upward climb. Just then the train came roaring around the bend, pulling over 50 tank cars plus a caboose. The group liked this pleasant surprise. They continued on the trail until it came to a dead end. After again consulting the topographical map, John felt it might be best to drop down to the train tracks to avoid an unnecessary climb. Dropping down the side of a deep slope, the group then took the tracks, all the while studying the topographical map. Gregg commented that we should just pitch the tents beside the railroad tracks. Again, John made some recommendations and the group began a climb up a hillside. Eventually, the group took a break for lunch and John C. and Gregg walked further up the hill to determine if this was really the best route. After 20 minutes of steep climbing, Gregg saw one of the lakes. Unfortunately, it was still several miles out. The pair started the trip back, but soon realized they were in a slightly different area. As luck would have it, Gregg discovered an old, abandoned, roofless cabin that held a bed frame, metal buckets and a door with metal hinges. The excited pair could not wait to share their find with the others. Homing in on their shouts and whistles, the pair was soon reunited with their group. The group shared stories of their impromptu talent show while the pair told of the long lake hike and cabin find. John suggested (and it was amazing that the group was still listening to his suggestions!) that they set up camp in a nearby mossy clearing. This they did as a light rain began. After the tents were pitched, John discovered old railroad telegraph poles with glass insulators on top. Gregg was able to shake the pole and retrieve two of the insulators for John. With Allen's and Mattson's help, Mike M. was able to climb the poles and get insulators for everyone. As the group looked around and saw the beauty of the river and mountains plus the challenge of obtaining the glass insulators, they decided that things couldn't get any better than this. And then the Alaska Railroad appeared in the distance. Two locomotives came roaring through pulling a string of passenger cars. Since John C. had not brought a backpack (with clothes, sleeping bag, foam pad, dry clothes, medication, etc.), he decided to not spend the night and return to the van. Gregg, Jeff, Allen, Brian and Mike M. decided to return with him and get a few supplies to bring back to camp. Once at the van, John left to get ice for the cooler and confirm the bus return time for the Eppley group. He then spent a little time chasing trains before returning to the trailhead to sleep for the night in the van. Meanwhile, Gregg and the Scouts returned to camp with their supplies. Upon their return, the group decided to fix supper inside the homey cabin. We feasted on noodles & sauce, applesauce, and cupcakes. We cleaned up our cooking area before settling in early for bed. The drizzling rain had subsided, and sleeping was comfortable and dry.
The following are the journals for each of the groups:
Eppley's Group - Area 5 (Eppley, A. Smith, Laycox, B. Hock, F. Hock, Tilton)
We got up, ate our oatmeal, and started to hike around 9:00 a.m. We got to the bus stop at 10:15 a.m. and took a few group pictures at the sign and waited for the bus to come at 11:00 a.m. We then took an hour bus ride back to the visitor's center. We finally packed the vans, returned our bear food containers, and headed back to Elmendorf AFB.
Bauer's Group - Area 25 (Bauer, Green, Sloan, Petroziello)
We woke up at 7:00 a.m. and left with the Adam's group. It was not too bad on the hike back. When we got to the road, a ranger told us that there was a bear and her cub in the area and he showed us the remains of a moose. Then we went back to the visitor center.
Adams' Group - Area 24 (S. Adams, R. Adams, Burge, Hunt)
We woke up at 6:30 a.m. and began to take down tents and then met up with the other group. They had gotten up at 7:00 a.m. so we had to wait on the "slackers". Then we proceeded towards the road. We crossed small streams and avoided plenty of moose droppings. We then arrived at the road and ate virtually anything in the bear containers. John arrived in the blue van and off we went to the Visitor's Center to meet up with everyone else.
Combs's Group - Area 1 - (T. Combs, Temple, J. Smith, B. Reed, M. Reed, McFall, Gardner, Alexander, Riancho, L. Combs, A. Combs, J. M. Combs)
The adults slept in until about 7:30 a.m. or so and then woke the snoozing Scouts shortly after. We broke camp and then hiked out to meet John at the vehicles by 9:15 a.m. We journeyed to the visitor center. Because we were the first group back, we totally emptied all of the vehicles and cleaned, reorganized, and repacked each one. We then heated water and ate our breakfast of instant oatmeal. One by one the other groups joined us before loading up to head south.
