Author Archives: scubajoblog

Tundra, taiga and copper – Alaska

To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries of the world – John Muir

Alaska is more then Bears and Moose… it is the country of tundra and taiga. Taiga being the wide, widespread forrest of pine, larch and spruce trees. Locally sometimes called drunken spruce trees, for due to the permafrost the roots cannot really hold the trees and they start “wandering”. The taiga can be somewhat boring, as the trees block spectacular views. However, Moose like taiga and the small lakes. We see quite a lot of them along the roadside.
Tundra is the open, empty landscape, but full of small vegetation like mosses and lichens. The views are mostly beautiful, especially when the snowy tops of the Alaska range are filling the background. Caribou love the lichen.

Our next stop is after 170km driving on the unpaved Denali Highway, straight through tundra and taiga. White tops in the background, broad river banks in the foreground. Hardly any human being. Just pure loneliness. You can get lost here for a long time, but then life will be very tough. We stop at a roadhouse at Tangle River. It is a blockhut type place, build in a beautiful scenery with some small lakes to canoe on. However, it interior is utterly kitch and it makes our imagination go wild. In the end my bunkbed really sucks, but the inhabitants are hilarious. They would do well in a real life soap!

We move on along the Copper river in the direction of Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park & Preserve. Another amazing area in Alaska with spectacular nature ans some cultural heritage. The Alaskan native population already knew what was officially discovered end of the 1900’s. These mountains have (had) many copper deposits. It is even said, that the mines of the twin town of McCarthy and Kennicott held the largest ores ever discovered. It was mined for 40 years and transported by boat and railway. What is left are 2 small towns. Kennicott is now sort of a ghost town with some historic buildings and ruins. It is now starting point to amazing tours in the steep mountains surrounding it, and of course the magnificent Root Glacier. McCarthy, once the town of sins, is now a tourist town with hotel, some restaurants and adventure activities.

We camp on the river bank of the Kennicott river and make some memorable hikes. The first along the Root Glacier, on top of the moraine. We see bear droppings everywhere, so it is somewhat exciting to walk here. The next day we hike up to the Bonanza Mine. The trail is over 7 km one way and it ascents 1200 meter. No flat spots here, but amazing views. Reaching the old, wooden and ruined copper mine, we see pieces of green and blue Malachite and Azurite everywhere. This is so surreal. Very impressed we hike down the long steep path again. How tough life must have been 100 years ago.

Holiday is almost over. We drive back in the direction of Anchorage. We see the first traffic lights in 10 days, we see cars and people. It is busy and the rain does not help getting rid of the feeling that the holiday is almost over. The last night we spend on a riverbank with view on the Matanuska glacier (if it would have been clear). We have a nice Dr. Pepper marinated ribs dinner and a few campfire stories. Our guide/cook Phil tells us his story of a grizzly bear attack he barely survived in 1999 (Story in the newspaper) and another nice poem of Robert Service. No matter how nice the campsite is, when I close my eyes later on in the tent, I think back to Phil’s story and the many nights this trip we slept in this small tent in the same wilderness. Brrr…

Back in Anchorage the trip is over. We do some souvenir shopping and that is it. A last hike along the Knik and off we go. Alaska, it has been great!

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ’way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

The Spell of the Yukon – Robert Service


Into the Wild – Alaska

The core of man’s spirit comes from new experiences – Christopher McCandless

We move north of Anchorage. First stop (well after Waseela) is Talkeetna village. A real tourist trap with way too expensive souvenirs and Mexicans selling sombrero’s. Yeah right. This is not why I came to Alaska. Happy to move on to Kroto lakes. Where? Exactly, not on the map. A hidden gem. We go up a dirt road close to Trapper Creek, where they sell ‘Death Roast Coffee’. After roughly 25 km we take our day packs and leave the vans behind. We head into the bushes. For 3,5 km we hike or rather bushwhack. No trail, no idea where we go. Just through marshy-land, and of course keeping an eye out for Bears and Moose.

After a while we just need to cross a small river per raft to reach a beautiful cabin. The cabin is perfect. It is called Mountain View, hopefully we will see the mountain soon. Down below is a nice lake with a small island, which calls for exploration per canoe. But first, enjoy the view until way past midnight. Hard to tell time when it does not get dark…

The next morning we go for a bushwhacking hike around the cabin. Lush vegetation, marsh, beaver dams and birds. No big wildlife unfortunately, but a nice way to spend time in the wild. Back in the cabin I decide to dive in the lake. The ideal way to get rid of the dirt of the hike. However… the temperature is very, very low and within seconds my skin starts tingling. Time to have lunch, go in the sauna after (and again dip in the lake) and finish the day with a nice canoe trip around the island, where we are greeted or warned by a Beaver. This is a paradise in the wilderness. Fortunately the last morning the sky clears and we are able to see the white peaks of the Peters’ and Alaska ranges, and in particular Mount Denali, with almost 6200m the highest peak of North America.

