John Denver penned a song called the Wrangell Mountains ( I have quoted one of the lyrics for the title of this post) . I first heard the song a long time ago when I lived in North Carolina where country music was ( and it may still be!) very popular. I heard it again this year when our guide played the song during one of our long car journeys through the rugged and beautiful terrain that is Alaska. It stirred memories of childhood and living in Asheville in the 1970’s. We were at the time approaching the pass through the Wrangel mountains, so a highly appropriate song to listen to.
Why did I choose Alaska , it’s a big wide open country for a single woman to holiday in for sure .It is a long flight from the UK, 17 hrs pending route chosen, necessitating a change of flights part way through and some pre planned connecting of flights to avoid hanging around for excessive periods of time in an airport, requiring a lot of on line searching for the right flight route. I chose to get a travel group to sort that out for me – I used Round the World Travel Experts for this, as my patience for coordinating flights and dates is zilch! Getting here and staying requires a deep wallet. Flights currently are around £1000 return from London and the best times to go are from May through to end August / beginning September. If you want to see the grisly bears at their best fishing for salmon then you should go end June / July. Alaska has been on my “book it list” for a long time, and being able to take almost a month out for this trip due to retirement meant I could realise my dream.
Alaska is the 49 th State in the northern part of America bordering the Canadian Yukon border. It has a fascinating history particularly around the oil and mining industry – and global warming. Do listen to the brilliant Midnight oil podcasts . I have learnt so much from these fascinating accounts about Alaska- well worth the effort and good to put on when you are doing long journeys in the car.
I flew with Virgin Atlantic Business ( my grandmother always said shrouds don’t have pockets) from Heathrow to Seattle , and then onwards to Anchorage using Delta Airlines. This meant that I had the luxury of stretching out and sleeping en route arriving at my destination refreshed after a long journey without swollen ankles and crook neck!
Arriving in Anchorage was relatively easy as the chaotic passport issues that are part of travelling to America were resolved in Seattle. I still to this day don’t understand why the passport service in all major airports in the states is so poor for such a developed and rich country . When you arrive you complete a series of questions about your trip, do finger print and face recognition processes electronically , but then you still have to go through another passport check with passport control. When you have a 2 hr turnaround to your next flight and this checking in process takes over an hour , a lot of completely unnecessary anxiety is created. They do not give any concessions to people in transit . And passport control guards are seriously surly and frightening . Thank god for our British passport checks , a smile and hello make all the difference to weary travellers. I know I am not alone in this as the fellow travellers who I met up with in an anchorage hotel all report the same frustrating experience.
For my first 3 nights in Anchorage I stayed in the Sheraton , about a 10 minute walk from the town centre. It’s a fairly comfortable hotel with an apparently good steak bar that I didn’t eat at. It would be easy to just go there and avoid going into town on the evening on my own. As uncomfortable as it may be I always force myself to eat out and away from the hotel! Anchorage as a town was quite a down trodden and somewhat neglected place. I hired a bike and did a lot of walking around. It’s an easy town to get around, and a decent stop over place before you move on to touring Alaska .
Eateries were surprisingly good , given the above, and I highly recommend for brunch The Snow City Cafe – great pancakes and blueberries and the Simon and Seafort restaurant . Be aware to book the latter and note it is difficult to find as it is situated in an office building. I walked up and down the street looking for it before I realised this, as did some others. I had an amazing cod stuffed with crab , cooked to perfection with mash and a light creamy dressing for the fish. I also had baked Alaska for desert ( well it is Alaska) which was the best one I have had ever. I actually felt very comfortable eating out on my own and neither restaurant tucked me away in a corner ( this does happen, I think people can feel sorry for singletons!)
I would say though 1 night in the town is more than enough , the “ tours” they have within the local town aren’t worth the money required to visit them.
So onto the trip, having travelled a total of around 1300 miles from start to end of trip.
I joined a group of 6 on a tour run by Grand American Adventures – see the tour schedule below
Our tour guide was a young woman who was amazing and a very safe driver of a large mini bus , along some very remote and long drives.
Going on these escorted tours is a good thing to do if you travel on your own, particularly when visiting such a vast and sometimes remote country. The groups are small enough ( maximum of 12) for you to relax and get to know your fellow travellers . You can decide to take a single supplement at additional expense ( as I did) . Or take pot luck as to who will share your room with you on your journey. I have had one incompatible room mate previously and it put me off sharing, but I know many people who have had no problems. So it’s something only you can decide. It would not have been possible on this tour to change your mind if there is an issue with your room mate ( and that would also create tension) . If you get on with the person then it’s possible you will have made a friend for life. I met a lot of really nice people on the tour , 4 of whom were Brits.
Highlights of the trip can be explained in the pictures attached. I have never hiked glaciers, or done kayaking let alone in the sea among icebergs! Nor have I had a BBQ on a small boat and eaten salmon literally out of the sea and cooked there and then with a few bears in the back ground! But I did all of this and more and it was a truly exhilarating experience. If you love the idea of wilderness and remoteness , incredible scenery ,trekking around mountains ( or gentle walking) , white water rafting, kayaking, wild life and pure clean air this is a place to go to. Bear in mind accommodation varies considerably because sometimes there is no choice about where you lay your head for the night. And blissfully your WiFi is fairly unlikely to work in many places around Alaska.