All three vans left the Visitor's Center at 12:05 p.m., hoping to get to Fort Richardson before the dining hall closed at 6:30 p.m. We stopped briefly at Cantwell for gasoline, drinks and a few lunch items. We continued onward admiring the beautiful mountains and partly cloudy skies. The group arrived at Elmendorf AFB at 4:25 p.m. and got their room keys. We drove to our rooms, dropped our gear off and sped off to dinner. We arrived at the dining hall at 5:50 p.m., a mere 40 minutes before it closed. We feasted on salad, hamburgers, fish, ravioli, French fries, donuts and cake. We picked up our box lunches and headed back to our rooms. John held a short meeting and then the groups had time to do laundry, shower or just plan relax. Becky and Terry made a run to the grocery to get the next day's breakfast.
We woke up at brain shattering 4:00 a.m. We ate a quick breakfast of Pop Tarts and orange juice, left our excess baggage in the equipment room and got in the vans. We returned our room keys and headed to the Anchorage train depot at 5:15 a.m. John C. checked the group in and then we dropped off our baggage. The gift shop opened and many of the group made an Alaska Railroad purchase or two. Rick pointed out to John C. that the train was being pulled by locomotive number 3015, the same one that took John C. and Terry from Anchorage to DNP in 1986! Boarding began at 6:30 a.m. and the troop sat together in coach number 206. With a blast of its whistle, the locomotive began its journey to Seward and the group began to roam the train. Some ate breakfast in the dining car, and Mike M. stated he really enjoyed the reindeer sausage. Most of the crew eventually made it to the dome car and were rewarded with an extraordinary view of the awesome Alaska scenery. The train route, touted as one of the most scenic in the world, did not disappoint the crowd. It began with mountainous terrain that was dotted with Dall sheep. Soon, Turnagain Arm (river) came into view surrounded by beautiful snowcapped mountains. "Wow!" was a word often heard among the crew. The conductor and brakeman exchanged friendly words with the passengers and a tour guide gave historical information about the route. Several moose as well as glaciers were spotted on the way. At one point, a lady passenger became upset with the Scouts. Upon further investigation, we determined that the lady was just cranky about the Scouts constantly passing through "her" car. Gregg talked to her and addressed all her issues. The train arrived in Seward at 11:15 a.m. Fred Moore, Scoutmaster of the troop in Seward, and his son made a surprise visit to us at the depot. Next, John C. had a group picture taken at the side of locomotive 3015. Locomotive engineer Chris Cederberg told the group that John C. was famous due to the great Alaska Railroad page he maintained on the Internet. Chris had John C. "climb aboard" 3015 and have his photo taken from the cab and also the front of the locomotive. Several Scouts also got to have their photo taken on the locomotive. The group then boarded their charter bus for a ride to Exit Glacier. This glacier, accessible by road, is thus the most visited one in Alaska. It is also currently receding at a rate of 20 inches a day! The bus driver dropped our group off at 11:45 a.m. and told us he would return at 3:15 p.m. He, then, took our baggage to the Sea Life Center. We hiked about a quarter mile from the parking lot to Exit Glacier. We were so surprised at how enormous the glacier was as well as the seemingly blue tint to the ice. Climbing in or on the glacier was forbidden, but a trail took hikers up to a point where they could touch the glacier and get a better view. It was pretty chilly with the wind coming off the glacier. The guys spent some time exploring and climbing on glacier debris piles. Mattson took a tumble and wound up cutting open both of his knees. The group finally headed back to the parking lot around 2:30 p.m. Since the bus was not there, the group passed the time having a jumping contest over a bike rack and then a Sumo wrestling competition. The bus finally arrived at 3:30 p.m. and took the group to the Alaska Sea Life Center. This state of the art facility had many hands on activities plus many aquatics exhibits. The big attention getters were the sea lion, harbor seal and sea bird tanks that were made out of glass and were over two stories tall. People could enjoy the wildlife from the top or view it clearly from below. The puffins were especially lively, flying from the shore and landing with a splash in the water. They raced like torpedoes under the water, snatching fish or merely having fun. They preened their feathers like jack hammers, paddled rapidly around the pond and pecked at the legs of their caretaker. The Sealife Center also had a remote camera that viewed sea lions on an island 35 miles away. Via a satellite link, a person could control where the camera pointed and could zoom in on a location. At 5:15 p.m. Joan, our Sea Life staff member, took us to a classroom where we were fed a dinner of Subway turkey sandwiches, chips, cookie and 7-Up. We watched a video about the history of the center and the work performed there. Next, we were given a group assignment that was designed to make us more familiar with the Sea Life Center's many areas. Joan then gave the group a behind-the-scenes tour of the center that included laboratories, holding tanks and mechanical facilities. The group then had a fire drill, moved their equipment to the aquarium tank area and set up their bedding for the night. Even Luis, Pat, Kenny and Alice Riancho slept on the floor with us! John had a short adult leader's meeting. Some of the crew went into Seward to look around, but found most everything closed. Lights outs was at 10:00 p.m. It was tough falling asleep when the puffins and sea lions were all playing happily around you! The light coming through the windows didn't help either. However, most everyone settled down by 10:45 p.m. for a much needed good night's rest. A few of the adults, however, retreated to another room for a few lively rounds of Euchre.