Denali National Park
We hike out, see a Porcupine in a tree, some Moose on the road and drive to Healey. The town closest to Denali National Park. For us a nice evening out, with photo opportunity at the bus from ‘Into the Wild’. A cult story about a teenager trying to survive in Alaska, living in an abandoned bus. Sadly he does not survive. His story is written down in a book, and has been filmed. As the original bus is to far away, hidden in the wilderness, a replica is made for the movie and displayed in Healy. 

Anyway, Denali National Park, a giant park (roughly 25.000 m2) with some of the highest peaks in America. We take a park shuttle bus (the only means of transport) to drive the 146km long road through the park. The views are spectacular, the excitement pure. We see Moose, Caribou and… yessss, Grizzly bears. A mom with cubs and another female. Amazing. This is why I came to Alaska. The endpoint of the shuttle bus service is Eielson visitor centre, from which we hike up the Alpine Trail. This is a 1,5km hike uphil (300m) ending with a beautiful view of the park. And an Arctic Ground Squirrel licking our shoes… yeah right.

On our way back we decide to also hike around the Horseshoe Lake close to the entrance. Moose have been spotted there the day before. Let’s see if we can find them. A nice hike of again 3,2km around a lake, owned by some Beavers. They have cut amazingly thick trees to make their den and 6(!) dams. We see them swimming with large branches in their mouths. These are quite some busy mammals! On the way back to the entrance and our little van, we encounter a Moose. A huge animal, clumsy and therefor much more dangerous than a bear. “Hi Moose, just passing through.” Beautiful end to a fantastic day.

Ready to really go into the wild…

Yaghanen, “the good land” – Kenai Peninsula Alaska

Nudnelyahich’u qeneshi – “plants and animals”

Alaska, the last frontier, living on the edge… there are many ways to describe this state. I explore it for myself in June 2017. Under the care and passion of a wildernis guide and an excellent cook we go to ‘the good land’, as the athabascan Kenaitze Indian Tribe calls it.

The first test in Alaska is the very basic camp in the Chugach National Forest where we stay in little tents, just close to a very pretty lake. Watch out for bear and moose when walking around… hmmm, we go in groups to the toilet (city slickers as we are). We go on foot for a 2,5 km round trip hike to Byron Glacier. This is very nice, very nice indeed.

Kenai Fjord Tour

One of the highlights of the trip is the boat tour in the Kenai Fjords National Park, from Resurrection Bay to the Aialik Glacier. And what a trip this is. We see many, many wildlife: Bald Eagles, a group of Stellar Sea Lions, few species of Puffin, Harbour Seals, some Orcas and funny Sea Otters. But most amazing is a juvenile Humpback Whale doing some tricks. Waving with the fin and jumping out of the water. This is the best ever! In the end some of our group get sea sick, but I survive and love it.

Harding Icefield Trail

The next day is a hiking day. We will go up to see the Exit Glacier via the Harding Icefield Trail. A roughly 14,2 km long roundtrip, with an elevation gain of 979m. But it is worth the effort (and pain in my muscles the next 3 days). Just as we pass all the snow fields, the sky opens up a bit and a stunning view on the huge icefield unfolds itself. Amazing. After lunch we go down, enjoying various views on the glacier and discovering many, many nice Alaskan flowers. 

The next morning we say farewell to our campsite, when at that moment a Moose decides to drop by. Huge, large, funny and clumsily dangerous according to our guide. Bye for now. We head back to Anchorage to resupply and move on to Denali National Park…

Rocks, rocks and more rocks in the States

Geologists have a saying – rocks remember – Neil Armstrong

And rocks is what we got on this trip. In 1995 I travelled to the USA for the first time. Original idea: coast to coast. Checking the map and distances, and more important flight prices, we decide to go for a return ticket to Denver. Denver… sorry folks, but I will skip that city. We hired a car and off we go in the direction of Boulder.

We start in Colorado, drive through the Rocky Mountains and pass the town of ‘Nederland’. It is end of September and the first snow just fell, the road in the National Park is blocked and of course we did not bring Winter clothes. It did not stop us from spotting Wapiti and blue (or gray) Jay and hike through the snow to some small waterfall. It is beautiful, but too cold and we move on to Utah.
Yep, warmer and dryer. One of the first stops is Salt Lake City. Huge, strange, but with a beautiful (though smelling) lake. The Salt lake. We drive for hours before we get to the Davis Country Causeway which brings us to Antelope Island. The lake is like a mirror. Amazing. We are roughly the only ones visiting, maybe because of the rotten smell and the many flies, but it is beautiful in a way. It gets unforgetable when we see the Space Shuttly fly over on top of a Boeing. Yep, it is that long ago.

Next stop Moab and Arches National Park. Our first rocks. We decide to hike to the famous Delicate Arch, see Turret Arch, Balanced Rock, the Spectacles and the North and South windows. All amazing, until a thunderstorm takes us by surprise when we are on top of the rocks. Nowhere to run or hide we decide to wait it out, just to find our path being transformed into a small river.

