Tuesday, July 17, 2018


Our plan to get up and out early to find someplace for breakfast changed when, during dinner at the Long Rifle, we received a text from Beatrice, "Why don't you join us for breakfast tomorrow?"

When we got back to the cabin, Carol, Kris and Andrew had a game night, playing Yahtzee and Scrabble. I went up and asked Jim if his invitation to join him in the evening was still open.

We sat and talked aviation for several hours. I just realized that in my bio of Jim's life in my last post I forgot to mention that he flew single engine charters on floats, wheels and skis. Cubs, Maules, Beavers, and the biggest, by far, the Noorduyn Norseman, a 7,500 lb. monster. He logged 13,000 accident free hours. In 30 years I logged just over 3,500. I wish I could have just spent a few days hearing his stories.

Before I said, "Good night" he said, "You did get Beatrice's message about breakfast, didn't you? I hope you like sourdough pancakes."

After a wonderful night's sleep which was not interrupted by bears, we packed up and went to their cabin for a delicious breakfast.

Then it was off to the Glacier. I'd been meticulous about scheduling all our activities because everything I'd read said that the popular tours booked up way in advance. Only one of the three tour companies welcomed Finn, so we signed up with Matanuska Glacier Park who are the owners of the only land with access to the glacier. I checked my emails the night before to confirm that I had booked the 4:30 tour. There was no email. Oops.

We arrived at the office just after a busload of unruly teenagers. They completed filled the office/store. Although the owners had set up a separate area for their registrations, they made it impossible to even get to the regular check-in counter. When I finally pushed my way through, the young lady told me I would have to wait and talk to the lady registering the teens. I joined my gang back at the truck and waited until the group headed out to the glacier.

When I went back in to see the lady, who it turns out was an owner, she looked like she needed a break. She tried to smile and said, "Can I help you." I said, "I hope so. But first, take a deep breath and relax. I've spent my entire life in retail, starting at 2 1/2 when my parents bought a country general store. I understand what you just went through with those kids. Just take another deep breath and relax. I booked a tour for today but I screwed up and didn't call  you back to schedule a time. And I've spent years telling people, 'Bad planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part. So I know there is no emergency."

She said, "Thank you for your understanding. I needed that. What can I do for you?"

"We are a group of four plus a service dog who would like to take a guided tour today. Any time will work. After this we head back to Anchorage." By this time it was about 1 o'clock.  She said, "I can put you in our 1:30 group. It currently has 8 and we take up to 12." That was a bigger group than we had hoped for, but the other tours were booked up so it seemed it was the best possible arrangement.

Maybe, but things got worse first. We drove to the starting point and met our guide who STRONGLY suggested we not take Finn. "I'm a dog owner and I'd NEVER take my dog onto the glacier." After much discussion, Kris went to the truck to make him comfortable for his 2 1/2 hour confinement. While we checked out the other 8 people on our tour. Sparing you details, I'll just say that it was obvious to us that we would not have picked them as our tour companions.

Then another young lady, Erika came up to us and said, "Are you the Cook party?"

Oh, no. What now?

"Another group of 4 just called and signed up for the 1:30 tour so we've split things. If you don't mind waiting a few minutes for them to arrive, you and they will go with me. And I heard what Amanda said about dogs. I have no idea what her problem is. We take dogs all the time. All sizes and kinds. Yours will be fine."

15 minutes later, "The other group of four just called and they're running late so I'll just be taking the four of you."

I confirmed when we returned from our private tour that the owner that I'd been nice to when I checked in,
1. decided that we would be the 4 split off from the bigger group and,
2. then decided that she would not put us back with the group of 8 when the others were late but would let us have our own guide for a private tour.

Tinkerbell Jerusalem comes through again.

So on to the Glacier with Erika.

There it is, 1/2 mile or so away.

15-20 minute hike over the moraine.

Erika shows us that we are walking on several hundred feet of ice covered by a thin layer of glacial silt.

Easy to see the layers in a small crevasse. Also a good look at the footwear fashion of the day, slip on crampons. The "access pass" people, on their own, do not get crampons. More about them later.

Even more obvious in a larger crevasse.

Getting closer.

Onto the glacier.

Finn isn't really sure this was a good idea. He didn't get crampons.

Flowing water does really weird and beautiful things to the ice.

A shelf.

A big shelf under a bigger shelf.

Crevasses getting bigger.

The gang.

It seems to go on forever.

Here are a couple of pictures with people to give an idea of the enormity. 

YES, there ARE people in those last two pictures. Click to enlarge them.

Collecting glacier water.

Headed back. Stay out of the crevasses.

No. Really. Stay out of the crevasses.

Geezer break. As Carol reminds me, "You have to remember. You're not 70 anymore."

Back across the moraine.

Erika, our wonderful guide.

The guided tour takes guests much further and higher than the access pass people are supposed to go. Not surprisingly, the access pass people do not stay "within the cones" even though they signed a four page release saying that they would and detailing likely death or dismemberment if they didn't.

We saw people WAY past where they were supposed to be, including a lady in open toe sandals. When I mentioned this to the husband-owner he laughed and said, "She was relatively well equipped. We see them in flip flops all the time but the standard for stupidity is still the lady last year in high heels."

Safely back in Anchorage, looking back -

What an incredible day with Beatrice and Jim. Totally unexpected. And awesome.

Then, I screw up reservations and we get a private tour - with Finn.

For the umpteenth time - Thank  You Lord. Nothing as we planned and all better than planned.