We woke up at 6:15 a.m., packed our gear and ate a breakfast of bagels, applesauce and orange juice. We loaded our gear onto the bus and headed for our Kenai Fjords boat tour under sunny blue skies. Our boat, the Coastal Explorer, a huge, multi-level boat was only three years old and was very comfortable. We left the dock at 8:00 a.m. sharp and headed out into the calm bay. We got a beautiful coastal view of Seward with its majestic backdrop of snow covered mountains. The first wildlife we saw were two sea otters floating lazily on their backs. They were followed by a baby mountain goat who was stuck on a wide mountain side ledge. The boat captain told us its mother would come down every day and feed it. The captain predicated that some day it would grow strong enough to climb out. We then stopped by several bird rookeries and saw thousands of murres. The highlight of the trip came when five or six orcas popped out of the water. The boat captain followed them around the bay as they repeatedly surfaced and submerged. We also saw several humpback whales blowing water spray and then flipping their huge tales out of the water as they submerged. Next, we saw a small island of sea lions and a neighboring island of puffins. A half dozen dolphins joined us and raced along the front of our boat. We cruised into a bay that was sprinkled with ice chunks from a nearby tidewater glacier. As we approached Colgate Glacier, we could see it calving (large chucks of ice were falling off the glacier and plunging into the water). The roar of the ice breaking off the quarter mile long face roared like a cannon, but it was several seconds before the sound reached our boat. We ate a lunch of either fish or chicken, potato chips, cookies, apples and soda. The boat returned to the dock at 2:00 p.m. and John let the Scouts loose to explore Seward for the next three and a half hours. The crew bought gifts, snacks and food for the meal on the train. We boarded the train at 5:30 p.m. and found our seats. The ride back was great, but most of the guys took naps to catch up on their rest. John C. met his friend, Brakeman Duane Frank. We returned to the Air Force Base and had a brief meeting. Everyone finally headed to bed around 12:30 a.m.
John C. let us sleep in this morning. We packed our gear, ate breakfast, showered, did laundry and lounged around while Terry, Gregg, Rick, and Judy bought groceries. When they returned, we loaded the vans and ate lunch. We finally were on the road around 2:00 p.m. We checked out at Elmendorf AFB and then headed south for Crow Creek Mine and our adventure in gold panning. We were each given a pan and sampling of dirt with gold. We tested our skills at the panning shed before advancing on to the creek where we were sure to capture the mother load. Some of us lasted longer than others. Some persisted, hoping to find that one big find before heading on for more Alaskan fun. Our next stop was Portage Glacier. Just before we arrived, the wind picked up and it started raining. By the time we got out at the parking lot, it was incredibly cold and the visitor's center was closed. Only a few adults stood outside for more than a few minutes of glacier viewing. The face of the glacier had receded to the point where it was no longer visible from the parking lot. All that remained was a lake filled with large, blue-tinted ice chunks. Hurriedly, we got back into the van and headed for the Johnson Pass Trailhead. It only took 20 minutes to get there. Unfortunately, we did not find any campsite at the trailhead. Gregg, Steve, Jon and Jake hiked several miles down the trail in search of a camping spot. When they returned, they said that a possible (?) campsite might have been found. Gregg and John C. drove down the road to check out a primitive campground while everyone else began preparing dinner. When the two returned, they found our guys talking to a group who had camped in the neighboring field the previous night. We decided we would do the same. After a dinner of tacos and spaghetti, we entered the soggy field and began to set up our tents. Due to rain and mosquitoes, we headed into our tents early and soon were asleep.