The next day we drive past Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon. One of my favourite parks. The rock formations are simply stunning, especially at sun set. The Hoodoo’s are so nicely coloured and rocky. The views from Rainbow Point are like a dream. We decide to make a few short hikes to be ‘in’ the rocks and feel the park. So many different view points, so many different views, so many different shades of pink, red, orange. Lovely!

Next stop: Zion National Park. I am a rock climber in these years, so these huge rock faces I would love to climb. But I did not. We decide to hike into the Hidden Canyon and just enjoy the views and rock formations there. Somewhere in this canyon I boulder a bit… just to get the feeling. Amazing are the ‘Beehives’ and ‘Twin Brothers’, huge formations shaping the horizon. Did I say this trip was about rocks? At the Emerald pools we expecte a nice, spectacular waterfall… unfortunately the season is too dry.

And then one from the bucket list (I don’t think I already had one in those days): the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert. First we visit the North rim to enjoy spectacular views and a sun set at Bright Angel Point. This is better than I expected. While waiting for the sun set we realise the time zone has changed somewhere along the road.

On our way to the South rim of the same Grand Canyon we drive through Arizona, pass Las Vegas (amazing, crazy, cheap, too much noise) and the Hoover Dam, to drive over part of the historic Route 66 and pass Bedrock City (you know, where Fred Flintstone is living).

The South rim is even more spectacular. We decide to hike down roughly 5km on the Bright Angel Trail to a plateau from which we can see the Colorado River and the Phantom Ranch at the bottom. Not realising that when going down some 1350m, we have to climb them up as well. The 2 liter of water we brought are just enough to bring us back to the car. Tired, but very satisfied we go back to the motel. What a nice experience. I need to get back here one day!

The trip proceeds through Monument Valley and the Navajo Tribal Reservation. Again the time zone changes, again we have no clue until we stand in front of a closed door. The villages are empty and sleepy, reason to pass relatively quickly. In the mean time Autumn has arrived and colours the leaves on the trees. A lovely palette reveals itself in many places. We take a trip with the Silverton steam train to Durango. Cold but impressive. And again many, many rocks. Cold and blackened by the smoke we arrive back in our motel for the last days of our trip. 

The last spectacular stop is Mesa Verde National Park. A park with remains of an Anasazi Indian settlement, created over 2000 years ago. They build their settlement underneath a protecting cliff. After all those years the remains of their village is still clearly visible. A very impressive stop I must say. Yes, more rocks, but now with some deeper meaning and history.

Via the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument we drive back to Denver. The trip was amazing, rocky, friendly and definitely worth to get back to one day…

Life is a walking. It depends on you if you walk forwards or backwards. – Good Buffalo Eagle

The Bernina Express

A panoramic journey with a UNESCO World Heritage status.

September 2011. I wanted to make a special railway journey. Searching the web I decided some of the nicest one-day trips are in Switzerland. And one of the nicest is The Bernina Express from the Rhaetische Bahn. It starts in Chur, Switzerland, travels over the Alps to end in Lugano. I did not plan to go that far though. Poschiavo would be my turn around point. 

We start early in the morning in the oldest city of Switzerland, Chur. The train is already waiting for us on its platform. Bright red, in the sun. We take off and start looking at the landscape. At first everything is in the shadows of the giant Alps. The province (Kanton) of Graubünden is very spectacular, and after the town of Thusis it really takes our breath away. It is a perfectly clear day and the views are stunning. We pass the old Albula track, which is a World Heritage Site since 2008. It is one of the most spectacular trips I have ever made. The track is 61 Kilometer long and passes 55 overpasses and 39 tunnels. One of the most impressive ones being the Landwasser overpass, with its 65 meter high and already over 100 years old (build around 1902).

For the second part of the journey the train takes the Bernina Railway, also part of the WHS and for sure not less impressive. It passes the Bernina Pass (Ospizio Bernina) at 2328 meter altitude, the highest point in this trip. There is no snow anymore, but we are well above the tree line. It is super to see the red ‘snake’ glide through this landscape, passing Lago Bianco just before the pass. Through the large panoramic windows views are not blocked at all. Once we have passed the pass, we slowly descent to Italy. 

The environment is fabulous. High mountains, snow on the tops, green alps. Rivers, lakes and waterfalls. Every corner we turn gives more spectacular views. The train slides into the V-shaped valley of Valposchiavo were we pass one of the technical highlights on this trip: the spiral shaped overpass at Brusio. This overpass makes a 360-degrees turn in order to be able to overcome the difference in altitude in the small valley. This way the maximum grade the train has to climb stays within its limit of 7%. Our journey ends in the small, but pleasant town of Poschiavo (with palm trees). Here we get a few hours to explore before we go back, same route, same track, but with different views. All in all during the whole ride we pass lots of spiral loops, many, many tunnels and hundreds of bridges. 

After a long day I look back with pleasure. I realise I like train rides a lot. I even realise I have made nice train rides in some of my journeys already: USA, Zimbabwe, China, France and now Switzerland.

Life is a  journey not the destination.