If you are looking for Faith, Show Up and Pay Attention. You will see the in-betweens. Simple really.

Sunday, July 15, 2018


Our first trip to Alaska was to be a combination of travel adventure and family time. Carol had not seen her sister Kris for 10 years so we planned about half time of each. But since we had Kris as a resident guide, host and provider of transportation we really wanted our travel adventure to be away from the tourist Alaska.

Our hike up Flat Top had lots of people as it is the most hiked trail in Alaska. But it gave us a taste of the sheer size of Alaska.

On the way to Denali we stopped at Talkeetna which was authentic Alaska 30 years ago but now is a miniature Gatlinburg. Great lunch but we won't go back.

Denali was a WOW experience and an absolute "must do" but still all tourist.

MacLaren River Lodge was closer to what we were looking for. 100 miles of dirt road to get there with no people in sight. A dry cabin on a small lake. Talking with local people who had been there for 20 years. We were the only over night guests.

McCarthy got closer. A town of 32 people. A "hotel" with 9 rooms and shared bath facilities. Our second night we were the only ones there. And the only access is a footbridge across the Kennecott River.

The last night on this part of our trip I booked what AirBnb called an Historic Alaskan Homestead Retreat.

If you've clicked on the link you can see what the accommodations are. Rustic barely covers it. Log cabin. Outhouse a short walk away. Propane stove. No electricity. Nearest neighbor several miles away. 60 miles to the nearest grocery store. All of that fit our plans but we were completely unprepared for our hosts.

Beatrice and Jim Hitchcock are a living treasure of what Alaska used to be. And in a few rare instances like this one, still is.

Jim came to this plot of land with his family as part of the Homestead Program when he was 10 years old.

Seventy Five Years ago.  

There were several requirements to "prove" your claim to the land you staked out. You were required to live on it for at least three consecutive years. You had to build a structure in which to live. Tents did not count. You had to cultivate at least 1/8 of the land. Jim says that it was fortunate that the rules didn't say what to "cultivate"  -  Jim's family grew turnips  -  or whether it had to be commercially viable  -  there was no one to sell them to.

The log cabin Jim's dad built in 1944 is still standing and used for storage. Jim built several more on the property for children, nieces and nephews. And now they rent one out for lucky people like us.

He bought a sawmill in 1955 and moved it to the property.

Sorry for the finger. Carol did not take these pictures.

 So many memories for me. My Grandfather Cook was a sawyer for the later part of his life. I remember standing in awe as he rolled the logs onto the carriage, set the "dogs" and ran the log into the saw.

This lever controlled the width of the board.

This exact setup is operated in several locations around the country as "museums". Jim just uses it like he always has. He had a knee replaced a few weeks ago so he hasn't starting it up yet this year but will soon.

 In 1958 he started  Caribou Cabin Company building cabins and providing log kits.

He is currently building a new home for Beatrice and him.

Lion's Head Mountain from their "backyard."

The front.

My dad used to say that there were three types of woodworkers. "Cabinetmakers, carpenters and barn builders."  PLEASE click on this picture and look at it full size. Jim is a cabinetmaker who works with logs.

The wood for this cabin as well as all the others Jim has built came from his land. I asked how he cured it in the Alaska climate. I didn't see a drying shed. Remember earlier when I said the buildings in Kennecott were in remarkable condition because wood didn't rot like in the lower 48? Well the spruce in Alaska has been hit several times by beetle infestations. This is not all bad in that it only seems to kill the mature trees. This makes room for younger healthier trees to thrive. But the dead trees remain standing and curing for years. These are the ones Jim cuts.

Here are some pictures of our cabin.

The front door. Ground level.

 The back door with second story entrance. Used when the snow gets too deep to get in the front. 

The outhouse. Note the shower curtain for a door. More about that later.

 And an elegant outhouse it is. The purple foam in the corner serves as an insulated seat in cold weather.

One of the upstairs bedrooms.

The second upstairs bedroom.

They were very cozy and inviting. Which was a very good thing - here are the stairs.


Andrew and Finn getting settled in.

The living room.

Dining Room.

A delicious surprise waiting for us.

Kris starting a fire.

Stocked Pantry.

Our view of Lion's Head.

The Patio.

When I showed Carol the AirBnb pictures she got excited when she saw the sink. But then I pointed out that there were no faucets. Or drain pipe except to the bucket.

 Remember those tiny steps and the shower curtain door on the outhouse. They might seem unrelated but not in Carol's mind. Sometime in the last year or so a bear got into the cabin. Luckily it was uninhabited at the time. Somehow it made it up those tiny stairs and for some reason thought that the foam insulation was his way out.

Here are the marks he left.

The connection to the outhouse? Carol was slightly uncomfortable with a shower curtain for a door after she saw these claw marks.

An advantage of living way out here is getting friendly with the wild life. This is a Gray Jay eating from Kris' hand.

We drove half an hour to the nearest restaurant and again found wonderful food in the wilderness at only slightly exorbitant prices.  The Long Rifle Lodge.

Grilled Chicken Salad with LOTS of bleu cheese.

A Bacon Cheeseburger covered in bar-b-que sauce.

Roast Beef au jus.

Bleu Cheese burger. Almost as much bleu cheese as burger and it was a big burger.

Another serving of rhubarb pie.
 Apple pie.

For my home town folks, the Long Rifle is kinda like the Swinging Bridge Restaurant on steroids.

Our first view of the Matanuska Glacier.

From our table.

Tomorrow we walk on it.