Rick had everyone up and going by 8:15 a.m. We packed up our tents and returned to the parking lot. Gregg, Terry and John C. left to take the two vans to the end of the trail while the rest of the group cooked a breakfast of eggs, sausage patties and sausage links. The trio returned after an hour and a half and the crews made their final preparations for departure. The sun was shining even though the rain was drizzling down. The Adams group (S. Adams, R. Adams, Burge, Hunt, Bauer, Green, Sloan, Petroziello) was the first to go at 11:25 a.m. They were followed by the Combs group (T. Combs, Temple, B. Reed, M. Reed, McFall, Gardner, Alexander, L. Combs, A. Combs, J. M. Combs) at 11:38 a.m. The Eppley group (Eppley, A. Smith, J. Smith, Riancho, Laycox, B. Hock, F. Hock, Tilton) left at 11:55 a.m. The two non-participants, John C. and Annie, took off in the blue van for a day of sightseeing in Seward and train chasing.
Combs group report: The hiking went well and the vistas were breathtaking. The trail meandered through woods and meadows, hills and valleys, offering beautiful views of snow covered mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and wildlife. Everyone did well stopping only occasionally for drinks, pack adjustments, or rest. We took a longer break for lunch at a level shady spot along the way. Just after passing Johnson's Pass our group spaced itself out just a bit as some became wearier and others more anxious to finish the 12 mile day. Jeff was in the lead with a gap behind him a bit. We were hiking along when Mattson heard a noise in the brush. He alerted the rest of us behind him. Now, up to this point, we had been fairly noisy along the trail. However, by this time, we were nearing camp and we all were tiring. So, as luck would have it, we were hiking a little too quietly. Anyway, after Mattson notified us of the noise, we all cautiously checked it out, making plenty of noise in the process. Sure enough, scurrying up the mountainside, less than 30 feet from us, was a large black bear. It continued on up the hillside at a remarkable rate. After it was up a ways, it too turned around to check out our whereabouts. Thankfully, he was as scared of us as we of him. Needless to say, from then on we all began noisily hiking and chanting choruses of "Hey Bear!" We hiked on, again amidst fabulous scenery, until we reached our night's resting spot, Johnson Lake Campsite. All three groups camped the same place. We set up camp. Some of the Scouts built a fire and hovered closely to dry out and warm up. We all fixed our backpacking supper of noodles, fruit cups, and beef jerky. Not long after dinner we turned in for the night, glad to be relaxing in the warm, dry shelter.
Combs' Group Report: We were up bright and early at 5:00 a.m. so we could be packed up and on the trail by 6:00 a.m. Reluctantly, we crawled out of our warm sleeping bags and broke camp. We heated up water for oatmeal but saved our granola bars for the trail. We staggered our departure time by about 10-15 minutes so as not to bunch up too much on the trail. Today's 11 miles went well but it was not near as scenic as yesterday's hike. Our group decided not to stop for lunch but just to wait until we got back to the vans and could really relax and enjoy the meal. We were again the middle hiking group until towards the end when we all stopped because Mattson had a pretty bad nose bleed. Then, Rick's group passed us up and kept their lead. We were the last ones to finish at about 12:30 p.m. The last couple of miles was pretty tough for John Michael. He had had enough of hiking and especially backpacking by then. Gregg and Terry helped him out some by carrying his backpack a bit. Becky's knee was very sore by the end. We were all thrilled and relieved to finally be back to the vans.
Everyone ate lunch in the parking lot and tended to their blisters, aches and pains. Becky was nursing a very hurt knee and Jason was hobbling around on two very sore feet. We packed up the vans and headed down the road at 1:30 p.m. We stopped at Cooper's Landing for gas and snacks. We continued our drive and all four vehicles reported on their walkie talkies that all their occupants were fast asleep. We finally arrived at Clam Gulch at 4:30 p.m. John C. said he was going to leave the van now and since he had a lot of expensive gear up front, needed to know if the Scouts were going to stay in the van or get out and stretch their legs. After a few murmured noncommittal answers, John C. had the Scouts get out of the van, and he locked it up. John C., Steve, Jon and Fred headed down to the beach to find our host, Jim Russell. The group found him in an old yellow and brown trailer set up on wooden pilings. Jim was very friendly and also an excellent host. He lived here in the summer with his wife and son. Although no camping was permitted on the beach, Jim had made arrangements for us to set up camp there, thus avoiding a $10 per tent fee in the neighboring campground. A brisk wind came through bringing with it a cold rain. Unbeknownst to John, the Scouts who were locked out of his van were scrambling around like rats from a sinking ship. The people in the other vehicles began auctioning off their seats while a few Scouts climbed on the luggage rack of Terry's van. The rain soon stopped and left the beach crowd with an excellent view of the mountains across the bay. Don Seagren, Committee Chairperson of Troop 669, had John C. check his crew's roster for accuracy and then headed for home. John C. had Fred bring down his van as well as having the other vans follow along. The vans then parked on the beach at the bottom of the hill right next to a "No Overnight Camping" sign. The crew had some difficulty setting their tents up in the blustery wind and getting their tent stakes to stay in the sand. Gregg was the first to swim in the icy cold ocean waters and reported massive shrinkage. Several of the Scouts got in up to their knees and then gave up. Allen held his tent fly out behind him and with the wind gusting into it, made him look like a para-sailer. The beach area was truly beautiful with dormant volcano mountains across the bay, puffy white clouds and a bright blue sky. Gregg went to the Clam Shell Lodge and bartered shower prices with the intoxicated owner/bartender. Jim Russell had told us the showers were $3.75 each, but Gregg obtained showers for 27 people for $25. Groups of nine took turns showering and preparing dinner. At 8:30 p.m. everyone gathered around for a dinner of hamburgers, hot dogs, cheese potatoes, cookies and lemonade. No one walked away hungry. The Scouts then went walking on the beach, cliff climbing, or watching Jim Russell clean some very big king salmon. John M. fell off of a rock and into the water and got his only pair of dry pants soaking wet. Thus, he retired to his tent and made friends with his sleeping bag. The adults went to the Clam Shell Lodge to do laundry while the Scouts continued to play. Kenny and Alice stopped by to visit and point out their cozy lodging at the point of a cliff some 25 miles away. Scouts began passing out in their tents around 11:00 p.m. and the last group finally died at 1:00 a.m. with the sun still above the horizon.
The morning was absolutely beautiful! The wind had died down, the sun was shining bright and hardly a cloud was in the sky. John C. let the group sleep until 10:00 a.m. The guys fixed a breakfast of oatmeal, eggs, and anything else they could make a meal on since we were cleaning out the supplies to head for home. By then it was noon and low tide so the group went clam digging. The water had retreated a good 300 yards and the Scouts carried shovels and buckets to the water's edge. Jim taught them to look for a dimple in the sand and dig there for a clam. It was pretty messy digging for clams, but that just seemed to add to the fun. The Scouts did pretty well at this, but none surpassed the expertise and swiftness of John Laycox. Gregg surprised the group by retrieving three clams from a single hole! Once the buckets were full of the clams, the group returned to the trailer. Jon Bauer took a group of Scouts to the Russian River to check out renting fishing equipment. Since time was short and rental/license was very expensive, the group decided to watch the expert fishermen instead. Meanwhile, back at the trailer, members of Troop 669 (our hosts) were beginning to arrive. They brought with them mountains of soda, potato salad, potato chips, fruit salad, cookies and hamburgers. Soon the grill was fired up and Don Seagren (Committee Chairperson of Troop 669) put red salmon and halibut on the grill. We started eating at 7:00 p.m. just as Troop 463 (another invited unit from California) arrived. The food was fantastic! Later, the Scouts gathered around a beach campfire and were later enthralled by the company of an attractive girl their own age. John Laycox, ever the gentleman, offered his jacket to her repeatedly during the evening to keep her from getting cold. Later the three troops got together for some games including a little batting practice. Don Seagren had everyone gather around the fire for a short ceremony. He gave each member of the visiting units, a bag containing a hand carved neckerchief slide, council strip patch, pins and other neat stuff. John C. returned the favor by presenting Don and Jim with Troop 325 25th anniversary T-shirts, Miami Valley council and Order of the Arrow strips. Both visiting units expressed their appreciation for the friendliness and generosity of our hosts. Indeed, Troop 669 was a living example of the spirit of Scouting. When the ceremony ended, the Scouts returned to their games and the adults continued to swap stories. At midnight, people stopped to watch or photograph the sun, this being the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Most everyone drifted off to bed with the exception of a few die hards around the fire, one of which stayed awake by it all night.
The group was up at 6:30 a.m. and found the morning air to be very chilly. Gear was packed, tents were folded and the vans were loaded. Jim and his group prepared sourdough pancakes and eggs and insisted on doing the dishes themselves. Again, what fabulous hosts! The crew left Clam Gulch at 8:42 a.m. and headed for Homer. After an hour's drive, the group turned onto Diamond Ridge Road, which provided an excellent overhead view of Homer. The vans then headed into Homer and drove along the three mile sand spit, the longest one in North America. The group spent the next two hours walking on the spit, eating snacks and visiting the gift shops. Several members of the group watched the fisherman cutting up and preparing several 40 to 65 pound halibuts. Before leaving Homer, the crew filled up the vans with gas and made a grocery stop. The drive back to Elmendorf was long (five hours), but provided the crew with ample sleeping time. Once in Elmendorf's dining hall, the group devoured plate after plate of hamburgers, ribs, veal parmesan and other fabulous foods. The group then went to the hotel for a night of cleaning, packing, showering and laundering. John let the guys choose their own bedtime asking only that they stay in their rooms after 11:00 p.m.
The group left for breakfast at 7:30 a.m. Everyone stuffed themselves again and we returned to the hotel at 8:20 a.m. to pick up those who chose to sleep in. We then headed to the Alaska Railroad shop for a tour. Josh Coran, Chief Mechanic, loaned us brand new hard hats to assemble and wear, plus provided us with safety glasses. We divided into two groups and began the tour of the Anchorage shops. The tour showed us how locomotives and freight cars are maintained. We also got to walk though several locomotives, passenger cars and the business car Denali. After the tour, we headed to Boy Scout Camp Gorsuch in Chugiak. We made a brief tour of the camp and the mosquitoes seemed particularly annoying. As we approached Dan's Palace, we were surprised to encounter two black bear cubs. Needless to say, this rounded out our wildlife viewing. We then headed to the dining hall and were invited in by Scott Powell, the camp's ranger and Terry's cousin. The Scouts had just finished lunch and were singing some songs. Scott led us on a brief tour of camp. He took us to the nature center where we held and pet rabbits, a ferret and a llama. Scott then took us to the trading post where we bought snacks, T-shirts, knives and patches. Returning to the parking lot, we sat in the shade and ate our Elmendorf box lunches. We then traveled to Palmer to return the equipment loaned to us by our brother troop. Next, we stopped at the post office to mail home our stoves. It was then that we realized we had left them back at the motel. Drats! We returned to Elmendorf and began packing our equipment in the vans. It was then we realized that we had not returned all our brother troop's equipment. John C. said he would take care of returning the equipment plus mailing the stoves during his additional two weeks in Alaska. We checked out of the hotel, filled our vans with gas and headed into Anchorage. John C. surprised us with a fantastic seafood dinner at the Sea Galley restaurant. We then spent the next two hours shopping for souvenirs in Anchorage. The troop bought T-shirts and patches for the Scouts. We then headed for the airport. Everyone checked in while Gregg, Terry and John C. returned the vans.
At 1:01 a.m. everyone began boarding the plane for a long ride home. The ride home was thankfully uneventful (except for Dave Sloan losing his airline ticket). Everyone slept as much as they could when they could as we were surrendering a comfortable night's sleep in order to fly home. Our layover in Seattle was long enough for "sleeping in Seattle" to become a reality for most of us. Houston offered us only about a 30 minute layover as opposed to our seven hour layover on the way to Alaska. We touched down in Cincinnati at approximately 7:30 p.m., right on time. We claimed our luggage (all of which seemed to be there) and loaded into our awaiting "taxis". Enjoying a few new faces and fresh ears, we shared many stories en route to Dayton. On the way home we all enjoyed seeing the sunset, a sight unfamiliar to us in the last two weeks. We got back to John and Terry's house at about 9:30 p.m. Most of the group called for rides home. We were all glad to be home and thankful for yet another successful finish to a Troop 325 High Adventure!